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The Uprising! November 22, 2019



“With great power comes great responsibility,” wrote the great philosopher Stan Lee in 1962, a lesson seemingly lost on the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP). This week the RIDP voted for new bylaws that limit the fundraising, messaging and autonomy of the Women’s Caucus. The bylaws were written with no formal input from the Women’s Caucus, and then rushed to a vote without much substantive discussion.

I think Stan Lee would agree that it was a poor use of power.

In response, the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus mitotically split itself into the Rhode Island Democrat Women’s Caucus, so now there are two Women’s Caucus, which so far have a fair degree of overlap in leadership and membership. But the Democratic Women’s Caucus (sans Party) will be able to fund raise, endorse candidates and drive messages to the press and public, without approval and control from the RIDP.

1a. Rhode Island Democratic Party

If you’re looking for a full play by play of how the vote went down, with video, see here.

Attempting to make a joke, RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara – who is also a State Representative for District 19, Warwick and Cranston – started the discussion about the bylaws by pretending to suddenly rush a vote. Humor, it seems, works best when you’re punching up, not down. It’s not funny when people in power make jokes at the expense of those without. By pretending to rush the vote, McNamara was demonstrating his power to railroad the bylaws though the process, something he and the RIDP ultimately did anyway. The joke wasn’t funny, but it was both revelatory and prognostic.

Can we please ask a favor?

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One very unfortunate part of the bylaws “deliberations” came when the RIDP voted to table a motion that would have included Native Americans among the list of minority groups the RIDP was interested in working with and reaching out to. Instead of taking the suggested amendment from Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman seriously, the RIDP treated the amendment as an irritant and quickly voted to table the motion.

Choice quotes from the meeting:

“This makes a charade of Democracy, and this is the Democratic Party,” said State Senator Samuel Bell (District 5, Providence). “At least it’s supposed to be.”

“This is a charade after all,” said Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman.

If a pig grunts, you don’t grunt back,” said District 26 Committeeman Stephen Alves, who is a lobbyist working for Capital Strategies Group, referring to members of the Women’s Caucus.

1b. District 40 Democratic State Committee Lauren Niedel-Gresh

First out of the gate post meeting was District 40 Democratic State Committee Lauren Niedel-Gresh, who had some choice words for RIDP party leadership.

“Disgraceful, sham, a mockery of democracy, Trumpian, misogynist, white privilege elitist – These are just some of the terms that come to mind after the two hour, shameful Rhode Island Democratic Party committee meeting to vote on the changes to the Party bylaws,” wrote Niedel in an open letter. Read more here.

1c. Rhode Island Democrat Women’s Caucus

The next morning, came the announcement of the newly formed Rhode Island Democrat Women’s Caucus.

“Calls for unity ring false when it means you are coercing dissenters into silence because they will not fall in line with unjust actions. These are not merely differences of opinions we are addressing, these are moral failings, and leaders of our State Party, and those who go along with them, should find deep shame in the role they’ve played in building a state party so at odds with the ideals of our national party.”

1d. Tiara Mack

Tiara Mack is running for State Senate, District 6 in Providence against longtime incumbent Harold Metts, an anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive rights Democrat with a predilection for reading the Bible at committee meetings and during floor votes. She a statement on the RIDP bylaws vote:

“The passage of these bylaws can only be explained as fear. Women, particularly women of color, have always been a threat to white supremacy and patriarchy,” writes Mack. “When we organize, when we build our power, the outdated structures and those in power feel themselves teetering off the edge of injustice. Their power is contingent upon silencing others and excluding diverse perspectives and voices. I refuse to be silent and I am excited to stand in solidarity with women, particularly black, brown, indigenous women and GNC [gender non-conforming] folks, who are ready to disrupt this as well as other oppressive systems and run for office.”

1e. Rhode Island General Assembly

One reason the vote for the bylaws is so lopsided is because the voting members of the RIDP are stacked with people whose interests depend on being in the good graces of party leadership, as in Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who represents District 15 in Cranston.

26 members of the House and six members of the Senate are voting members of the RIDP. Only six of them voted against the bylaws, and these six are already on the outside o the Speaker’s power structure. Everyone else voted with the Speaker and for the bylaws, maybe because they believed it was the right thing, but more likely because they know that if they do not vote the way they are expected to, any legislation they care about is doomed. You can read where your Representative or Senator fell on this issue here.

1f. Lobbyists

One reason the vote for the bylaws is so lopsided is because the voting members of the RIDP are stacked with people whose interests depend on being in the good graces of party leadership, as in Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who represents District 15 in Cranston.

At least 13 members of the voting members of the RIDP are lobbyists who push bills at the Rhode Island State House. Their livelihoods depend on keeping Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio happy. Voting against the bylaws, or making any waves in the RIDP cannot be good for business.

Every single lobbyist in the room, who is also a voting member of the RIDP, voted for the bylaws. One of the lobbyists, Stephen Alves, went so far as to calling members of th Women’s Caucus “grunting pigs.”

I wonder how the companies he represents at the State House, including Visa USA Inc, Axcess Financial, Rhode Island Library Association, The Gold Loan Company, Keeping Jobs in Rhode Island and Greenleaf Compassion Care Center feel about his words…

1g. Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus Chair Liz Gledhill

Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus Chair Liz Gledhill was on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind to talk about the bylaws and the caucus split from the RIDP.

2. Attorney General Peter Neronha

I had an interview with Attorney General Peter Neronha about the public perception that his office and his lead prosecutor Stephen Dambruch are soft on crimes committed by police officers and correctional officers. This came up because Judge Christine Jabour expressed outrage over the decision to charge a Providence Police Officer with misdemeanor assault rather than felony assault, and in the aftermath of the Attorney General’s failure to secure indictments against the Wyatt Correctional Officers who assaulted peaceful protesters on camera back in August.

“I don’t believe that there is a pattern,” said Neronha. “I don’t think that because when you look across the work we’re doing in the office, we’ve charged, just this year, four or five members of law enforcement with a crime, some of them are misdemeanors, some of them are felonies. Some are correctional officers, some are police officers.

“So I think that our track record in the office shows that we’re willing to charge police officers and correctional officers, whether they’re on duty or not, with misconduct – felony misconduct if it rises to that level, based on the law and the facts…

“So to me there’s no pattern. I understand the perception, given that this case just came down yesterday in the wake of what happened in the Wyatt case, but I don’t consider there to be a pattern,” continued Neronha.

Read the entire interview here.

3. History of Sex Work Law in Rhode Island

Bella Robinson, executive director of COYOTE RI and Brown University Professor Elena Shih present a comprehensive and fascinating history about the history of sex work law in Rhode Island.

“…in the years under decriminalization in Rhode Island, there were no regulations – indoor commercial sex establishments had the same licensing regulations that all other businesses in Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, sex workers could work from home, hotels or for agencies, like spas and massage parlors. Decriminalization has been shown to protect the health and safety of sex workers. For instance, in 2008 after the “Craigslist killer” murdered women in Boston, he came to Rhode Island and tried to rob a local escort, but she dialed 911 because prostitution was decriminalized and the police caught the man before he could harm anyone else.”

4. RI Transit Riders

A history of Kennedy Plaza and a plea to “Let’s get Kennedy Plaza right at last” from the RI Transit Riders.

5. Joe Biden

Presidential candidate and former Vice president Joe Biden will be in Providence on Sunday at around 1pm, but like fellow Democratic candidate for President Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s not here to campaign but to pick up a bag of money. So far Biden has no public appearances scheduled. If he’s meeting with the press, I haven’t been informed. He’ll be at the east side home of Sally Lapides and her husband, Arthur Solomon and the cost of attending ranges from $1000 to $2800. (Though the Providence Journal notes that contributions of as little as $100 will be appreciated.)

6. Moira Walsh

Moira Walsh was on The Public’s Radio Friday morning talking about the Women’s Caucus split and other subjects. She also does a scary good impression of President Donald Trump at one point.

7. Pawtucket fights disclosure of police officers home towns

In the HBO television series Watchmen, the police in Tulsa Oklahoma wear masks to protect their identities from the public in the wake of a horrific mass shooting staged by white supremacists. As a result, the police seem a law unto themselves, and the fascistic power that comes from anonymity and a callous disregard for human rights is laid bare.

Pawtucket isn’t going that far, but they are fighting an APRA request, supported by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, to release the home towns of the officers employed by the city. Not the street addresses, just the home towns.

Ethan Shorey at the Valley Breeze writes that, the citing is facing a “possible lawsuit from city police officers if they release the names of officers’ hometowns to a member of the public,” and “City Solicitor Frank Milos is saying the best course of action is likely to defend against potential legal action from the Office of the Attorney General instead.”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, indeed.

8. Two local biking blogs:

9. Labor leaders want corporations to “take responsibility” for employee health care

George Nee, President of the RI AFL-CIO, Patrick Quinn, Vice-President of 1199 SEIU New England, and Nancy Iadeluca, Rhode Island Director of UNITE-HERE 26 issued a joint press release “calling on large corporations to take responsibility for their employees’ healthcare coverage, and have announced that they plan to support legislation that will close a loophole allowing these big corporations to push employee healthcare costs on to taxpayers.

“There is a loophole in the Rhode Island healthcare system allowing certain large corporations to avoid their responsibility to provide adequate coverage to their workers. Instead they shift employee healthcare costs to the state budget from their own balance sheet,” said Nee. “Successful companies like Walmart, CVS, and Bank of America cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year by exploiting this loophole. This is corporate welfare and needs to be stopped.”

10. ACLU

11. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

12. ConvergenceRI

  • How do you argue with an algorithm? Particularly when the corporate algorithm may be dead wrong about predicting your behavior, or determining what is the best choice for your own health care?

13. Tom Ward

One thing that can unite conservative Valley Breeze editor Tom Ward and Democratic (but not progressive) Governor Gina Raimondo is their shared dislike of young climate activists. Titling his piece, “Sorry, gov. You can’t please climate activists” Ward went after Sunrise RI for standing up and demanding that the Governor address climate change in some kind of meaningful way, at a Boston Globe event about the future of Rhode Island. Ward wistfully invites the reader to imagine the Sunrise Movement activists being assaulted by police while protesting in China.

Ward writes:

“…I felt bad for what she had to go through last week… Thirty-five ‘activists’ from a ‘youth-led organization’ called the Sunrise Movement (according to the Providence Journal), kept interrupting and screaming at the governor, who was there to talk about better rail service to Boston and getting cars off the road. Those uninitiated to the tolerance of these young climate scolds might wonder, ‘Wait … isn’t the governor deeply anti-carbon and on the same side as the protesters?’ Silly you. Yes, but she’s just not moving fast enough, apparently, here in this global pinprick called Rhode Island. Every time Raimondo spoke, the protesters – really just a bunch of incredibly rude and self-important young people – interrupted her. (Who raised these kids?) Maybe the Sunrise Movement should take a boat to China to protest the real global polluters. Let’s see if they can handle getting Hong Konged.”

14. Picture of the Week:

Representative Moira Walsh trying to get the attention of RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.