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Tom Ward and his criticisms are uninvited

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On Thursday November 14th, I attended a protest at the Boston Globe’s Charting Rhode Island’s Future event, where Governor Gina Raimondo was speaking. Our intention was to bring Governor Raimondo’s flagrant disregard for the environmental crisis to light, and to challenge her to sign the Green New Deal and pledge to no longer accept fossil fuel money.

We arrived at this event without immediately revealing we were protestors, and being in that room reminded many of us why Raimondo has felt so comfortable disregarding the desires of the public. Aside from us, everyone in the building wore sharp ironed suits, shook each other’s hands firmly, laughed photogenically. The reporter leading the event told us that what Rhode Island voters care most about is nature and corruption. I could only think that the reason those two issues are so huge here is because of the governor.

Eventually we unzipped our jackets to reveal Sunrise Movement t-shirts, held up signs, and chanted over her speaking. This is a classic example of the disruption protestors use. Confrontation is a necessary tactic for a governor with a 49% disapproval rating who is famous for running away from protestors, particularly on September 9th when we caught her leaving the state house after her office told us she was out of state.

When finally given a chance to speak, we asked her to enact a state-level Green New Deal. She told us that she couldn’t do anything about the Green New Deal and claimed that it could only be passed on a national level. When another activist pulled out the Green New Deal pledge for her, she again claimed that was impossible. We asked her to at least stop taking fossil fuel money, and she told us she doesn’t. A couple of us reminded her of the nearly $500,000 that she had accepted in campaign donations from fossil fuel companies.

I heard from several protestors that many people who were in the crowd eventually approached them and thanked them for their courage. And while I’d love to give credit to those individuals who have changed their minds on the issue, I haven’t seen evidence of any institutional or even corporate behavioral changes made since the 14th. I’m currently 19 years old, and we have until I am 30 years old to drastically transform our economy and society to avoid climate catastrophe. I’ve lived in the rural west, and grown up surrounded by hundreds of miles of forestry and mountain ranges, and I’ve seen that image turn into wildfires and fracking sites. I think a lot of conservatives and city residents might underestimate how quickly deforestation is happening, how little time it takes for ecosystems to become parking lots. At this point, I can’t stop resenting every 30-something business owner who needs to “cut corners” by dumping ton after ton of trash into the ocean so he can become a billionaire, for every apathetic political leader who sits back waiting for us to fix the problem they caused while applauding us for being so courageous, for every conservative reporter who thinks they have a say in how anxious we should be and what we should be doing to protect ourselves.


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So anyway, Tom Ward of the Valley Breeze thought he should chime in to let us know that we’re too anxious and we should be traveling to China to protest the “real global polluters” and that we should “see if (we) can handle getting Hong Konged.”

Ward described Governor Raimondo as “deeply anti-carbon,” and explained we just don’t see her as moving fast enough for us. Personally, I haven’t seen a single step in the right direction on climate change from the Governor. You would think she is on the same side as us. During the Boston Globe event, she said that what we as Rhode Islanders need most is housing, good jobs, and transportation. These are things that the Sunrise Movement has repeatedly pushed for, and the Green New Deal defends. However, she repeatedly has dodged questions related to signing the Green New Deal, refuses to take the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, and in general will hide or run from Sunrise members no matter how we approach her. She is just one of the many ideologically Republican politicians cosplaying as liberals who have snuck into the Democratic establishment and now persuade us to take just one step right of the political spectrum every few days. They can be found all throughout the party.

Ward then goes on to ask, “Who raised these kids?” To that I say, primarily, his generation. I could get into discussions about my own familial life, but at this point I refuse to identify with and give credit to people in previous generations for the rare instances of good will they provided me until they support our needs and protect us from extinction. Ultimately, while some of us were raised by the conscientious objectors, socialists and communists with targets on their backs, Black Panthers and AIM leaders; many of the people who raised us ended up setting fire to the Amazon and building structures that essentially redistribute power away from us. If Ward wants to blame our concerns on the actions of our parents and teachers, perhaps he and other members of his generation need to take responsibility and support the Green New Deal. We were raised by the institutions Tom Ward and his generation designed, which is exactly why we want to change them.

And as a reasonable activist, I don’t know how to tell Ward the risk many protestors face in their daily lives. On August 14th, protestors were nearly run over by an ICE officer at the Wyatt Detention Facility, and the officer received no penalties. On August 24th, I narrowly avoided being pepper sprayed and arrested in Boston protesting the Straight Pride Parade, while white supremacists laughed at us and took photos from across the street. There are countless instances of black and indigenous protestors being murdered, being attacked, being attacked for protesting murder, here in the United States of America. Climate activists, especially indigenous activists, are murdered all the time globally. And my general position is that no one should have to prove themselves by risking their life, their home, their job, or their freedom, just to persuade the government to provide livelihood to their citizens, when not only could government officials support their citizens right now without any atrocities, but that’s what they are being paid to do. That’s why I support the protestors in Hong Kong, who are forced to endure constant negative press on life threatening police brutality, unlawful arrests, and abuses of power that reporters rush to justify constantly for the sake of the state, which sounds so unfamiliar.

And if Tom Ward believes that we as youth are complaining about nothing, and that we would have much more to complain about in whatever country he can think of to attempt a 2019 “starving kids in Africa” verse, I would love to go to Hong Kong with him to support the protestors. I’m sure it would be a great opportunity for his journalism. If Tom really wants to see me Hong Konged, he can hop in my DMs whenever he feels like it.

Isaiah-Tobias Lee is a member of Sunrise, Democratic Socialists of America, Working Families Party, and a lifelong anticapitalist activist. Trans and proud. You can reach out to him at isaiahtobiaslee@gmail.com.

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