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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising! December 7, 2019

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This was a week for holding power accountable in Rhode Island, whether it was Sunrise Providence challenging Governor Gina Raimondo on her environmental record, students challenging the Rhode Island Department of Education on the lack of a sufficient civics education, or the people of Providence challenging their City Council on giving away yet more public money to millionaire developers like Jim Abdo for his Hive Hotel project.

1a. Governor Raimondo and the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge

14 members of Sunrise Providence were arrested at the Rhode Island State House on Friday, following a large march and rally in conjunction with a global climate strike. The students wanted Governor Gina Raimondo to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, essentially forswearing taking money from executives associated with fossil fuel corporations.

I wondered yesterday why Governor Raimondo wouldn’t sign the pledge. She has signed pledges before, and has had no difficulty in breaking these pledges, or so it seems. During her first campaign to be elected governor, Raimondo signed a poster sized pledge to put out an executive order giving undocumented residents of Rhode Island access to driver’s licenses. The pledge originally said that as governor she would issue the executive order within thirty days of being elected, but Raimondo crossed out thirty days and wrote in “one year.”

Over five years later, that promise remains broken and the pledge has been rendered worthless.

Gina Raimondo’s signed pledge to bring driver’s licenses for all within one year of being Governor.

According to Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer, during her second campaign for governor, Raimondo promised “in writing – to support a statewide climate bill with mandatory, legally enforceable carbon emission reductions, and when that bill was in the General Assembly this past session, she reneged on that promise.”


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As of yesterday, Raimondo has refused to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge. The upside being she won’t have to break it when she inevitably takes fossil fuel money in the future.

1b. Sunrise Providence Bail Fund

Consider sending money to Sunrise Providence to help with legal costs for the 14 activists arrested at the State House Friday night. You can contribute here:

1c. Invenergy

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer called the recent defeat of Invenergy‘s $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant “a turning point” before a small crowd at the Cranston Central Library, saying that “it is now possible, not certain but possible, that there will be no future large fossil fuel power plants permitted anywhere in New England.”

He said a lot more than that, as you can read (and watch!) here.

1d. A Planet to Win

Two of the four authors of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal were at RiffRaff Bookstore (where you should go to get your copy of the book) in Providence to discuss their work on Tuesday evening. Thea Riofrancos and Alyssa Battistoni spent over an hour talking about why “the only effective Green New Deal is a radical Green New Deal.” You can read about the event and watch it here.

But along the way, Riofrancos dropped this pearl of wisdom:

“Every single fraction of a degree matters in terms of how many people stay alive.”

This hit me hard because sometimes people ask me what the big deal is with preventing only one fracked gas and diesel oil burning power from being built in Rhode Island when there’s so much more going wrong with the environment worldwide. I answer this charge clumsily I think, but Riofrancos provided a real answer.

“Every degree matters, every climate fight matters.”

2. The right to an education

UpriseRI contributor Julia Rock covered the story of a court case being brought against the State of Rhode Island by public school students demanding a civics education. After the suit was filed in November 2018, United States District Court Judge William E Smith held a hearing on the State of Rhode Island’s motion to dismiss the case, Cook (A.C.) v Raimondo, on Thursday, giving the lawyers for both sides the opportunity to make statements and answer questions about whether the case should move forward to the trial phase.

Symone Burrell, a 19-year-old now attending CCRI told Rock, “What concerned me was that the lawyers who work for the Rhode Island Department of Education were saying that education is not a right, and they kept repeating it. It’s kind of scary that people responsible for running our education believe that.”

The Judge for the case may take a while to decide if the case will be allowed to proceed, and even then, there is an opportunity for both sides in the case to appeal the judge’s decision.

3. Hotel Hive

Providence City Hall was buzzing Thursday as the city council brought the tax stabilization agreement (TSA) for Hive Hotel to the full council for a vote, overriding the Finance Committee vote that killed the deal. The TSA guarantees millionaire developer Jim Abdo a $3M tax break over the next 20 years for his development. The deal was opposed by Unite Here Local 26, Carpenters Local 330 and members of the Providence Democratic Socialists of America (ProvDSA), among others. You can read Daniel Crowell‘s piece on opposing the development from the point of view of the ProvDSA here.

Proponents said that the project will bring jobs and save the iconic Providence Journal building from decay. Opponents of the tax deal pointed out that these jobs will mostly be low paying and non union, and the TSA will be a continuation of the city council’s decades long tradition of giving public money to millionaire developers with nearly nothing to show for it.

The City Council approved the deal by a one vote majority.

City Councilmembers Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) and Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) did a lot of talking to defend their votes for the project. LaFortune seemed to say that her support was based on fairness – developer Adbo had jumped through all the right hoops, so he shouldn’t be denied now. Harris based her vote on the fact that ten percent of the tax revenue the City receives will go into the new Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

One thing is clear: Without vitally needed reforms to the TSA process, bad deals like this will continue, and as long as developers dot their i’s and cross their t’s, and as long as small amounts of money trickle into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, our city councilors will continue to vote for them.

4. David Morales

Community advocate, David Morales, announced his intention to challenge Deputy Majority Leader Daniel McKiernan for State Representative in Rhode Island House District 7. “…I know far too many families and friends in House District 7 who are also working hard to make a living, but are still living paycheck to paycheck because they can’t find a job that pays a living wage,” said Morales in his announcement. “From those who are lucky to have one, they are still unable to save. Even worse, many people who have made house District 7 their home are rapidly being priced out.”

Morales is also a spokesperson for Sunrise Providence.

5. Opeds

6. Tidewater Landing

Soccer is the game of the future say advocates of the Tidewater Landing project, an estimated $400 million project that hopes to transform Pawtucket’s waterfront with hundreds of thousands of square feet of new development, including a new professional soccer team that will compete in the USL Championship – the second division of professional soccer in the United States.

7. Open Meetings Act

The Open Meetings Act (OMA) is a vitally important hammer in the public’s tool box to prevent government agencies that ignore their responsibilities to openness and democracy from running amuck. According to Philip Cozzolino in The Narragansett Times, the Rhode Island Attorney General‘s office found that the Narragansett Town Council violated the OMA during the hiring of a new Town Manager. The complaint was brought by several Narragansett residents, including Melissa Jenkins, a contributor to UpriseRI.

In a statement, Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix called Jenkins “a professional troublemaker.”

After getting caught breaking the law, instead of taking responsibility, Mannix decided to go after the person who caught him. I asked Attorney General Peter Neronha about Mannix’s words.

“Without commenting on a particular individual or complaint, I will say that I greatly respect individuals who choose to exercise their rights under our open government laws,” said Neronha. “They provide a critical service in ensuring that government operates in a manner that is both open and transparent, and in compliance with the law.”

In truth, the Attorney General’s office went easy on the Narragansett Town Council, not assessing any financial charges against them and not bring a suit against the town. Instead of blaming democracy advocates for getting caught, Mannix and the Town Council should be working hard to avoid violating the OMA in the future. Next time they get caught, perhaps the Attorney General won’t be so kind.

8. The Bartholowmewtown Podcast

9. Brown Daily Herald

10. ConvergenceRI

11. Picture of the Week

Hundreds of young activists arrive at Memorial Park in providence for the beginning of the Climate Strike

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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 nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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