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The Uprising January 18, 2020

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Anyone wondering why Rhode Island can’t get it together enough to really do something about climate change and other environmental crises got some answers this week when Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello told the audience at a Boston Globe event that there’s essentially nothing Rhode Island can do about climate change. That’s the big story at UpriseRI in a week of big stories that dealt with energy, climate, guns, war, policing, lobbying, good government, drug policy and housing.

Oh, and the Governor gave her State of the State address and dropped the budget, but you’ll have to read about that elsewhere. I really didn’t have the time. Also, impeachment, am I right?

1a. Speaker Mattiello says there’s nothing Rhode Island can do about climate change

“There’s nothing Rhode Island can do to address climate change in a way that’s real or impactful,” said Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston). “This has to be done at the national level – and the international level – because even if our nation does and the rest of the world doesn’t participate, we’re still going to be in trouble and we’re not going to solve the problem…

““This is a national issue. The fifty-square foot State of Rhode Island cannot positively – or negatively – impact the environment…

“I realistically believe that all you can do is harm your economy and not improve your climate, unless the entire nation joins in… So all we can do is hurt ourselves and not necessarily help ourselves…”

1b. Speaker Mattiello is ‘factually wrong, scientifically wrong, economically wrong, and morally wrong,’ on climate change, says Governor Raimondo


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“I know that there are some who say that Rhode Island doesn’t have a role in this – it’s a national issue,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo in response to the Speaker’s comments.

“That’s wrong,” said the Governor, announcing her new plan to make Rhode Island dependent on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. “It’s factually wrong, scientifically wrong, economically wrong, and morally wrong. So if you agree with me that it’s time to do the right, and ethical and economic and moral thing, and to position Rhode Island as leader, and create thousands and thousands of jobs in the process, in the trades, in industry, then join me today in getting behind a new goal.”

1c. ECRI deeply disappointed by Speaker Mattiello’s inaccurate remarks about the climate crisis

“For the Speaker to claim that nothing can be done by state government to reduce the risks to Rhode Islanders is inaccurate. Most of all, we dispute his assertion that state-level actions will only harm the local economy. That is just wrong. Reducing fossil fuel usage in favor of renewable energy has been proven to be good for job creation and for consumers,” said Priscilla De La Cruz, the president of the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI).

“While we are disappointed in the Speaker’s comments, we are happy to work with him and the legislature to come up with effective solutions to fend off the worst effects of the climate crisis, protect our shorelines and neighborhoods, and sustainably grow our economy.”

1d. Governor Raimondo sets goal for 100% renewable electricity by 2030

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order on Friday committing Rhode Island to be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by the end of the decade. Her executive order directs the state’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) to conduct an economic and energy market analysis and develop actionable policies and programs.

Governor Gina Raimondo, Acting State Energy Commissioner Nicholas Ucci and Jeremy McDiarmid, Vice President of Northeast Clean Energy Council

1e. Questions arise about Governor Raimondo’s energy post appointments

Though Governor Raimondo has cast herself in the role of an energy hero this week with her announcement, she still has a problematic relationship with the fossil fuel industry. Her new appointees to key roles in the state’s energy regulating agencies raise some interesting questions.

1f. Environment Council of Rhode Island announces their 2020 legislative priorities

ECRI announced their legislative priorities this week at a legislative “coffee hour” held in the State House Library. Speaker Mattiello’s second in command, House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), spoke at the event, and his words were far from comforting for environmentalists.

1g. Climate Action RI shuts down Chase Bank ribbon cutting

Chase Bank cancelled a ribbon cutting for their new branch location in downtown Providence rather than face protesters from Climate Action RI who accurately claim that Chase is one of the biggest funders of climate devastating industries in the world.

“Thanks to Chase Bank opening the first two of an estimated 10-12 Rhode Island branches, money from Rhode Islanders’ checking and savings accounts has begun to flow into these fossil fuel projects,” writes CARI’s Brian Wilder. “We are also calling upon Rhode Islanders to boycott Chase Bank including cutting up their Chase credit cards.”

1h. Harvard Law Students shut down reception for law firm defending Exxon’s role in the climate crisis

Lawyers are taught that they are not ethically responsible for the evils perpetrated by their clients, as long as they conform to the letter of the law. But that long held belief was challenged this week at Harvard Law School, where, “in the first action of its kind, and perhaps a harbinger of a new front in the youth climate movement’s campaign against the fossil fuel industry, 30 students at Harvard Law School disrupted a first-year student recruitment reception held by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, a corporate law firm of over 1,000 attorneys around the world. The law students’ message: ‘We won’t work for you as long as you’re working for ExxonMobil.'”

2. Providence Police gang database policy ‘Tramples fundamental constitutional rights,’ lawsuit says

Julia Rock and Lucas Smolcic Larson on PrYSM‘s lawsuit against the Providence Police Department, which is accused of maintaining an illegal gang database, in contravention of the recently passed Community Safety Act (aka Providence Community-Police Relations Act).

UpriseRI is proud to co-publish this with The Appeal, and here’s an excerpt:

“Since 2004, the Providence Police Department has operated what it calls an intelligence assessment database, an internal list of people the department has deemed “criminal street gang” members. But in July of last year, the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), a community organization based in the city’s Southeast Asian community, filed a federal lawsuit against the city and other officials, including the mayor, over its gang database policy. Alex’s story is among those cited in the lawsuit.

“According to the complaint, the Providence police gang database “tramples fundamental constitutional rights.” The lawsuit says police use “a number of activities protected under the First Amendment” in order to “count ‘points’ against an individual to determine gang membership.” For example, being a “contributor in gang publications,” appearing “in gang group-related photographs,” and “bearing [a] known gang group tattoo or marking” are among the list of 15 weighted criteria that could land someone in the database, according to internal department policy most recently re-evaluated on June 10, 2019. While many police departments in cities across the country—including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York—maintain gang databases that use association-based criteria to designate supposed members, the lawsuit in Providence is the first to challenge a database on freedom-of-association grounds.”

3. Faith Leaders rally at the RI State House for gun violence prevention policies

The Guns to Plowshares movement of faith leaders hosted a Day of Resolution Rally in the State House rotunda on Wednesday. The rally is inspired by the faith community’s commitment to advocating for gun violence prevention policy this legislative session.

4. Speaker Mattiello leads the House in bidding goodbye to a beloved, conservative lobbyist

Until his recent retirement, lobbyist John Simmons served as President and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council (RIPEC), which describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan public policy research and education organization dedicated to the advancement of effective, efficient and equitable government in Rhode Island” but is in actuality a right-wing, anti-worker pro-corporatist lobbying group with enormous influence over the Rhode Island General Assembly and Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston).

So great was Simmons’ influence that Speaker Mattiello introduced a House Resolution honoring Simmons “For his years of service to the State of Rhode Island as President and CEO [and chief lobbyist] of RIPEC.”

Simmons gets a standing ovation from legislators…

5. Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggerio answer questions at Boston Globe event

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio spent an hour at a Boston Globe event answering questions from reporters Dan McGowan and Amanda Milkovits about legislative priorities, the budget, marijuana, affordable housing, the Democratic Women’s Caucus, the General Assembly as a boy’s club, using campaign money for childcare, RI Promise, pre-K, education, ghost guns, stricter penalties for gun law violators, funding the Nonviolence Institute, climate change, re-election, minimum wage, line-item veto, who they support for President, whether Trump should have been impeached, the Superman Building, high speed rail, DCYF, and patronage in state government.

6. Voters meet candidates at Providence City Council Ward 1 special election forum

The special election for a new Ward 1 Providence City Councilperson has three declared candidates so far: John Goncalves, co-founder of the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, as well as an educator at Wheeler School in Providence; Nick Cicchitelli, the President of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association and a real estate agent; and Anthony Santurri, a boardmember of both the Jewelry District Association and the Downtown Neighborhood Association, as well as the owner of several nightclubs.

The Jewelry District Association held a forum so that the public could ask the candidates questions, and UpriseRI has all the video.

John Goncalves, Nick Cicchitelli, and Anthony Santurri

7. Woonsocket City Council rejects two good government bills, vows to fight Attorney General on OMA violations

The Woonsocket City Council is currently being sued by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Woonsocket City Councilmember Alex Kithes introduced legislation to deal with one part of the problem but that legislation was defeated after a lengthy debate that exposed some of the deep misunderstandings most the city councilmembers have about the OMA.

The discussion leading to the legislation’s defeat is a terrific display of legislative hubris…

8a. Providence City Council committee hears legislation to stop source of income discrimination in housing

Ahead of a Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting to hear an ordinance introduced by Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13) to ban discrimination in housing based on source of income, advocates and community members gathered outside City Council Chambers on the third floor of Providence City Hall to talk about the importance of the legislation.

“Generally speaking, the high cost of housing keeps our neighbors from having a place to live,” said Councilmember Miller. “Here you have individuals and families who can afford the rent, but they’re being told that their legal source of income is no good. We’re forcing our neighbors into homelessness. The ordinance I’ve introduced will make this kind of discrimination illegal.”

The committee held the bill pending further study, but Committee Chair Joann Ryan (Ward 5) told UpriseRI that, she “thinks it will pass in some form, I just everyone to have an opportunity to fully vet it so we come up with something that makes sense for everybody.” Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza both support the legislation.

8b. RI Senate District 6 Candidate Tiara Mack’s statement on affordable housing

Tiara Mack, candidate for Senate District 6 in Providence, wrote an oped in support of the legislation, saying, “This ordinance needs to pass, we need to pass a statewide bill banning discrimination of housing based on source of income and more importantly we need to work fast to fix the lack of affordable housing problem across the State.”

9. Strike vote taken by STA/Ocean State Transit school bus workers

On Monday the 200 school bus drivers, monitors, and aides who carry the most precious cargo for East Providence and Barrington schools authorized representatives at Teamsters Local 251 to call a strike at any time. Negotiations for the drivers have been ongoing since May of 2019; The monitors and aides voted to join the Teamsters last month.

“Nobody likes to hear the word strike,” said Matt Taibi, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 251. “We take the responsibility of a potential strike very seriously. We know that parents, students, schools, workers, and STA/Ocean State Transit will be inconvenienced in the event of a strike. A strike is something that we don’t want to undertake, but under the circumstances it is a very good possibility. It is a last resort.”

10. Raimondo’s Juvenile and Criminal Justice Working Group releases recommendations

Governor Gina Raimondo’s Juvenile and Criminal Justice Working Group issued its final report on Friday, including dozens of recommendations to address barriers to reentry and better support justice involved youth.

You can read all the Working Group’s recommendations at the link.

Also, check out the interview with Roxxanne Newman, who was part of the Working Group with the perspective of a previously incarcerated person who has turned her life around completely…

11. Rhode Island Anti-War Committee: No War with Iran

The Rhode Island Anti-War Committee held a peace vigil outside the Federal Building in downtown Providence last Friday evening.

12. Dr João Goulão, architect of Portugal’s drug policy, shares his success with the General Assembly

Dr João Goulão is credited as being an architect of Portugal‘s revolutionary drug policy that has reduced overdose deaths and improved public health.

Dr Goulão was in Providence a week ago Thursday to talk about his success.

13. Rhode Island for Bernie Kickoff Rally draws hundreds of eager volunteers and supporters

In what organizers called “the first major organizing event in Rhode Island for any presidential campaign,” around 400 Rhode Islander residents gathered inside the Columbus Theater in Providence in support of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for President of the United States. The rally featured performances from Rhode Island-based artists and appearances by a series of local elected officials and members of organizations that have endorsed Bernie’s campaign.

Sanders, who easily won the 2016 primary in Rhode Island, beating Hillary Clinton, who eventually won the Democratic nomination before losing the general election to Donald Trump, demonstrated that he still has strong support in Rhode Island. Sanders has gained the support of progressives and young people in Rhode island, enjoying endorsements from the Providence Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement.

14. ConvergenceRI

  • We are not the dumpster: Neighborhood coalition ramps up its efforts to oppose new waste transfer facility on Allens Avenue, promising to shake up retail politics in Providence

15. Peter Nightingale

16. Picture of the Week:

Speaker Mattiello wants her to believe that there’s nothing she can do to stop the climate crisis.
She’s not listening…

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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