“Ask yourself, are you ever in a space where a woman is being silenced?” offered Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence). “Are you ever in a space where you see a woman disrespected? Are you ever in a space where a woman is being doubted? Where her account of her experienced is being dismissed or discounted? Are you ever in a space where you hear the words, ‘A woman can’t be elected President?’ I know you are, because I find myself in those spaces too. And though it is challenging to speak out, we must…”
Nearly 400 people gathered on the south steps of the Rhode Island State House on Saturday in conjunction with protests taking place across the nation and in Washington DC to call for new leadership in Washington DC and for an end to the Trump Administration. The message in Rhode Island, delivered from 16 speakers including activists, elected officials and candidates for office, was more about local politics than national, drawing stark comparisons between government as usual under the leadership of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) and the federal government under President Donald Trump.
The Rhode Island Womxn’s Action Initiative (RIWAI) organized their event in conjunction with national and international Women’s March on Washington (WMW) chapters to “amplify the urgency of the 2020 elections, to flood the streets in numbers too big to ignore, and to engage as many voters as possible” to reach record numbers of voters in November’s presidential election in order to flip the Senate and elect a Democratic President.
The RIWAI was formed in the aftermath of the Rhode Island chapter of Women’s March on Washington’s disaffiliation from the national organization in May of 2018. The organizers were responding to “multiple, ongoing concerns with MWM including their lack of accountability for anti-Jewish sentiment within their ranks, a hierarchical model that did not reflect or respond to local chapter needs, and a lack of transparency with regards to the [national] leadership structure.”
Over the past year, National WMW has taken steps to address these issues. Three of the original co-Presidents have stepped down, and a new board of directors was appointed after an open call and nomination process. The new board better represents the intersectional values and mission that many critics hoped to see within WMW.
RIWAI has had no formal discussions nor made any decisions regarding a re-affiliation, but many RIWAU organizers “believe that these changes reflect the kind of response that we hope to see when we call one another in for harmful actions.”
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Below is all the video and a bunch of photos from the event:
“The 2020 election will be the most critical our country has ever held,” said Lauren Pothier, Women’s Wave RI organizer. “This year will determine whether American democracy survives, it marks a tipping point from which we can never go back. Our democracy, our rights, our very existence are on the ballot. And we need every available Rhode Islander to rise up and fight.”
“Voting,” said Lillia Holt form RI NOW, “is what gives us a seat at the table, gives us the ability to implement social justice and legislative priorities. It is an individuals participation in the democratic process that everybody, of all identities throughout the world, have vigorously fought for throughout history, fighting for equal participation in a more fair democratic process…”
“We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy,” said Jane Koster from the League of Women Voters.
“Because of your dedication, our right to safe and legal abortion is now protected by Rhode Island State Law,” said Emily Boucher from The Womxn Project. “Looking beyond our state, the success of your work has elevated our fight to the national stage. Rhode Island, we are now a model for progressive change. And together we are gathered today to loudly and boldly and unapologetically proclaim that we are just getting started!”
“I need you to embrace [your privilege],” said Jennifer Rourke, co-chair of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative and candidate for State Senate District 29. “I need you to understand it, I need you to accept it and I need you to use it because what you have will change what is happening in [the State House] and in DC.”
“Donald J Trump is a racist, is a bigot, is a sexist, and he’s a misogynist,” said Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence). “And that’s why he has to go.”
“I am frequently enraged by all the ways that our society is not trauma informed,” said Dr Aurit Lazerus, an organizer with Never Again Action RI and a clinical psychologist who specializes in complex trauma. “In psych lingo, being trauma informed means everything you do comes from an understanding of what trauma looks like, how it operates, why it damages, and what it needs, to heal.”
“How do we live in a world where our elected officials can look at just one mother affected by poverty, asking for help combating the environmental racism that has plagued her community and has given her child asthma – only to ignore that human in front of them in favor of their own corporate interests?” asked Jennifer Volpe Douglas, State Senate Candidate, District 34.
“…we know the real power in Rhode Island is in the General Assembly, specifically in the Speakership, where we have never, ever had a woman,” said Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown). “In fact, women barely hold onto 25-30 percent of rank and file seats in the General Assembly, without one of us being in the top leadership positions in the State House or State Senate…”
“Ask yourself, are you ever in a space where a woman is being silenced?” offered Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence). “Are you ever in a space where you see a woman disrespected? Are you ever in a space where a woman is being doubted? Where her account of her experience is being dismissed or discounted? Are you ever in a space where you hear the words, ‘A woman can’t be elected President?’ I know you are, because I find myself in those spaces too. And though it is challenging to speak out, we must…”
“On the dawn of this very day, missing and murdered indigenous women are held in such low esteem that their stories of trauma and terror are being ignored,” said Sherente Harris from the Narragansett Tribe.
Aimee Davidson, representing the YWCA of RI, spoke about Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, in 1977.
“One hundred years ago, at the signing of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, Black women were left behind,” said Aniece Germain from Hope and Change for Haiti. “And today we are still left behind.
“When it comes to leadership positions, we are left behind. When it comes to good paying jobs, we are left behind. When it comes to quality education and opportunities, our children are left behind. When it comes to quality healthcare, we are left behind. Black people left behind – all the time…”
“I was really proud to join the reform caucus,” said Representative Terri Cortvriend (Democrat, District 72, Portsmouth). The reform caucus is a group of progressive minded Democrats seeking to transform the way the Rhode Island House of Representatives does business and distributes power. “All the House members who spoke today were part of the reform caucus. We were fighting for increased accountability and transparency in the House. We wanted to change the rules, because that’s what needs to happen before we can do anything on all the initiatives we’ve heard about today…”
Audrey O’Donnell, an intern at Planned Parenthood, has started an initiative, We Won’t Be Silenced, that aims to “de-stigmatize topics of reproductive health through storytelling.”
Lisa Peterson wrapped things up:
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