Politics & Elections

Woonsocket City Council passes resolution honoring self-admitted white nationalist

“It’s all about cancel culture,” said Woonsocket City Council Vice President Jon Brien. “When you don’t like what you hear, shut them down, turn it off, get them fired, ruin their lives. This is a system that has been created years ago by Saul Alinsky and is being further put into place by a generation of people who have got

Rhode Island News: Woonsocket City Council passes resolution honoring self-admitted white nationalist

January 29, 2020, 10:52 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

It’s all about cancel culture,” said Woonsocket City Council Vice President Jon Brien. “When you don’t like what you hear, shut them down, turn it off, get them fired, ruin their lives. This is a system that has been created years ago by Saul Alinsky and is being further put into place by a generation of people who have got these participation trophies and cannot understand that the first amendment is about not only being able to say what we want, but also hearing what you don’t like because the next guy has the right to say that.”

On Monday evening the Woonsocket City Council took up Resolution 20 R 12, that would require that the John R Dionne Track and Field will not have the name changed in the event the field is upgraded or moved. The field was designated in 1986 after Dionne left the City Council and was named for the philanthropic work Dionne did for the City.

Since, then, Dionne has infamously declared himself a white nationalist on his daily radio show on WNRI, while defending President Donald Trump‘s comments on the White Supremacist rally that happened in Charlottesville two years prior. The Charlottesville rally was in response to the potential removal of a Confederate statue, and resulted in the death of Heather Hyer, a counter-protester run down by a white supremacist.

During the public comment portion of the Woonsocket City Council meeting, five people spoke out against the resolution. Two spoke in favor. Here’s all their testimony:

Vaughan Miller: I’m here to address the naming of a new track and field complex after John Dionne. A few months ago, the council passed a resolution condemning all forms of racial supremacy. Now you have the chance to put that sentiment into actionable use. It’s time for you all to put your money where your mouth is. If the council truly believes that any idea of racial superiority is wrong, then they, by all logic, should not honor someone who has advocated for an ideology built upon the principle of racial supremacy.

If you cannot do that, if you cannot stand by your word or even your official resolutions, then you have made liars of yourselves and proven to the people of this city that you do not deserve their trust. If you cannot stand by your own resolutions, then why do we need you? I feel it is my responsibility to remind the council that none of them have the inherent right to be elevated above the rest of these people before you. There is an unyielding responsibility that comes with political office. There is honor and dignity in service to others. I should know this considering I’ve served the people of this country as a member of the United States Navy.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve your fellow person. If you cannot continually earn that privilege, then you have failed to meet the standards demanded of you. If you cannot meet this standard, then you have no business being up on that stage, cutting a paycheck to do nothing.

Charmaine Webster: I have raised and am raising three children, two of which are grown and have graduated from Woonsocket High School. All have been raised here in Woonsocket, including my son, who is 14 starting his first year at the same high school. They have all made use of the track in various parts and other recreational things within the city… With that being said, the fact that this resolution is asking that we never give the opportunity for my son, myself, others like us and others that understand where we all come from and we’re all going, to ever be able to change the name of the track, it’s just beyond me. The fact that Mr Dionne has done things for this community is not lost to me. What’s lost to me is the fact that where he’s trying to go with what he’s already done He leaves no stone unturned with dictating who he is and what he stands for.

He has associated himself with the white nationalist movement, which is the same ideology of white supremacy, which leaves no room in the City of Woonsocket. We’re underrepresented here and it’s not because we are not here. It’s not because we don’t work here. It’s not because we don’t live here and we don’t go to school here. It’s because we don’t know that we have a place here. I’m here to change that as a citizen and to show people that look like me, look like you, that think like all of us, that Mr Dionne’s rhetoric is not something that we want to be honored in such a way that whenever our children wake up and go work hard to go to study and then wind up at a track where they’re working hard for more hours and hosting other people to come, that this is not what we’re saying we’re about as a community. Because I know that it is not and I’d hope that the city council members would join me in saying that we are so much more than anything that that represents.

Phil Labrecque: I’m here to support the resolution for the John R Dionne Track and Field, that it will remain designated thusly, not because Mr Dionne is perfect. None of us are. I support this resolution for the overwhelming good Mr Deon had brought to this community. In the full agenda packet, which I doubt the two previous speakers took the time to read, there are several pages summarizing some of those accomplishments. The chairing of the Milk Fund for 14 years is just one of many, many things Mr Dionne selflessly gave of his time and energy. I recommend everybody at home go online, call City Hall, ask for a copy. It is a resume anyone would be proud of.

And I should stop myself here, but I cannot. Why? Because there was another packet that was out there. One put out by Councilman Kithes and supported by [former city Councilmember Garrett] Mancieri, who’s not here tonight. The packet is a petition titled ‘City Counsel, don’t honor John Dionne.’ This packet has four directives. Sign our petition, contact your elected officials, call or email them, come to the meeting and spread awareness. A little background might help here, because it’s been painted a certain way by a certain councilor. You see Kithes claims Mr Dionne is a white nationalist. Why? Why indeed? Was the behavior exhibited by Mr Dionne? No, it is not as simple as that. The offense committed by Mr Dionne was that on his radio talk show, Mr Dionne who self deprecates often on his show, said he wasn’t sure what white nationalism was, but if it meant that loving this country of which he does, means he that he’s a nationalist and if being white means being white, which is what he is, he admitted to that, does that mean he is a white nationalist? He thought, out loud, maybe it did. So there you go folks, that’s the proof of Mr Kithes. That’s the only proof. That’s the only record.

[Labrecque turns to the previous speaker] And I didn’t write this, but, your son goes to the parks in the City… [Council President Daniel Gendron interrupts, instructs Labrecque to address the council.]

Labrecque: Something Mr Kithes doesn’t want you to know is that Mr Dionne is not the only person Mr Kithes thinks is a racist. It is not just Mr Dionne. It’s Mr Larry Poitris. It’s the entire WNRI radio station. All of them and all of their listeners and their sponsors too. All racists. As a matter of fact, just about anyone living in Woonsocket is considered a racist. Why stop there? Are you aware that Mr Kithis also sees Nazis? As part of the Never Again Movement, thinking about the Wyatt Center, ICE agents and Border Patrol are all Nazis. All must be stopped and done away with it, if we have to have open borders. Mr Kithes says he himself doesn’t like being tagged as Democrat. Or liberal. Why? What could he be hiding? Does the Progressive Socialist Democratic Party mean anything to you? It should. Look it up before you vote the next election. And while you’re looking up the Progressive Socialist Democratic Party, look up some other bodies with similar names and who their founders were. Like the National Socialist German Party, who gave us Hitler. The Italian Socialist Party who gave us Mussolini. The Russian Socialist Party. Vladimir Lenin. China Socialist Party which gave us Mao Zedong. In closing, I quote Mr Joseph Nye Welch to Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no decency, sir?”

And just for the record, Mr Costa was a person of color. [A] park is named after him. He was a policeman. A policeman of my generation and before my generation, was loved and adored by the entire community and it was John Dionne, I believe, as council president, who spearheaded naming that park after that person. And we may we never forget that. May we never forget the greatness of Mr Costa, who I remember from my days in grammar school, came along with this other big lug of a guy and they entertained us and we adored them. But it was only because of Mr Dionne that many of the people who didn’t know Mr Costa should look up how great he was to the City of Woonsocket.

Carol Wilson-Allen: I’ve come to stand before you against the resolution of naming the Park after John Dionne.we should be. Just listening to this on on the radio station, I’ve been listening to WNRI for the past two years. And to hear [Dionne] speak, it’s always negativity. And that Dionne Park, myself, others like me, other races, we all go to that park and walk around. So if we’re going to go to Dionne Track and you have to walk around and think that this Park is named after someone that peaks negative about race. And like this gentleman said earlier, John Dionne was on the radio this afternoon speaking about how he hired Mr Costa and he hired two black men on the police force.

Yeah, that was his job. So what’s the big deal? Because he hired two black persons and Mr Costa? I just think the park should be renamed City of Woonsocket Track and Field or Woonsocket Track and Field. But John Dionne is not a nice person. I listen to WNRI just to hear what he’s going to say. And his callers that call in, they’re just as negative as he is. I’ve read the resolution where he’s done great things for the City of Woonsocket like 30 years ago. But what is he doing today? He’s speaking negative in the atmosphere. We hare all citizens of the City of Woonsocket, doesn’t matter what race or what nationality or what creed we are, we should all be respected.

Estelle Bubble: I’ve lived in this city all my life and I intend to stay here. I’m the fourth generation on my mother’s side living in Fairmount. I have known John Dionne and everybody here We have never ever had this situation here in this City. Why bring this to the City now? It is not needed. John Dionne has done a lot and Al Costa and the other one, big guy was Joe Solano, which was very, very well liked in the City. So I’m asking my counselors to please leave it as John Dionne Park and leave it where it is.

Jeremy Edens: I came to support a no-vote against the resolution. I don’t think children… Should run around a track named for a person apparently espousing white supremacist ideals. I thought this was a guy who was probably dead, to be honest with you, but finding out that he’s still alive and espousing this on the radio makes me even more angry and I just like to say I’m a voting citizen and if we’d like to see Woonsocket progress into the future, we’d best start looking towards people that live here in the future, not people that have been here in the past.

Sandy Miller: By his own words he called himself a white supremacist. Unless you grew up in a bubble and are still in that bubble, everybody knows what [those] words mean. Those words mean he put himself in the company of David Dukes, Richard Spencer, even Stephen Miller. We always wish to be known by our best intention, but we’ll always be known by our last worst act.

I always thought Bill Cosby was a great guy. Turns out he wasn’t such a great guy. He may have had a lot of great qualities, but he had serious character flaws. The man was a rapist. I grew up with him. I revered him. I loved watching his shows. I loved listening to his records, but he was not a good person. He may have done a lot of good things, but again, we’re known by our last worst act.

2020-01-27 Woonsocket City Council - Public Comments

Two of the people speaking against the resolution during public comment were black women. On his radio show the next day, Dionne responded to their comments:

The Woonsocket City Council took up the resolution about Dionne and the track named after him as the last item on the agenda. Here’s the discussion:

City Councilmember Alex Kithes: So bear with me, I have quite a few comments to make. So this field was named after Mr Dionne in 1986, and he had plenty of accomplishments that are outlined in the resolution that should not be lost on us. But in the time since then, there have been less than savory things associated with this individual. There was a case where he was working on the Mayor’s staff and impersonated the then council president, Leo Fontaine by an email, sending mean spirited emails to city employees and ultimately resigned after the scandal. I think somebody would be lying if they didn’t recognize that he regularly says very hurtful things about people in our community and he’s incredibly negative about the city as a whole.

He spends all day in vindictive dialogue, including in August, 2019 when he self identified as a white nationalist, and that was a situation in which he was discussing the white nationalists that had convened two years prior in Charlottesville where Heather Hyer had had murdered. It’s not the appropriate time to get into the details of that, but the argument has been made he didn’t know what he was saying, but he’s a journalist and was discussing a situation in which the group that he had self identified with was involved and was doing that day. When it was clarified to him after that, he dug his heels in and more recently after [journalists] reported in their year end wrap ups about that incident, he was quoted on his show saying, no, he didn’t apologize. He never apologized that he simply was sorry to his listeners to have to deal with the nonsense, not that he disagreed with his original comments.

All of this dialogue endangers people of color and other marginalized groups in our community. So Mr Dionne won’t be remembered in Woonsocket by whatever community service he may have done decades ago. He’ll be remembered by the words he puts out into the public dialogue now. And his hateful rhetoric that he directs at people in our community and at marginalized populations, marginalized members of our community. We don’t want Woonsocket to support that dialogue. So even if my fellow council members are not convinced that self identifying as a white nationalist is bad thing there are plenty of other better people to honor.

It was suggested in email sent to all of us that we could honor former track and field coach, Woonsocket High School Coach George Briggs. I think that would be largely more appropriate. I would also bring up that someone from Woonsocket’s MLK Community Committee, who’s doing the work of social justice in our community could very well be honored. I think that would be a great idea.

I think that us suggesting that digging our heels in to re-honor this individual gives the impression of impropriety because the council is, one, choosing to honor a living person, which is not totally customary because you have no idea what an individual is going to do after being honored. That’s why typically people who are dead are honored as we’ve seen with Mr Dionne in this is the case.

In this case we’re also attempting to honor an active member of the city’s media who has the perception of controlling public dialogue. [So It would appear that councilmembers are attempting to] gain favor by honoring him, voting to honor Mr Dionne by this resolution. That doesn’t look great and it’s not good for us to be doing that. Deviating a bit from who we name this field after, it’s not even clear that we can or should name this field at this point in time. It’s sort of like us putting the cart before the horse for a couple of reasons. We can’t bind the hands of a future council, so if and when this field is moved, is relocated, the council of the time can do what they want. So this resolution is pretty much a feel good resolution and I think that it really doesn’t make sense to go forward with it. One email from our constituents is from James Rizzo, suggested, and this was a really good point I thought, that donors who may otherwise want to, you know, help out with the costs of this relocation, may avoid donating if the opportunity to be honored for the donation is not there, or if it’s named after someone unsavory.

I know I’ve gotten a lot of communication from our constituents. I did set up a petition just so I could get an idea of public sentiment. 46, residents of Woonsocket signed that I’ve had four tweets directed at me about this and at least three emails at my last count. But there were some people who privately messaged me and said that they knew I was not supporting this negativity.. So I think that overall this is a very bad idea for us to be doing this, at least right now. I would urge my fellow members of the council to not support this resolution.

City Council Vice President Jon Brien: I have a few responses to the councilman’s comments. I’ll start with some of the things you said and I have my own commentary. I received two communications and both, I was not surprised to hear what their opinions were. I think their minds were already made up a long time ago. You did set up a petition and I think there were four options. There was sign the petition, make a phone call, come to the meeting or for donating to your campaign. So certainly you used this as a fundraiser.

Kithes: That’s incorrect.

Brien: Okay. Well, I can show it to you.

Kithes: Okay, good. Bring it up because that’s incorrect.

Brien: Another point you made is that we don’t name fields after living people.

[Brien then provided a list of athletic fields and other locations in Woonsocket that were named after people who were still alive.]

Brien: So that’s actually a false statement that you made that we don’t name buildings, or fields, or things after living people.

Kithes: Councilman, I said generally…

Brien: It’s my time Council President.

City Council President Daniel Gendron: You are correct. Councilman Kithes, you’ll let him finish.

Brien: For those of you who don’t have the benefit of the agenda or haven’t taken the time to read the agenda, or look at the agenda as a whole, the original agenda item by the council in 1986 is a six page resolution, naming many, many accomplishments by then Councilman John Dionne. Actually, he was off the council at the time and he was honored when he was no longer a city councilman.

[Brien then listed some of John Dionne’s accomplishments, as noted in the original 1986 resolution. He also read from a laudatory editorial from the Valley Breeze in 1988, noting Dionne’s charitable fundraising efforts.]

Brien: Now, do I like everything that he says on the radio at this stage of his life? No. I’ve been, all of us have been the target of him at one time or another. I could be the best thing today and I am persona non grata tomorrow. That’s just the way it goes. And you know what I do when I don’t like what I hear on the radio? I turn it off. That’s all. Or I go to sports radio. But I like those guys at 98.5 from two to six so I go to 103.7. I just won’t listen to them because I don’t like them. I don’t seek to shut down that radio station or get them fired.

There’s something larger at work here. What this is…

Woman from the Audience: Covert racism. Excuse me. It’s covert racism. Thank you.

Gendron: Ma’am! [Bangs gavel] Councilman please continue.

Brien: No, this is Rules for Radicals. What this is is Saul Alinsky‘s Rules for Radicals. And number five rule out of the 13: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. Number 13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions. People hurt faster than institutions. This is a perfect example of what we’re up against today in the city and nationally, which is cancel culture. When you find a target [and] you don’t like what they say, you go after their sponsors, which you and your supporters have done. You go after their outlet, the radio station. You’ve stated and your supporters have stated that you’d like to shut down WNRI because of its conservative leanings.

Kithes: No.

Brien: No? Okay. It’s all about cancel culture. When you don’t like what you hear, shut them down, turn it off, get them fired, ruin their lives. This is a system that has been created years ago by Saul Alinsky and is being further put into place by a generation of people who have got these participation trophies and cannot understand that the first amendment is about not only being able to say what we want, but also hearing what you don’t like because the next guy has the right to say that. I’ll finish up with this: October 30th, 2019. President Obama says it’s time to get over cancer culture.

Obama zeroed in on the problems with cancer culture, including the simplistic worldview that a person is no better than their worst choice. Quote from the former president, “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.

City Councilmember David Soucy: This resolution appears to me as premature as the city doesn’t even yet know that we’re going to get the funds these grant monies and complete the project that’s been talked about. It begs the question, why are we doing this now and who’s pushing for this, because again, premature in my estimation. It seems to be a perfect time to keep an open mind on the possibility of new naming rights. While John Dionne may have been worthy of having a track named after him 30 years ago, his words and activities should, in my opinion, disqualify him at this time. This time, which is today, and over the last 10 years that I’ve been listening to him, Mr Dionne’s radio program has been a soapbox for him to stand on and display his bitterness and resentments on a daily basis if you listen. There seems to be no love left in this city that’s given him so much. I can’t in good conscious vote for this resolution. It’s time that we raise up and celebrate those individuals and entities that genuinely love and support our city. Not those that knock it down. For that reason I will not be voting yes.

City Councilmember John Ward: I’m going to be very blunt. I’ve said it for many years and I said it privately to people as Councilman Kithes alluded to, in that he said that in general things are not named after people until after they’re dead. For the most part you’re correct. And I have said in the past that I prefer not to be naming things after anybody until at least 10 years after they’re dead so that you can make sure their reputation is intact. However, that has not been the practice in the city since the 70s, as Councilman [Brien] alluded to.

However, this is about a field that already has a name, and it’s presuming that at some point it’s the intention of the mayor to move the track and to assure that the track’s name will still remain as it has been since it was first dedicated. To those who would say it’s premature, actually the fact of the matter is it technically is completely unnecessary because the naming rights for any structure or place in a community rests solely with the city council or town council. And that’s stated in our state law. In this situation this is something that already exists and it is something to make a point of saying that if the tractors should be located somewhere in that area or anywhere then it would retain the name, the Dionne Track.

Frankly, there have been times when Mr Dionne has bee anything but kind to me. I have always taken that as his determination that my political activities have not done been in the best interests of the city and he disagreed on the basis of his political views because when he criticizes he tends to criticize actions and ideas and not people except for what he perceived in their action to not be in the best interest of the city. Yes, he picks on people from time to time, like constantly former Councilman [Garrett] Mancieri and Councilman John Ward, and Councilman Gendron and Councilman Cournoyer and Counselman Kithes and David Soucy. I don’t think anyone’s exempt.

City Councilmember Denise Sierra: [Inaudible]

Ward: Yeah, you always get along with him. Just kidding. He is an equal opportunity critic of anybody who was doing something that he thinks is inconsistent with our city charter or in the best interests of the city. Because in fact, despite what is being spoken about him, he loves the city. He’s lived in it all his life and he loves the people in it. It doesn’t matter that, or [actually] it does matter that he was the one that thought to ask that the field in Fairmont be dedicated to Al Costa.

[Ward then went into a rambling, uncertain history of minority hires in Woonsocket in the 1970s and 80s.]

Ward: So for [Dionne] to have done what he did and appoint people [of color] to positions is important as a statement about his character and about how he feels about supporting those people who are struggling as hard as he struggled as a high school dropout who went into the Navy and then made it through life by working hard and then working hard for his community.

Councilman [Kithes] referred to [Dionne] as a journalist that I kind of chuckled because he’s anything but a journalist. But he’s a pugilist and he’ll punch you right in the nose if he thinks you need a punch in the nose and he’ll do it verbally. I don’t think he’s up to punching anybody in the nose now. He’s a blunt instrument when he opens his mouth on radio, but that’s commerce. That’s what he does. It’s a radio station and it makes money. I heard his white supremacy comment. I heard it when he first made it and I knew when I was listening to it that he was about to have his butt handed to him. Somebody was going to take exception and somebody did, except it has taken on such a life of its own in terms of the declaring him a person who carries with him a feeling that white supremacy is a concept he supports and that white nationalism is part of his creed, is so far from John Dionne and who he is and what he has done throughout his life. It’s become unfathomable that we would be still talking about this because contrary to some of the social media rhetoric that’s been out there, the complaint that he apologized, but he didn’t really apologize to the community, he apologized just to his listeners and to the radio station. Well, frankly, he did it as part of a newspaper article too. And I don’t know about his retracting it, but I know I think the people he owed it to were the people who were actually listening to him. And if you think those statements are hateful, you know, there are radio station personalities in Providence that don’t listen to because I don’t want to deal with what they have to say.

He did apologize. He apologized to his listeners and he apologized in the paper and I think anybody that knows John for as many years as many of us have known him is that is not what John is. But unfortunately some of the rhetoric has never quieted and seems to be spreading because it’s repeated over and over and over again. And I noticed somebody saying something about that. That if you tell the lie often enough it will become the truth. And this isn’t a lie, this is just an opinion that’s being spread. But it’s basically a statement that is designed to foment hate in the community, to polarize us, to separate us into those who will do what some group believes is right and those who are on the other side, the racists, the bigot, the people who hate, the people who aren’t looking out for the best interests of everybody.

Apparently that label is now about to be dumped upon several of us up here because we don’t go along with what we’re told to go along with and declare him a white supremacists and shut this down. The we are supporting him and therefore we are white supremacists and we believe in white nationalism and we are bigots and we are racists and we hate. And that’s just not true. But the story will still be told tomorrow and it will be repeated and repeated and repeated. And guess what? It will become part of a political campaign in the fall. It will go on flyers and a lot of mailers.

I’m sorry. I wouldn’t today name something new are somebody, but this already exists. It doesn’t matter that the council has the authority. This is the gesture of saying that we recognize what the Mayor is looking to do and with the idea that it will possibly be replaced and moved. We want to make sure that the name is going to carry forward with it. John and I always don’t stone always see eye to eye. I don’t expect we will in the future, but I have no doubt, that in John’s mind, the last thing is that he’s a white supremacist or a bigot or a white nationalist supporter and I expect we’ll disagree in the future.

I know this: he loves the city of Woonsocket. He loves the people in it and he wants only the best for everybody who lives here. He still a bull in a China shop and he’s not an astute speaker all the time. But if we’re going to measure everybody by the one thing that we feel cuts them down, the one thing that they made a mistake in doing or they spoke out of turn, if that’s how we’re going to measure everybody, then I’ve got some stories I can tell you that we can then go back and talk about every field dedicated to every person and every building that’s dedicated to every person, much like the movement going around the country now where people are taking names off of buildings, where people are removing things because they hadn’t been rejudged by a new criteria.

We could pretty much take the names off of everything in the city because I know some stories about some of those people that you would not like and many people wouldn’t like, but that’s not what that was about when things were dedicated to them. It was not the same, we will not forgive your errors. It was to say, we recognize and honor your efforts in the best interest of the city and we dedicate this space to you so that people can be reminded not that you were a bad person who we happen to look by those bad things to dedicate this, but rather to have people remember that there are people who put on a great deal of effort to put things in the community, look out for their fellow man, help whenever they can and in [Dionne’s] case, work harder than I think I’ve ever seen anybody, when you look at that resume that is part of this resolution. So I’ll support this because of the things he has done and recognize what the people back in ’87 recognized – for all of his efforts and not because I owe him anything. Certainly I don’t. But I think I owe the city the right to know the efforts he has made on behalf of the people in the city of all creeds, colors, races, religions. There were no boundaries. It was about helping people.

Sierra: First of all, I want to thank my peers because I think that they summed everything up that I was thinking in my head and my heart quite eloquently. The thing that I’m still left with and a bit befuddled by is that the response that I got by reaching out by email mostly came from the perspective of how we don’t want to be perceived as an intolerant city. Yet the very nature of what is being asked epitomizes intolerance. What you’re saying here is because you feel this man has displayed what’s the word I’m looking for? Nationalistic views, white supremacist views, strip him of all of his honors, take it all away. Rather than looking at this as an opportunity that we all can learn by and all grow from, you want to do the very same thing to him, strip him of his honors, that you are saying that you no longer want to do. Wee want to create a world with more tolerance filled with more love. Doing something like that to somebody who has served our community for so long is exactly the opposite of that. It’s quite hypocritical.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around why we would do something like this to somebody who, yes, has done a tremendous amount for our community. I, like my peers, don’t love everything he says. And sometimes I take a deep breath. But by the same token, I also understand that we’re dealing with a man who, if I’m not incorrect, is somewhere in his eighties. That’s the generation my father comes from. And he says things and he thinks things sometimes, I’m like, Oh Jesus. But do I want to cut my father off by the knees and take away the fact that he started in the United States Navy, that he raised six children, worked in a mill all of his life and everything wonderful he’s done?

No, I will never take that from my father or a man like John Dionne, who comes from that very same generation. We need tolerance. And if you don’t have tolerance for that generation, it’s called ageism. It’s an ism, like every other ism, discussed ad nauseam. So for me, I will be supporting this resolution because I want to honor the things that he’s done. I don’t want to take that away from him. I want a world filled with tolerance, love and peace for all people. As much as I don’t like some of the things he says, he absolutely has a right to say it. That’s what I stand behind.

Gendron: I just want to make a few brief comments. It makes me laugh. I think Councilman Brien brought up some very good points regarding what the origin of this. This individual is. It is an attack. It was very intentional to find an individual that would be the target to advance things in the city and to create – Councilman Ward made a good point when he said if you say something enough times, even a lie becomes the truth if it’s repeated enough. That’s what we have. We have a situation where the few people who really know what Mr Dionne said regarding white nationalism and being a white nationalist know darn well that he was not talking about white supremacy. In fact, he did not.

Sandra Miller, from the audience: It’s all covert racism! [Miller leaves the room in disgust.]

[Cournoyer rolled his eyes as Miller leaves. City Council legal counsel John DeSimone smiled.]

Gendron: He did not have the intention of creating the decisiveness [Here I believe Gendron meant to say “divisiveness”] that, honestly you’re creating. You’re creating the decisiveness, you’re creating the hate, you’re creating the target and people are very resilient in the city and tend to move beyond things and heal and forgive. But you’re not allowing that to happen. You are continuing to keep a nonissue alive. And you said yourself, this was a non issue, feel good legislation. In this case it’s a resolution, not legislation, but you said it was feel good. Then it has no real meaning. It was a non issue.

But it’s a good opportunity to focus that target on Mr Dionne. And the reason that I’m supporting this resolution obviously his resume that’s attached with the original 1987 resolution is amazing. But the reason that I’m doing this is because when our forefathers do something, that history had meaning, then. And when you have individuals that their sole motive is to change history and to destroy history and to rewrite history, that’s the spiraling of our country and it’s spiraling in the toilet. I’m not going to allow that to happen because I believe that my forefathers sat here and did what they believed was right and had many more details of the situation at the time. I don’t believe that we should allow people’s recognition to be changed when the administration changes and when leadership changes…

I don’t agree with the idea that we should wait until people pass on to recognize them. And I do believe that when we recognize people for their accomplishments, unless you were there and you have all the details, we are not in a position to unravel history and rewrite history the way that you want it to be and not the way that it really is.

City Councilmember James Cournoyer: Councilman Kithes, you’re 27-years old. By the time John Dionne was your age he made an investment in the community, purchased a home. He served eight years in the Navy, four active, four inactive. The Navy, which was invoked earlier by an individual who spoke during Good and Welfare, is a branch of the military, the very organization that makes the sacrifices necessary to ensure that you and your friends have the right to express your opinions, no matter how misguided they may be. And yes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. Quite frankly, we all know, and it’s well documented that you have a visible of peddling false information as if it were fact.

Examples include your well-documented false assertions that quote, the city slashed education funding. False. The city’s tax revenues continue to soar. False. CVS paid between one and two million in taxes. False. The city council was approving the city’s first marijuana dispensary. False. I could go on, the examples are endless. Like the rest of your assertions that are totally false and untrue so too is your nasty assertion that John Dionne is a white nationalist in the terms of the definition that relates to white supremacy. This is just another one that many false claims you shamelessly make on a regular basis. In fact, we heard a woman here tonight say that John Dionne defined himself as a white supremacist. Never happened. Never happened. He defined himself as part of a two hour discussion as a nationalist, and he said I’m white and if I’m white nationalist because he’s proud of his country. Yes he is part of his country. He served his country in the Navy, etc.

He has never once – Has ever exhibited an ounce of white supremacist views, of thinking he himself is supreme over anybody else based on color, race or any other damn thing. So it’s an absolute lie. Again, the truth doesn’t seem to concern people that are just seeking grievances. You came onto this council peddling this information in an effort to gin up support for yourself and the practice continues. You regularly refer to incumbent elected officials, both here in the city and throughout the state as “corrupt establishment politicians” yet you seek to lecture us about hateful speech and negative speech. You don’t get any more negative than that. You carp about climate crisis. You pray to one of those slogans that say, Vote, Organize, Strike. That says it all, Strike, which means don’t work. You use terms like Demand Climate Action. As previously discussed, the very first time you had an opportunity to take action in support of the city’s pursuit of green, renewable energy, you voted against it.

The point is that you make assertions about the need for immediate action and call on your flock to demand action, but it turns out it’s just more false rhetoric. You refer to the Speaker of the House in a pejorative, condescending manner by referring to him as an “old white male.” Again, while lecturing the rest of us about hatefull…

Kithes: Mr President, this is out of order.

Gendron: Excuse me?

Kithes: This is out of order.

Gendron: On what grounds?

Kithes: This has nothing to do with the resolution at hand.

Gendron: Councilman Cournoyer, is this part of your, process?

Cournoyer: Yeah. I’m impeaching his false assertions and his discretion and his credibility in the remarks he’s made about Mr Dionne and others.

Kithes: Council President, Councilman Cournoyer…

Cournoyer: I have the floor!

Gendron: [Banging His gavel] Councilman Kithes, Councilman Cournoyer has the floor.

Cournoyer: Adding to the irony of Mr Kithes’ rhetoric is his rabid support of Bernie Sanders who clearly meets his definition of old white male. If I were to steal a page from Mr Kithes’ playbook I would be posting nonsense on Facebook accusing him of being a racist for having not supported or for not supporting people of color such as Cory Booker or Kamala Harris instead of supporting the old white male, Bernie Sanders. Again, by the time John Dionne was your age, Mister Kithes…

Kithes: Council President, point of order! If any councilmember was talking to another councilmember this way you would stop them.

Gendron: [Banging Gavel] Councilman Cournoyer.

Kithes: You know that’s true.

Gendron: Councilman Cournoyer has the floor. Councilman Kithes, again, don’t get upset. You had your opportunity to speak. It’s Councilman Cournoyer’s time now.

Cournoyer: So in the meantime, when you get around to doing some tangible action, getting real stuff done, please let us know. We won’t hold our breath in the meantime. Until then I have no interest in your dishonest rhetoric and your cancel culture nonsense. If you don’t like what John Dionne has to say on the radio, change the station. Council President. I make a motion to move the question.

[The resolution passed 5 to 2. Only Kithes and Soucy voted against.]

Gendron: [The Resolution is approved] 5-0.

Brien: 5-2.

Gendron: Yes, I’m sorry, 5-2.

2020-01-27 Woonsocket City Council - Council Discussion

Monday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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