An austerity budget “is cruel and unacceptable. At a time when many are worried about their jobs, their health, their families and their future, Reclaim RI rejects austerity and demands that the governor do better by the people of Rhode Island.“
Bernie Sanders may have ended his campaign, but the movement he inspired continues on. Former volunteers from Rhode Island for Bernie have regrouped to form Reclaim RI, which held its inaugural convention over Zoom on Thursday. The meeting drew nearly one hundred participants and featured David Sirota, Sanders’ former speechwriter and senior advisor, along with representatives from the Providence chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement. The gathering was intended to organize against budget cuts and austerity, anticipating Governor Gina Raimondo’s decision that “everything is on the table.”
Rhode Island for Bernie volunteers have been active since the summer of 2019. They planned the first major organizing event in Rhode Island for any presidential campaign, a rally at the Columbus Theatre, which drew more than four hundred and culminated in music and dancing on Broadway. A second rally was organized by and for Rhode Island students. The volunteer leadership filled buses and carpools to New Hampshire in the months and weeks leading up to the primary there, consistently filling campaign offices across the state with eager Rhode Islanders. This wasn’t insignificant: at the Reclaim RI convention, David Sirota noted that the consistent efforts of Rhode Island volunteers were a decisive factor in Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire.
When Sanders’ presidential race was suspended amid the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic collapse, Rhode Island for Bernie volunteers decided that their mission was more important than ever. COVID-19 has made painfully obvious that healthcare is a human right, that the health and safety of working people must be protected, and that rebuilding Rhode Island in the aftermath of this pandemic will require that we reorient the economy toward green energy, worker power, and solidarity.
The inaugural Reclaim RI campaign has a simple demand: tax the rich, no cuts. When Governor Raimondo warns that all Rhode Islanders will be unhappy with the state’s June budget, she is not, of course, referring to the top earners and corporations who enjoy paying the lowest overall tax rates in Rhode Island. Although 25% of Rhode Islanders rely on Medicaid for healthcare, the legislature appears poised to cut Medicaid, funding for cities and towns, and other vital services, rather than raising income taxes on the top 1% of earners in the state or identifying other progressive revenue sources. Reclaim RI has a message for Governor Raimondo and legislative leaders: This is cruel and unacceptable. At a time when many are worried about their jobs, their health, their families and their future, Reclaim RI rejects austerity and demands that the governor do better by the people of Rhode Island.
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Passage of the budget requires a supermajority vote, and Reclaim RI will mobilize its membership and supporters from across the state to organize a populist bloc of lawmakers and stop any budget that tries to resolve this crisis on the backs of poor and working-class Rhode Islanders. COVID-19 has further exposed this state’s inequalities, disproportionately harming people with low-wage jobs, immigrants, and people of color. Reclaim RI demands an economic recovery that creates a more equitable Rhode Island.