“Cuts to critical services in communities like Pawtucket worsens inequality, which hurts us all over the long term, and in the short term does devastating damage to the people who are living close to the margin,” said Senator-elect Meghan Kallman (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket). “And there are many Rhode Islanders in that position right now. Raiding funding to communities that are already struggling betrays those in our community who most need support, which is morally unacceptable. And the research says it won’t save us in the long run, either. Rhode Islanders know that the only way to weather this pandemic is to build our system up stronger.”
Ahead of the 2020 Democratic primary, Reclaim RI endorsed and partnered with four campaigns for the Rhode Island General Assembly: Sam Bell and Meghan Kallman for State Senate; and Leonela Felix and David Morales for State Representative. Only Leonela Felix faces a general election challenge. Along with local organizations that included Rhode Island Working Families Party, Sunrise Providence, Providence DSA, and the RI Political Co-operative, dozens of Reclaim volunteers canvassed for candidates who would pursue a boldly progressive platform in the state house: Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, better education funding, divesting from police and prisons, affordable housing, and higher taxes on the rich.
Amid a broader wave of progressive victories, all four of Reclaim RI’s endorsed candidates won their primaries. Reclaim RI is a “new organization founded by Bernie 2020 volunteers fighting for robust social services, and against any budget that would cut them while preserving tax cuts to the wealthy.”
To that end, Reclaim RI hosted a series of speakers, including the three newly elected progressives they supported, outside the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday afternoon. They were there to urge state lawmakers to resist an austerity budget that cuts money from social services and continuing tax cuts for the rich. They were also opposed to the recent actions of Governor Gina Raimondo, who, along with her Director of Administration Brett Smiley, have begun cutting funding, by fiat, to poorer cities and towns like Providence and Pawtucket.
“We believe that dignity, economic opportunity and freedom aren’t things to gate keep for the few, but are basic necessities that should be enjoyed among all of us,” said Kinverly Dicupe, one of the organizing directors at Reclaim RI. “For far too long we have built or have not questioned societies that relegate vast majorities of their own people to poverty so that few can live as kings. Our environment is crumbling. Our institutions increasingly lack the foresight and often the resources to deal with the concerns of everyday people. And to top it all off, we are in the midst of a mass extinction.
“There is no time to wait, continued Dicupe. “No matter how different our identities or our experiences may be, we all need health care, a roof over our heads, education, and a safe environment to grow in and explore. Theses things are universal. That is why Reclaim RI is advocating for and fiercely fighting for a vision of this state that provides a high standard of living, unconditionally, to all people. This includes Medicare for All, Green New Deal, tuition free college, unionizing over 50% of the state, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.
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“This may sound radical, but it shouldn’t be,” concluded Dicupe. “Cheers, to a new beginning in Rhode Island politics that recognizes economic rights as rights – not luxuries. But principally, cheers to what soon could be a Rhode Island that working class Rhode Islanders can afford.”
“This pandemic and the attendant economic crisis and budget crisis combined to create what’s probably the most important political moment we’ve faced since I first moved to Rhode Island nearly 20 years ago,” said David Segal, former State Representative and former member of the Providence City Council. “And we need progressives both in and outside the General Assembly to fight to make sure that conditions aren’t worsened by substantial cuts to key functions like education, health care and support for cities and towns.
“Given the right-wing politics of our country over the last several decades, it’s a minor miracle that in the early 90’s the state created a tranche of funding that that specifically goes to the state’s most impoverished cities and towns, called the distressed communities fund. Yet in January, Governor Raimondo, even though she’s the first person elected to the governorship of Rhode Island as a Democrat this century, proposed to slash those funds in half,” continued Segal. “And now, even though the Assembly has not passed a budget, Raimondo, working through the Department of Administration, led by Brett Smiley, who, based on his time working for Providence, know how precarious the city’s finances are, is cutting this distressed funding unilaterally. They are doing this by fiat, seemingly in violation of the law, in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis.
“They are attacking impoverished cities, where the bulk of the state’s non-white population lives, even while these state leaders use empty rhetoric as they try to align themselves with the increasing, popular, prominent movement against structural and racial inequities. We need law makers, new and old, to come together to prevent cuts like these, and because of the super majority requirement to pass a budget, just one-third of lawmakers, in either chamber, can come together and block these cuts. Many have already signaled that they are willing to be part of that effort.
“There’s precedent for this,” concluded Segal. “When I still served in the House back in 2009 during the last economic crisis, a group of us came together to do just this. While we didn’t win everything that we wanted, we blunted cuts and secured an increase in progressive revenues. There are far more progressives in the House, and also the Senate, now than there were then. And that was true even before new people, like those who are with us today, are installed. We need them to come together now and wield their structural power to protect every day Rhode Islanders from the fallout of this pandemic.”
“When we started this group we knew that progressive policies were overwhelmingly popular among voters, but we also knew that too often voters don’t have the time or they don’t have the engagement to follow the ways that these progressive policies can be implemented on a statewide level, and that’s even more true during this ongoing pandemic and its attendant economic crisis,” said Dennis Hogan, electoral coordinator for Reclaim RI. “So we began with the proposition that voters need these messages brought directly to their doorstep…”
Reclaim RI co-chair Rithika Ramamurthy introduced the newly elected lawmakers.
“Their election is a clear sign that the people of Rhode Island want things to change,” said Ramamurthy. “They want environmental, racial health care and economic justice. And building a progressive coalition in the State House is key to that project.
“Each of these candidates has made a commitment to the security and dignity of the people of Rhode Island, and makes a challenge to the political establishment of Rhode Island that wants to hold these rights away from every day working class folks.”
“Rhode Islanders sent a clear message last week – we need to be bold, we need to invest in the things that keep us all healthy in the long run,” said Senator-elect Kallman. “Cuts to critical services in communities like Pawtucket worsens inequality, which hurts us all over the long term, and in the short term does devastating damage to the people who are living close to the margin. And there are many Rhode Islanders in that position right now. Raiding funding to communities that are already struggling betrays those in our community who most need support, which is morally unacceptable. And the research says it won’t save us in the long run, either. Rhode Islanders know that the only way to weather this pandemic is to build our system up stronger.”
“The importance of state aid for our distressed cities cannot be stressed enough because even before COVID, our cities have been struggling to maintain public work services and invest in community resources due to a lack of funding,” said Representative-elect Morales. “We are in a global pandemic alongside high levels of economic insecurity, our cities need this aid more than ever and if our governor carelessly cuts it, then, as usual, it will be working people and low-income neighborhoods that are forced to suffer from these divestments. Talk with any neighbor living in the urban core and they will be the first to tell you that their quality of life has fallen due to the lack of support from their local government. Let’s be clear, there is a reason people lack healthcare, affordable housing options, and quality education; these are the results of policy and budgetary decisions that ignore the needs of working people. Our people know that they deserve better, however, and last week’s primary election demonstrated this because across the state we elected advocates who will stand against austerity budgets and fight for investments.”
“Too many of my neighbors in Pawtucket are already struggling, and the Governor’s proposed cuts to the distressed communities relief fund will only worsen matters,” said Leonela Felix. “Reducing aid to Pawtucket and other municipalities means higher taxes and cuts in services which will hit our low-income and working-class families hardest. In the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis, this decision is highly troubling, and I wouldn’t be representing my community like I promised to if I didn’t fight back against these cuts.”