Our interview with PVD City Council candidate Jackie Goldman“Some people are dealing with extremely difficult circumstances that could be mitigated by a government that takes care of people. That sits deeply with me.”
Published on January 27, 2022
By Uprise RI
Jackie Goldman is running for a seat on the Providence City Council in Ward 5. Their day job is public health researcher at the People, Place and Health Collective housed at the Brown University School of public health, primarily focused on preventing overdose and other harms related to drug use (like HIV, and hepatitis C). You can read much more about them on their website, here.
This interview was conducted on Zoom and edited for clarity (with the assistance of Spring Leah Kortman.)
UpriseRI: How is the campaign going?
Jackie Goldman: It’s been going really well. I’ve been able to knock a lot of doors and started to get financial support from people in the district. I got the Run for Something endorsement and have been paired with an alumni mentor from there who’s awesome. They won a Worcester City Council race as a non-binary person. So yeah, it’s been really positive so far. It’s a lot of work, but it has been really exciting.
It’s been great to talk to people in the neighborhood and to see the excitement for getting change in the neighborhood and having someone run who is young and progressive and LGBTQ. All of that has been something that I was nervous about bringing but I’ve gotten just a ton of support.
UpriseRI: Do you find you have to explain what it means to be non-binary when you meet potential constituents?
Jackie Goldman: It’s not necessarily something that I lead with. I think I embody my identity when I come to the doors and what people see is nothing that I can control. In all of my literature, I’m very upfront with pronouns and with the fact that I’m running to be Providence’s first non-binary city council person. But at the doors, I’m not just like, “Hi, I’m Jackie. I’m non-binary.” My whole thing is about trying to listen. So I lead with, “Hey, my name’s Jackie Goldman, I’m running for city council. And I’m out talking to folks in the neighborhood to understand what you want to see changed in the city.” Then I let the person I’m talking to fill up the time.
If nothing comes to mind, I introduce myself. I say, “I work in public health, I do overdose prevention. I want to see us build more affordable housing and not just give away millions of dollars in tax exemptions for luxury developers. I want an elected school board and safe sidewalks and roads.” The identity piece comes up rarely.
As I talk with other non-binary folks who’ve done this, they say that what ends up happening is a lot of their volunteers end up doing that kind of voter education. Whether it’s correcting pronouns or talking about why they’re excited about this candidate that matters to them. And while it hasn’t come up a ton, anytime I’ve disclosed, people have been really positive.
UpriseRI: My sense is that Providence, in general, is pretty cool with this, but I didn’t know the particulars of your ward.
Jackie Goldman: In Mount Pleasant there are a ton of folks that are LGBTQ. Mount Pleasant has seen a huge shift over the past number of years from what I understand. It’s a lot of young families, a lot of LGBTQ families, a lot of immigrant families – just super diverse. My ward is extremely welcoming and friendly.
UpriseRI: That’s great. I’m glad my faith in people isn’t totally misplaced.
Jackie Goldman: I was talking to Lenny Cioe, and he said something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. He said that whenever you talk to someone at the doors, those people’s stories become a part of you. And that’s definitely true, the good and the bad. Some people are dealing with extremely difficult circumstances that could be mitigated by a government that takes care of people. That sits deeply with me. The people I’ve talked to have, by and large, been so wonderful. I really love canvasing.
UpriseRI: Related to that, as you go door to door, what are the top two or three issues that people bring up?
Jackie Goldman: When people don’t initially offer things, I lead with my big three, which are housing, an elected school board and streets and sidewalks. Streets and sidewalks might be one of the most brought up issues – whether a street has too many speed bumps or not enough speed bumps. There are so many streets that don’t have sidewalks in Mount Pleasant so it can be dangerous to walk around just because cars are whipping by – there’s no protection for pedestrians.
A lot of people also talk about housing and recognize the extreme housing crisis that we have.
People also bring up public safety and that comes up in a lot of different forms with a lot of different opinions as to what the issues are and how to solve them. These conversations have allowed me to fine tune my messaging and my ideas. Even with people who initially come at me quite combatively and accuse me of trying to defund the police, I’m like, let’s step back and actually talk about what matters, which is we want to prevent crime and we want to make our neighborhoods safer.
The way people approach public safety is different from the way people talk about issues like housing where there is far more agreement about the way we should approach it.
UpriseRI: That makes sense. You talked about an elected school board. Why would it be important? What is the argument for it?
Jackie Goldman: There’s a lot of nepotism, a lot of cronyism sitting on the Providence School Board. Some people on the board are not actually invested or have any expertise in education. One of the ways to put some power back into the hands of the people of Providence is to get an elected school board.
Education is so complicated, especially because of the state takeover that’s been so detrimental to the people of Providence. The city council could be pushing on that. They could be asking for more funding from the state. They could be doing a better job of talking about how messed up the state’s funding formula is, for example, but one of the things that they could definitively do and have the power to do, right now, is change the school board system.
I’d like to make sure that the people on the school board care about education and have a stake in education. For instance, we had someone on the school board who was a lobbyist and lawyer for one of the worst polluters in the state. How is that someone who’s invested in education?
UpriseRI: I made that point. This school board member’s other job is poisoning children with pollution.
Jackie Goldman: Or bankrupting the city for luxury buildings.
UpriseRI: Let’s go back to what you said about the roads. I think that’s interesting, especially given that it was, I think, your ward that undid a bike lane weeks after it was unveiled.
Jackie Goldman: That was my ward. There was going to be a bike lane on Mount Pleasant Avenue which was widely supported. And then the current city council woman from our ward whipped up a bunch of her people to oppose it.
Everything about transportation and bikes and streets is such a hot button issue. For example, Pleasant Valley Parkway is well paved and well maintained. Other roads are poorly planned or maintained to the point where it’s impossible to drive around. Other streets, like mine, are used as cut throughs. People will fly down this tiny side street at 50 miles an hour and I’m near a school, you know? There’s no traffic calming.
So the thing that I’d really to see is something called a charette, a community driven street planning process. Because I think the people in the neighborhood understand what’s going on with the traffic dynamics here and have ideas of how to fix them, as opposed to placing a bunch of speed bumps in ways that make no sense. I also think a lot about traffic congestion on main roads, causing people to use side streets. We should look at everything, from changing traffic light patterns to changing some of the ways that we do school pickups and drop offs.
Also, as I said, there’s not a lot of sidewalks, especially in parts of Mount Pleasant, Manton and Elmhurst that are less wealthy. And there’s a huge difference in the quality of streets in the wealthier parts of Elmhurst as opposed to Mount Pleasant and Manton, which really don’t have the same infrastructural support. It is definitely harder to get around there.
I had one of the warmest conversations I’ve ever had with a constituent who teaches laughter yoga. He uses a wheelchair to get around and he was talking about how there are no curb cuts in his neighborhood and there aren’t a lot of sidewalks. He is someone who needs a wheelchair to get around and it’s hard for him to be able to move around the neighborhood. It’s an equity issue.
I would also love to see better street design in terms of bikes. I think the work that Liza Burkin and the Providence Streets Coalition does is amazing. I’ve been hit as both a cyclist and a pedestrian, so bike safety and pedestrian safety are important to me. I think there are ways to build bike lanes that don’t impact cars and make it much more viable as a transportation option for people, which is great for so many reasons.
UpriseRI: My wife and I were out for a walk the other night, just three days ago, and we almost got hit by a car. We were halfway across the street. He was speeding down the street. He turned right towards us. We had to take a half step back and now I’m banging on his window telling him to slow down and wake up.
Jackie Goldman: When I got hit on a bike someone was turning and didn’t even look. Fortunately, I didn’t get that hurt. Emotionally it was incredibly jarring and I haven’t really bike commuted since then, which is sad because when I’ve lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I was a four season bike commuter. I’d bike in negative 40 degrees or the heat of summer. It was my favorite way to get around. And I just don’t feel I have that safety here. I’ve even been threatened verbally – someone told me he was going to murder me for being in a bike lane! So I’d love to make the city bikeable.
UpriseRI: I stopped biking everywhere when my first child was born because I was finally afraid enough for my own life to think about them not having a dad.
Jackie Goldman: It’s wild to me because everyone that I knew in Madison, Wisconsin biked everywhere. No one I knew got hit, versus I don’t know anyone who routinely bikes in Providence and hasn’t gotten hit.
UpriseRI: Let’s talk about crime a little bit. You wrote a letter to the Providence City Council president about his intention to exempt Providence Police Officers from the vaccine mandate over drummed up, fake fears over public safety. What do you say to people who say that the idea of defunding the police makes me feel unsafe because I need police to protect my spouse, my children, my life, my business, my home – What do you say?
- Majority of PVD City Council supports unvaccinated police officers
- PVD City Council battles the self-created perception that the City isn’t safe
Jackie Goldman: The first thing that I do is validate the concern for safety because ultimately it is an extremely valid concern. The only thing we have, at the end of the day, is our health and safety. No one benefits from the anxiety that comes with lack of safety and we want to make sure that people are safe. I also see what you’re saying, where crime stats are used politically. Being an epidemiologist and someone who works in data science, I can tell you that crime statistics are not all that consistent or good – and it’s used in manipulative ways to create whatever narrative someone is trying to push.
So I always start with, “I understand your concerns and safety is something that I think a lot about. Where I come from is wanting to prevent crime. And as we think about it, police in and of themselves are not designed to prevent crime. They show up after it happens. In Providence, police don’t even solve the majority crimes that happen. So what’s important is that we find ways to stop crime from happening in the first place. Part of that is making sure that people have access to housing and food security and mental health care and those kinds of things. We then have to have people who are trained to respond to the crises that happen. For example, if someone is experiencing an overdose, we need people who are medical responders and people who can then do referrals to treatment or other healthcare and resources.
I’d like to see non-police response models or even a co-response model, rather than the model where it’s just police that go out. In the cases of overdose, one of the reasons people don’t call EMS is because, for example, even though we have the Good Samaritan law that protects people in that moment, there are still times where either police responders find outstanding warrants and arrest them anyway – or they use information from the overdose event to go back and arrest that person. So, the mistrust of law enforcement is a huge detriment to the health and safety of people who have non-police related emergencies. What we have to do is think about evidence-based ways to prevent crime and make people safe.
Something I think about all the time is that the areas of Providence have the lowest rates of crime, like Fox Point, have less police presence. That’s because these areas have more wealth and resources. I also share experiences from my work, because I work with a lot of people who are unhoused and where their experiences with policing have kept them in cycles where they can’t get access to care.
I’m trying to think about how we can re-envision public safety so that people can feel safe in their homes and at their businesses, not relying on this carceral method that ends up reinforcing all the disparities and vulnerabilities and white supremacy that we see in everyday society.
Once again, I don’’t necessarily bring up those words to people in casual conversation because I think that when you bring up some of that jargon, it loses people. I hone in on the prevention, and ways that we need to make sure that people have access to everyday resources.
UpriseRI: Yesterday, the Providence Police cleared a homeless encampment. I’ve covered police interactions with encampments in the past, and it seldom goes well. What do we do about these encampments?
Jackie Goldman: You know, we live in a world where people should not need to create these encampments to be able to find some stability and know that they have a place to hang their hat at the end of the day. We are in a state that does not have nearly enough shelter beds, not nearly enough low income and affordable housing units and lacks the infrastructure to support the folks that are in need of outreach. That means that when these encampments do happen, the camps shouldn’t be disrupted or torn down in the ways that they are, unless we are able to offer people permanent supportive housing solutions.
And that doesn’t mean just putting people in temporary shelters, because there’s a lot of reasons why people choose not to go to those shelters. Some of it is because they have really restrictive rules and regulations that can end up reinforcing some of the trauma that could have come from incarceration. It could be that people have experiences of abuse or other kinds of things in those shelters. There are issues of personal safety and minimization of agency. So people create these encampments and form community and find some stability there. And that is safer than, for example, going around slashing tents and displacing people – giving people no options or agency about what they have to do next.
How many of those people have transportation access to the services they need? I am watching this situation to understand what’s happening. Is the city providing real and meaningful solutions to people whose houses they just destroyed? In general, I am against the idea of clearing camps. I recognize that there might be people in the neighborhood who are opposed to them for reasons that are mixed and complicated, but I am disheartened and angered by the fact that this happened especially because I’ve yet to see that they’re offering real, meaningful solutions to the folks they displaced.
UpriseRI: I’m of the same mind. It’s hard.
Jackie Goldman: This is the stuff I think about all day, every day, especially as folks roll into my workplace and tell us about their experiences of being chronically unhoused for years.
UpriseRI: Let’s talk about something that’s less of a bummer. Sorry, actually it’s much more. Let’s talk about climate change, our existential threat. How do you rate what Providence has been trying to do on climate change? What would you want to see?
Jackie Goldman: You’re talking to someone with perpetual climate anxiety and I’ve changed a lot of things about the ways that I live my life purely because of climate change – even knowing that what I do as an individual pales in comparison to the impacts of systemic change. I’ve been trying to learn from people who have more professional experience. And one of the things that has come up is what someone referred to as the housing/transportation nexus. It’s one of the biggest sources of emissions and pollution in the City of Providence and in the state.
That includes everything from the fact that a lot of houses here aren’t insulated – so energy costs and energy use are so much higher than they need to be – to increasing access to and use of public transportation. I’m really lucky because I live near two different bus lines, and I also get free RIPTA through my job. So I take the bus as often as possible to work. But the thing is, I work really close to Kennedy Plaza. If I’m trying to go somewhere else it becomes a much longer ordeal.
So I think adding more bus stops, making RIPTA free so everyone can access it and trying to normalize bus use are important. In New York City, or other cities with robust public transit, you don’t own a car because it’s a hindrance. So the subway is a place of people who are really wealthy and work these high profile jobs, but also low income folks. In smaller cities the bus and public transportation are stigmatized as something you do because you can’t afford a car. When I ride the bus, it’s full of kids going to school and folks who are likely to be lower income.
I want to increase bus use. I want to make it easier to ride the bus. I want to make the bus free. I realize that’s a state issue, but I would love to be able to help with that in the city.
I also think there’s more that we can be doing in terms of green jobs training, building more housing in Providence so people can afford to live and work in the same city. That cuts down on emissions. We also have a ton of urban highways that make it harder to walk and bike around. Our present system is built around congestion and cars and that’s pretty bad for the planet.
I think about food governance and green space. We can be doing more of that. Not that it puts a huge of dent in climate change, but greening up the community and looking at trees and heat indexes and acknowledging the fact that lower income parts of the city experience higher temperatures than more wealthy parts of the city that have more trees is huge and seems super simple. Planting more trees is a pretty basic idea that could have a huge payoff in terms of these disparities.
And this is me being a public health/mapping nerd for a second, but if you lay maps on top of each other that show historic redlining, tree cover and heat index stuff, they all map perfectly. Also map on the ways that we’ve built highways in the city, just cutting through low income and communities of the colors.
UpriseRI: Plus a map of juvenile asthma rates…
Jackie Goldman: Then also of course there’s doing something about the Port of Providence and some of those major polluters there.
UpriseRI: You mentioned Kennedy Plaza which is still under threat. What do we do about Kennedy Plaza? How do we take control of that piece of infrastructure and prevent public transportation from becoming a nightmare downtown?
Jackie Goldman: I’ve had some conversations about this with a bunch of different people that have informed the way that I think about this, and also I’m a bus rider. I also work with a lot of folks in Kennedy Plaza. The last thing I want to see happen is breaking up a central bus that displaces folks and takes away a public space. There’s not as much public space in Providence as we might think. There are not a lot of places where you can go and not have to worry about paying money. There are so many reasons, both logistically and ethically, that we need a concentrated bus hub.
I know that there was a plan to build a new bus hub very close to Kennedy Plaza. That would be a centralized indoor bus hub where people would then have access to bathrooms and services and people could wait inside for a bus and stuff like that. I’m not necessarily opposed to that. I think that the idea of creating a centralized bus hub where people have those amenities in the middle of the city is a good thing. So if it shifts a couple of blocks away from Kennedy Plaza, close enough that it doesn’t really change transit routes, that could be fine.
Unfortunately, the reason we’re having this conversation about Kennedy Plaza is because some the developers are trying to displace unhoused folks instead of actually fixing the situation. They want to move them out of sight – and that is terrible. The idea of breaking up the central bus hubs into a lot of little hubs is also bad. We have to have a centralized place where people can access their transportation.
UpriseRI: If and when you’re elected, it will be a pretty new city council, with a brand new mayor, due to term limits. Many new city councilmembers will be replaced. What are your hopes for a city council that is new, and possibly more progressive?
Jackie Goldman: This is something that I’ve already been talking about, especially with some of the other people who have declared in other wards. I work really closely with Miguel Sanchez (Ward 6), Corey Jones (Ward 3), Andrew Poyant (Ward 14) and Justin Roias (Ward 4). We have so many ideas. And we hope to keep some of the progressives who are already on the council. There’s so much that can happen. Everything from changing the way we envision public safety to green infrastructure in the city. We have so many ideas that will only work if we can get people who are on the council that share those values and aren’t beholden to corporate donors and PACs and stuff like that.
I have some ordinances I’d like to introduce right away. But I also recognize that there needs to be some time to understand the way things work in the different departments in the city, getting to know the different people who are already doing the city work and building those relationships.
We want change to happen and that can’t happen if we don’t also do some relationship building and getting that relationship capital with people who work for the city. I hope for meaningful engagement on that front.
UpriseRI: Understanding the way it works is the first step to understanding how to alter it.
Jackie Goldman: Once that happens though, I’m ready to get rid of TSAs, taxation agreements, so that we stop just incentivizing these luxury buildings and start incentivizing affordable housing.
UpriseRI: All right, we’ll end it there for now. Thank you so much. I’m sure we’ll talk again closer to the election.
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