Savannah DaCruz challenging Blazejewski and status quo politics in House District 2“There is a lot more that we can do for Rhode Islanders. I am plugged in and connected to working class communities, BIPOC communities, the unhoused communities, immigrant communities and artists. Rhode Island deserves somebody who who truly represents them and is in touch with their experiences.”
Published on September 6, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
Savannah DaCruz is challenging Rhode Island’s House Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski in House District 2 in Providence. She spoke with Uprise RI outside the Rochambeau Library on Friday. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Savannah DaCruz: I grew up here in Rhode Island and I’m a progressive Democrat. I am an artist and community organizer. I serve on the board at AS220 and work with immigrants and refugees at Dorcas International. What drove me to run for state representative is my personal experiences growing up here facing eviction and poverty. I know that these experiences are not unique or isolated, but are the shared narratives of many Rhode Islanders that have only been exacerbated by the on-going pandemic. I see it with the clients I work with, with single mothers at the doors, and with students I’ve served as a City Year AmeriCorps member. The inequities in Rhode Island required structural changes beyond just the individual level and our government is not working for us. So I am drawn to uplifting our poor, unhoused, homeless, immigrant, disabled, BIPOC, and queer communities. These are the communities our government abandons.
Uprise RI: Dorcas does great work.
Savannah DaCruz: One of my passions is community building and creating more accessibility. This past winter, we had a huge influx of Afghan arrivals. We needed housing and money. So I thought, what can I do? What can our artist community in Rhode Island do to support and come together for the growing Afghan arrivals? So I organized an Artists for Afghanistan benefit show at AS220. Artists donated pieces or donated most of the proceeds of their pieces at the show and it raised a lot of awareness. I have always been drawn to the ways that art and community can create social change and spread awareness.
Uprise RI: What kind of art do you do?
Savannah DaCruz: I’m primarily a poet, but I also paint. As a visionary I’m working on creating a livable future for the state I grew up in and love. A couple years ago one of my poems was featured on Rhode Island public transit buses. This was through a project called Poetry in Motion launched by Poet Laureate Tina Cane. As someone who took the RIPTA everyday to get to work it was really cool to sit back and watch the public interact with my poem. I’m so glad to see the fares waived for the R-Line bus. A lot of people take that route to buy their groceries. It’s a huge victory and when in office I plan to expand public transit by eliminating bus fare, creating new bus lines, and electrifying our city buses.
Uprise RI: You talked a little bit about this, but why does your district need new representation?
Savannah DaCruz: Our legislators are failing us, especially when it comes to abortion. One of my top priorities is to expand abortion coverage by passing the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act [EACA]. As I talk to voters, healthcare and housing comes up. As someone who grew up here in Providence, I know we need– affordable housing, environmental justice, and the right to abortion. Our current leaders are out of touch with these experiences and failing to fight for these rights, but I’m ready to champion them. We don’t need empty promises, we need immediate action to change the narrative.
Uprise RI: What does that mean? What does it look to change that narrative?
Savannah DaCruz: That means, in terms of affordable housing, capping rent increases at 2% a year, so that landlords don’t keep on jacking up the prices and displacing whole communities. It means luxury developers don’t need tax breaks and Rhode Islanders need affordable housing. I want to work towards building 10,000 affordable, green houses.
Uprise RI: I was at DARE’s Superman Building protest last night. Part of their anger was with the city and state using affordable housing funds to help the Superman Building owners create luxury housing that is not the least bit affordable.
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Savannah DaCruz: It’s incredibly frustrating. If I was our state representative I wouldn’t green light tax cuts for luxury developers. My first thought would be to invest in our unhoused population, those who are struggling to pay their rent and mortgages. I don’t understand the cognitive dissonance in leaders who say they champion affordable housing but their actions coincide with the opposite.
Uprise RI: Two days before the General Assembly ended their session, I spoke to both your opponent, Christopher Blazejewski, and to the Speaker of the House about the EACA. Representative Blazejewski told me he had never seen the letter, signed by 21 members of the House Democratic caucus, urging passage of the EACA. I confirmed that the letter was delivered through proper channels. The Speaker said he saw no urgency in passing the EACA because abortion is legal in Rhode Island and anyone can access abortion care. The day after the General Assembly session ended the United States Supreme Court dropped their decision to reverse Roe, which everyone knew was coming because of the leak, yet House leadership, which includes Representative Blazejewski, acted like they were blindsided.
Savannah DaCruz: The lack of urgency on important matters like healthcare and reproductive justice is also why I’m running. Our right to abortion is under attack. We need elected officials who are ready to defend that right. We need to expand abortion coverage to low-income people and state workers. We need to pass the EACA. The lack of urgency doesn’t surprise me though. When my opponent Representative Blazjewski was faced with the Green Justice Zones Act that would have shut down corporate polluters, he let that bill die in committee. I mean, how can we trust someone to truly represent us who is a big pharma lawyer and has taken over $10,000 from the fossil fuel industry? For years now Rhode Islanders have been on the receiving end of someone else’s decision making that affects their health, finances, and quality of life. We, Rhode Islanders deserve better.
Uprise RI: You mentioned people at the door expressing concerns about housing and healthcare. What else are your neighbors talking about when you go door-to-door?
Savannah DaCruz: Rhode Islanders are talking about the cost of gas, groceries, their electric bills – just the overwhelming cost of living, which I relate to.
Uprise RI: Electricity is about to go up a lot.
Savannah DaCruz: Yes, for many it already has. We need immediate action based steps, and it’s now more than ever its so important for us to work towards a Green New Deal and establish Green Justice Zones. People are fearful about the rising cost of everything and the minimum wage is just not moving fast enough. I will fight to make sure that the minimum wage goes up to at least $19 an hour as fast as possible.
Uprise RI: They talk about how we passed a $15 minimum wage here in Rhode Island, but the minimum wage right now is $12.25 and it doesn’t reach $15 until 2025. We’re over three years away.
Let’s talk about the environment because your district, District 2, is pretty close to the Port of Providence. There are days the wind blows and you can smell the port there. What are people saying about that? What are you hearing about that at the doors?
Savannah DaCruz: For a long time there have been organizations like Sunrise that have been playing defense in the Port to make sure that the problems there don’t expand. I know from experience that students who live in these areas are 10x more likely to have chronic absenteeism and lower performance. These are the black and brown students I’ve worked with in our Providence public schools. I’ve seen how it negatively impacts their educational experience, health, and other things.
Uprise RI: Things like asthma?
Savannah DaCruz: Yes. Asthma- lower test scores, more sick days, less participation in group work and extra curriculars.
Uprise RI: You’re running as part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative. And no matter what happens, it’s going to be a very different State House if you are elected. Will you be ready on day one to get these priorities moving?
Savannah DaCruz: I’m ready to fight for Rhode Islanders with urgency as times are changing. I’m grateful for the powerful women who have come before me and for the communities that hold me accountable. Every Rhode Islander deserves access to abortion, affordable housing, and clean air and water. We want our educators to make at least 60k a year, we want everyone to have access to the mental, vision, dental, and hearing healthcare they need. We want a government who sees and protects us. We need a change and thats what I’m here for.
Uprise RI: I know we touched on this earlier, but what are your thoughts about environmental justice?
Savannah DaCruz: Environmental justice is one of my top priorities. I will fight for a Green New Deal, but also for justice for our BIPOC communities who have been disproportionately affected by pollution, climate change, housing costs, and higher electricity bills. We can’t truly have climate justice without the racial justice component.
Uprise RI: Can you speak more about transitioning to Medicare for All?
Savannah DaCruz: The sooner, the better. I’ve spoken to way too many people who have astronomical medical bills and that shouldn’t be. Especially in light of COVID, medical bills are way too high. We can expand Medicare to make sure that everybody has access to comprehensive healthcare, including mental, vision, dental, reproductive and hearing healthcare.
Uprise RI: Let’s talk about policing. The Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights [LEOBoR] – Should we modify or repeal it?
Savannah DaCruz: I support repealing LEOBoR and plan to work towards ensuring police accountability. I also support the transition of replacing cops with more counselors in our public schools.
Uprise RI: What other ideas do you have?
Savannah DaCruz: I would like to make election day a statewide holiday so everyone can make it to the polls without having to choose between missing work and voting. I would also like employees in customer service to have 1 hour paid breaks, and to change the felt material seating in our buses. I recently had a major surgery, so I was on medical leave. But medical leave is not paid leave. For medical leave you need to use all of your vacation time. On medical leave, you’re healing and you’re not on vacation or anything of that sort. I’d like to work out something on that.
But on a less personal note Providence is the creative capital. So I want to increase funding for the arts to make sure we house and pay our artists. In addition, my work with immigrants and refugees has shown me a lot of blindspots in our social supportive services. I would like to increase accessibility of mental health care particularly to our new arrivals. We need more social workers and therapists, we need to train them and to pay them fairly.
Uprise RI: I love the RIPTA‘s R-Line bus being free.
Savannah DaCruz: I’d love to electrify and expand all public transit. I love that the R-Line is free. I used to take the R-Line every day to get to work and still do to get to doctors appointments. Now more people have access to it. It’s a wonderful thing that we need to see more of.
Uprise RI: What else do you wish to share?
Savannah DaCruz: A lot of people, when I have conversations with them, ask me, “Why are you running up against Blazejewski? He’s also a Democrat.” But there’s a difference between a Democrat and a progressive Democrat. There’s a difference between people who say that they are going to do something and actually being about it.
Those conversations have been fruitful. It’s me asking them, “Are you ready for a change?” Blazejewski has been there for 11 plus years. I don’t want to let any more important environmental, reproductive justice and housing bills die. I also uphold my pledge to not take fossil fuel money, and these are some major differences that set him and I apart.
Uprise RI: I think lawyers who work outside criminal justice are morally and ethically responsible for the terrible things they help their clients do.
Savannah DaCruz: Yes, because you have a choice in who you choose to represent.
Uprise RI: It’s difficult because politics is a game and it’s been played a certain way for a long time. But it’s different now. People are demanding better because of the existential crisis that is climate change. End of the world stuff. It’s not small anymore.
Savannah DaCruz: There is a lot more that we can do for Rhode Islanders. I am plugged in and connected to working class communities, BIPOC communities, the unhoused communities, immigrant communities and artists. Rhode Island deserves somebody who truly represents them and is in touch with their experiences.