Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising March 15, 2019

“I had my son in ’97. I was 17 years old. I was a black teen by herself, and I was afraid and I was alone. I had no idea about doulas. I had no idea about the resources that were available to our community. In 2013 I got pregnant again and I knew I wanted to have a completely
Photo for The Uprising March 15, 2019

Published on March 16, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

“I had my son in ’97. I was 17 years old. I was a black teen by herself, and I was afraid and I was alone. I had no idea about doulas. I had no idea about the resources that were available to our community. In 2013 I got pregnant again and I knew I wanted to have a completely different experience. So I did my research, and I found a doula.”

– Felicia Love – Co-President of Rhode Island Doulas

Welcome to The Uprising!

1. Doulas

In the United States, maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world and have increased by 26.6 percent between 2000 and 2014. The only other country in the developed world were deaths are rising is Serbia. On top of that, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

This is a tragedy born of racism, and there are things that can be done to reverse this trend.

Doulas are trained professionals who provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to women during pregnancy, childbirth and the first few postpartum weeks. They assist in making women as comfortable as possible during birth, providing help with breathing techniques, massage and advice, and can help advocate for the woman during the birth.

Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) and Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence) have introduced legislation that would make services from a trained, qualified doula eligible for coverage through private insurance and Medicaid, including the state medical assistance program, for up to $1,500 per pregnancy.

Studies show that requiring this care will lower medical costs by preventing costly complications that may occur in difficult pregnancies. Births assisted by doulas have significantly lower rates of cesarean section, with one study showing a 39 percent reduction, and cesarean sections require three days of hospitalization.

But more importantly, mothers are dying unnecessarily. Families are being devastated. And we have here a partial, important solution. We need to pass H5609. I did not cover a more important story this week.

Here’s Felicia Love, a doula, explaining the importance of her work:

2a. Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s planned “monetization” of Providence Water does not seem popular with the public. At the first of three planned “Community Conversations” to be held around the City, about fifty people attended, and none were speaking out in favor of the plan or seemed inclined to favor it.

Elorza has linked the issue of a pending pension crisis to monetizing the water. The City spent some time explaining the scope and depth of the City’s unfunded pension. If nothing is done to address the pension system, which ha gone underfunded for decades, Providence will be forced to raise taxes and make draconian cuts to City services, and may face bankruptcy.

“There is no ideal solution to this,” said Elorza. “There is no magic bullet that easily turns it all around… It’s really choosing what’s the best solution available to us. We have to be practical. We have to be pragmatic…”

Despite the format of the public meeting, which the administration tried to keep very formal and structured with all questions being submitted on index cards, the public pushed back against this, and forced a more open, one-on-one conversation in which members of the public could voice their concerns.

One Providence resident who pushed back hard was Christina Cabrera from Water Is Life – Land & Water Sovereignty Campaign, a group established to protect water in Rhode Island from corporate despoliation. “You’re controlling this meeting and not letting people talk,” said Cabrera.

The next Community Conversations are scheduled for:

  • Thursday, March 21 6pm-7:30pm at Nathaniel Greene Middle School, 721 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence
  • Monday, March 25 6pm-7:30pm, Nathan Bishop Middle School, 101 Session Street, Providence

2b. Providence Water Supply Board

Eager to learn more about Mayor Elorza’s plans for the City’s water supply, the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) held their monthly meeting at Providence City Hall so members of the Mayor’s administration could present their plan, such as it is, directly to the board. City Solicitor Jeffrey Dana and Director of Sustainability Leah Bamberger gave essentially the same presentation to the board as they gave to the public the night before.

Also attending the PWSB meeting were members of Water Is Life – Land & Water Sovereignty Campaign, who held banners and, towards the end of the meeting, spoke out against the plan. Also speaking were several members of the public not affiliated with the campaign. Again, no one but administration officials seemed enthused with the idea.

Providence City Councilors Luis Aponte (Ward 10) and Jo-Ann Ryan  (Ward 5) are both members of the PWSB and both support the monetization of the City’s water supply.

2c. Nicholas Mattiello

Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello was on the Gene Valicenti radio show later in the week to express his opposition the Mayor Elorza’s plan to monetize Providence Water.

Mattiello expressed doubts that a private company could extract profit from Providence Water without raising rates. He said that the “sale of Providence Water to the Narragansett Bay Commission or to a different purchaser, whatever that purchase price, is is going to be put on the rates that the ratepayers pay. So most people in Rhode Island would incur water fee increases should that happen.”

Mattiello also questioned whether the City has exclusive ownership rights to the water supply, saying, “Providence Water is practically owned by the ratepayers in the State of Rhode Island that utilize the water and therefore, should the water system be sold, the sale proceeds should be distributed to the users that have actually built the system up.”

Providence Water supplies water to 60 percent of state residents, not all of whom live in Providence.

3. Uprise RI Fundraiser

There’s a fundraiser on Monday night for UpriseRI.com and me, Steve Ahlquist.

Uprise RI is funded entirely by donations (and a little bit of advertising).

The party is from 6-9pm at The Parlour, 1119 N Main St, Providence, Rhode Island 02904. There will be music, food, good company, and a mercifully short speech by me. Plus, there’s a giveaway! (Don’t get too excited by the giveaway.) All proceeds will go towards keeping me alive and working.

4a. National Grid

When the South Side community around the Port of Providence was engaged in a battle to stop National Grid from constructing a new LNG liquefaction facility in Fields Point, a facility that would add to the negative health impacts of an area that already has some of the highest asthma rates in the United States, they made several appeals to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo to take action, or even say something on their behalf.

She did not. Worse, as I have shown, Raimondo stacked the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) with members sure to vote the way National Grid wanted. The executive director of the CRMC, Grover Fugate, hid information about the true extent of state authority over the matter. Now it has been revealed by a national news blog, DeSmog, that Raimondo instructed “every state agency in the Governor’s administration” to not submit letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) critical of National Grid’s plans. Reporter Itai Vardi wrote the report, and did great work in finding the documents.

In the letter that was composed but never sent to FERC, the head of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott writes that the “residents of the area feel disenfranchised and believe that their voices and health do not matter to government,” and “continues that historical pattern of discounting the voices of the people that live in the region and sets a precedent that may lead to additional, more concerning, projects in the future.”

Raimondo’s office did not respond to DeSmog’s request for comment, but did respond to mine, after the fact:

“A FERC review is a federal decision-making process, and the consistent position across our agencies has been that the State does not have a specific regulatory role to play in this application’s review. In this case, DOH had previously expressed its concerns with this proposal to FERC, and the Administration felt that further State comment in the federal process was not necessary.”

This statement doesn’t entirely jive with what DOH Spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told DeSmog. “Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review is a federal decision making process,” said Wendelken, adding that DOH had “made recommendations on the proposal when it was reviewed at the state level by the Coastal Resources Management Council.” The CRMC is a state level agency, not Federal.

DeSmog notes:

No LNG in PVD’s Huertas points out that Raimondo has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from National Grid employees, which is confirmed y a review of the state’s campaign finance records.

“Unfortunately, I think she’s in their ocket because her inaction during all these years we’ve been fighting this [project] speaks loudly,” she said.

Furthermore, a lobbyist working for Advocacy Solutions, one of the firms lobbying for National Grid in Rhode Island, served on Raimondo’s 2015 transition team.

4b. eco-RI

Frank Carini, editor at eco-RI, had some harsh comments for Governor Gina Raimondo in the wake of the DeSmog revelations:

“The DeSmog report is alarming, but the governor’s response, or lack of it, isn’t surprising. Raimondo has surrounded herself with well-paid public-relations professionals — several hired away from a hemorrhaging newspaper industry — whose job is to craft her image for the national stage, not address Rhode Island issues. Her constituency isn’t Rhode Island residents, it’s Wall Street, K Street, and special interests.

“This fact hardly makes her an exception in politics. But she has taken the practice of building a brand, not governing, to a new, obnoxious level…”

4c. Gina Raimondo

“I’ve never done anything that I don’t think is the right thing to do, my entire time in public office,” said Gina Raimondo to Jim Braude on WGBH.

5a. Invenergy

Governor Raimondo’s other pet fossil fuel energy project is Invenergy‘s proposed fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine, irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island. During the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) hearing on Wednesday, Burrillville’s expert witness Anthony Zemba called the site where Invenergy intends to build their power plant, “some of the most biologically diverse and valuable property in the entire state.”

Invenergy Attorney Beth Noonan seemed incredulous.

“You’ve reached the opinion that this is the most valuable… in the state?” asked Noonan.

“Well, I’ll tell you that in my 30 years of working as an ecologist I’ve never had a site where we’ve had 17 listed species and 48 species of greatest conservation need. That was remarkable to me,” said Zemba.

Having sat through most of the hearings at the EFSBconcerning the licensing of Invenergy‘s proposed power plant I think I’ve developed a nose for those witnesses that Invenergy’s lawyers feel most threatened by. Their zeal in going after these witnesses, such as Scott Comings, Robert Fagan, and now Anthony Zemba reveal, to my mind, a desperation on the part of the fossil fuel energy plant developer to dismiss concerns about the environmental impacts of their proposal as overblown, when in fact all evidence points towards the site chosen by Invenergy to be one of the last, best examples of its particular kind of ecosystem in New England.

5b. Office of Energy Resources

“I know you have choices about where you could be and I’m pleased you’ve chosen Rhode Island, and you should know we are going to make sure that you are successful here,” said Governor Gina Raimondo to Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky in 2015 when the project was announced.

Since then, Raimondo has claimed to be neutral on the project, claiming that there is a quasi-judicial process that will decide on the licensing of the power plant at the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB). But the Governor still has her finger on the scales here. Andrew Marcaccio, Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) continues to be an intervenor in the proceedings before the EFSB, strongly advocating for the construction of the power plant alongside the team of lawyers from Invenergy and the legal counsel from the Building Trades.

Given the control Raimondo has over her state agencies as seen from item 4a above, it would be a simple matter for her to instruct OER to withdraw their intervention, or to actually come out against the power plant, given the mountain of evidence from ISO New England that the power plant is not needed.

5c. EFSB

Hearings on the licensing of Invenergy‘s proposed power plant will continue at the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) next week on March 20 and 21, starting at 10am, 89 Jefferson Blvd, Warwick, RI 02888

6. Youth Climate Strike

Tens of thousands of youth around the world skipped out of school Friday as part of a 193 country, 2000+ city protest to demand real solutions to the looming climate crisis. In Rhode Island, just under 300 youth crowded the front steps of the Rhode Island State House. I saw no politicians in attendance.

“Our work has been inspired by Greta Thunberg in Sweden,” said Joelye Land, who along with Amick Sollenberger and Lauren Manus of Sunrise RI, organized the event. “She started this whole thing by striking from school on Fridays and today she’s joined by students in over 123 countries.” Thunberg, 16, was nominated for a Nobel Prize yesterday for her work on climate justice, the youngest nominee in history.

Climate activist Nicole DiPaolo was blunt in her criticism of politicians, both nationally and locally, saying, “They refuse to acknowledge the danger we are in at the expense of those who are already suffering and at the expense of young people whose futures are not guaranteed. Instead, our politicians attempt to hide the truth and claim to take bold climate action while they support the expansion of fossil fuels.

“We see that in our Ocean State,” continued DiPaolo, “so vulnerable to sea level rise, with a Governor, Gina Raimondo, that has hidden data from the Department of Health that proves National Grid‘s liquefaction facility is detrimental to public health and safety. A Governor that supports a fracked gas power plant that would destroy the only forest of its kind in the northeast and would make toxic the water for all the surrounding cities and towns.”

7. The Uprising on TV!

The second episode of The Uprising is an interview with Alicia Gauvin, the Executive Director of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health located in Providence. She speaks with host Jennifer Siciliano about the work they do educating people about sexuality in a non-shaming environment. This episode includes a discussion about the Center’s workshop on toxic masculinity. The episode can be viewed here:

8. Senate Rules

Katherine W Bogen wrote an excellent piece for Uprise RI this week taking the Rhode Island Senate to task for failing to pass an ammendent to the Senate Rules that would help address and mitigate sexual harassment within the legislative body.

Bogen writes:

“Rhode Island’s State Senators have just proven that they are willing to offer only limited, and conditional, support to victims of workplace sexual harassment – specifically, victims who may also be their peers, friends, and coworkers. They have chosen to leave their colleagues, especially their women colleagues, vulnerable to harassment, and unable to seek impartial recourse. Whereas Bell and Nesselbush provided impassioned pleas on behalf of survivors of harassment, the apathy from their colleagues was disturbing, palpable, and presents a grim picture of how “effective” the MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been in establishing policy-level change.”

The Senate Rules were passed after a lengthy Senate floor debate that lasted over three hours. For those interested, here’s the video:

9. Lead Poisoning

Richard Asinof over at Convergence RI in What the eyes never appear to see, is asking, “Why would anyone want to place vulnerable children into foster homes that could put them at greater risk, with potential to cause long-term harm to their health?”

With so much attention in recent months being focused on the continuing dire problems with the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families and foster homes, community advocates working to prevent childhood lead poisoning in the state said they were saddened [but not necessarily surprised] that Gov. Gina Raimondo and her administration, for the second year in a row, were still trying to find a shortcut around state regulations protecting children from the threat of being poisoned by lead in order to shoehorn foster children into homes that have not been deemed lead-safe – in the name of cost savings.

Translated, to help ease the shortage of foster homes, DCYF is pushing to waive state regulations around foster homes being certified as lead-safe, claiming – incorrectly, according to childhood lead poisoning prevention advocates – that the process was too time-consuming and expensive.

Not factored into the cost-saving equation by DCYF, according to Colon, were the large medical, educational and social services expenses that would be incurred if a foster child placed in such a home were to become lead-poisoned, with life-long consequences and costs, wiping out any “potential” savings.

10. Lynette Labinger

Ameila Anthony over at the College Hill Independent sat down with legendary civil rights attorney Lynette Labinger to talk about her work on Cohen v Brown, when “Labinger took on Brown University, representing students in a mammoth Title IX case that stemmed from cuts to women’s varsity teams in 1991.”

11. Picture of the week:

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