The Uprising, May 11, 2018

Mike Stenhouse

Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I’m busting up my brains for the words…
David Bowie

Welcome to the Uprising!

Let’s get right into this:

1a. Rhode Island Democratic Platform Committee Meeting

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena (Democrat) turned what was supposed to be a simple welcome to the Rhode Island Democratic Platform Committee into a rambling, ten minute diatribe extolling the virtues of conservatism and warning against the dangers of progressivism. Polisena declared that core Democratic Party values are “traditional,” conservative, and Catholic. Polisena also launched into an attack on Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) by specifically calling out various pieces of legislation (carbon tax, single-payer and death with dignity) that Regunberg has introduced or added his name to, before endorsing Daniel McKee, the incumbent lieutenant governor Regunberg is challenging this September. Regunberg was in the room. McKee was not.

What Polisena did, along with Representatives Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) and Stephen Ucci (Democrat, District 42, Johnston), was to open, for the world to see, the internal struggle of the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP). At issue is the rising power and representation of a progressive left that wants things like protection for Roe v Wade at the state level and some reasonable gun laws, (as well as lots of other stuff) versus the Catholic-flavored conservatism that opposes reproductive rights but also somehow embraces gun culture.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the power of the progressive movement that these reactions are becoming more public. When the 2016 primaries ended, Bernie Sanders handily won Rhode Island, but because of superdelegates, Rhode Island sent more delegates to the convention for Hillary Clinton. That felt like the opposite of democracy to many Rhode Island Democrats, progressive or otherwise, who have now been working these last two years to take power, both locally and nationally.

1b. Calls for unity

“We have to be working on the things we agree on and forgetting about the things we don’t agree on,” said Kevin Olasanoye, executive director of the RIDP, trying to keep the canvas from blowing off the big tent.

“We need to concentrate on the things that we do agree about because the gun and abortion issues break us apart,” said Representative Stephen Ucci (Democrat, District 42, Johnston).

It’s fine to concentrate on the gun and abortion issues if you’re a traditional Democrat, it seems. Why else would Ucci put his name on the conceal/carry reciprocity bill and the anti-abortion fetal dismemberment bill? Is Ucci trying to break the RIDP apart?

1c. Guns

On Monday, many called for a ‘big tent’ Democratic Party, but their vision for the party is one in which only their conservative values are allowed to be heard,” said Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) President Linda Finn. “Right now the Democratic Party of Rhode Island does not have a big tent. Rather, it has a very small tent where only insiders and corporate lobbyists can gain admittance, and the rest of Rhode Island’s Democrats are locked out and kept voiceless.

Frank Saccoccio, president of the Rhode Island 2nd Amendment Coalition called for a rejection of progressive values in the RIDP.

“I see the Democratic Party going away from conservatism and I don’t think it’s the way we should be going. It should be a little bit more toward conservatism and accountability for people and accountability in regards to what it’s going to cost to get these programs into place,” said Saccoccio. “And we should be protecting our freedoms, especially the second amendment, and not trying to curtail them.”

1d. Matt Allen

The story was picked up on Thursday by Matt Allen, who had Mayor Polisena on his show to basically repeat the comments he made Monday night. “I guess I was thrown under the bus, so to speak, on that blog,” said Polisena. “I don’t go on those blogs any way. I have not only a thick head I have thick skin so I can take it.”

Since when is quoting someone accurately throwing them under a bus?

I called in to respond to Polisena here:

Listen to “UpriseRI.com’s Steve Ahlquist – Democratic platform committee meeting highlights divisions amid calls for unity” on Spreaker.

You can listen to the entire show here.

1e. Why is this important?

The RIDP holds every statewide seat and the entirety of the Washington delegation. They control both houses off the General Assembly. But the positions and values of most of these local Democrats do not match the positions and values of most Rhode Islanders, who vote to keep these “traditional” Democrats in power because they feel the alternative, the Republicans, are worse.

The RIDP is to be commended for opening the platform committee process and honestly grappling with these important issues. Too often, though, reading the Democratic Party Platform, and comparing that to the voting records and actual positions of our elected officials more often than not results in a kind of mental whiplash.

The political and social positions of many elected Democrats in Rhode Island on issues like guns and reproductive rights are essentially the same as the Republican Party, so progressives find themselves outside the process, cut adrift, with no candidates that reflect their values. It is only natural that when progressives assert their values, the establish will strike back.

2. Natural Hair Braiding

The push to deregulate natural hair braiding continues at the State House. For some reason, the State Senate is a stumbling block, so on Thursday hair braiders demonstrated their craft outside the Senate Chambers.

During the demonstration, Senators Paul Jabour (Democrat, District 5, Providence) and Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) had their hair braided, as did Representative Daniel McKiernan (Democrat, District 7, Providence).

Mike Stenhouse, executive director of the conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, who supports the exemption from licensing for natural hair braiders, had a braid woven into his hair.

Here’s a short video showing Jocelyn DoCouto braiding her daughter’s hair. Jocelyn’s narration is from her testimony on the bill in a Senate hearing a few months back.

3. Fentanyl Test Strips

If we want to save lives, say advocates for those who use illegal drugs, we need to empower users to make better choices. You can’t enter recovery if you die.

“Preventable overdose deaths have taken too many of our neighbors and our young people,” said Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence). “Nearly every family in our state has been touched in some way, and we need to take action. Fentanyl is a primary factor in the spike in overdose deaths in recent years, and fentanyl test strips are an effective tool to protect against this dangerous substance. By increasing access to test strips, this legislation will save lives and make our communities safer.”

Regunberg’s bill, H8132, would solidify the legality of fentanyl test strips. These strips would show that illicitly purchased drugs contain fentanyl, allowing users to make choices about whether and how to use the drugs. Groups that provide services to users favor the bill, and the best health research confirms that this idea has the potential to save lives.

4a. Invenergy

The Providence Journal has been blindly cheerleading the $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island for a long time. Now it turns out that one of the reports the ProJo used to justify their support was seriously flawed.

When ISO New England modeled energy needs for 2024-25, they made the following assumptions:

  • The ISO assumed increasing load (demand for electricity) in every year between now and 2024, when the ISO’s own CELT (Capacity, Energy, Loads and Transmission) report shows decreased load in every year between now and 2024;
  • The ISO assumed increased residential consumer demand for natural gas (which gets served preferentially over power plants during hours of scarcity), when the trend for years had been decreased demand;
  • The ISO completely ignored existing laws on the books of every New England state pertaining to mandatory procurement of renewable energy;
  • The ISO assumed less Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports into New England than there are today, when in fact LNG imports may (or may not) go up, but can almost certainly not go down (because the LNG infrastructure is already there); and
  • The ISO’s model also assumed maximal polar vortex winter conditions for all three winter months, something that has never happened in the history of weather records.

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) provided UpriseRI with a comprehensive analysis of the flawed report, explaining what happened when the report was redone with reasonable, real world data:

(T)he results were starkly different: zero days of rolling blackouts, and zero hours of rolling blackouts.

  • Grid reliability increased the more renewables are deployed;
  • Grid reliability increased with additional energy efficiency (both gas and electric); and
  • Grid reliability decreased as our reliance on gas-fired power plants increased.

That last point is a serious argument against building Invenergy’s power plant, says Elmer: “Since 2000, New England’s electricity fuel mix has gone from 15 percent gas to 49 percent gas. Both ISO-NE and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources have said for a long time that New England’s over-reliance on a single fuel (natural gas) is dangerous. Building additional gas plants like Invenergy increases New England’s reliance on a single fuel and decreases system reliability.”

4b. The Energy Facilities Siting Board

Legislation to change the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) was introduced by Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester). The legislation is a reaction to, but will have no effect on, the licensing of Invenergy’s proposed power plant. If passed, the legislation will expand the current board member count from three to nine, and for the first time in Rhode Island law, define “environmental justice.”

“Environmental justice” means and includes the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.

An amended version of the bill was passed in the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee and will be heard on the House floor soon.

5a. The Woman Project in Washington DC

The Woman Project took their Reproductive Health Care Act Community Petition Quilt to Washington DC and “met with Senators Whitehouse and Senator Reed, and the offices of Congressperson Cicilline and Congressperson Langevin. All of these meetings were productive, though we extend particular gratitude to Senator Whitehouse and Congressperson Cicilline, who have already singed on to the Women’s Health Protective Act. WHPA would provide, if passed, a federal protection to slow, or stop, many of the state laws aimed at removing a woman’s right to determine her reproductive future.”

5b. Nicholas Mattiello

Rhode Island’s Democratic Speaker: Abortion Rights Aren’t Under Attack in the US

Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s dismissal of concerns over the possible overturning of Roe v Wade made national news. Auditi Guha of Rewire.news writes,

Despite legislative efforts across the United States to curtail abortion access and challenge Roe v. Wade, Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) said the push to codify abortion rights into state law is “irrelevant” and “divisive.”

6. Guns into plowshares

Scott McKay at Rhode Island Public Radio has a piece on a religious effort to call attention to the need for stricter gun laws in Rhode Island.

“To honor Mothers’ Day, Providence religious leaders this weekend will urge support for “common sense” gun regulations.

“Four city houses of worship will celebrate turn “Guns into Plowshares” weekend with prayer and presentations of decommissioned firearms that will be transformed into garden tools by metal artists working at The Steel Yard in Providence.

“The four faith communities participating in this event are First Unitarian Church in Providence; Temple Beth-El; The First Baptist Church in America; and Central Congregational Church

7. Reverend Traci Blackmon

At the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty‘s 10th Interfaith Poverty Conference at Rhode Island College Wednesday morning, Reverend Blackmon issued a stirring call for racial and social justice.

“I refuse to stand by and see children who are unhoused and children who are hungry because your behavior is unacceptable,” said Blackmon, rousing the crowd. “I refuse to stand by and watch children assassinated in the street because your love for guns is greater than your love for God. I refuse to stand by and watch black and brown people marginalized in this country because you have created a God of Whiteness instead of a God of Justice.

“Not on my watch!”

You can watch the full video below:

8. The 2018 Governor’s race

The second Rhode Island gubernatorial debate of 2018 demonstrated just how difficult a subject affordable housing is. The five candidates who attended, Spencer Dickinson (Democrat), Matt Brown (Democrat), Giovanni Feroce (Republican), Bill Gilbert (Moderate) and Paul Roselli (Democrat), seemed unable to even adequately define what affordable housing means.

We’ll never know if Governor Gina Raimondo (Democrat), Allan Fung (Republican), Patricia Morgan (Republican), Luis-Daniel Munoz (independent) or Joe Trillo (Independent) could have done better, because they didn’t bother to show up.

9a. DHL strike in Pawtucket

DHL workers in Pawtucket have been on strike for nearly two weeks now. At issue are healthcare and low wages. Negotiations are difficult. Matthew Maini from Teamsters Local 251 that DHL workers were told “This is a single man’s job” and “Don’t like it? Don’t have kids.”

Workers at DHL in Pawtucket work full time but have to pay for Obamacare out of pocket. DHL’s healthcare plan costs more than many employees make in a year.

9b. This is what MLK was about, just before he died

At the Rally to Commemorate Dr Martin Luther King held at the Roger Williams National Memorial last Saturday, Rhode Island Jobs With Justice executive director Michael Araujo said, “We discussed how we could bring an anti-racist, anti-oppression lens to the work of labor organizing, community organizing. But most importantly, we had seen a couple of things happen over the past couple of years things which were really pretty disturbing for us. Which was when activist were defending black life or going to challenge police, we were seeing Dr King being used as a weapon against people… He was reduced to four words, and not to a real challenge.. We wanted to reclaim this more radical vision of Dr King as a labor organizer, as a civil rights activist, and as a true revolutionary.”

Here’s Matthew Maini from Teamsters Local 251 talking about the DHL strike:

10a. David Norton is running for Mayor of Pawtucket

10b. Belen Florez is challenging Daniel McKiernan for State Rep in District 7, Providence

10c. Interested in running for office yourself?

The Elections Division at the Rhode Island Department of State, in cooperation with the State Board of Elections, is offering five How to Run for Office seminars to current and potential candidates to learn the ins and outs of getting their names on the ballot this election season.

Elections staffers from both agencies will provide would-be candidates information on how to properly complete a Declaration of Candidacy form, how to properly complete nomination papers, how to maintain compliance with campaign finance laws, and more.

Click here for dates.

11. Electrifying RIPTA

Avery Brookins at Rhode Island Public Radio has the scoop on Governor Gina Raimondo‘s plan to use Volkswagen settlement money to invest in electric buses.

12. Picture of the week:


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About Steve Ahlquist 578 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Several attendees at the RIDP Platform Committee hearing, some Jewish and some not, felt a very uncomfortable undercurrent of subtle anti-Semitism. Although I am an atheist, my heritage is Jewish and it was very uncomfortable. Being told that MY party represents Catholic values was a slap in the face, and I’m sure that others, and not just Jewish attendees, felt the same way. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but change IS coming and the good old boys of the RIDP better learn to lead, follow or get out of the way!

  2. Thank you for your comment, Judi. I was very offended by that! I am a Unitarian who is also an atheist, but first and foremost (for us both, and everyone else), I am a human being and an American. In the USA, “Catholic values” are quite fluid. Also, to suggest that a political party should exalt religious values above all else is seditious! The Constitution guarantees us the separation of religion and our political governance. Since elected officials are required to swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the mayor’s remarks are nothing if not seditious, and ‘seditious’ is just another word for treasonous.

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