The Uprising, June 8, 2018

We will not be a petty and cruel people…
Reverend Liz Lerner Maclay,
First Unitarian Church of Providence

Yes, there’s a big kerfuffle over the potential loss of $24 million dollars of state money due to a missed court date, there’s big PawSox news (probably) and Rhode Island House of Representatives is dropping the budget today (Friday) as I write this…

…But I didn’t cover any of that.

Welcome to The Uprising, your weekly breakdown of the local news you’re probably not seeing. Let’s see what we can do here.

1a. Separating Families

Last Friday there were two protests in Rhode Island against the Trump Administration’s policy of separating children from parents at the southern border. The first was outside the United States Customs and Border Protection offices on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser of Temple Sinai in Cranston and Rhode Island resident Brooke Conley twice entered the office to engage with people there to no avail. On their second attempt to contact people within the offices they were actively ignored and waited for ten minutes.

“The United States runs the largest immigrant detention network in the world,” said immigration activist Gabriella Domenzain who was at the rally representing herself. “And today we’re making it bigger by filling it with children we are taking from the arms of their parents.”

1b. Child of Immigrants

The second protest took place outside the offices of United States Attorney for the Rhode Island District, Stephen Dambruch, near Kennedy Plaza in Providence last Friday afternoon. It was a smaller event, but no less impassioned.

“I am a child of immigrants. I am Guatemalan,” said Rhode Island resident Helen Conforti. “My parents came here back in the 60s. They crossed illegally, I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. My parents then went back [to Guatemala] and eventually got their papers to com here.” Conforti then went on to describe her life and accomplishments, serving in the National Guard, graduating from Rhode Island College and owning a home, like both of her brothers. “I cannot imagine what would happened to me if my parents were crossing the border and I had been ripped away from my family.”

1c. Stephen Dambruch

At the second rally last week, two participants were invited to meet with United States Attorney Stephen Dambruch. Rhode Island resident Helen Conforti and Rebecca Kislak, a candidate for Rhode Island State Representative in District 4, went up to Dambruch’s office.

Kislak wrote up an account of her experiences here, but here’s an excerpt:

“Mr Dambruch explained the administration’s position that the policy is not “child separation,” but rather “zero tolerance.” The new part of this policy is that everyone who crosses the border without permission is arrested and prosecuted for a criminal act. Before this sudden change, United States policy was to charge crimes only against people returning to the United States after having been previously deported, and that non-citizens crossing into the United States for the first time were routinely sent back (with their kids) but not arrested. Now, everyone who crosses the border without permission is arrested – families are being separated and the adults are prosecuted and imprisoned.

“United States Attorney Dambruch presented this as a value neutral policy – when parents are arrested for any crime, child welfare or a relative is called to take the child because jail or detention is no proper place for a child. Helen and I asserted that the United States should be able to develop a policy that doesn’t traumatize families, keeping parents and their children together. Currently, parents are not permitted the choice even of voluntarily returning to their home country in order to remain together with their child.”

One curious turn of conversation was noted by Kislak here:

“During our conversation, Mr Dambruch also let us know that the zero tolerance policy was important to stop the flow of fentanyl into our state. Mexican fentanyl, he explained, is killing Rhode Islanders in the overdose epidemic. We talked about that. Even if some of the fentanyl involved in overdose deaths here in Rhode Island came from outside the United States from Mexico, this “zero tolerance” policy is not an effective deterrent.”

2a. Rally Against Criminalization

Unnoticed by many Rhode Islanders, nearly 100 people turned out at the Roger Williams Memorial Park on North Main Street in Providence for a Rally Against Criminalization: Criminalization of people of color, informal work such as hair braiding, immigration status, feminist economics, drug use, people with records, neighborhoods of color and sex work. The event was one of the sharpest and most relevant critiques of the political and social climate in Rhode Island, and presents a direct challenge to a political class that seems interested in criminalizing itself out of every social issue, as evidenced by legislation such as Kristen’s Law or the continued embrace of life sentences for juvenile offenders.

Nine times out of ten, if someone is putting the word ‘illegal’ in front of something it’s because they want to make it corporate,” said emcee Christopher Johnson, a local poet and activist, towards the end of the program. “There’s a corporate reason behind mass incarceration.”

Anyone attending this rally would have learned something.

2b. Kristen’s Law

Speaking about criminalization:

Experts on drug policy and human health agree: Kristen’s Law (S2279A / H7715) will do nothing to deter drug use and will only ruin more lives.

So why is the Rhode Island General Assembly rushing to pass it and why is Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo so eager to sign the legislation into law upon passage, despite the thumbs down from her hand-picked chief advisor to her Opioid Task Force, Dr Jody Rich?

Probably because it’s an election year, and what’s a few shattered families compared to the glory of getting re-elected by looking like you’re tough on crime?

Health policy experts held a press conference against the bill in Warwick, Dr Michael Fine, family medicine doctor and former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) said, “I’m with the rest of the people up here it terms of understanding that the bill as written is not the bill we need. We need to be thinking about how to value the lives of all Rhode Islanders.”

Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott, Raimondo’s current RIDOH director, has been silent on the bill, at least publicly.

2c. Criminalization at the State House

As protesters arrived at room 211 of the Rhode Island State House on Wednesday, Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston) organized a police detail. This is a common reaction to No LNG in PVD! and all groups representing the poor and people of color who advocate on their own behalf in public spaces.

They are policed.

This never happens when the Environmental Council of Rhode Island holds an event.

3a. Coastal Resources Management Council

The Rhode Island State Senate Committee of Environment and Agriculture met to re-appoint three members of the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on Wednesday, then met again on Thursday to consider Governor Gina Raimondo‘s proposed legislation that would make the re-appointment of three members actually legal.

These re-appointments are controversial because under present law the Governor has appointed too many people to the board, exceeding her limit. Save The Bay has sued the state, seeking clarification from the court on how many and and under what circumstances the Governor can fill the positions.

Meanwhile, No LNG in PVD! protested the re-appointments because there is no representation on the CRMC for Environmental Justice Communities, writing:

“Environmental Justice communities in Rhode Island, particularly communities of color which are more likely to be affected by environmental racism and treated as sacrifice zones for industry, should be represented on the CRMC: We are calling for a minimum of four members of the required 16-person CRMC to be people of color, with one a resident of the South Side Providence… To meet the requirement that the majority of CRMC members need to reside in coastal communities, we request that new appointees from coastal communities reside in coastal Environmental Justice communities.”

The goal of No LNG in PVD! was to convince the Senate Committee members  to use their advice and consent powers: Reject the three re-nominations and submit better, more representational candidates. That didn’t happen.

Chair Sosnowski attempted to limit the scope of public testimony concerning the re-appointments to only the qualifications of the people under consideration, but of course, with legislation in the offing that may potentially change the way the CRMC is constituted, it was impossible to separate the qualifications of the re-appointees from their actions and/or their in-actions while serving on the CRMC, or from the overtly political nature of the appointments and the implicit racism and classism at work.

Despite the pleas of the public, despite the overt racism in evidence at CRMC meetings held to rubber stamp National Grid‘s liquefaction facility, despite the fact that their is no representation on the CRMC concerning climate change, human health or environmental racism, Chair Sosnowski, with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) glowering in his seat as an ex officio member of the committee, led the committee in an almost unanimous vote to approve the re-appointments.

Only Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) voted against re-appointment.

3b. CRMC legislation

This week the Governor introduced legislation, through Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Susan Sosnowski (Democrat, District 37, Block Island, South Kingstown) that will alter the law surrounding appointments to the CRMC to the Governor’s liking. Save The Bay was a partner with the Governor in crafting the legislation.

Senator Sosnowski held off on approving Raimondo’s re-appointments last week, citing a letter from Monica Huertas, campaign coordinator for No LNG in PVD! challenging the legality of the re-appointments.

In response to the letter from Huertas, Sosnowski read aloud a letter from Claire Richards, legal Counsel for Governor Raimondo, who made the argument that No LNG in PVD!’s legal arguments were invalid, or fell under the Senate’s role of offering “advice and consent” on gubernatorial nominees. (You can access the Governor’s letter here and here.)

The entirety of No LNG in PVD!’s arguments as to the systemic and environmental racism implicit in the board’s make-up and actions during hearings on National Grid’s proposed liquefaction facility, were ignored by Richards, and left to the discretion of the Senate Committee, who, as you will know, punted.

3c. Enter: Common Cause

The entire issue becomes more complicated when we consider that there’s a separation of powers issue at play as well. Essentially, the legislature cannot place legal restrictions on the Governor’s ability to choose people to staff boards and councils. What the legislature can do is reject candidates, and work with the Governor to find acceptable substitutions. This is what is meant by advice and consent.

Here’s John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, explaining the separation of powers issue:

What this means is that the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture heard these bills out of order in an effort to fast track politically and racially charged re-appointments as a way to get ahead of a ruling from the courts that may fundamentally alter the way the CRMC is constituted.

The Senate Committee should have heard, debated and passed the legislation that changes the way the CRMC is constituted and chosen, then set about the task of providing “advice and consent” to the Governor in terms of who will be appointed to the CRMC. By doing it out of order, the Senate was able to stifle debate on the re-appointments and avoid their duty to provide “advice and consent.”

3d. Save The Bay

At the time Save The Bay filed their lawsuit, four of the members of the CRMC were not elected or appointed municipal officials, as required by law. “Many months after Save The Bay expressed our concerns about the membership of the council, appointed municipal positions in Little Compton were secured for Don Gomez and Michael Hudner. In May, Trish Reynolds, who resides in East Greenwich, was appointed to the Community Outreach Educational Committee for the City of Warwick.”

In other words, positions were created for three members of the CRMC after the fact, in two in Little Compton and one Warwick, so that their ability to serve on the CRMC could be sustained.

There were audible gasps from the audience when they realized the full import of Hamblett’s revelation.

3e. Jerry Sahagian

Sahagian is a member of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). He’s also one of the founding members of The Preserve at Boulder Hills, located in Richmond, Rhode Island. He’s an advocate for importing exotic animals into Rhode Island for “canned hunts.” (See #4 below)

4a. Canned Hunts

Bills (H8090/S2929) that would allow so-called “shooting preserves” to import exotic animals for hunting seem to have been introduced to serve Paul Mihailides, owner and developer of The Preserve at Boulder Hills, located in Richmond, Rhode Island.

According to the Providence Journal, “Although membership at The Preserve has its privileges, it also has its costs: $250,000 for family lifetime memberships that offer access to the resort 365 days a year. ‘Social” memberships cost $50,000 and allow access 12 times a year. Mihailides said he plans to raise the family membership rates by $25,000 every time five new members join, and total membership will be limited to 150 families.”

It is, in other words, a club for rich assholes.

Here’s Jerry Sahagian and Representative Stephen Ucci (Democrat, District 42, Johnston) defending their bill in House Corporations:

The bill was stopped because members of the House and Senate were frankly too embarrassed to vote for it, despite being fast tracked days before. Rhode Island residents, some of whom had never advocated at the State House before, went to the Senate floor and advocated against the bill among them Naama Gidron, Mary Pendergast, Jean DePasquale, and Sarah Gleason. At least for now, they seem to have won.

4b. Credit where credit is due?

The video above of Sahagian and Ucci was shot by me in April. I was in the room for a different bill, but kept the video of this, because it seemed so weird and so unlikely to pass. It was only after I was contacted on Facebook about the sudden movement of the bill that I remembered the video and shared it with activists.

The Providence Journal made use off my video, without credit, for their piece on the canned hunting bill:

In April, Jerry Sahagian, a founding member of The Preserve, explained the reason for a requested change in the law this way: “We are allowed to import elk [now] but we are not allowed to hunt them.”

That prompted Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, to ask: “You bring them in but you don’t have a purpose?”

At that point, the lead House sponsor, Rep. Stephen Ucci, D-Johnston, jumped in to say while the state Department of Environmental Management allows for such importation, The Preserve wouldn’t be bringing in any elk until it had permission to hunt them.

But you know what? Despite the fact that the ProJo stole my work without credit, I will continue to link to and give credit to the Providence Journal and their reporters when I need to because that’s what professional reporters do.

5. The Troll

I’m going to write this in a way that may be a little frustrating to readers. I’m going to write about a peaceful, MLK inspired event that took place here in Rhode Island a while back, where a fascist troll attempted to disrupt the participants and provoke the media (me). What will make this frustrating is that I do not intend to identify the event, and I do not intend to identify the troll.

The people who organized the event worked hard to hold a public rally where they could talk about important issues such as racism, poverty and more, from a non-violent perspective. They do not deserve to have their event co-opted by a troll who only seeks attention for himself at the expense of their hard work. When I covered the event on UpriseRI, I removed all traces of the troll’s actions. Is this proper journalism? I maintain it is: The story I wrote is intended to amplify the views of people who are too often marginalized and ignored by the press: The poor and people of color.

The story is not and should not be about a white man sadly seeking attention for himself, invading the space of others and attempting to ridicule, mock and provoke people.

That is a separate story.

I also do not intend to report the name of the man who trolled the event. This is a man who seeks attention, seeks to make himself famous by going out and ridiculing the poor, people of color, environmental activists, the elderly, and anyone he sees as weaker than himself.

He is, in other words, an attention seeking bully, and I’m not giving him the attention.

But I still want to write about this, and as you read, perhaps you will see why I feel it is important to do so.

The event was nearing the end. The planned speakers had finished and the older black woman acting as emcee asked if anyone who like to say a few words. A woman stepped forward, but so did the troll, a large man brandishing a cigar. The troll was dressed in an Army jacket upon which a large anarchy “A” was crudely drawn in magic marker, as well as several phrases like “drop acid” and “They tried to bury us but we were seeds.”

The troll was allowed to take the microphone.

The troll had his own cameraman, who had arrived separately but couldn’t hide his giddy excitement when his friend took the microphone. A third member of the troll’s group, a blond woman, stood at the periphery of the crowd, perhaps serving as a lookout.

The troll took the microphone and began his act. He fumbled with an umbrella, delivered incoherent approximations of anti-corporate rhetoric, then launched into profanities. The crowd, which trended older and religious, told the troll to please not use profanities. The troll pretended to apologize, then used more profanities, as his cameraman giggled.

Then the troll said that the only way to stop the evil actions of corporations was through the immediate use of violence. The emcee, who had earlier invoked the spirit and non-violence of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, took the microphone away from the troll.

The troll protested, but yielded. Then things got darker and scarier.

The troll stood directly in front of my camera, blocking my ability to continue filming the event. I asked him to move, he did not, so I moved my camera. He moved to block me a second time, before moving to the back of the crowd, behind me.

At the back of the crowd, an older man told the troll that the cigar smoke was offensive and stank. The troll mocked the older man and pointed his cigar at him to make his point.

Then the troll and his cameraman tried to position themselves behind me, for reasons that I knew were not benign. The troll attempted to press the off button on my camera (an iPhone on a tripod) and I told him to “back off” loudly. He backed off, but his cameraman turned off my phone as I was distracted.

I said something like “What the fuck, dude!” and turned my camera back on. “Don’t mess with my camera.”

“Sorry, sorry,” said the cameraman, giggling like a child.

The troll and his cameraman wanted to harass me more, but something amazing and humbling happened then.

The crowd of people at the event moved to protect me. They surrounded me and would not allow the troll to get near me. The people who moved between me and the troll and his cameraman were mostly older, activists who I have watched stand up countless times against corporate greed and government corruption. And now they were standing up for me.

Maybe the Germans have a word for the emotions I feel as I think about this. Something that combines deep gratitude and love with a sense of unworthiness, and fear for those who protected me at their own risk.

The troll and his cameraman backed off, the event ended.

Then the cameraman came over and apologized for touching my camera. I shook his hand, accepted the apology, but of course it was just more trolling. The troll was holding the camera now, filming the apology, and making comments about the small size of my camera compared to his. (Yes, it’s a penis-size joke.)

The troll, his cameraman and the blond woman then left in a pickup truck with out of state plates.

In the thick of things, one never knows how dangerous something like this might be. Were these trolls there just to make fun of the people who care about social justice, or were they intending actual violence? The troll had called for violence as part of his schtick. How seriously were we to take him? They had no problem violating people’s space, whether it be with cigar smoke or touching their cameras.

Marginalized people – the poor, the homeless, people of color, members of certain religions, LGBTQ folks and more – understand that violence is one step past disrespect and mockery. The trolling and mockery are often meant to dehumanize the other as a necessary precursor to violence. Did this specific troll intend violence? There is no way to know, because the troll never declared his intentions. In order to infiltrate and mock the event he had to lie, and present himself as someone with different motivations.

And don’t forget, the entire thing was filmed by the troll. The camera captured the uncertainty, the fear and the righteous anger of his victims. The dignity of the people the troll violated is now entertainment for the troll and his followers, who will bask in the racism, classism and bullying of people they consider lesser than. The event, the people, their perspectives, everything they are, were just means to their end: the creation of video mocking and dehumanizing people doing what they can to build a better world

6a. RI Pride

Pride is a week from now. Here’s Bishop Thomas Tobin, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence with his take on it:

6b. Masterpiece Cake

Here’s an excellent analysis of the United States Supreme Court ruling on the Masterpiece Cakeshop by Jared A. Goldstein, a Roger Williams University law professor who teaches constitutional law and is a former United States Department of Justice attorney.

“By issuing a narrow ruling on the specific facts of this case, the court suggested – without explicitly saying so – that Colorado can continue to enforce its anti-discrimination and protect LGBT people from discrimination, as long as it does not express anti-religious bias in doing so.

“For today, at least, the Supreme Court has decided not to recognize a constitutional right to discriminate.”

7. Turn Off 10

Turn Off 10, a campaign coordinated by the Rhode Island ReSisters, protested outside Yorker Shoes on 1503 Hartford Ave, Johnston on Tuesday afternoon in opposition to the family-owned business’s continued advertising on Channel 10/WJAR, which is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

They are continuing to protest the right-wing, pro-Trump slant that Sinclair imposes on local news coverage.

8. Elections 2018

9a. Providence Teachers Union boos Mayor Jorge Elorza:

9b. Elorza is still trying to sell our water

More to come on this over the weekend, but here’s Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza still trying to “monetize” aka privatize, Providence Water:

10. Red Bandana Awards

Henrietta White-Holder and Linda Finn were honored at the sixth annual Red Bandana Award Celebration, held in memory of activist Richard Walton and all that he stood for.

Henrietta White-Holder is the founder & CEO of Higher Ground International, a culturally grounded inter-generational social service NGO that advocates and provides programs for West African Immigrants, Refugees and Marginalized Communities in Rhode Island and Rural Villages in Liberia, West Africa.

Linda Finn is the Board President of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence. She has bravely and tirelessly advocated for sensible gun laws in Rhode Island, and fashioned a coalition of people and groups that touches every part of Rhode Island. Her work has made Rhode Island safer for all of us.

11a. The Woman Project

“As a transgender and gender queer individual, this conversation affects me too,” writes Unitarian Universalist Reverend David Helfer, writing for The Woman Project. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m someone that looks male but has a uterus. I’m past my childbearing years, and the testosterone I take has effectively ended my ability to reproduce, but for many I know within trans and gender queer community, whether or not to have children is still an open question.

“We’re left out of the discussion, bluntly, because of transphobia. People assume there isn’t a ‘man and a woman,’ or a penis and a vagina, and reproduction is off the table. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.

“Some trans* folks can bear children. Some can’t. But all deserve the same right that cisgender women are fighting for here, the right to have bodily autonomy. To determine when and how and if they will have children.”

11b. Domestic Gag Rule

The Democratic Governors Association, of which Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is vice-chair, sent a letter to United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar expressing concerns over the Trump Administration’s plan to  place sweeping new restrictions on reproductive healthcare providers across our country.

Read more here.

12a. Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign

Week four of the Rhode Island Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival took on the Right to Health and a Healthy Planet: Ecological Devastation and Health Care. The action took place on the Rhode Island State House lawn.

12b. Sanctuary

The First Unitarian Church of Providence just sanctified space for sanctuary. In the days, weeks or months ahead, the church will take a person or family into Sanctuary to prevent the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for proceeding with deportation against them.

The quote at the beginning of this piece was said by Reverend Maclay at this event.

Here’s video of the dedication service, more to come on this over the weekend:

13. E-Cubed Academy

My thanks to E-Cubed Academy for allowing me the privilege of speaking to students on career day about my experiences as a social justice reporter in Rhode Island on Friday morning. The kids were great, the questions insightful, and the experience amazing.

14. Picture of the week:

Monica Huertas, campaign coordinator for No LNG in PVD! with a cardboard model of an LNG tank on fire.


Am I done? I think so. I have some stuff to catch up on and PVDFest to enjoy, so stay tuned to this web address.

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About Steve Ahlquist 597 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

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