The Uprising, March 16, 2018

“Debt is an ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slavedriver.”
Ambrose Bierce

Welcome to The Uprising!, where the the only debt we care about is what we owe each other.

1a. Guns!

Wednesday marked the largest student led protest in history. Across the country students, from kindergarten to college, demanded an end to mass shootings and gun violence. It is estimated that around a million students participated.

In Rhode Island, the walkout took various forms. Some students left their school building for the requisite 17 minutes, one minute for each death in Parkland, Florida one month ago, other students rallied in their gym or cafeteria. Students in and around Providence, maybe a thousand, maybe four hundred (according to the Providence Journal) marched to the Rhode Island State House where they rallied in the rotunda, expanding the scope of the protest beyond school safety, demanding an end to all gun violence.

UpriseRI was on hand to record every word of the student led protest in the rotunda.

Classical High School seniors Latifat Odetunde and Thania Merlain rewrote the Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the fact that gun violence in US tops the rest of the world, and to the Republic, for which it stands, a divided nation, under a government that lacks the decency to advocate for a system with liberty and justice for all…”

These students stand not only with all victims of school shootings, they stand against violence in their communities as well.

“Everyone goes silent when shooting happens in the hood,” said Odetunde. “But when a shooting happens in the suburbs, we all go insane.”

“We stand with Sandy Hook, Parkland and Columbine,” said Odetunde and Merlain, together.

“But we need to keep that same energy for urban communities when things pop off and get out of line,” finished Merlain.

The pair then listed off a series of five shootings that happened in Providence in January.

“Where was the outrage,” asked Merlain. “Where was the coverage?”

1b. Immediately after the student led rally, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) packed the State Room at the State House with around 200 people to demand passage of the Safe Schools Act of 2018. The bills, H7591 / S2289 would make clear that concealed carry permit holders may not enter a school building carrying a firearm. Schools, like airports and governmental buildings, would become gun free zones. Only peace officers and persons approved by the school authorities for the purposes of educational instruction may carry firearms or other weapons on school grounds.

The idea floated (and even passed) in some states, of arming teachers in the classroom was roundly rejected by both Governor Gina Raimondo, who said “The solution is not to arm teachers, unless we’re arming them with teaching supplies and better school facilities” and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, who bluntly stated, “…arming teachers … is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

In an unusual move for an event such as this, the governor did not speak first. Instead, the sponsors of the bills spoke first, followed by three high school students. This shows the sheer political power of these students and their cause.

Classical High School student Taiwo Demola spoke at the student led rally and at the RICAGV event. “Thanks to the efforts of youth activists in Parkland, Florida and the Providence Student Union [PSU], and all over the country for that matter, the first conversation will be about our schools. Schools should be a place where young people should be free to engage in the act of learning without fear for their safety.”

1c. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate Shepard Fairey produced two posters for the walkout., though I did not see any on display at the State House events. They are downloadable here.

1d. As President Donald Trump insists that arming teachers is the solution, with the backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a teacher in California accidentally discharged his weapon, injuring a student.

“I was kinda leaning toward having armed people in school in case something happened. After today, I get why people say there should be no guns in schools,” said the student’s father. The father is lucky: There was a harder way to learn that lesson: His child survived.

1e. Scientific American addresses one of the great unasked questions: Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?

“These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears,” writes Jeremy Adam Smith. “They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.”

1f. In response to the rising chorus of student voices against gun violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a part of Everytown, has developed a list of policy priorities that they say Congress “should pass into law to help prevent gun violence of all forms.”

1g. “Teachers and students are on high alert,” said Barrington School teacher Suzanne Pickford at the RICAGV event. “There is a scenario I run through my head on a nearly daily basis. It involves me shepherding students out of an emergency exit window in my classroom. I count the footsteps to the window in my mind, and I consider how many teenagers I could hoist out a window in 30 seconds. How long would I need if someone were shooting the lock off my door? How many students could I save?”

2. Trump fired Rex Tillerson, and announced Michael Pompeo, current head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as his pick for Secretary of State. Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrats, voted for Pompeo as head of the CIA, despite his war-criminal adjacent support for torture and his terrible anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ statements and attitudes.

Whitehouse came under criticism from the Rhode Island voters for his Pompeo vote, saying at the time that when a “wildly stupid idea” comes flying out of Trump’s White House, there will be some people there to say no. “I believe Pompeo will say no. He was never a Trump guy he was a [Marco] Rubio guy, he’s trusted in the intelligence community, aside from his politics, and I think he’s part of a fire wall around the crazy excesses that are potentially coming out of the Trump Whitehouse.”

Pompeo is a Trump guy now.

In an email, Whitehouse wrote:

“While I disagree with him on many issues, Mr. Pompeo knows the intelligence community well, and I believe is qualified to lead the CIA. I voted to confirm him with the hope that he can serve as check on dangerous impulses of the Trump White House. I felt our national security could depend on a cordon of rational actors in national security agencies to defend against what one Republican witness warned the Senate could be “wildly stupid, dangerous, and illegal” actions out of the Trump White House.

“In response to questions from my Democratic colleagues during his confirmation hearing, Mr. Pompeo gave assurances that he understands that torture is prohibited by law and that he would refuse any order to bring back the CIA’s torture program. Please know that I will be watching closely to ensure that our intelligence community does not reprise that dark moment in its history, and that it is effective in protecting our nation’s security.”

Reed, in a statement, wrote,

“I have serious concerns about Director Pompeo’s nomination to lead the State Department and Deputy Director Gina Haspel’s nomination to helm the CIA.  During the confirmation process, they will both need to be honest and forthright with the American people concerning their records and articulate a strategy to deal with a variety of threats from North Korea to Russia and Iran.”

Gina Haspel is not war-criminal adjacent when it comes to torture. “It is a matter of public record that Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be the next director of the CIA, played a key role in the agency’s now-defunct program of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques‘—an Orwellian euphemism for a system of violence most Americans would recognize as torture,” writes Ali Soufan for the Atlantic. “Haspel oversaw a black site in the Bush era. At least one detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was tortured during her tenure.”

3. State business rankings are bullshit.

When they come to conclusions you agree with, state business rankings are believed. When they come to conclusions you disagree with, they are dismissed. Governor Raimondo is touting Rhode Island’s ninth place ranking in the Business Insider as evidence of an improving state economy. But Economist Douglas Hall, director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at the Economic Progress Institute, wrote an oped in the Providence Journal a while back explaining why these rankings are worse than meaningless and actually quite harmful. Grading the States, a website that tackles the issue of these rankings and exposes their serious flaws, is a great resource to learn more about this problem.

I wrote about state business rankings here.

4. The Providence City Council passed a ban on single use plastic bags Thursday evening. The ban will be phased in over the next year, and will be accompanied by a public education campaign. But not everyone is happy with the ordinance.

“Plastic bags are bad, but introducing legislation that negatively impacts poor people is not a solution,” writes the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee (REJC), a Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led entity working with the Providence Office of Sustainability to develop a system and process that directly integrates voices and concerns of Black, Indigenous and people of color communities into city sustainability and resiliency planning processes. “Providence has a history of inflicting policy that fines, taxes, or otherwise impairs the ability of residents to thrive-low income residents in particular. We have evaluated the proposed “plastic bag ordinance,” and through this process, dozens of our members have raised concerns about the methodology of charging 10 cents per bag:

  • This policy assumes that everyone has equal access to reusable bags. That is not the case for low income families who do not drive a car. Many community members will struggle to pay the fee (ex: public transit riders, especially those shopping for larger families and generally needing more bags).
  • This is an imposition of yet another financial burden by the government, but not one that helps to meet basic needs.
  • Corporations have a role to play in improving our city. This policy places the burden of resolving this issue solely on the shoulders of consumers.

5. Here’s United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Roger Williams University School of Law:

6. Rhode Island makes national news for its timidity in protecting women’s reproductive rights: Will Rhode Island Democrats Ignore Abortion Rights Protections?

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, Cranston), for example, is backed by anti-choice groups like Rhode Island Right to Life and wields power in the house to chill open debate on abortion rights, said Jordan Hevenor, co-founder of The Woman Project, formed last year to advocate for the Reproductive Health Care Act.

“One of the biggest challenges has been informing people about the current precarious state of reproductive rights in Rhode Island. Many people don’t realize that reproductive health care, including abortion, hangs in the balance based on federal legislative and judicial developments. Rhode Island is a blue state and has a history of electing national leaders who fight for reproductive rights. As a result, people expect the Democrats elected to the General Assembly will lead with a similar vision. The reality is that many of the gatekeepers in the General Assembly, despite being Democrats, are often indifferent or even hostile towards codifying Roe v Wade,” she told Rewire.News in an email.

7. Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the My Lai massacre, one of the darkest stains on the American soul. Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) was kind enough to write about his visit to the My Lai memorial in Vietnam. Elmer describes the event below. It is difficult to read:

On the morning of March 16, 1968, American forces entered the village and gathered up all living things: elderly men and women, infants in mothers’ arms, pigs, chickens, and water buffalo. Then, the Americans proceeded to kill them all, slowly, carefully, methodically. It took four hours (this was no sudden outburst of passion), until all 504 people and all the animals were massacred. Fifty-six of the people killed were under seven years old; some of the infants were bayoneted to death. Women were raped before being shot.

After the killing orgy, two of the American soldiers (one a religious Mormon) sat down to lunch nearby. Unfortunately, their meal was interrupted by the moans of a few villagers shot and left for dead, but not yet fully dead. The two soldiers, disturbed by the interruption, finished off the few villagers still alive, and then went placidly back to their meal.

8. I gave Jack Reed a hard time above for his support of Mike Pompeo, but a key amendment the Senator introduced last week, to protect student loan borrowers, would be sweet if passed. The amendment includes a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights to improve federal and private student loan servicing, restoration of private student loan dischargeability in bankruptcy, protections for service members and veterans, and protections from excessive wage garnishment for struggling borrowers.

Why is student loan debt non-dischargeable? See the Ambrose Bierce quote above.

9. Will Speck, a member of the Providence Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and an undergraduate student of Black Studies and History at Rhode Island College has a terrific piece about the National Grid rate case.

National Grid has been an irresponsible and short-sighted steward of Rhode Island’s electric grid. We find ourselves stuck tinkering at the edges, finding perverse ways to incentivize National Grid to act in a manner consistent with the democratic will and the basic needs of the people of Rhode Island.

10. The Scituate Town Council was going to hear a resolution Thursday evening to rescind an earlier resolution opposing the construction of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the heart of the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island.

“It comes down to a money issue,” Scituate Town Council President John Mahoney told me on Tuesday. “Bottom line. This is an issue for Burrillville to sort out, not Scituate.”

Mahoney had changed his mind by Thursday. After a phone call with John Pacheco, president of the Burrillville Town Council, Mahoney moved to table the resolution, pending further study. He apologized to everyone who came out for the agenda item, saying that everyone makes mistakes. I’ll have more on this over the weekend.

11. Ria Marchetti, community organizer, activist, diversity consultant and blogger at Killing Georgina has graced UpriseRI with a terrific write-up on last week’s SisterSong event in Providence. I was at the Friday night portion of the event and I immediately knew I could never do the subject justice. My thanks to Ria for saying what I never could have found the words to do.

We all have the inalienable human right to freedom and control over our own bodies.  This means it is our human right to decide for ourselves if or when we choose to become parents.   If we are parents, it is our human right to parent our children as we wish and be free from the oppressive conditions that white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism foster that endanger black and brown children daily.  Reproductive rights, historically, have focused on the cis-hetero white women’s right to choose and have a safe abortion. Reproductive Justice incorporates that fight but opens it up and exposes all the ways that black and indigenous people have had to  fight for bodily autonomy against a government that seeks to deny people of color access to their rights. Unequal access to equitable employment and wages means too many women lack the funds necessary to obtain, and often travel for, an abortion. The “choice” promised by Roe v Wade is no choice at all for the most marginalized women.

12. So much happened this week, I had a hard time keeping up. Over the weekend I’ll be covering the General Assembly’s first meetings on various minimum wage bills, voter ID and net neutrality. We’ll see what I can get done.

13. Picture of the week:

It wasn’t just about standing up for their lives, their safety and their futures. The walkout on Wednesday was also about joy. Students from the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) marched, chanted, danced and sang their way to Rhode Island State House.

That’s it for this week. Check out the new Avengers: Infinity War trailer. The ten-year old me can’t believe how great this looks.

See you next week.


UpriseRI is entirely supported by donations and advertising. Every little bit helps:

Become a Patron!


mm
About Steve Ahlquist 453 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

1 Comment

  1. Someone needs to make a meme of the rewritten Pledge of Allegiance (and credit the students who wrote it.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.