Occupy Providence: Recent Direct Actions

Compiled by Randall Rose.

8/18 Rally for Jobs, Peace and Planet. Joined Green Party and others, including Green presidential candidate Jill Stein.
9/1 – 9/3 At Verizon building, overnight sidewalk occupation to protest Verizon’s sending jobs overseas and overcharging customers.
9/2 Joined SEIU protest at Brown calling on Brown to pay its fair share of taxes.

Labor Day March. Photo by Lou L.

Labor Day March. Photo by Lou L.

OP Loulex 036

Labor Day March. Photo by Lou L.

9/3 Joined Labor Day march by Jobs with Justice for good jobs, immigrant rights, preserving unemployment services, and allowing foreclosed families to rent their homes.
9/16 – 9/17 Overnight sidewalk occupation at State House for an economy that works for the 99%. Called for the 1% to pay their fair share in taxes and for policies that make the economy work for the 99% instead of bailing out 38 Studios.
9/25 Robin Hood protest against EDC and 38 Studios bailout. At Joint Economic Committee hearing, Occupy Providence members opposed the bailout of 38 Studios and protested a plan by the big-business-backed RIPEC lobbying group to rebrand the RI Economic Development Corporation. Occupy Providence called for economic plans that benefit the 99% first.

Occupy Providence members celebrate the one year anniversary of Occupy Providence in October at The People’s Park

Occupy Providence members celebrate
the one year anniversary of Occupy Providence in October at The People’s Park

10/20  First 99% Fair. Tables for social justice groups in Burnside Park to pass out information, start conversations, and discuss future plans together.
10/23 Free Speech is For People. Supported Occupy East Providence in calling on the East Providence city council to endorse the principle that free speech is for people, not corporations, and that corporate spending on elections can be regulated.
10/26 38 Studios banners. Hung banners on highway overpasses saying “Chafee to bail out Wall St Lenders to 38 Studios – Say No!”
11/5-6 Election Day banners. Hung banners on highway overpasses saying “Obama and Romney, Bailout Presidents” “Solidarity not Austerity,” and “Chafee to bail out Wall St Lenders to 38 Studios – Say No!”
11/17 Second 99% Fair. Tables for social justice groups and socially responsible businesses in Burnside Park to pass out information, start conversations, and discuss future plans together.


Photo by Chloe Chassaing

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

11/23 Walmart Protest. Demonstrated at Walmart stores from Fall River to Providence, demanding fair treatment for Walmart workers.
12/7 Supported George Wiley Center at State House in demanding the release of fuel assistance funds.
12/9 Hurricane Sandy relief. Joined Occupy Sandy in New York City and helped sort and distribute donated goods to Hurricane Sandy victims.
12/22 Demanded respect for Walmart workers with mic check inside Providence Walmart. Speeches from Walmart workers.


Photo by Susan Walker

1/2 Protested RI’s corporate welfare for Hasbro, which outsources many jobs to sweatshops in China.
1/12 Police brutality press conference. Joined press conference to protest a violent raid conducted by police.
1/13 Hurricane Sandy relief. Joined Occupy Sandy in New York City to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
1/29 Rally for low-income tenants facing eviction. Supported rally to save tenants from eviction by restoring funding to RI’s Rental Assistance Program.
2/13 Student protest. Joined Providence Student Union protest at RI Dept of Education calling for improved education, not just high-stakes graduation tests.

Occupy Providence members display the OP banner during a march at the Forward On Climate rally in Washington DC in February.

Occupy Providence members display the OP banner during a march at the Forward On Climate rally in Washington DC in February.

2/17 Climate change protest in DC. Joined other Rhode Islanders and people across the country in calling for action to prevent global warming, working to stop the tar sands pipeline.,
2/27 Pull the Pork from the Pentagon. Joined other social justice groups at the State House calling for reducing bloated Pentagon spending on projects like the failed F-35, closing tax loopholes for the rich, and funding community programs instead.
3/9 Third 99% Fair. Tables for social justice groups and socially responsible businesses at URI-Providence, to pass out information, start conversations, and discuss future plans together. Coordinated with the Hive Archive workshop.

The above actions were approved by votes in the Occupy Providence General Assembly, an open democratic meeting of the 99% where OP’s main decisions are made. Occupy Providence members also participated informally in many other actions.

John Joyce, RI’s Pioneering Homeless Advocate

Interview by Patricia Raub

John Joyce (1962-2013) became an advocate for others after being homeless for a while. One of his accomplishments was to make Rhode Island the first state to enact a Homeless Bill of Rights. This interview took place last fall, when he was busily working while ill with cancer.

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 12.25.34 PM
Q: During the past session, the General Assembly passed a Homeless Bill of Rights into law. Could you explain what a “Homeless Bill of Rights” is, exactly?
It’s not special rights, it’s just equal rights. It was our feeling when we were going up there that legislators would think the bill was going to be special rights for a certain class.  But that wasn’t  the case. What we were hearing from people without homes in Rhode Island was some of the discriminatory tactics that people were using against them. The rights were always in place. The Homeless Bill of Rights would just put it on equal boundaries. These aren’t special rights that people already had, but it’s more specific to people without homes.

Q: It’s reinforcing rights that were already there? They didn’t really pass anything new then?
No, it just put housing status in there, the same as sexual orientation, race, religion. So we wanted to have that housing status in there. That’s law now.

Q: Was it hard to get it through the legislature?
Yes.  Very much so. You would think that, being a progressive state, something like this would go through, but  people had in their minds that stigma or stereotype that people without homes were what they see in Hollywood [movies]— the drunk, the hobo, the guy in the corner— and that’s not true.  With foreclosures, people losing their jobs, these were people who never expected to be without a home and when they were thrown into the system and carried their life on their back, they were discriminated against. There was a basic hatred towards them and that was something that I personally experienced when I was without a home.

Q: How did you come up with the bill in the first place? Were homeless people involved in this?
That was the first thing. When we were hearing about everything that was going on out in the streets, we did a little research. We found out Illinois had tried to pass a bill similar to what we were hearing on the streets so we took their model and we made it into Rhode Islandese because this is not Illinois. We came up with a basic concept based on what Illinois did but we made it what people were telling us.  We wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing, so we asked the community. We were asking people on the streets, in the shelters, in the soup kitchens, would this be a good idea? And the majority said yes, because that is happening. So we wouldn’t proceed with something like this without community input. Their voice is more important than anybody’s in the whole process, so we made sure that was included in the bill.

Q: Who was involved in spearheading this?
RI Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP). It’s a grassroots organization for people that are homeless and formerly homeless, so they get it. We do a lot of outreach out on the streets. It has open meetings— anybody can go. We would discuss the Bill of Rights and how we wanted to frame it and what people felt. And that was pretty cool. It was really cool seeing the community get together and actually participate in something that was very meaningful to them.

Q: Who are the homeless in Rhode Island?
There’s always been the stereotype that people without homes are from the inner city. That’s not true. People without homes are from throughout the whole state. Especially with the way 2008 hit the state. Unemployment at almost 13%. Foreclosures were off the charts. Fair market rent in the state, you have to work 2 ½ minimum-wage jobs.  Everything crashed at once, and we’re still not out of it.
John Q. Public thinks it’s a middle-aged man that just doesn’t want to do anything. That’s not the case. There’s families out there. It’s a diversity.  Single mothers. Youth aging out of foster homes.  Senior citizens— that’s an issue, also. People over 62 just can’t find subsidized housing, affordable housing.

Q: So would you say that one of the biggest problems is that there’s just not enough affordable housing?
Of course! Homelessness is a solvable problem. It’s called affordable housing. If you’ve got to pay over $1000 a month and you’re on Social Security and your Social Security is only $700 and change, how do you expect to have housing? And feed yourself?

Q: What do you see as the next step, after having gotten the Homeless Bill of Rights passed in the last legislative session?
The next step is advocating for more housing. A lot of people say I’m a homeless advocate. I’m more of a housing advocate. I don’t want to see people living in shelters. I don’t want people losing their homes. I wish there was enough housing so everyone can have that stability. It’s one of life’s basic necessities: food and shelter.

Q: What’s coming up in this legislative session?
We have solutions on how to create money like the voucher system to get people right from the streets into housing. It’s called the Housing First model. It’s a program where we take chronically homeless individuals right off the streets and put them into housing. What a “radical” thing that is! There’s research studies on it from Professor [Eric] Hirsch, on the Housing First model. We can save the state money. We can put people into housing and save the state $8000 and we’re 90% successful that people maintain their housing. The old way, we take someone and they’ve got to follow all these rules but if they don’t they’ll be kicked out to the curb again. That was 40% successful. And it cost more money.

Q: Where are you getting the money for this program?
There’s different ideas to try to create that money. We want to try to get a dedicated funding stream for these vouchers. There’s a lot of talk on how to get that. We can get it right out of the budget. It think this year we might be asking for $4 or $5 million to try to get people off the streets. Get them stable. Get people to where they gotta be. Get them into independent life. With the Housing First model, it’s intensive case management, make sure they maintain their housing, vocational training, if they have a disability we can get them on SSI, SSDI. It’s a system that works. It’s a harm-reduction model, also. If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and you pick up, you’re not going to get kicked out to the curb. Your case manager is already following through with what the next plan is. It’s more people-orientated than it is organizationally orientated.

Q: You are a homeless advocate.  What do you do, and where?
I’m everywhere. I work for Providence Center with their home-based program. I do outreach for them. It’s the hardest-to-serve population. I’ve done a lot of research on how we get people into housing and connect them with services. The old way was that person had to walk through your door. But I’m seeing people who’ve been out on the streets 5, 10, 15 years. They don’t “walk through the door.” So what I do, I bring the office to them, where they’re at, where they’re comfortable. That’s how we get people. I used to work for Riverwood Housing First doing the same thing. It’s called the “Where You’re At” model. Sometimes people will engage with me and get to where they want to be. Sometimes it takes a month, sometimes six months, sometimes a year. My job is to engage, engage, engage. I’m out there every day.

Q: Where is “out there”?
Basically, in the downtown area. Most of the people without homes who are in shelters or sleeping outside end up downtown in the morning because that’s where the transportation is. So I just make sure I’m on the streets. I’m known on the streets so people will refer me to people that need help and sometimes my case load can go up to 200, 300 people. But I connect them with all the services. If it’s not through the Providence Center it’s different agencies. I work for the Providence Center and that’s a community mental health organization, but they’re even going into the realm of trying to get into people without homes. There was always a disconnect between homeless service providers and mental health organizations but that is changing.

Q: What got you into becoming a homeless advocate?
Being homeless myself. Some of the service providers that I went to, I felt like I was second-class. I felt like no one cared. I’ve seen atrocities in shelters, people being belittled, degraded and it basically pissed me off. What can I do to change that attitude? So I started going to meetings. I heard about state meetings and then the Coalition for the Homeless, I’d go there and I’d bring my backpack with my life on my back and I’d go to these meetings and it gave me a chance to vent. But what I was saying was what I was experiencing and then at the end of the meeting they would say, “O.K. Now, shoo, shoo, be a nice boy and go back to whatever dumpster you came from,” and that’s the attitude I got from people. But I didn’t let that deter me, either. Because I’d show up at the next meeting and I’m still going to the meetings. A lot of people out there, they think they don’t have a voice. I’m just a messenger sometimes. I’ll ask people, “What you just told me— are you willing to come to a meeting and say that?” and they’ll say, “Oh, no!  I can’t do that because I’m afraid that I’ll get retaliated against.” So I just carry that message.

Q: What did you do before you were homeless?
I was a union construction worker. I was making good money. I never thought I’d be out on the streets. I got laid off. My health went to shit. And then the crash of 2008 happened. My unemployment ran out. I was in a bad relationship. I just packed a bag and said, “I gotta get out of here before something happens.” I was one of them prideful individuals. I set up a tent out in Cranston. I was still trying to hustle work. Sometimes I’d get some work and I was living in a tent. No one knew it. I learned something out of it: never put a tent near a river that floods. I lost everything. With all the money I saved, I went to a hotel room: where do I go now? I ended up out on the streets. I’d go to the mall. I’d go around the circle of the food court and take all the chicken samples and that’s how I ate. I was too prideful to go to a soup kitchen.

Q: Why did you become involved in the Occupy movement?
Somebody called me up after the first Occupy organizational meeting in Roger Williams National Park— and I work with a lot of different organizations on, some would say, the radical side— and they said “you have to go to this next meeting. It’s going to be in Burnside Park. This is this Occupy thing.” So I said, “O.K.” And what I want in my own advocacy they were speaking the same things I was seeing. The economic downturn. Where’s all the money going? People being put in situations they never thought of. Here was a chance where good community organizers were coming together for the same things we’d all been complaining about and that was very, very much in my interest.

Q: What did you think of the relationship between the Occupiers in the park and the people who were homeless who had been congregating down there for a long time and felt it was their space?  Was it a successful relationship?
It was more than successful. It was phenomenal. The Occupy movement didn’t think that they were going to become part of the system but I depended upon Occupy for the outreach in my work. When people without homes were asking to go down there and set up a tent, one of the first questions they would ask them was “Why do you want to come down here?” “Well, I have no other place to go.”  And they would call me up. So, without Occupy even knowing it, they were a big part of trying to connect people with services in the mainstream. They became part of the outreach part of our system. And that wasn’t unique just in Providence because [it happened at] other Occupies throughout the country. Providence, I think, was more unique because they became part of the outreach of my work, which was very cool. They helped more people than they realized.
What was really cool, the Occupiers didn’t want to just hand it over to me. They wanted to learn the system so they could actually independently know that knowledge— where the soup kitchens were— [They said,]“I want to know where to send people.” They saw the people who were really getting slammed by the 1%, the bottom of the ladder. They weren’t just protesting, they were actually reaching out and helping. That was great.

Q: What did you think of the agreement between Occupy and the City regarding the winter day shelter for the homeless?
You could see the end coming. Numbers were dwindling. The weather was warm, but it was still miserable. Other Occupations, they didn’t get anything out but bad publicity. There would be an argument: we could have gotten more or we could have asked for more but the Occupation itself in Burnside Park was just part of the picture, in my view. If people were depending on the park for the Occupy movement, my feeling as an organizer is, the message is more important than the park.  There was a lot of debate going on. I love debate but it was getting really crass.

Q: Did the agreement to open a winter day shelter carry over into this winter?
It was a one-shot deal. There’s no money for the mayor of Providence to be giving money when it’s a state problem. It’s not a city problem, it just happens to be in the city. It’s a state issue but the state just doesn’t want that.

Q: Where do you think the Occupy Movement is going from here?
I think people needed a break. Doing this type of work for social justice— it can get very, very tiring. It always seems you are climbing mountains every day, then all you get is that one victory and then the next day you’re always climbing again. So I think a lot of people got burned out. I wish some of the core organizers that are still doing their own work would unify again. Throughout the state. I think if we can get all the mainstream organizations and some of the grassroots radical organizations, just organizations who care, back to the table we can just say, “What’s the next step for the 99%?” It was a perfect storm last October. It just happened quick. The timing— everything fell into place.  Within two weeks we occupied a park and had almost 1500 people march to the State House. Some people say, “How’d you do that?” but if you were part of that core group— I think I was at the second or the third meeting—  more and more community organizers who have done actions and things like that got together. It surprised us, the seasoned organizers, what was happening that day. Because people were still coming. I remember when we started the march, I jumped up on the statue with a bullhorn in front of the federal courthouse ready to say something and I had to sit there for like 10 minutes because more and more people were gathering and then we gave our speech at the courthouse and we were heading towards the financial district and we started marching down Westminster and I could not see where this march ended. It was beyond all expectations –it was a perfect storm.

John Joyce passed away on February 14, 2013.


Rhode Island’s Wall of Hope Lies in Disrepair

By Randall Rose


Rhode Island’s best-known memorial to the tragedy of September 11 is now in disrepair, obscured by graffiti.
Over 10,000 Rhode Islanders contributed hand-painted tiles that were placed on the Wall of Hope in downtown Providence, dedicated in September 2002. A nonprofit group, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, came up with the idea for this mosaic, encouraging Rhode Islanders to pay tribute to the lost loved ones of September 11 and to portray their personal visions and hopes for the future. People from many religions, races and cultures, ranging from young children to seniors, each contributed their own piece. I’ve always found it moving to see the pictures and thoughts on the tiles, which express the hopes, patriotism, peace, and love of thousands of people.

michelle-maria-castro  brittany-jose black-marks
Now, though, parts of the mosaic are covered with graffiti or advertising, and many tiles are broken. If you go to Waterplace Park, where most of the tiles are installed in the pedestrian tunnel underneath Memorial Boulevard by the river, you can see heavy stains and graffiti on many of the tiles. One tile that originally said “LOVE” has been altered to “Brittany LOVE’s Jose.” On another tile, which was designed to show a family holding hands, graffiti writers have decided to add their own names and the names of their friends next to the family members’ original names. Some of the graffiti has been there for years and still hasn’t been cleaned. On the Providence Journal building, which also hosts thousands of tiles, an advertisement for a snowboarding store has been pasted across the mosaic, and no one has removed it. Evidently things have also been pasted on the tiles in Waterplace Park and then removed, but they weren’t cleaned off carefully, since you can still see the heavy residue left on the tiles. The few tiles that are located indoors, in the Convention Center, are in better shape but still have some marks on them.
It’s painful to see this. The Wall of Hope is a great example of the wisdom, diversity and resilience of Rhode Islanders. Currently most of it is hard to see, in a tunnel below street level where heavy rains sometimes lead to water flooding onto the tiles. But it deserves to be better kept up.
I wrote down some of the variety of messages that people put on their tiles:

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 12.19.30 PM

At first, the tiles were supposed to be in the tunnel for only a couple of years. They were intended to have a permanent home in the Heritage Harbor Museum, and money was borrowed in taxpayers’ names to pay for building this museum. But authorities have since announced that the museum will not be built, even though the stone marker outside the tunnel still says that the tiles will be moved to the Heritage Harbor Museum in 2005. State leaders designed the museum funding without enough protection for taxpayers, so we will still be on the hook for this never-built museum, a total of $1.1 million including interest (yes, Wall Street got a cut of the deal). This is only one of many recent rip-offs like 38 Studios.
It’s good to be reminded that we, the 99% of Rhode Island, are better than this.  Our spirit is the spirit that’s shown on this monument. It’s not just about hope, it’s about what we’re ready to do. The wise words on this monument came from us, and we have it in us to make a better future. We don’t need to live under these disasters and swindles, if we refuse to allow the 1% to stand in our way.

Rhode Island’s Newest Occupy Movement

By Chris Gagnon

occupyriAs Occupy groups across the world celebrate their anniversaries and the movement enters its second year, it has only just begun in East Providence.
This past summer, a small group of socially conscious people met and discussed the Occupy movement and how it pertained to East Providence. On October 2nd, they had prepared a speech and introduced a non-binding resolution to the East Providence City Council, asking their elected officials to support amending the Constitution to state explicitly that corporations are not people and that money is not free speech and to advocate overturning the Supreme Court case Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission. The idea for an Occupy East Providence came out of my own belief that organizing at the local level and working in the realm of local politics was as much needed as are the big city occupations, such as Occupy Providence or Occupy Wall Street, campaigning on state, national, or international issues. Smaller Occupations can connect national politics to the local level and illustrate that what happens on Capitol Hill is affecting the people of East Providence.
Since presenting the non-binding resolution addressing the concept of corporate personhood to the city council, Occupy East Providence has taken on a campaign to make the connection between the national political atmosphere, the one that believes corporations are people and money is free speech, and the undemocratic budget commission that controls the City of East Providence’s finances. It is easy to attend a city council meeting and lose faith in our elected officials (as we Townies know all too well). The process drags on for hours and nothing real seems to be accomplished. But is it due to the alleged failings of our councilpersons that the city is on the verge of bankruptcy and that the state has mandated an unelected budget commission to take charge of the city’s funds? At the Weaver Library on Saturday, October 6th, Occupy East Providence invited residents to share their feelings in an attempt to answer that very question. To spark the discussion, our own Patricia Fontes delivered a speech on how the national attitude toward taxes and federal tax policy has brought this country, and East Providence, to where it is today.     
Pat presented a chart which showed the top marginal tax rates between 1937 and 2011, stating that “My birth date, December of 1936, coincided with the introduction of highly progressive income taxation, 79% of taxable income above $215,400. All through my childhood and the period of my public education (through 1953), on into the years when I taught in public schools (1957-59), that top rate rose into the 90%s, typically on taxable incomes over either $200,000 or $400,000. Between 1972 and 1986, the federal government had enough tax revenue to share with state and local governments (revenue sharing). Neither as a school pupil nor as a teacher did the schools I was in have to have candy sales or bake sales to raise money; no one had to pay to participate in school sports. East Providence supported four public libraries, and the tuitions at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island were next-to-nothing”.
She lamented the fact that “so many Tea Party types of my age and even much younger (anyone born up through 1942 shared my experience, and even people born up to 1963 shared at least some of the progressive taxation years, 90%s until 1963, 70%s until 1981, and 60% until 1986) are so eager to make sure that the next generations will not share their good fortune.”
“The wealthy who had to pay taxes at those high rates during my childhood and youth did pay them and did keep on doing whatever it was they did to earn the incomes in those high brackets. They didn’t stop working and earning because the part of their income greater than $400,000 (after all the usual deductions and the lower tax rate brackets) was taxed at 90%. Or, if they did, as I think back now, so much the better. That left economic space for others to work and to invest. All of those highest tax rate payers from 1942 through 1963 have probably died by now.  Were they some kind of genetic mutants? If greed is human nature and virtuous, as the free market proponents would have us believe, was that group inhuman?  No. The socio-cultural and the political milieu supported their tax-paying as desirable and virtuous, and so they paid, more or less willingly.”
Her speech exemplified how drastically the national conversation regarding taxes has changed during her lifetime, especially pertaining to the wealthy. It also made clear the effects that drastically lowered taxes are having on everyone else. These budget constraints did not come out of the blue, they were not created overnight. Cities like my own hometown of East Providence as well as Central Falls are seeing some of the more horrific results of a tax policy that allows the wealthiest to get away with paying next to nothing.

The Tragedy of Hard Scrabble

By Gavroche Allen.

O, de next morning such condition our village
 So late do seems of confusion, riot and pillage.
-Hard Scrabble, from an 1824 pamphlet

This 1824 broadside phrase illustrates the aftermath of a race riot that destroyed a predominately African-American community in Providence called Hard Scrabble. Few today know of the events that took place in this neighborhood nearly two centuries ago, but the riot that occurred there was a major controversy back in its day. This conflict illuminated the stark racial, social, and political divisions that split the town at that time.
The riot was sparked when a group of black men walking in Providence refused to give up the “inside walk” to a number of white individuals coming from the opposite direction on an autumn evening. The next night, on October 18, 1824, violence broke out. A mob of white residents from all parts of Providence attacked a section of North Main Street. About twenty African-Americans’ homes and that of one white resident were destroyed during the riot. Only four rioters were tried after the Hard Scrabble incident, and all but one was eventually acquitted.
Race, of course, played a huge part in the incident. Although Rhode Island contained one of the highest percentages of free blacks throughout the U.S., there was still a sharp racial divide, and at the time of the riot, suffrage was only allowed to white male land owners. A couple of days before the riot, Chief Justice William Spear contributed an editorial to the Providence Beacon in which he commented that blacks in Providence were “naturally vicious and wicked.” Before the riot, Hard Scrabble was known as that part of the city where people of “ill repute” resided; it was deemed a place plagued with “criminal elements.” It was no wonder, then, that Joseph Tillinghast, the defense attorney in the “Hard Scrabble Riot” trial, stated that the reason the accused caused such destructive mayhem to that section of Providence was that they were protecting “the morals of the community.”

Attacks by white rioters on African Americans occurred in many parts of the country. This is a contemporary depiction of the 1863 New York Draft  Riot that occurred four decades after Providence’s Hard Scrabble riot. Photo from authentichistory.com

Attacks by white rioters on African Americans occurred in many parts of the country. This is a contemporary depiction of the 1863 New York Draft Riot that occurred four decades after Providence’s Hard Scrabble riot. Photo from authentichistory.com

Racial violence unfortunately continued in Providence in later years. An integrated working-class community, Snow Town, was malevolently assaulted by white rioters in 1831 when a black resident shot and killed a white sailor for throwing stones at his home. The “Snow Town Riots” resulted in four whites being killed by the local militia. As a result of the tragic events of Snow Town, the General Assembly granted the town of Providence a city charter in November of 1831, giving the presiding mayor the power to imprison anyone who carried out any sort of disorderly conduct in the municipality.
After the Civil War, the memory of Hard Scrabble and Snow Town and the violence the residents there had endured began to fade away. Ironically, the shadow of the State House still falls upon the sites of this chapter in the city’s dark and almost forgotten past. Although both neighborhoods were cursed by rumors of crime and seedy activities, they also housed a vibrant working-class community composed of all races that lived together in harmony. While we shouldn’t forget the racial hatred and violence that marred this chapter in Providence’s history, we should also remember the diversity and solidarity that characterized our own 99% in these neighborhoods, too.


Sources about Hard Scrabble:
Crouch, John, “Providence Newspapers and the Race Riots of 1824 and 1831.”   http://patriot.net/~crouch/artj/riot.html

Hard-Scrabble Calendar: Report of the Trials of Oliver Cummins Who Were Indicted with Six Others for a Riot, and for Aiding in Pulling Down a Dwelling-House, on the 18th of October, at Hard-Scrabble (1824).

Sweet, John Wood.  Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North 1730-1830.
University of Pennsylania Press, 2006.

Occupy’s relief work in Hurricane Sandy: Our Grassroots Approach to Dealing with Disaster

by Terry Cummings


Photo by mindswamp.tumblr.com

When Superstorm Sandy, supercharged by global warming, slammed the East Coast last October, it left dozens dead, thousands homeless and mil- lions without power. Within days, the public was told that power had been restored to most highly populated areas. Credit was given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross and all manner of official police, fire and utility efforts. But recovery remained spotty. While most of Manhattan was back to business as usual fairly quickly, residents in other areas remained without power or even homes, with no relief in sight.


Photos by Piotr Redlinski

Occupy Wall Street reacted quickly to help those who found themselves vulnerable after the disaster. The Occupy human network mobilized thou- sands of volunteers to carry out survival and recovery efforts as part of the new Occupy Sandy Relief campaign. People stirred by the Occupy movement had worked together before to support a majority deprived of political power, and now they worked to adapt Occupy’s spirit of mutual support to bring aid to those lacking electrical power. Volunteers delivered flashlights and trays of hot pasta to residents trapped in public housing projects; they arranged for vans to transport people to shelters; they solicited and distribute everything from blankets to generators to those who needed them. Here in Rhode Island, reports began as a trickle about Occupy Sandy’s work, and then grew as the news started to cover Occupy’s mutual aid efforts that sometimes outshone those of FEMA and the Red Cross. The principle of “Mutual aid, not charity” inspired people, and the hurricane’s destructive effects were countered by volunteers who proved to be their own awesome force of nature. What had begun as an effort to resist Wall Street’s bailouts and abuses, learning to live in a camp in a small outdoor park, had expand- ed further, and now was starting to make a difference to those whose homes had been destroyed or damaged. At least, it was a beginning.


Photos by Piotr Redlinski

Occupy Providence heeded the call for help from Occupy Sandy Re- lief, and members of Occupy Providence made a number of trips to lend a hand. Personally, I participated in the efforts in the Far Rockaways and Sheepshead Bay, NY.

The volunteers from Occupy Providence first showed up at a church at 520 Clinton Ave, Brooklyn, which was serving as a main distribution centers for Occupy Sandy. An Occupy Sandy organizer, Damien Crisp, gave us a 10-minute orientation to hurricane relief, which had a lot of great ideas in it. Damien told us, “Occupy Sandy is an anti-oppression effort: anti-racism, anti-sexism, anticlassism, anti-homophobia. Don’t just bang on someone’s door and identify yourselves as coming from Occupy Sandy. You have to connect with people at a human level, from the bottom up. These human connections are important. So be careful to practice active listening. If someone tells you ‘The storm wet all our blankets,’ don’t just rush to give them blankets. Instead, ask ‘How have you been dealing with that?’ After a while, people will tell you what they need.”


Photos by Piotr Redlinski

“This is about mutual aid, not charity. Charity is from the top down, like laying bricks on top of each other. Mutual aid is from the bottom up, like grass growing. The grass grows around the bricks, then softens and eliminates them. Meet people with kindness and warmth. And assume everyone you meet is a volunteer.”

If you look at what the Federal relief people do, they just knock on people’s doors and announce “FEMA!” which is supposed to establish their legal credentials— just like cops yelling “Police!” as they bang on doors. Occupy Sandy’s work of kindness and warmth is in a very different spirit, and it doesn’t start by announcing “Occupy Sandy here” as if we’re an outside group of charity people who are there to make decisions for other people. I thought it was great when Damien said, “Assume everyone you meet is a volunteer.”

And now Occupy Sandy Relief is trying to develop something further, the People’s Network. According to Damien, this “really stems from the ideas of mutual aid and expands them into localized social justice and mutual aid in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.” They are drafting a mission statement and a covenant with the church— 520 Clinton is the address of the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, which has partnered with Occupy Sandy— and they plan to have a community agreement soon as well.

Meanwhile, Occupy Sandy Relief continues to this day. OSR recently posted on Facebook asking college students “What are you doing for spring break?” as the work carries on.

sandyEfforts to raise more relief funds also continue. The 12-12-12 concert in December in Madison Square Garden raised over $30M in ticket sales alone and was also simulcast on 39 U.S. television stations and on more than 20 international television networks. In total, it was said to have raised $100M. Additionally, nearly $1 million has been donated directly to Occupy Sandy Relief NYC. This is only a drop in the bucket compared to the billions already spent by the federal and state governments, but how much of this government funding has been and will be wasted? In the case of Occupy Sandy Relief, all of contributions are going directly to the relief efforts, and a spreadsheet detailing income and expenditures is available on Occupy Sandy Relief’s website.

More volunteers and more funding are still needed. The church at 520 Clinton was partially destroyed in December by arson after the congregation joined with Occupy Sandy Relief to aid hurricane victims. If you cannot make it to help out with hurricane relief, but would like to donate to support the rebuilding of the church, and to help fund Occupy Sandy Relief’s continued work in the New York metropolitan area, click here.

Maritcha Lyons: Early Civil Rights Activist

By Patricia Raub

Roger Williams and Thomas Dorr are well known in Rhode Island, but few people have heard of Maritcha Lyons. Yet this woman won a significant civil rights victory in 1865 when she argued before the RI legislature that African American students should be admitted to any public school in the state— and won. When she graduated from Providence High School in 1869, she was the first African-American person to do so.

Maritcha Lyons

Maritcha Lyons was born in 1848 into a Manhattan family that held education in high regard. Her father had attended the first African Free School in the city. Her parents enrolled Lyons and her older sister in a segregated Manhattan school, the only school open to African-Americans in Manhattan in the 1850s; finding it inadequate, their parents transferred the girls to an integrated school in Brooklyn.

After a severe illness forced Lyons to miss several years of school, she attended Colored School No. 3 in then-uptown Manhattan, where the school’s principal, Charles Reason, a friend of her parents, helped her catch up for the time she had lost.

As a child, Lyons was quite aware of the slavery controversy and the efforts by abolitionists to end slavery— and, in the meantime, to help those enslaved in the South to escape. Reason was associated with the abolitionists; he was “one of the first blacks to earn a college degree and also one of the first to teach mixed-race college classes, both at the abolitionist Central College in New York State.” (Notable Black American Women, Vol. II: 419). Lyon’s parents’ boarding house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her parents estimated later that they had helped 1,000 people along their journey to freedom. Lyons’ grandmother treasured the memory of a visit by escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to her home. After he told of his life in slavery and his escape from bondage, she “pledged that when- ever he came to town, ‘you will find a seat at my table, a place to sleep and I will keep your linen laundered for you.’” There is no record, however, that Douglass took Lyons’ grandmother up on her offer.

Lyons’ childhood, her long illness notwithstanding, seems to have been a happy one. She and her three siblings attended fireworks displays in City Hall Park, visited New York’s first world’s fair, and watched early baseball games across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey. When Lyons was forced to leave school because of her health, her father bought her a piano.

These days of relative security and peace abruptly ended with the New York Draft Riot in July of 1863. Mobs protesting the national draft took to the streets. Although their anger would have been more justly targeted at the wealthy elite who were able to buy their way out of their military obligations, the rioters instead aimed their wrath at the city’s African Americans, reasoning that the abolition of slavery was the real reason why the North was fighting the war. The white working-class immigrants who participated in the riots preferred African Americans to remain as slaves in the South. Why should Northern workmen risk their lives in order to free people who would then move North and become competitors for scarce jobs? The rioters looted and burned homes throughout the Manhattan African-American community. The Lyons family escaped without physical harm, but their house was vandalized.

After a stay of several months with friends in Salem, Massachusetts, the family moved back to their restored house in Manhattan. Like many others in the African-American community, though, the Lyons felt uncomfortable in the city, and they left again in 1864, this time for Providence, Rhode Island.

The Lyons family may have settled in a city in which they would encounter less overt racial violence (the Olney Lane riot had taken place three decades earlier), but Providence was equally racist. When the Lyons tried to enroll their younger children in the city’s public elementary schools, their application was denied— since there was a separate “colored” school for the lower grades. There was no “colored” high school, however, and state law forbade African-

Americans students from entering public schools, so where was sixteen-year-old Maritcha Lyons to continue her education? She made her case before the General Assembly and eventually won the right to enter Providence High School.

Much like those young people who first integrated public schools in the South during the Civil Rights era a century later, Lyons at first found few white students who would befriend her. The desks at this time were designed to accommodate two students sitting side by side. Despite the school’s over- crowded conditions, Lyons occupied her desk alone during her first year at Providence High. Eventually, some students, including Lucia Tappan, from a family of abolitionists, and teacher and women’s rights advocate Sarah Doyle befriended her.

After graduation she considered going to Oberlin College, the Ohio school that was the first to admit women and was also a nineteenth-century leader in African-American education. However, Lyons decided against college and in favor of getting a job. She returned to New York City and began a half-century education career in Brooklyn, first as a teacher at Colored School No. 1, which later became a public school, and then as an assistant principal at Public School No. 83.

Even though most in Rhode Island have long forgotten Maritcha Lyons and her role in integrating the state’s educational system, New Yorkers have commemorated her by naming the Lyons Community School in Brooklyn after her because, as the school states on its website, “she embodies the kind of full, well-rounded life we want for all our students.”

Bolden, Tonya.  Maritcha:  A Nineteenth-Century American Girl.  New York:  Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005.
Lyons Community School  http://www.lyonscommunityschool.org/about-lyons/maritcha-lyons
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed.  Notable Black American Women, Book II.  New York:  Gale.  pp. 417-421.