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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rhode Island’s Wall of Hope Lies in Disrepair

By Randall Rose

brown-blobs

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:

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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.

Reflections On Occupy Providence’s Sidewalk Occupation, June 7th-10th

By Jim Daly

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

 

Netroots Nation participants were greeted by a 24/7 sidewalk occupation by Occupy Providence that started when the annual conference began on Thursday afternoon, June 7, at the Providence Convention Center, and continued until the conference’s ending on Sunday, June 10.
Netroots Nation is a collection of liberal Internet bloggers, news reporters and other individuals who play a major role in national political social networking. This conference was an opportunity for those who had been writing about political issues to interact with one another and with prominent politicians on the Left.
Members of Occupy Providence set up sleeping bags, protest signs, and an info desk outside the Convention Center to attract those attending the conference and focused on three themes: no bailout for 38 Studios, the bankrupt gaming company founded by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling that owes the state of Rhode Island millions of dollars; Tax the Wealthy; and an economic development and recovery plan that involves Solidarity not Austerity.
Protesters, passers-by and Netroots folks engaged in daily working group meetings, general assemblies, and community discussions. Every night ended with a People’s Open Mic, where all Occupiers were welcome to tell their stories, explaining why they were members of the movement and how the movement had affected them.
There were Teach-ins on Thursday and Friday afternoon centering on issues of economic inequality, student debt and environmental destruction. Many of the problems addressed in these public forums could be resolved, speakers and participants agreed, if the richest individuals in the nation were taxed at a higher rate. Rather than taxing those who can afford to pay higher taxes, our elected representatives engage in austerity measures and cut social programs for those who need them. This exact type of economic injustice is what Occupy Providence highlighted during the weekend’s twenty-four hour protest.
The Netroots conference could not have taken place at a more politically charged time in Providence, as it was held only weeks after 38 Studios failed. Many of the liberal Internet bloggers inside the Convention Center have long expressed outrage at the economic injustice prevalent in American society. The situation surrounding the recently shattered 38 Studios is a perfect example of this injustice and Occupy Providence shed light on the scandal during the Netroots conference. Schilling was given $75 million dollars by the State of Rhode Island with the expectation that his venture would create job opportunities for Rhode Island workers— but his venture failed. Occupy Providence shared the outrage felt by the community at seeing Schilling, a man with no experience in running a large business, given so much job relief money simply because he was famous and wealthy.
Occupy Providence organized protests throughout the weekend. On Friday protesters marched to 38 Studios to make chalk outlines representing the “Dead on Arrival” jobs that Curt Schilling’s company had “brought” to Rhode Island. Occupy Providence then marched to the State House where they delivered a petition to the Governor’s office to stop the bailout of 38 Studios.
Occupy Providence members were ejected from the State House by police officers, despite being told they could stay if they were quiet. Representative Teresa A. Tanzi left the House floor to defend the protesters against the police but they ignored her as well.
On Saturday Occupy Providence held their biggest march of the weekend with around 75 people taking to the streets. Their first stop was again 38 Studios, to denounce the state’s ill-considered financial support for this failed venture. The activists then continued their march to the State House, drawing chalk outlines of bodies representing 38 Studio’s D.O.A. jobs.
Protesters then marched through the Providence Place Mall, where they had a tense confrontation with the police. Mall security officers unsuccessfully attempted to push protesters out of the Mall. Outraged at Occupy Providence’s exercise of its freedom of speech, the head of security called the police to have the marchers arrested. Ten peaceful protesters were detained while other members of Occupy Providence stood across the street awaiting their detained friends’ release and mic checked the police. After a few tense moments the protesters were released. One had suffered a sprained arm as a result of the police’s aggressive arrest. A community healing discussion followed that symbolized the unity that Occupy Providence has maintained even during its most intense political protests.
I, the author of this article, was one of the individuals who helped plan and also participated in this four-day, three-night, twenty-four hour protest. This protest was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful political actions our organization has seen to date. The weekend-long protest has increased the number of faces that I will think of when I need strength and inspiration. I formed many new friendships and strengthened old ones. I want to give a special thank you to those who stayed with us from Occupies in Connecticut, Texas and Tennessee.
By the time we packed up our sleeping bags on Sunday our movement had grown in maturity, productivity and unity. It seems to me that our movement is beginning to take a first of many steps toward being capable of dealing with issues, both internal and external, that have held us back. I am confident of our ability to continue to grow stronger now that the Sidewalk Occupation has ended.

Rhode Island’s Economic Development Boondoggle

By Tom Sgouros

You hear a lot about “economic development” in discussions of state government these days, and about the various agencies charged with promoting it, but why?  It’s not because casinos are now important (though they are) or because jobs are important (though they are) or because our economy is in such terrible shape (though it is). The reason is much sadder.
In large part, the best things the state can do for the state’s economy have to do with those essential things that the private sector can’t (or won’t) do: universal public education; maintaining roads, bridges, water and sewer lines; policing the marketplace; protecting the environment; facilitating basic scientific research. These are the factors that could make ours a stronger economy, and each of them affects hundreds or thousands of companies at a time and millions of citizens, even here in Rhode Island. What an economic development agency can do will only ever be a minor effect compared to these others.
Unfortunately, the last 30 years of tax-cutting lawmakers have left your state unable to provide these services well. In the name of keeping taxes down, we have deferred maintenance and borrowed too much. We have pushed responsibilities onto cities and towns, to be funded by regressive taxes, and now Central Falls is in bankruptcy, with Woonsocket, East Providence, and Providence teetering on the brink. We’ve avoided discussion of programs meant to save money, like early childhood education and maintenance. So we pay too much for the little we get, and public services are a shambles.
Enter the economic development apparatus, a collection of functionaries who promise we can still have a thriving economy without paying enough to manage the fundamentals. This is a very appealing pitch, and Governors and legislators around the country have fallen for it, in Rhode Island as much as anywhere else.
Here in Rhode Island, the Economic Development Corporation is a free-standing quasi-public agency, which, through a quirk of its history, has almost unlimited borrowing authority, none of which has to be approved by voters. And borrow they have, for good and for, well, less good. They blew $30 million on Alpha-Beta, a bio-tech flop (they did recover about $25 million of it eventually), and EDC’s authority was a pivotal part of the deal that allowed state debt to balloon in order to pay for the I-boondoggle rearrangement of Route 195, loading up the state with hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt. There’s plenty more, including $14 million for the Masonic Temple hotel project, and over $30 million for the troubled Wyatt jail in troubled Central Falls. The prison, far from being a source of support for that city, recently announced it would not try to make up for its past lapses in payments, let alone meet its current obligations to the city. (After all, says their management, they have to repay their bondholders and make a profit before they have anything to spare for city government.) Now EDC is again in the news, having thrown $75 million at former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s failed video game company, 38 Studios.
What’s more, as a freestanding agency, EDC was free to pay its executives whatever they please, and to conduct their business however they pleased. Their executives could wear good suits, house their operation in first-class office space, and generally conduct themselves just like the overpaid CEOs they spend their time with.
There are two problems with this. The first, and biggest, is that the EDC vision of a healthy economy for Rhode Island isn’t really sustainable. Attracting companies from elsewhere will only get us companies who don’t care about Rhode Island: empty growth, if growth at all. There’s already enough corporate irresponsibility in the world. We absolutely don’t need a system that encourages more.
The second problem is more theirs than ours: about the only tool that RIEDC has at its disposal is various kinds of tax breaks to offer companies and a limited amount of money to lend (much of which they’ve dedicated to 38 Studios). Without much of the infrastructure to support a healthy economy, they have to put their faith in salesmanship and tax breaks, not in fundamentals.
What happens at an agency with such an ill-defined and difficult role? Failure, that’s what. Over the years, EDC has seen some good people come through its doors, along with the inevitable few who only look good in a suit, but they’ve been tasked with the impossible. Their mission has been to make our state’s economy bloom despite the fact that we are shrinking our investments in our infrastructure, our workforce and our environment. And what have we seen?  Tremendous pressure to do something has produced ill-considered loans, and nebulous and occasionally laughable plans.
A future EDC or something like it could play a useful part in monitoring the state’s economy, and in technology transfer, trying to push new technologies into the market to advantage local businesses. They could be useful promoting networking and centralizing some information businesses need. But our EDC has served mostly as an ATM for corporations, and as a state-paid corporate lobbyist, pushing tax cuts in the legislature, oblivious to the effects these cuts have had on education, police forces, bridge maintenance, and all the rest.
The time is long past when we can afford to continue this way. We have to understand government as an integral part of keeping our economy sound, sustainable, and just.

Tom Sgouros is the editor of the Rhode Island Policy Reporter, at whatcheer.net, and the author of “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Rhode Island.” Contact him at
ripr@whatcheer.net.

What Should Education Look Like?

by Lisa Niebels
While the needs of our economy have changed, the educational structure has not.  It continues to use a top-down industrial model in which creativity and individuality are discouraged. In most schools today, the individual learner and the family’s role in personalizing the educational experience to meet the needs of each learner as well as the community are ignored.
It is time to reform our current compulsory educational practices.  One “reform” is already being attempted.  This has been the implementation of a high-stakes testing requirement for all public school students. While the goal of this is supposedly to provide every student with the skills needed for the twenty-first century, the result is sadly that many students are instead finding themselves without these skills— and also without a high school diploma. According to an article published in February by the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, students who do not pass the RI Dept. of Education’s “high stakes testing” requirement, slated for implementation in 2014, will not receive a diploma. Based on this year’s recently released NECAP testing scores in math, close to half of all students currently enrolled in Rhode Island schools may not graduate, and the proportions are much higher for some sectors of the school population.  For example, 84% of special education students, and 70% of all African American and Latino students are likely to fail.  Not surprisingly, the prospective failure rate is unevenly distributed throughout the state:  While 13% of Barrington students and 14% of those in East Greenwich may not qualify for a diploma, the figures climb to a dizzying 69% and 79% for those enrolled in Providence and Central Falls schools, respectively.
In our schools today we are cramming as much testable data into our children as possible and medicating the non-compliant ones in order that they meet the expectations of a fear-based culture.
What are the alternatives to the current ineffective educational system?  I have come to believe that providing students with personalized educational experiences is the most effective reform we could implement.  Learners and their families should always have the opportunity to be active participants in their education, and, for some, homeschooling may be the best approach.  Some schools also take an individualized approach.  I worked for over ten years at the Met School, which empowers high school students to “take charge of their learning” through internships and individual learning plans, and I have spent a year in Roger Williams University’s College Unbound program, which integrates personalized learning with other traditional offerings, classes and online learning.  According to College Unbound’s philosophy, “Requirements are learning goals, not courses— and different students meet them in different ways.”
Choice is ultimately what we need to offer.  Education is too important to waste on regimented learning taught with military precision and uniformity.  Such education will not enable learners to realize their full potential as human beings, and the adoption of high-stakes achievement tests will only serve to create a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots in Rhode Island and elsewhere.
If you are interested in working to stop the defective, and potentially disastrous educational “reform” being promoted by Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Rhode Island Department of Education, please e-mail me at lniebels1@gmail.com.
Sources:

Occupy Providence— A Survey of People Involved

Survey conducted by Annie Rose London

In late December and January, Occupy Providence participants were asked to fill out a survey, and 128 individuals completed it. We believe that the sample represents Occupy Providence participants fairly well, including those who were physically occupying Burnside, those who regularly attended General Assemblies, and those who participated in the movement primarily online. From the responses, it is possible to gain insight into the composition of those in Occupy Providence at one point in time, to determine what OP activities people were engaged in, and to find out what goals inspired people to participate in this movement.


PARTICIPATION
What first brought you to Occupy Providence? (129 responses; someone replied twice?)
Answers:     Rally or march  25%  |  General Assembly 23%  |  General curiosity 19%  |  Workshop/discussion 2%   |  A meal 0%   |   Other 31%      (The “Other” responses were usually listed as experience at other Occupy locations, most frequently Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston.)
What working groups have you participated in? (193 responses, of which 47 were “zero”, leaving 81 respondents reporting 146 working group participations or nearly two per person)
Answers:     Direct Action 24  |  Safety & Support 19  |  Women’s/Trans/Genderqueer Caucus 15  |   Food 12  |   Facilitation 11  |  Media 11  |  Visioning 11   |  Sanitation 10  |  Health & Caring 9  |  Legal 7  |  Creative Interdisciplinary Art 8  |  Political Action 7  |  Queer Caucus 5  |  Coordination 4

Are you satisfied with your current level of involvement in OP? (124 responses)
Answers:     Really prefer to increase 27%  |  Prefer to increase 42%  |  Totally satisfied 27%  |  Prefer less 3%  |  Really prefer less 0%
What are some factors that would enable you to participate more?
Top solution: indoor locations.
Next most frequent: events on different topics, in different formats, and with varying co-sponsors.
Others: translation to other languages, shorter events, less gendered oppression, and more coordination.
What skills/talents/resources could you imagine contributing to OP?
Answers:     Cook, build, write, network, build websites, write grants, run workshops, mediate, contribute materials, and many more.
How do folks stay connected to OP? (290 responses)
Answers:     Email listserv 79  |  Facebook 67  |  Coming to the People’s Park 58  |  Word of mouth 55  |  OP website 20  |  Local newspapers 10  |  Twitter 1

How has your level of involvement in OP changed since you first became involved? (123 responses)
Answers:     Increased greatly 6%  |  Increased 22%  |  Stayed the same 24%  |  Decreased 26%  |  Decreased greatly 23%

Leading causes for decreased involvement:
other obligations, accessibility, challenges with finding a way to contribute,
internal structural conflict, most often in the form of oppressive behaviors.
IDENTITY
What gender do you identify as? (129 responses)
Answers:     Female 59 (46%)  |  Transgender 3 (2%)  |  Male 60 (47%)  |  Other 7 (5%)
What racial, ethnic, or national background are you most likely to identify as?
Answers:     Over half identified themselves as white, while about 15% viewed themselves as persons of color.
Another 15% did not identify themselves by race or ethnicity at all.
What is your age? (129 responses; someone replied twice)
Answers:     Half of all respondents reported themselves to be in their 20s, with another 20% in their 30s.
Smaller percentages of people ranged in age from their teens to the 70s.
What other identities are important to you?
Answers:     Parents, environmentalists, activists, Providence residents, and immigrants.
How would you describe your political views? (categories created from open responses)
Answers:     Far left 22%  |  Socialist 21%  |  Radical/revolutionary 19%  |  Liberal 16%
Anarchist 15%  |  Progressive 12%  |  Libertarian 9%  |  Democrat 7%  |  Feminist 4%
VOTING
Are you registered to vote? (114 responses)
Answers:     Yes 86%  |  No  14%
Did you vote in the 2008 presidential election? (122 responses)
Answers:     57% voted for Obama  |  1% for McCain  |  16% for another  |  26% didn’t vote.
Do you plan on voting in the 2012 presidential election? (118 responses)
Answers:     Yes, and I feel strongly 47%  |  Yes, but I don’t feel strongly 28%
No, but I don’t feel strongly 6%  |  No, and I feel strongly 20%
OPINIONS
What are the issues that have most motivated your involvement in OP? (590 responses or about 4 per person on average)
Answers:     Economic inequality 108  |  Economic influence on politics 96  |  Housing & Foreclosure 82  |  Systemic transformation/Revolution 82  |  Jobs 81  |  Foreign war and occupation 75  |  Political corruption 75  |  Environmental justice 73  |  Racial inequality 70  |  Education 69  |  Healthcare 69  |  Immigration 64  |  Food justice 60  |  Gender inequality 59  |  Constitutional rights 55 |  LGTBQ rights 51  |  War on drugs 42  |  Foreign trade agreements 38  |  Animal rights 25  |  Other 17
What change in the world do you want to see?
Most common response: A desire for equality among all people.
Common: true democracy, solidarity and community, environmental sustainability, responsible government, and the end of the domination of capitalism.
Somewhat less common: culture shifts and human consciousness shifts.
What change do you hope to see in your own life?
Most common: desire to trust and empower oneself, increased job stability, meaningfulness, increased compassion towards others, bettering one’s political awareness, and community.
What do you think the next steps for should be for OP? (665 responses or about 5 per respondent)
Top responses:
Focus on community outreach 83  |  Focus on coalition-building with other organizations 60  |  More actions/rallies 58  |  Occupy indoor locations 57  |  Focus on public education about relevant issues 56  |  Focus on political pressure 54  | Create alternatives to current systems (e.g., provide free childcare) 52  |  Hold the G.A. in public spaces (such as City Hall, for example) 50  |  Focus on local 1% (e.g., Brown U, Textron) 50