City In Resistance

Providence community leaders weigh in on organizing after the election

by The Indy Staff

Illustration by Ruby Stenhouse

published November 18, 2016

Like many people, we are still trying to process the events of the past two weeks. To help make some sense of what the election means for us and our communities, we decided to reach out to some people who are already engaged in fighting the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and countless other oppressions that Trump's election has emboldened. The Indy asked activists, organizers, and political leaders the following question: “What do you see the proposed policies of a Trump presidency threatening here in the state of Rhode Island, and what measures of resistance do citizens and policymakers need to make now?”


Here’s what they told us.



AARON REGUNBERG, State Representative

We are potentially facing a war on immigrants, a war on reproductive rights, a war on working families and labor, a war on the climate, a war on access to health insurance, the list goes on. A war on LGBT rights. That’s why I think it’s so incredibly important that we are ready here in the state to step up and to do whatever we possibly can through state and local policy to defend and protect our communities and continue moving towards a fair and more equal society.

And that means again, if they’re going to come after our immigrant brothers and sisters, we need to fight—for example, to make Rhode Island a sanctuary state. If they’re going to repeal Obamacare, we need to step up and pass a universal health insurance system at the state level just as Massachusetts did. If they’re going to roll back climate action, we need to go all in on renewable energy at the state level, which we need to be doing anyway. If they’re going to mess with reproductive rights, then we sure as hell better pass legislation affirmatively legalizing abortion in Rhode Island, which we don’t have now, it’s all Roe v. Wade. If a Trump-led Department of Labor is going to be rolling back protections for working-class families, we need to step up and continue passing minimum wage increases, and paid sick days and protecting the rights of workers to organize here at the state level.

And we need to be working towards communities of color for leadership. We need to be prioritizing the sort of fundamental short-term imminent danger that some folks are in, and that’s really really critical. I also think we need to do that work, and we need to also prioritize creating an aspirational economic agenda that can bring working class folks of all races together. There are a lot of white people across the country and here in Rhode Island, where Trump did much better than people thought. There are some who are terrible racists and there are some who are suffering and having legitimate anxieties. And they’re being fed false, noxious solutions by Donald Trump, and we need to offer the actual solutions like a living wage, and tuition-free public college that will bring folks together so we need to be both engaging on the defensive front and fighting an offensive. One that can create a new kind of politics where we can come together and win.



JORGE ELORZA, Mayor of the City of Providence

[speaking at a press conference]

I know that the results and the reality of last week’s election are still fresh in the minds of many people in our city, as they are in mine. Because of Tuesday’s result, I am more convinced that the work we do here on the local level is essential to safeguarding the principles that define us as a community. We cannot stand idly as members of our community are bullied, targeted, and scapegoated on the national stage. And with so much uncertainty in the days ahead, it’s important to support one another in every way that we can. That’s why I’m doubling down on my vision of One Providence, and on advancing a society that reflects the values that have already made our country great, values such as inclusion, values such as equity, and respect for the dignity of every single individual. I’m happy to announce that every single week between now and Inauguration Day, I will be announcing a new policy, initiative, or a gathering or event, to give reassurance to our most vulnerable and marginalized residents that our city stands with them. These policy announcements will focus on local immigration reform, implicit and embedded racism, criminal justice reform, police-community relations, environmental justice, and support for women and families, Muslims and religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community. These announcements will be an overt expression of our values as a city. While folks may feel threatened by what they hear at the national level, I want them to know that they are supported and they are safe here in Providence. 

Today more than ever, Providence needs to lead the way in creating an inclusive, compassionate, and forward-thinking society, and our One Providence initiative is how we are starting this endeavor. 

People are very fearful. Some of the most troubling concerns that have reached me both directly and indirectly are from kids in our schools. We have kids who have asked their teachers whether their friends who are Latino are going to get deported. Kids have been watching for the past year, year and a half, and it registers in their minds, and even though they can’t make out the details, they know that what has been spoken at the local level has a very direct, deep and meaningful impact even at their home level. That’s part of what’s so troubling. Across the board, I hear it from the immigrant community, I hear it from the reproductive rights community, I hear it from the environmental justice community; folks are concerned about what may happen come January 20, and as I mentioned before, that makes me more convinced than ever that the work we do here at the local level to make sure that we advance these principles is more important than it’s ever been. 

All we can go on is by a person’s words. It is my sincere hope that what [Trump] has said up to this point is not truly what he means, and not what he intends to do. But we can only go on what he has said that he wants to do, and that’s why people in the community are so concerned. And that’s what this One Providence initiative is about: give them reassurances that regardless of what they are hearing at the local level, that they are valued, they are safe, and that they are part of our community here in Providence. 



STEVE AHLQUIST, reporter, Rhode Island Future 

The big things are some of the things [Elorza] mentioned. The rights of various religious minorities, minority rights, undocumented people, even homeless people are going to come into this at some point, and ecological or environmental concerns, environmental racism. I mean, we’ve got, right now, a FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) that approves everything that goes through. What’s going to happen down there [in Washington DC] is that they’re going to be empowered by having even more power. No one’s going to wind FERC back right now. Pipelines are going to be everywhere. 

Some of the stuff that keeps undocumented people safe here could be rolled back, because some of that stuff is by executive order by Obama. There will be people who are completely legal right now, and they’ll suddenly not be legal anymore, and that could happen with the reversal of one order, easily. 

Concrete measures we’re taking right now, I think state-wide, on all sorts of different levels: push the state to be more responsive to citizen’s needs, and to push the city, which I think Elorza’s doing some good things on this, honestly, I think these are good initiatives he’s talking about. And then it will be community defense; it could literally come down to resistance, getting in front of ICE trucks, hiding people in your basement. It will literally be at that point. That’s what we’ll be doing. 

I mean, I won’t be doing it, I’ll be covering it, but it’ll be out there. And from the point of view of a free press, we have a responsibility here to not turn people over to a fascist government. I don’t care what kind of press you are, you don’t just say, “oh, I’m going to be neutral on the rights of human beings.” I know some of them can be, I just can’t. 




Safety Act Campaign Coordinator, STEP UP Coalition

Trump’s policies are across all margins attacking all marginalized people, so if you’re a woman, LGBTQ, trans, he’s not your president whatsoever. Some people are saying he will not be so bad, but he’s been attacking people. He wants to lock up and detain two to three million immigrants, and even just his plans for climate change, even his economic stuff, it’s gonna affect homeless people, low-income people—I wouldn’t be surprised if he got rid of welfare completely. It’s just an attack on every single type of marginalized person. It’s nice to see that people are making Google docs and already standing up for each other though.

My job, working as Community Safety Act coordinator—it’s gonna get harder and harder. My job is basically [advocating that] Black lives matter, and his platform is “all lives matter” or “white lives matter.” Our jobs are much harder and it’s gonna suck, because I think it’s a two-edged sword. Because there’s racists and misogynists who don’t think we should exist and white liberals who don’t actually talk to us or ask what we need. There are a lot of organizers who are white, privileged, and telling communities what they should be doing, when these communities who are being marginalized, exterminated, and attacked, know what we need. We don’t want your safety pins, we want your money and your resources and your time.



FRED ORDOÑEZ, Executive Director, Direct Action for Rights and Equality

There are immediate threats that certain populations are already facing right now. The harassment is only going to escalate as the freedom to be a racist gets more institutionalized, and within institutions, whether it’s schools or nonprofits or government agencies. There’s going to be more assaults. 

People need to meet with their own at first. That’s what we’ve been doing, and a lot of folks are doing, just sort of meet with your own allies, because everybody’s trying to figure things out and not everyone’s at the same place or facing the same problems. If we haven’t done the work together, it’s only going to get in the way if certain people try and book into the process at the moment. They can have their own meetings with their own friends and talk about what they’re willing to do, what kinds of commitments they’re willing to give. There are groups who are made up of memberships that are going to be the most targeted; there’s Southeast Asian queer folks like at PrYSM talking about what kind of actions they’re going to have and what systems of protections they’re going to have. There’s groups made up of immigrants and undocumented people; they’re coming up with what kind of processes or mechanisms they’re going to need or build for immediate protection. People are meeting about those things right now and the immediate threat of assault; I would say those groups will come out at some point and say, “this is what we need from the general population.” Wait for those groups to come up with those things.

I would say that for white folks who haven’t been plugged in, they should try and join White Noise Collective, because the White Noise Collective is a place that will take a white person who hasn’t been plugged at all and organize them, so that when there are needs, like “Hey, we need help here for this event, we need food for this,” that sort of thing, there’s a clearing house where we can pass those things and White Noise can put that out. 

The city policies that we’re fighting for as an organization is the Community Safety Act, that people like Elorza are pushing back on and the City Council is pushing back on—these protections are going to be needed now more than ever, because Trump has said he’s pushing for stop-and-frisk and all the horrible criminalization measures that target people of color. He wants to amp all that up. We’ve been working to dismantle what’s been going on, so we’ll be calling out for support on those campaigns. 

Groups will start to consolidate initiatives, saying, okay, it looks like these groups are supporting this particular initiative as resistance, and that will get out to all the different groups. People who aren’t connected to anything will hear about those and say, we’ve thought about that issue, and that’s where we can plug in. Some of it is patience, some of it’s respect. We, and when I say “we” I mean the collective we, not just DARE, we’re going to need all the sorts of solidarity possible.



SAM ADLER-BELL B’2012.5, Policy Associate in Civil Liberties Program, The Century Foundation (NY) 

My number one piece of advice in these times: Listen to organizers. Listen to the people who have been doing resistance and movement work for years, for decades. They know how the levers of power move. They know how to throw sand in the gears of American empire. Listen to them. You may feel a desire to build something utterly new. And perhaps you should. But so should you embrace the wisdom of those who were already building. Maybe the resistance you envision already exists; it just needs more hands, more minds, more voices. You don’t need to lead. Join. Be a hand, a mind, a voice. 

My second piece of advice: Don’t listen to columnists. All week, I’ve seen elite media figures dole out advice about what and when and whether to protest. About which signs to carry and which chants to avoid. The depths to which these people misunderstand politics cannot be overstated. They dislike protests because they’re loud, because they’re messy, because they create traffic, because their meaning can’t be reduced to seven column inches. Don’t listen to them. The comfortable easily mistake their delicate sensibilities for political prudence. Ignore them. Listen to organizers.



OMAR BAH, Executive Director, The Refugee Dream Center

One of the biggest worries is the fear and negative attitude that the environment of Trump’s presidency has created. People fear for their lives, just walking around on their street. [At the Refugee Dream Center] we work mostly with Black people and Muslims and it is difficult for them to feel comfortable—constantly worried they’re going to be discriminated against. 

We’re preparing for Trump to make it even more difficult for refugees to come to the country, particularly from Syria. Many people have come here and left their families behind, who are waiting to come join them. Now many families will continue to be separated—people here are going to continue to live in distress and isolation, feeling that they are living in a country where they don’t belong. It’s very hard for people; they are mourning because their families are not going to be able to come. The hope of being reunited is slim. With Trump, refugees are not going to get food stamps or housing—they are going to be stagnant, without being able to get their basic needs. But the most important immediate problem is the separation of family members who cannot be reunited. 

We are going to stand up to hate and bigotry and any attempt to harass refugees. We’re not going to stand by and watch refugees be targeted. And we have support—on the local level we’re working with many other groups, as part of Resist Hate RI. People are very energized. We’re also organizing community forums to educate refugees about their rights. People are scared because they don’t know the rights they have, that can’t be taken away.



KAREN McANINCH, Business Agent, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island

One of the most depressing things for me personally is that some people in our organization probably voted for Trump. That’s really hard to deal with. Apparently union members across the country voted almost as much for Trump as for Clinton. A lot of people had a lot of misinformation, but there’s also a lot of legitimate discontent and people thought Hillary Clinton’s administration would just maintain the status quo. And then there were a lot of people who were just disenchanted with both candidates and maybe didn’t vote at all. It just gives me a really sinking feeling to think that these people didn’t think about how this was going to have a very serious effect on labor rights.

There’s nothing to stop Trump from taking away the improvements that have been made during the Obama administration. The National Labor Relations Board under Obama has made it a lot easier for people to unionize—that’s how the grad student unionization happened. Also under Obama, many more people who make less than $47,000 a year became eligible for overtime. All those successes will get ratcheted back. 

A best case scenario is that this will be no worse than Reagan and Bush. But it probably will be worse. It’s just so hard when you spend all this time working on something and then just see it all get torn down.

Rhode Island still has a fairly positive labor presence, so there’s hope that the state will be able to mitigate some of the harmful policies Trump will try to introduce. Maybe Rhode Island can continue to be in the right place on the minimum wage even if the national minimum wage isn’t there. I am a little concerned, though, that I haven’t heard a whole lot from the governor of the state on any of this. 

I’m also concerned that Rhode Island probably won’t be in the forefront for women’s issues or abortion rights because of the strong Catholic presence in the state. And there’s been a reluctance to support those things even from Raimondo and other women in the state. That’s one of the hardest things to move forward on. 

I can already see things changing. I was walking into the Arcade the other day for lunch and there was something spray painted on the steps that had the n-word. I’ve never seen that in downtown Providence before. I feel like that’s something that wouldn’t have happened before the election. Hopefully that was an aberration, I hope it dissipates. But I don’t know that it will without people speaking up.


MIKE ARAUJO, Executive Director, Jobs with Justice

When we look at the groups that Trump has named—undocumented workers, women, LGBTQ people—he’s talking directly about the community we work with. He’s looking at the entire working population of Rhode Island. The day after, people were stunned. Folks in traditional labor really believed that Hillary was going to win. At this point, we’re trying to assess our vulnerability and asking ourselves whether or not the federal government has the apparatus to enact any of the things that he’s asking for. And if so, what we can do to mitigate the effect of any of those policies. But it’s not just about preventing deportation from the federal level—it's about changing the opinions of 40% of Rhode Islanders who voted for someone who they know is a racist. People need to realize that their neighbors’ humanity has to be their concern, it’s not a choice. It’s a question of humanity.


MARCO McWILLIAMS, Black Studies Teacher, DARE

Yesterday my Uber driver was a working-class mother of three from the Dominican Republic. She drives during the day while her kids are in school. Her husband is back in the DR, and they were hopeful that he'd be able to return to the US. But with the election of Trump, she's less certain. A couple of days ago her white neighbor (whom she'd never spoken to) was staring at her after she parked her car in a different spot in the lot. "So I said, 'Hello, how are you doing?' because in the Dominican Republic people speak to each other." "Go back to your country!" came the racist woman's reply. During the drive she told me that she and her children are citizens. After she dropped me off she said she was heading to a Latino community meeting with the mayor at a high school on the south side. "We have to do something about this," she said. I agreed. How could I not?! I'm Black… and this is Amerikkka.