Climate Crisis

Climate Activists Strike; Governor Again Blows Them Off

About 500 protesters joined the Dec. 6 Climate Strike in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Gov. Gina Raimondo may not have signed on to the Green New Deal or the pledge to stop accepting contributions linked to fossil fuels, but the latest climate strike brought another large turnout of students who upped their level of activism, leading to more than a dozen arrests.

After the Dec. 6 rally and march through downtown, some 500 protesters organized by the Providence chapter of the Sunrise Movement and Climate Action RI staged a rally at the Statehouse, with more than 40 activists holding a sit-in in the rotunda. The activists stayed until after the Statehouse closed. Capitol Police eventually arrested 14 of the protesters later that evening for refusing to leave.

The Dec. 6 Providence “strike” was one of 260 Sunrise Movement actions held across the United States, including smaller protests in Westerly and at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. More than 25 protesters with the Sunrise Movement were also arrested and charged with trespassing for refusing to the leave the Statehouse in Boston.

The Providence demonstration was the latest effort to call for Raimondo to endorse the Green New Deal and swear off donations connected to the fossil-fuel industry. For more than a year, Sunrise Movement protesters, largely made up of students from Brown University, have demonstrated at the Statehouse and at events where the governor has spoken. The most recent was a Nov. 15 economic forum held downtown.

The latest action was a busy day for the youth-driven protesters who met with Raimondo at 11 a.m. to ask her to sign the pledge and support the Green New Deal. Raimondo told the activists she would have answers for them later in the day, but she never responded.

In an email response, Raimondo touted Rhode Island’s gains in renewable energy and said she will followup with the activists after reviewing the no-fossil-fuel-money pledge and other documents they gave her at the meeting.

“I will sign any bill that takes a productive approach to keeping Rhode Island at the forefront of fighting climate change,” Raimondo said.

The public rally began in dramatic fashion at 1 p.m., with hundreds of protesters chanting as they marched down College Hill to meet the 100 or so activists assembling across from the Licht Judicial Complex in Memorial Park on South Main Street.

After brief remarks about rules and safety — and a dance routine — the chants resumed as the mass crossed the river into downtown, through Kennedy Plaza, and marched north to the Statehouse.

Chanting, singing, and speeches resumed on the plaza outside the Statehouse’s north entrance, while about 50 protesters gathered in the rotunda, many with sleeping bags and other overnight supplies.

Several speakers noted that Raimondo has accepted about $500,000 from companies and individuals with ties to the fossil-fuel industry, including $311,000 from Stacy Schusterman, CEO of Oklahoma-based Samson Energy, and $151,000 from the Chicago-based developer and entities associated with the proposed — and since defeated — fossil-fuel power plant in Burrillville. The donations were tracked through the state Board of Elections contribution reporting system.

“If it were up to Raimondo, we would have a massive new toxic facility in the state fueling the climate crisis for profit.”

“Saving our planet ain’t radical,” Sunrise Movement organizer David Morales said to cheers outside the Statehouse. “What’s radical is the idea that corporate lobbyists and the fossil-fuel industry rule our state. That’s what’s radical.”

Morales is one of several Sunrise activists running for state and local offices.

“It’s cool to point fingers at people, but we also have to look in the mirror and get to the ballot box and vote,” said Everett Pope, a candidate for the Pawtucket School Committee.

After repeated requests by police to leave when the Statehouse closed at 4:30 p.m., the activists were arrested and charged with trespassing.

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  1. Trespassing can result in a fine of $1,000 and up to one year in prison. It will be interesting and perhaps sad to track what happens to these protestors in this regard. Their passion is admirable, but will these charges follow them down their individual paths?

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