One hundred protesters spent over five hours at the offices of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) Monday, urging the Rhode Island politicians to sign their names in support of a Green New Deal.
The protest was organized by members of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led coalition advocating for legislative action to stop climate change, said Naomi Hollard, a training fellow for the Sunrise Movement. The Rhode Island chapter has been working since 2017 to encourage Whitehouse and Raimondo to take action on climate change, but this is the first time members from across the northeast region of the United States have gathered to do so.
Protestors spent about three hours at Whitehouse’s office. While Hollard describes Whitehouse as a “champion in the fight against climate denialism” with his sponsorship of environmental protection bills, he has yet to sign as a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal or take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, she said.
“I welcome the notion of a Green New Deal proposal aimed at tackling climate change and spurring economic growth,” Whitehouse wrote in an email to The Herald. But he has refrained from signing onto the bill out of concern of dividing the Democratic Party.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-M.A.) introduced the Green New Deal in February. The resolution proposes environmental and economic reform aimed at minimizing the effects of climate change. It also includes language that would reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. to zero by 2030.
Raimondo has not publicly expressed support for a Green New Deal on the state or national level. Sunrise activists sought to change this yesterday, marching to the Rhode Island State House to conduct a sit-in at Raimondo’s office. While the main protesters remained in other parts of the building, a group of 20 directly entered Raimondo’s office and insisted on staying until the governor signed a pledge in support of the resolution. After being threatened with arrest on numerous occasions during their nearly three-hour sit-in, the protesters inside her office exited the building peacefully, said Paul Luniewski ’22, who participated in the sit-in.
Despite her lack of support for the Green New Deal, addressing climate change is one of the governor’s top priorities, wrote Josh Block, Raimondo’s press secretary, in an email to The Herald. “Over the past few years, we have become home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm, created thousands of green jobs, led the nation in energy efficiency, invested in clean transportation and increased our renewable energy portfolio by 700 percent,” he wrote. “Still, we recognize there is more work to do, and we appreciate the continued community engagement on this important issue.”
But Sunrise protesters critiqued Raimondo’s environmental record, charging that the governor has engaged in environmental racism against her constituents by not opposing the construction of a natural gas liquefaction facility in South Providence, Hollard said.
The South Providence community is “thrown by the wayside and ignored because it’s people of color and a low-income community,” Luniewski said.
Though the Sunrise protesters were not able to meet with Whitehouse and Raimondo during the demonstrations, protesters will be back at the State House Sept. 20 during a nationwide climate strike.
“This is not the last time we’ll be at the State House, making sure that Raimondo understands the crisis we are in … and how pressing of an issue this is,” Luniewski said.
Yesterday’s protests marked the end of a weekend-long Sunrise training summit at Rhode Island College, one of four hosted throughout the nation in August and September, said Yesenia Puebla ’21. More than 500 individuals from across the country attended the summit, which was meant to prepare “the next generation of leaders for the fight against climate change,” she said. Sunrise leaders trained attendees in political theory, public speaking and demonstration organizing, she added.
In particular, the summit focused on storytelling and resonance training, which helps “build strong connections through shared experiences,” said Maggie Lapp, a Philadelphia high school student who facilitated a training group during the summit. Building connections with other summit attendees will help strengthen the nationwide Sunrise Movement, she added.
In conducting nationwide training summits and pushing for a Green New Deal, the Sunrise Movement hopes to shift the conversation past climate denial, Hollard said. “Pushing for climate change and the fact that it’s real is done now. We know it’s real, we see it every day. Now it’s more of a question of pushing our leaders to take action,” she added.