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Sunrise Movement occupies State House, rallies for climate justice

Protestors demand Raimondo sign No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge

Fourteen climate activists were arrested last night, including at least 10 University students, after occupying the Rhode Island State House rotunda for nearly five hours to call on Gov. Gina Raimondo to sign a No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. The activists were released later that night.

Leading up to the arrests, about 600 protesters marched through the streets of Providence to assemble in front of the State House as part of a national day of climate action. 

The 14 activists had planned to sit in the building until Raimondo committed to sign the pledge and were willing to risk arrest or stay overnight. “They gave us a warning at 6:45 p.m. that by 7 p.m. anyone who was remaining in the building would be arrested for trespassing and obstruction,” said Nina Wolff Landau ’20, a co-coordinator of Sunrise Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, who helped organize the protest. 

By signing the pledge, Raimondo would commit to rejecting contributions from fossil fuel industry executives, lobbyists and political action committees greater than $200. 

“Raimondo has always been quick to tweet support and praise us for our work,” said Anjali Subramanian, a senior at La Salle Academy, at a rally earlier Friday. “But she fails to actually use her power as the governor of Rhode Island to enact policies that will protect us from the imminent climate crisis.” 

Raimondo has taken about $500,000 from the fossil fuel industry, Subramanian said. “Fossil fuel interests continue to control her everyday decisions and every single Rhode Islander is suffering because of it,” she added.  Spokesperson Josh Block did not respond to request for comment by press time on whether the governor had accepted this specific sum from the fossil fuel industry.

Raimondo has received donations from Michael Polsky, founder and CEO of Invenergy; Stacy Schusterman, chairman of Samson Energy; and Tim Horan, former president of Rhode Island National Grid.   

The Brown and RISD and Providence hubs of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led political coalition advocating for legislative action to stop climate change, organized the sit-in as well as a climate strike that took place yesterday. Sunrise members had met with Raimondo asking her to sign the No Fossil Fuel Pledge that morning at 11 a.m., said David Morales, communications lead for Sunrise Providence. 


In an email to The Herald, Block wrote that the governor and her team would be reviewing the pledge in response to the meeting.  

“It’s great that these young people are standing up and fighting on an issue as important as climate change,” Raimondo commented in a statement to The Herald sent by Block. “As I told the leaders I met with earlier today — I will sign any bill that takes a productive approach to keeping Rhode Island at the forefront of fighting climate change.” 

 “(T)he Governor has not accepted – and cannot accept – any corporate contributions from fossil fuel companies,” added Block in his email to The Herald. 

Morales said that while the foremost goal of the march was to urge Raimondo to sign the pledge, the group ultimately wants to pass a Green New Deal in Rhode Island. 

“It’s about environmental justice, but it’s also about creating sustainable jobs, and it’s creating a more inhabitable Rhode Island,” Morales said of a Green New Deal. 

“It’s not just about signing a pledge but actually facilitating change that we desperately need,” said Samy Amkieh ’21, strike captain and police liaison for Sunrise Brown and RISD. “Once she signs, we’ll show up again and again and again to make sure that we get a Green New Deal in the state.”

Members of the two Sunrise hubs met at Memorial Park before marching to the State House that afternoon. Organizers handed out yellow pins reading “Strike for our future” as protestors rallied, holding signs like “This is a climate emergency” and “All I want for (Christmas) is a Green New Deal.”

Protestors recited songs and chants as they marched through the streets. “Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go” echoed throughout downtown as the group approached the State House. There, Subramanian addressed the crowd again, detailing Raimondo’s relationship to the fossil fuel industry and Subramanian’s disappointment in a lack of climate policy at the state level. 

Yesenia Puebla ’21, a co-coordinator of Sunrise Brown and RISD, then spoke to the need for “bold and urgent action necessary to stop the climate crisis.”

After Puebla spoke, Sunrise members led protesters in different songs and chants: “Hey, Raimondo, we have got something to say, if you sell out our future, it’s us who's gonna pay.”

Additional speakers also addressed the crowd on topics including voter turnout and issues of access and affordability related to utilities such as electricity.

The strike follows the Sept. 20 protest of about 1,000 people, which was organized by Providence as well as Brown and RISD members of Sunrise, alongside action groups such as Climate Action Rhode Island. 

“After the September 20 strike, we had a lot of momentum and we tried to keep it going by really going hard on recruitment,” said Estrella Rodriguez ’22, a co-coordinator of Sunrise Brown and Rhode Island School of Design. “At Brown and RISD, we really tried to increase our visibility.”  

In The Herald’s Fall 2019 poll, 37.8 percent of University students responded that they think environment/climate change is the most important issue facing the country today. “It’s really important that we actually see the results from that (poll) by people actually taking action and showing up to protest,” Rodriguez added. 

“I really expected a lot more turnout from Brown students because 1,100 people signed up to come, and the rally just wasn’t what I expected it to be,” Rodriguez said. “I think it was still super powerful, … but it’s still not enough and we need to keep moving forward with that.” 

-With additional reporting by Celia Hack



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