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Sunrise Members confront state house speaker

Protestors oppose Speaker Matiello’s commentary on climate crisis

At the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) was holding a fundraiser when a group of students from the Sunrise Movement Providence started to sing.


The student protesters, who work to promote environmental justice and stop the climate crisis, decided to interrupt the Democratic state representative’s event following comments he made earlier this month about climate change, according to a Sunrise Providence press release.


“There’s nothing Rhode Island can do to address climate change in a way that’s real or impactful … all you can do is harm your economy and not improve your climate unless the entire nation joins in,” Mattiello told the Boston Globe at their Legislative Kickoff Panel Jan.15.


After singing and holding up banners with statements opposing climate change, staff and security asked the protesters to leave. The Herald did not enter the fundraiser but was also asked to leave the hotel before the protest began.


“We are just appalled by Mattiello’s recent comments about the climate crisis and thinking that Rhode Island can’t do anything about it,” Emma Bouton ’20, Sunrise Providence actions lead and co-hub coordinator, told The Herald.


Speaker Mattiello could not be reached for comment by press time.


Attendees of the fundraiser had mixed reactions to Mattiello’s climate comments.


“I think he’s exactly right. I think he’s spot on, in fact. Climate change is a global issue. … Rhode Island’s carbon footprint is so fractional that it almost doesn’t even register,” said Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association and fundraiser attendee.


“I don’t know how to take that. … I haven’t really thought about the climate change issue with him, and I’d have to do a little more sitting on it,” said Vice President of the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters Scott Robinson.


In addition to his remarks about climate change, Mattiello has also been under fire for requesting an audit of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority while one of his friends dealt with a personnel issue there, according to WRPI.


Protesters believe his comments set a bad example.


“If that’s what they’re hearing from their leaders, people start to think that (climate change) is an impossible crisis, even though the reality is we have the technology, we’re just lacking the political will to implement it. It’s just confusing and disheartening to people, and we need our leaders to step up,” Bouton said.


Despite being one of the most powerful leaders in Rhode Island’s Democratic Party, Mattiello has a history of conflict with University students over the more conservative parts of his platform, The Herald previously reported. Students from groups Thoughts Prayers Action and Brown Progressive Action Committee canvassed against Mattiello when he ran for reelection in 2018.


Sunrise members, who have fought for top Democrats to reject fossil fuel money, were arrested last month after calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge.


“What tonight makes clear to us is that Speaker Mattiello has chosen his wealthy donors — including numerous fossil fuel executives — over our futures,” Bouton wrote in the Sunrise Providence press release.

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