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Black Lives Matter RI PAC reflects on first year and a half

BLM RI PAC has advocated for criminal justice reform, organized coalitions, supported young candidates of color

<p>BLM RI PAC has collaborated with numerous progressive organizations, including Sunrise, Reclaim RI and the Democratic Socialists of America.</p><p>Courtesy of RI BLM PAC</p>

BLM RI PAC has collaborated with numerous progressive organizations, including Sunrise, Reclaim RI and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Courtesy of RI BLM PAC

Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Progressive Action Committee launched over a year ago in July 2020 with the aim of helping a diverse group of young, progressive politicians run for state and local office. The organization’s overarching goal is “to see systemic racism dismantled,” according to Harrison Tuttle, the PAC’s executive director. 

“The day that happens, I will gladly retire the organization,” Tuttle said.

The PAC champions left-wing policies such as legalizing cannabis, banning for-profit prisons and repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a law that protects law enforcement officers from prosecution while performing their duties. In contrast to other BLM chapters around the United States, which are usually registered as non-profits, the PAC also raises funds for political candidates in Rhode Island that share these legislative aims. 

In the past year, the PAC has organized coalitions to achieve these objectives, partnering with organizations such as Sunrise Providence, Reclaim RI and the Democratic Socialists of America to fight for progressive reform, Enrique Sanchez, the organization’s interim political director, said. 

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“Our top priority as a PAC is to address the root causes of crime, to hold corrupt police officers accountable and to make Rhode Island better at addressing mental health crises,” Tuttle added.

 When Tuttle joined the PAC, he “was very frustrated with how long it was taking for Rhode Island leadership to bring about the changes communities had been calling for” and believed that elected leaders needed to work in the interests of their constituents. “I realized that, to make this a reality, I needed to do something,” he said, adding that he feels that BLM RI PAC supports the campaigns of politicians “who truly serve” the communities they represent and “do not compromise to corporate interests.”

“We have a great group of people here who really care about others and who are committed to fighting for working people in Rhode Island,” Sanchez said. “Everyone here is trying to do the right thing, but it isn’t just about the political work we do either. We all try to be there for each other and support one another in any way we can.”

For Jaliyah Joseph, executive assistant and creative director, one of the biggest challenges of working at the PAC has been the resistance posed by establishment politicians. “The policies we advocate for are morally right, but some people can’t seem to grasp that,” she said. “Things like the repeal of LEOBOR, (the end of) solitary confinement and (the implementation of) universal healthcare shouldn’t be up for debate.” 

“Even though we live in a blue state, Rhode Island still has many pockets of white supremacy — particularly outside the city,” Sanchez added. “We still encounter a lot of bigotry and pushback from conservatives here.” 

Mobilizing young people in Rhode Island has been a crucial part of the PAC’s success, and the organization is working to make sure that it represents young people in the state, Sanchez said. “We support all young activists and future political leaders. My advice for anyone looking to get into politics or activism is to start small: go to state hearings, attend protests and look into what your local committee is doing.” 

According to Joseph, everyone is capable of bringing about change. “I was 14 when I joined (the PAC) and I had no idea what politics in Rhode Island (were) like — I didn’t even know what a PAC was. My time here has been incredibly eye-opening and I’ve learned a lot since I started out.”

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