Sitting in The Lunch Box, a Dominican restaurant on Park Avenue in Cranston, Democratic candidate for Providence city council Deya Garcia (Ward 8, Reservoir and West End) shows me pictures of flowers. Her neighbors have dug in chayote, a kind of squash plant usually reserved for humid climates, and gave Garcia tips on how to grow them in Providence weather. Another neighbor planted a fig tree—one of the most beautiful she’s seen.
Contrasted with the stories she tells me of her neighborhood’s neglect—rats running across the street, entire sidewalks caved in on what used to be a bustling Cranston Street—and one gets a sense that her motivation for running is equal parts frustration at what the city has made of her area, and hope at what it can become. Her campaign materials are covered in trees. All her pamphlets list that, as well as working alongside the Department of Public Works to improve trash collection and infrastructure, fighting for a $15 minimum wage, and cleaning the contaminated water in Mashapaug Pond, Garcia wants to plant 700 trees to beautify her neglected home.
Garcia is the only woman running for her Ward’s council seat, and as a immigrant from the Dominican Republic, the only Latina candidate in the primary. And with a track record of decades of organizing across southern New England, Garcia is positioning herself as a progressive alternative to her Democratic challengers: retired firefighter James Taylor and 8-year incumbent, Councilman Wilbur Jennings, who has won by only a slim margin in 2010 and 2014 according to WPRI.
Garcia’s past accomplishments include fighting for a higher minimum wage in Massachusetts with the faith-based social and economic group United Interfaith Action, as well as labor organizing with the New England Joint Board, which represents hospitality, manufacturing, and textile workers in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and from which she received an endorsement. She has also received endorsements from the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats.
Here in Providence, Garcia has acted as the community chair for Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, as well as served part-time with DARE lobbying for a living wage for city workers, drafting and passing the institution of the Providence External Review Authority for oversight of the city’s police force, as well as rallying against the school department for more secure employment for teaching assistants within the district, which she worked for at the time.
“Back in my time… the contract said, if you worked 30 days, at the end of the 30 days, you should be permanent, but they would call you and prevent you from being permanent, from making $10.84 with dental and vacation,” Garcia said. Opposing such exploitation of educational labor, she helped DARE run a more aggressive campaign against the school department, and her experience in Providence schools has raised her concern with the current state of Providence’s education—especially as Providence’s teachers’ union lacks a renewed contract with the district and many are concerned with the racial and class divides between public and private schools, as previously reported on this site.
“It’s been happening forever,” Garcia said. “I remember when I worked for the school department, I used to work at Broad Street School, and when I transferred to Fox Point, it broke my heart to see all the resources that they have that they’re not even using.” She added that now even what she would call a “beautiful” school in a wealthy neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on the East Side, is using trash containers to catch water leaking from the ceiling. “When you give someone education, it’s the greatest thing you can do for a human being,” Garcia said, and that the current situation in Providence schools is “a crime.”
Part of the work she wants to take on if elected is leading her constituents to oppose the proposed LNG natural gas liquefaction facility in Fields Point. “We have three hospitals in the blast radius,” Garcia said, “a children’s hospital just steps away, a highway running between Wards 8 and 9.” She estimated that 99% of the poorest residents of her neighborhoods are not having conversations about the plant—because “they don’t know—they have no idea” about the proposal. Drawing on her work mobilizing organizers on the ground, Garcia hopes to change that.
Garcia says she wants to advocate for the city to reallocate resources to an area where “the level of poverty—you can see it, you can feel it, you can smell it.” She argues that this is why she entered the race. “I want to continue to be the voice of this beautiful community. It’s not their fault that they are poor, that they are neglected by people in power. They deserve better.”
But for now, while Garcia says that “there’s a clear path to victory,” she admits that she needs more help in building momentum behind her campaign. She doesn’t think that’s altogether a weakness, however. “When you think you can do it by yourself,” she said with a wry smile, “that’s a problem.”