At one of the coziest campaign kickoffs in recent memory, Justice Ameer Gaines announced her bid for Providence City Council for Ward 1, encompassing the Fox Point, Wayland, and Downtown neighborhoods.
A well-regarded local activist, Gaines promises to be one of the most progressive candidates running for a municipal seat in the city. She has worked as an organizer and labor rights advocate with RI Jobs With Justice, served as an instrumental voice in activists’ push for the Community Safety Act, and served on the working group guiding its implementation as the Providence Community-Police Relations Act.
Gaines has also built a legacy in Providence’s poetry and performing arts communities, and has served as a mentor for local youth in creative writing. The crowd at Louis Restaurant on Thursday cheered her announcement was as varied as her background—with students mingling with fellow candidates and social justice activists in the city—and Gaines herself spoke to this mixture as a key foundation for her upcoming campaign.
“Louis, to me, really represents what this city can be,” Gaines said in her speech. “How do we bring together our city, and really focus on its residents? How do we make sure our economy is working for the people who live here and want to support the city—and not just focusing on the corporations, and not just kicking people out of their homes, but we’re building and developing [the neighborhood] together?”
“I believe our current City Council has ignored a lot of people over the last few years,” Gaines added. “It’s ignored the housing crisis in a way where we see people displaced over and over again, and the development hasn’t centered on what that structure looks like for people to feel powerful and that they can sustain themselves in this city…we need a City Council which is responsive and responsible to the people of this city.”
In a conversation after her announcement, Gaines told RI Future that she hopes her background in pushing for reform at City Hall will help her serve as a more direct conduit between Ward 1 residents and elected officials than the neighborhood has had previously.
“A lot of the work I’ve done is in line with what local residents need,” she said. “A lot of local businesses haven’t necessarily felt supported by the city—I’ve seen local business after local business close after only living here for 6 years. Meanwhile, there are different corporations coming in—a lot of chains from out of state—and that’s a problem. If we’re looking at how folks in Fox Point and Wayland are taxed, versus the subsidies and corporation agreements that other businesses are getting, it’s really showing that right now, Providence as a city is investing, not in Providence, but outside of Providence, to make Providence somehow better—magically. I don’t think that’s the proper framework for how to build this city.”
The solution, Gaines says, is to bring more of the neighborhood’s different stakeholders together, instead of the Council’s current tactic of partisanship heightening the separation between the area’s divided interests. “With Ward 1, we’re in a particular situation to really channel development so that it’s great for local businesses, great for workers, for our residents, for our elderly and our youth… it’s really about finding out that we’re not against each other, we just need a city that is going to invest in us.”
She argued that this focus will bridge and build upon the distinct spheres of her life—from social justice to poetry—as many concerns around identity and one’s ability to pursue creative arts is often deeply intertwined with their ability to thrive and survive economically. “For me, the reason why I’m running in Providence is that this is where I started my poetry, this is where my art first developed, this is where I came out as transgender, this is where I came into my own understanding of who I am,” Gaines said. “A lot of my life is here, a lot of my home is here, and I want to make sure that the ability that I’ve had to think about and build my art is also what other folks feel, that this is a city where people feel like they can be creative and really live off their creativity.”