Marcia Ranglin-Vassell is the representative for House District 5 in the Rhode Island General Assembly. She has often been the target of attacks from establishment Democrats. During the campaigns in 2016 she was referred to as “some woman from Jamaica” and as Providence Rules pointed out subject to a nasty dog-whistle attack by the former majority leader of the House. And just two weeks ago she was the target of RI Democratic 2nd Vice Chair Joe Delorenzo who said: “Two years ago they took out John DeSimone with a very progressive candidate. … I just don’t like where we are going.”
Steve Rackett talked to Marcia about her first year as an elected official, her hopes for next year and her response to DeLorenzo’s so-called ‘apology.’
What are the highs and lows of your first year in public office?
One of the highs is just being able to represent my district, to be the voice of people who I think have been under-represented. The lows would be going to the State House and thinking that I would get several of the bills passed but not being able to do so. I think the bills that would lift people out of poverty, to make our kids safer, to make sure they remain in schools, to have hot lunches – that some of those bills were ‘held for further study’ that was disappointing. Also how slowly things move through the General Assembly.
I will be re-introducing many of the bills from the last session. The fight for $15 (minimum wage) continues, in January we will have $10.50 with a bill that I co-sponsored, but my signature bill is making sure we have $11 so that will be reintroduced.
Another bill will be to make sure we reduce the amount of out of school suspensions, because we need to invest more in our students, we cannot continue to have them suspended for minor infractions. We need them in schools. We need break that cycle of kids moving from our classrooms into prisons, we cannot afford to do that, we have to support our children. Also a new bill that relates to the trauma that kids experience witnessing violence.
You talking about the slowness of the process. Do you hope to put pressure on the leadership to get some bills considered early?
For everything there is a learning curve. All of us have learned lessons and I think it is a priority that the leadership team to make sure that bills are read. A change in culture takes a little while, but I am hopeful we will see a change, as opposed to having everything right at the end.
Only 23 of the 78 representatives are women. What you can say to encourage more women to stand in elections?
We are under-represented and it is important for us to let our voices being heard. In the next cycle, 2018, we are going to see a lot of women running, and not just running, but winning. We know the issues and are able to elevate and articulate what our families are thinking, whether it be pocket issues or choice, sexuality or gun violence, we are able to articulate those concerns, that our children face, that we as women face, and the disparities.
I would say to any woman that is considering running – don’t consider it too long. There is going to be a lot of people out there that will support you. You just need to have a message that is crisp, a message that reflects the needs of yourself, your family of your neighborhood, and the Democratic values and women should not feel intimidated in any way by the fact we don’t have balance in the structure (of the General Assembly) right now. The tide is changing.
I also want to emphasize that more women of color should run, more black women need to run. We want to diversify the pool, not just in terms of race or gender but also economics. There is all kinds of inequity so we need to make sure we have different voices to the table.
But for me as a black woman, the only black woman in the General Assembly, we needed our voices, and just this past week when there was an issue with vice-chair DeLorenzo, when he talked about the progressives. Of course he didn’t say my name – but we know what inferences, we can make those deductions based on what he said. So his comment, when he singled me out was not just racist, it was sexist. So we need to normalize having black women in the General Assembly. We need to normalize having women in the General Assembly.
We are a diverse state and this is who we are and diversity makes us stronger.
I am hopeful that a lot of women run and a lot of progressives run because I think – what is our response to each other, our neighbors, how do we treat people, what are our actions, our deeds, does it represent the values of love, caring & charity?
DeLorenzo has ‘apologized’ and the party establishment say that should be enough. What are your thoughts?
When he talked about progressives in his first comments and then later when he went on to try to discredit Representative Tanzi in terms of what she was going through as a woman and in terms of sexual harassment, I said he should be ousted and expelled from the party. As a woman of color, as a woman who has experienced sexual harassment. I still stand by my initial comment – he should be expelled from the party. There should be no tolerance for this kind of behavior from anyone.
We cannot afford to have people who use derogatory terms – he called progressives ‘whackos.’ We are one party. We have different views and we have to be respectful of each other’s point of view. We have to be tolerant of each other’s point of view and we have to be measured. Words have consequences, they can be hurtful, so before we start calling names… that does not represent Rhode Island values or democratic values.
What other issue do you see as important?
We are losing too many of our young promising people to gun violence. It troubles my soul deeply that every other week there is a funeral of a young man, usually a black man between the ages of 22 and 25, so I think is important for us to have sustainable jobs, high paying jobs, so we can dismantle the structure of poverty which I connect to gun violence.
We need to invest, not just in corporations that come into Rhode Island and get big tax write-offs, but we need to invest in small businesses, because they employ more people than large corporations. When we invest in small businesses, people have money to spend in their local communities and that is one of the ways we can break this cycle of poverty and violence.
It is one of the reasons I ran for office, because I lost one of my students to gun violence. Every young person that dies, it is one of our children, its our communities’ children, so this is a community response. We cannot afford to lose any young person, so we have to make sure we invest in our children, our schools and our teachers.