Speaker of the House Paul Ryan came to Rhode Island on Thursday, but didn’t manage to show his face to the over 250 people who crowded the sidewalks of Fountain Street in downtown Providence to greet him. Ryan, who has been avoiding meeting with his constituents in his home state of Wisconsin, was visiting Year Up, a non-profit that describes itself as “a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults… with a combination of hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, corporate internships, and wraparound support.” Year Up’s board chair, Paul Salem, is a big time Republican Party supporter.
The protest of Ryan was not directed at Year Up. As organizer Aaron Regunburg made clear on Facebook, the protest is “100 percent focused on Paul Ryan and the Ryan/Trump agenda – we are not and will not be protesting the group he is meeting with.” Regunburg is a Democrat and the RI State Representative for District 4.
Protesters shouted “Coward!” and demanded that Ryan back off his promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare. They also wanted him to leave funding in place for Planned Parenthood, protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, re-regulate Wall St and begin an investigation into Donald Trump‘s Russian connections. The Russian connection has blossomed into a full-blown scandal this week with Trump’s newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions being caught in a lie about his meeting with Russian political actors during the presidential campaign.
Basically the crowd was announcing its opposition to the entire Trump/Ryan/Republican national agenda with this protest.
The Working Families Party in Rhode Island reached out to its sister organization in Wisconsin and arranged for Ryan’s home state constituents to Facetime the event. They also used Facebook Live to stream the action to over 50,000 people worldwide.
Ryan was not seen by anyone in the crowd. Escorted by RI State Police, his convoy entered 40 Fountain St by a back entrance, blocked off from view by the Providence Police and a SWAT unit. Ryan’s vehicle had tinted windows. As the crowd’s accusation of “Coward!” echoed through downtown, Ryan snuck in and out of the city, meeting with shadowy millionaires and protected by militarized police. Ryan left as he came: out the back, under cover of tinted windows and with a police escort.