In light of comments by Joe Delarenzo, 2nd vice chair of RI Democrats, Steve Rackett has a timely interview with Rebecca Kislak, President of RI NOW about their activities.
What is RI NOW and what does it do?
RI Now is the Rhode Island chapter of National Organization of Women, an advocacy organization for women and we have hundreds of members and over 1000 supporters all over the state. Our mission is to ensure that women are able to fully participate in private & public life without any gender based barriers. Our main issues are dealing with economic equity, racism, violence against women, reproductive justice, LGBT & civil rights. We are very active at the State House and in elections in Rhode Island.
How do you think the 2017 legislative session went?
We had four main items we worked on. We are happy that the bill to ensure people who are convicted of domestic violence will not have access to guns passed through the general assembly. We are also pleased that the earned sick leave bill passed. We are disappointed that Reproductive Healthcare Act hasn’t passed and we are going to keep working to ensure to abortion in Rhode Island and work to have good access to birth control and the protections in the Affordable Care Act remain in this State no matter what happens nationally.
How easy was it get those first two issues in to law?
It wasn’t easy at all it was a lot of work in coalition. We were members of coalitions that worked on both, some for many years.
Should that be the case in a heavily Democratic state?
I think the labels Democrat and Republican, red and blue are surface definitions and it is really important to look beyond those issues and part of the world at the state house is to build relationships with legislators, working together and making our case.
The USA has one of the lowest proportions of women holding elected office in the developed world. What is going to happen about that?
I think there is a new energy since the election of Trump, both at both national and local level for more women to run for office. We run a political action committee that endorses and support feminist candidates. We have been active in many elections and many of the candidates that we have endorsed have won including two special elections during the Summer (Nirva LaFortune and Dawn Euer).
What impact would electing more women have?
It is really important to have diverse voices in the governing bodies that reflect the people they are representing – and right now they don’t. Elections matter. There are over 200 elected positions up in 2018, not just at state level, but town councils and school boards. There are lots of ways for people to get involved. People may feel despondent and I think a lot of us are trying to figure out how we can make the most difference. I think a lot of us are thinking how to push each other and push ourselves to be a little bit more done and participate more.
Do you have any thoughts on about Joe Delorenzo’s recent comments about Teresa Tanzi?
The hashtag “me too” has been an opportunity to share and inform others that most women have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault in our lives. Whether women want to speak or not, share details or not, press charges or not, women should be supported. This is an issue beyond one particular setting or one particular incident. We must look at developing a culture where women are supported and believed and men do the work of listening and enforcing respectful norms. The reactions to Representative Tanzi’s description of sexual harassment at the State House are an example of the power dynamics involved in enforcing a culture where sexual harassment thrives. Delorenzo and others should, instead of saying that it never happened, listen and ask why they didn’t see it and what they can do to help prevent sexual harassment in the future.