Responding to a call by the National Lawyers Guild, activists from a variety of social, labor and environmental justice groups gathered outside US District Court in Providence (on the east side of Burnside Park) to express solidarity with the grassroots people’s movements supporting human rights and planetary survival. The event was held in concert with other demonstrations in cities throughout the United States, including Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC.
“We hope to provide lawyers and other legal workers an opportunity to speak out against efforts to subvert the rule of law and to undermine hard won constitutional protections in the United States,” said organizer Benjamin Evans of the National Lawyers Guild – Rhode Island Chapter.
“We stand in solidarity with those who have been targeted by the new government in Washington and by Republicans and others who share Trump’s ideology,” continued Evans, “We stand in solidarity with Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and all those on the front lines of the struggle for human rights. We recognize that while Trump represents a new threat to the survival of the small planet we share with all other living things, he also continues long standing legacies of oppression which include the enslavement of African people in the Americas and wars of genocide against indigenous people and First Nations. Just as racial profiling by law enforcement didn’t begin with the new government, we also recognize that movements for social justice did not begin on January 20th or November 9th. And it is those movements for social justice that we hope to support. A local example which we see as relevant is the effort towards passing [the Community Safety Act] a city ordinance to limit police power in Providence.
Here’s Benjamin Evans:
“I am pleased to say there are many lawyers who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and care about our constitutional rights and rule of law and care about justice for all, not just the rich and the powerful,” said Amy Tabor, representing the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
“The first amendment and all of the the bill of rights are only as alive as all of us standing here today,” said attorney John Dineen, speaking on behalf of the RI ACLU.
Martha Yaeger of the American Friends Service Committee of Southeastern New England gave her time to Sheena, a Palestinian immigrant who spoke of the similarities between Palestinians, Native Americans and the criminalization of blackness in America.
Raul Figueroa, an organizer with Fuerza Laboral said that Rhode Islanders need to set an example. “And what is that example? That we are going to fight!”
Sheida Soleimani, an artist, activist and RISD professor said that being the daughter of Iranian refugees and a legal American citizen does not make her resent others who are coming to the country now. “We cannot turn them away,” said Soleimani, “This is what our nation is founded on, and this is why my parents were not sent back and weren’t killed. Because they were able to seek political asylum here.”
Mike Araujo of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice said that while we are watching the national battle against Trump, we must not forget the battle taking place in the Rhode Island State House right now, where racist and anti-worker legislation is being imposed on us by political forces that precede Trump’s rise. “The reason we are happy it’s Friday is that we have to take a breath. We need to happy about every single day we are working,” said Araujo.
Nick Katkevich representing the FANG Collective wanted to thank the National Lawyer’s guild. “We do a lot of direct action, a lot of civil disobedience, ” said Katkevich, “your support makes our work possible.”
“Students, we know, are going to take the lead on a lot of this,” said Zack Mezera, of the Providence Student Union, referring to resistance against the Betsy DeVos education agenda, “and they’re going to need to be backed up whenever they face political harassment or hate speech from teachers, administrators or from the community.”
Edward Benson spoke of three initiatives the George Wiley Center, succeeded in instituting to help the poorest Rhode Islanders. Each win is currently under threat or already reversed. Universal free breakfast for students in public schools was one such success story. A Republican congress now threatens SNAP, which maintains this important program nationally. The Henry Shelton Act, which allowed those behind on their utility bills to avoid shut-offs, and prevented them from “shivering in the dark” is being revised at the State House. Finally, the free bus ride program, which allowed the elderly and handicapped to navigate the city, has been taken away, stranding thousands of low-income people at home.