By FRANK CARINI
Since Gov. Gina Raimondo got elected, her administration and our “blue state liberals” have clear-cut their way through Rhode Island.
They have promoted the destruction of woodlands in Johnston to make room for a corporate office park. Despite their vocal concerns about climate change, they support the bulldozing of an important section of forest in Burrillville to make way for a fossil-fuel power plant and the expansion of natural-gas infrastructure. They think chopping down 20 acres of trees in Hopkinton to make space for a travel plaza is a good idea.
The passing of environmentally friendly bonds, the building of the nation’s first offshore wind farm in Rhode Island waters, handing out grant-funding morsels for environmental projects and a fractured system of protecting open space doesn’t automatically make the Ocean State green or blue. A job plan focused “on putting cranes in the sky” isn’t particularly forward thinking, especially when much of the encouraged development largely ignores the state’s many vacant office buildings, big-box stores and old mills and instead charges into the forest, chainsaws a blazin'.
Jobs are important, but that doesn’t mean we should build stuff we don’t really need in places that weaken ecosystems and jeopardize public health. A progressive state would focus on building stuff people want in places that make both economic and environmental sense. A liberal state wouldn't hand out tax deals like Halloween candy to corporations while offering gimmicks, like a hashtag for the nationwide campaign "Small Business Saturday," to help local businesses.
The day after Donald Trump was elected president, Raimondo told Rhode Island’s climate council that the real-estate mogul’s win “puts an even greater burden on states to take action and be creative.”
The fact is we lost our way long before Trump was elected. Few in our government truly care about environmental and social-justice issues. Most who claim they do are just spewing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Progressive politicians truly concerned about environmental protections and social injustices were lost to a mass extinction that hit Washington, D.C., and our 50 statehouses hard. Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump wasn’t a blow to liberals; she’s only slightly more progressive than Jeb Bush. Both the Democratic National Committee and its Republican counterpart put Wall Street ahead of Main Street. Special favors trump local interests. Government’s one-player game enjoys scaring the masses and buttressing the military-industrial complex. It prefers building barriers, not consensus.
Here in Rhode Island, many of the politicians with a D after their name are just moderate Republicans riding donkeys, especially when it comes to matters of the environment. Raimondo and Nicholas Mattiello are hardly broad-minded when it comes protecting natural resources and representing all constituents. Their actions, not their words and campaign promises, speak for themselves. They are bound by the wants and desires of corporations and special interests. They are hardly alone, both here and nationwide.
Issues of public health, equal rights, income inequality, sacrifice zones and the environment were long ago stuffed into the back of a figurative hearse. Big Money rides shotgun.
If any of those issues actually mattered to our elected officials, taxpayer-funded law-enforcement officials, in riot gear and representing some two dozen agencies, few of which have any jurisdiction, and goons hired by fossil-fuel interests wouldn’t be blasting water cannons, firing rubber bullets, and lobbing teargas canisters and stun and stinger grenades at protesters just outside a North Dakota Indian reservation.
Since April, the mostly peaceful and mostly Native American protesters have been resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline, concerned about potential harm to sacred lands and natural resources, including drinking water. Hundreds have reportedly been injured by the overzealous actions of law enforcement. Recently, a 21-year-old white woman was injured and could lose an arm, after "law enforcement" reportedly threw at least two grenades into a group of protesters, one of which reportedly exploded on the woman's left arm.
Apparently, the business interests of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, a Fortune 500 natural-gas and propane corporation with a reported net income of $313 million in 2015, are more important than environmental and public-health concerns, especially if the people most directly being impacted belong to a population that has been slaughtered, lied to, abused, marginalized and ignored.
Concerned Bismarck, N.D., residents, however, voicing their concern at public meetings about the threat to local water supplies posed by the 1,172-mile-long underground oil pipeline, managed to get the pipeline’s path altered. The project was rerouted to jeopardize Native American lands and water. Indigenous people weren’t offered the same public opportunities to voice their concerns. Bismarck residents — 92 percent of whom are white — who expressed their displeasure with the project weren’t fired at by water cannons in freezing temperatures. None lost an arm during a public meeting.
During the past seven months, D.C.’s out-of-touch politicians have said little about North Dakota, ignoring both the brutality and the legitimate concerns being raised regarding public and environmental health. The issue — like the criminal state of drinking water in Flint, Mich., 56.6 percent of its residents are black — was barely addressed by the presidential candidates. Few, if any, elected officials have visited North Dakota to speak with the protesters, curb the one-sided violence or help negotiate a compromise. President Obama has said little more than let’s allow the process to play out a little while longer. President-elect Trump is an investor in Energy Transfer Partners.
For Rhode Island resident Morgan Victor, a woman of color whose father is part Wampanoag, the continued failures of government to protect all people and their shared environment hits home hard. She’s only 27, but the Providence College graduate understands perfectly who our one-party system prefers: money over people; private over public; white over brown or black; male over female; religious belief over women’s health; bigoted bakers over gay couples; Christians over Muslims.
“Politicians aren’t working for us. I don’t have any faith in the government,” said Victor, who works full time in Providence College’s Academic Media Services department and part time for Crossroads Rhode Island’s Domestic Violence Program. “We’re more concerned about protecting infrastructure and The Machine than protecting people, the environment and water resources.”
Victor, a member of the Rhode Island-based FANG Collective, spent three days in September at one of the North Dakota protest camps, helping in the kitchen and medical tent. She recently spoke to ecoRI News about her visit. She said watching events unfold there was “draining.” She called the government’s response “upsetting.”
“It was painful to witness, but it’s not a new feeling,” she said. “It’s consistent with what Native Americans have been fighting. The erasure of indigenous peoples never stopped happening. The police are there to serve infrastructure, not people. They’re literally attacking us for the fossil-fuel industry.”
It’s the American Way. Greed over good government. Ideology over understanding. CEOs over tree huggers. White power over colored protest.
During a recent cable TV news program, a Wisconsin politician noted that anti-Trump and Black Lives Matter protesters are just as “disgusting, for different ways.” His ignorance and hatred is shared by many politicians, who use soundbites, lies and fear to grab wealth, power and pussies.
The law-breaking Bundy clan are called patriots. The white supremacists who support Trump are called the alt-right and nationalists. One is even given a prominent role in the Trump White House. Black Lives Matter protesters are referred to as thugs and terrorists. The country’s first African-American president is blamed for reviving racism.
Government’s relentless assault on civil liberties is only equaled by its desire to exploit people and the environment for private profit and career advancement. The Democratic Party hasn’t spoken for liberals in quite some time. It’s about time for the alleged “Party of the People” to stop claiming to be progressive. Real liberals wouldn’t sit by quietly and allow natural resources and ecosystems to be plundered. They wouldn’t stand for the continued demonization and marginalization of the country’s most vulnerable.
But today’s so-called political progressives either look the other way or, much more likely, help make environmental destruction and fear-mongering possible.
Two parties playing some 126 million voters and continuing to expand power and wealth for themselves, their families, their corporate friends and their good buddies doesn’t paint a rosy future for the rest of us and the environment we used to share.
Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.