Happy July 4

ConvergenceRI will be taking a two-week break and resume publication on July 15

Photo by Richard Asinof

A lush plot of fresh organic kale and chard at the Barrington Farm School, ready to be harvested. Nearby, honey bees loaded with pollen were making their way into the hives, and some 300 tomato plants were beginning to flower. This is what community looks like.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/24/19

PROVIDENCE – ConvergenceRI will be taking a break for the first two weeks in July, in concert with a long observed Rhode Island tradition. The newsletter will resume publication on Monday, July 15.

The first two weeks in July were once the time when industrial manufacturers shut down, repairing and retooling their boilers, as a Rhode Island labor historian explained it, creating a calendar-driven schedule of vacation for workers. That tradition still holds, even as the state’s economy has mostly shifted away from its former manufacturing base. Even the R.I. General Assembly tries to adhere to this vacation schedule that is a byproduct of a bygone industrial era. Tradition!

During the upcoming break, ConvergenceRI will be sharpening the saw, tending to the garden of new ideas, trying out new recipes, tuning in to new conversations, walking, listening, and observing more.

A time to reflect
Entering this time of recharge and reflection, there are so many questions to ponder:

What kind of economic niche Rhode Island will carve out for itself in the future regional innovation ecosystem remains an open question, worthy of conversation and convergence. What priority will be given to protect and replenish the human enterprise, the workers, as this new engine of economic prosperity evolves? Will it be data-crunched as some kind of artificial intelligence algorithm?

Equally important, in health care, in education reform, in climate change, in research and innovation, in covering the news, whose voices will be heard? As much as many of the corporate voices of news media have adopted the branding of their product as “preserving local journalism,” too many important voices keep getting left out of the stories being reported.

When it comes to future statewide health planning or the proposed creation of a new academic medical enterprise that will control 80 percent of all medical facilities in the state, a veritable monopoly, whose voices will be heard? Where do health equity zones and neighborhood health stations fit into the equation? Will practicing nurses and patients have a seat at the decision-making table?

When it comes to improving education outcomes, when will the efforts to reform the state’s approach include access to safe, affordable, healthy housing as part of the equation? Whose voices will be heard? Will it be students, parents and teachers, or bureaucrats and administrators?

When it comes to the threats from climate change, when will it become part of the economic development equation to address the stench emanating from Allens Avenue as a toxic hazard? Whose voices will be heard? Will it be community residents living under the under toxic health threats, or the corporate lobbyists with the ear of legislative leaders?

Who will have a seat at the table when decisions are made? What will happen when the bottom-up approach to innovation, driven by community needs, collides with the top-down approach?

Hold those thoughts. Or, better yet, consider sharing them with friends and family when you go for a evening stroll at a local beach, or when you are preparing a salad with fresh greens from a local farm stand or grilling in the backyard. Bring it up at the dinner table; include your children and your parents in the conversation. These are important conversations to have; they need to happen at the dinner table, not behind closed doors.

Forces of light
Last week, on Friday, June 21, we arrived at the solstice moment when, as a result of the tilt and spin of the Earth, the northern hemisphere celebrated the longest, lightest day of the year, a chance to embrace a rebirth of wonder and the lushness of our lives together.

There were a plentitude of positive vibrations to celebrate, when community voices were proud, resolute and successful: the 20th anniversary of RICARES, and the Plein Air celebration of art and farming at the Barrington Farm School. The recent Sankofa EATS dinner and the upcoming pop-up farmers market on July 1 by the African Alliance of Rhode Island, all examples of how neighborhoods and communities are being re-energized.

There were the bright moments of sunshine provided by intrepid reporters such as Frank Carini, from ecoRI News, who recently received an advocacy award from Save The Bay, and Steve Ahlquist, from Uprise RI, who broke the story about the $1 million in Medicaid reimbursements tucked away in the proposed House budget for a questionable therapy developed by a Cranston chiropractor.

On the political front, there were also bright rays of light in the persistence and gumption of stalwart legislative advocates, with organizing led by The R.I. Coalition for Reproductive Freedom and The Womxn Project, who were successful in pushing Rhode Island to codify abortion rights as law in Rhode Island. ConvergenceRI was proud to be able to feature the wise commentary of Toby Simon on those efforts. As Sen. Josh Miller said on the night of the historic vote: “The law properly protects a woman’s right to choose, guided by her beliefs and her doctor’s, not yours and not mine.”

Add to that political victory the success of community and environmental advocates who led the successful intervention against the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville, which resulted in the Energy Facility Siting Board deciding by a 3-0 vote that the new power plant was not needed. Talk about bright sunlight. The rapid growth in distributed electricity from behind-the-meter solar panels [on rooftops] in New England, shaving peak demand for electricity, played an unheralded, under-reported but critical role in the outcome.

[Learning from history matters. In April of 2016, ConvergenceRI had a conversation with Eli Sherman, then a reporter with the Providence Business News, now an investigative reporter with WPRI, and Frank Carini, Joanna Detz and Tim Faulkner of ecoRI News, in which ConvergenceRI “suggested” that the EFSB and ISO New England might hold the key to stopping the Invenergy power station because of the lack of economic need for the power plant, based upon a similar experience in Massachusetts, where a planned twin nuclear power plant proposed to be built in Montague, Mass., was defeated by a 2-1 vote by that state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council in 1978.]

Just as monarch butterflies and milkweed have evolved into a beneficial, symbiotic relationship, so, too, have good reporting and analysis become the crux of citizens taking action to change the dynamic around political decision-making. Call it a convergence, a breaking down of silos.

Forces of darkness

It is always important to celebrate the victories of sunlight over darkness in our lives. Still it is often hard to hold onto the positive vibrations when the shadows of darkness keep growing more prevalent, threatening to blot out community voices from being heard. We have arrived at an inflection point in our nation’s 234-year-old democratic experiment.

Some things bear repeating: Last year at this time, ConvergenceRI wrote: Yet, it seems, at this moment of expansive light, our democratic values are becoming uprooted, the bones of our democracy eaten away by radioactive greed, darkness, lying, greed, and more lying.

The forces of tyranny have become more pronounced, threatening to dissolve the American democratic experiment. The importance of conversations occurring in the public square have become paramount in efforts to preserve our democracy – the courage and willingness to stand up, to speak out and to say no.

To be blunt and direct and perhaps impolitic: as citizens, we are being forced to confront an elected President who regularly lies and distorts the facts, news networks such as Fox and Sinclair that parrot those lies and deceptions, and Congressional leaders who dissemble the truth with impunity, refusing to stand up to a bullying President and say: the emperor has no clothes.

The underlying currents are racism and misogyny: the disliked fact by some that America is becoming brown and black, and will no longer have a white majority ruled by men. Those who are angry, fearful and threatened by such changes are being stoked by the use of language describing migrant women and children as being animals and vermin infesting our nation, requiring them to be separated and detained indefinitely in, not the euphemism of summer camps, but federal concentration camps.

[Yes, a year ago, ConvergenceRI called them concentration camps; no one protested whether it was the correct nomenclature. Rather than get stuck on debating the nuance of the word, let’s focus on addressing the deplorable conditions, which are inhumane, and the political policies that are creating them, which are abhorrent to our democracy.]

At the same time, journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people,” vilified by the President and his band of sycophants. These are dangerous times for truth-tellers.

Our nation’s independence
There is also the long-observed tradition of celebrating our nation’s independence with fireworks and parades and family gatherings, a celebration rooted in the rebellion against the tyranny of a British king, in the self-evident truths that all men [and women] are equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is not a holiday conceived to celebrate President Donald Trump and his never-ending demand for king-like adoration.

Some ideas bear repeating. As ConvergenceRI wrote two years ago: In 1776, news of the Declaration of Independence, which redefined the social contract between the government and the consent of the governed, was first shared in printed broadsides and then read aloud in public gatherings, including to General George Washington’s troops in New York City. The document was then reprinted in newspapers in the 13 colonies. It was not printed in British newspapers until more than a month later.

Today, 243 years later, in the digital world we live in, the news is a constantly flowing, instantaneous source of filtered information, entertainment and advertising, far removed from conversations in the public square. Amidst all the noise, self-evident truths are much harder to identify or to recognize in the slipstream of competing narratives, monetized and weaponized by big corporate money.

Call this holiday an important time for talking, face-to-face, in person, because our nation has reached an inflection point in the battle against authoritarianism.

A sense of value
My apologies if this entry point into vacation has gone on too long. But there is one final quick story to share: At the recent gathering of startups and budding entrepreneurs sponsored by the Brown’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and the Slater Technology Fund, ConvergenceRI bumped into the co-founder of a new startup, which was recently accepted into the Mass Challenge Rhode Island accelerator 2019 cohort.

ConvergenceRI shared with him a recent article about the new state budget released by House; the entrepreneur wrote back: “Thanks for sending along the budgeting article. It was quite enlightening, and as well as somewhat shocking. We thought we had our finger on top of the pulse of mental health care in Rhode Island, but we were blown away to hear that only 6.9 percent of patients diagnosed with substance abuse disorder or mental health illness were treated for both.”

What ConvergenceRI has done, hopefully, in its six years of publication, is to create an engaged community, where content is shared across networks and platforms, information that is unavailable anywhere else in the Rhode Island.

ConvergenceRI will continue to promote conversation and convergence, to break down silos, to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to report on the success of engaged communities in Rhode Island that are creating their own conversations and building their own equity within the state’s emerging innovation ecosystem.

Let us continue our conversation on July 15.


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