What do social and racial justice mean in practice in Rhode Island? This question guides this exhibit, which introduces three local grassroots organizations—DARE, PrYSM, and The George Wiley Center. The exhibit presents their efforts for social and racial justice, the changes they advocate, the events and campaigns they organize, and the services they provide. Additionally, the exhibit gives insight into their members’ goals and motivations and their ideas about what social and racial justice mean.
PrYSM—Providence Youth Student Movement
PrYSM is a youth organization in Providence that empowers young Southeast Asian community members to become organizers, leaders, and critical thinkers through workshops, mentorship, and guidance for youth-led community organizing projects. Youth and local college students founded PrYSM on November 8th, 2001.
PrYSM’s program Rhode Island Civic Engagement informs and educates about the deportation of Southeast Asian community members. It connects people who are affected by deportation to resources and the larger deportation defense movement in New England and the United States.
Through the Community Defense Program, Southeast Asian youth and youth of color learn their rights in interactions with law enforcement and the steps they can take when their rights are infringed. The program also provides community members with no-cost to low-cost legal resources.
Additionally, PrYSM seeks to abolish the prison-to-school pipeline. It calls for an end to police officers in Providence public schools and demands more mental health support in schools. With other youth organizations, it is in the process of building student and community power.
I spoke with co-executive director Vanessa Flores-Maldonado and PrYSM member Seap Phin about the organization and their thoughts on social and racial justice. Here’s what they said:
DARE—Direct Action for Rights and Equality
DARE is a multigenerational community organization in Providence. Founded in 1986, it organizes low-income families in communities of color to fight for social, political, and economic justice.
DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association advocates for people who are facing eviction, foreclosure, and homelessness. It seeks to end the displacement of low-income communities of color. The committee informs homeowners and renters about their rights and organizes to affect change in public policy, for example, by canvassing homes scheduled for eviction.
DARE’s Behind the Walls works for systemic changes in the criminal justice system. Bringing people inside the prison, former inmates, friends, and families together, the committee advocates for progressive legislation, the reduction of the prison population, and the reinvestment of money from prisons into health care, housing, and other social programs.
I spoke with DARE member Malchus and organizer Terri Wright about the organization and their thoughts on social and racial justice. Here’s what they said:
The George Wiley Center
The George Wiley Center is a Rhode Island-wide grassroots organization that uses local community organizing to achieve social and economic justice. Anti-poverty activist Henry Shelton founded the organization in 1981 and named it after the Black Rhode Islander George Wiley. George Wiley was a scholar and an activist with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and founded the National Welfare Rights Organization.
The George Wiley Center organizes people who are directly affected by poverty. It empowers them to take on leadership roles as community change agents and advocate for systemic changes. Most recently, members successfully advocated for the extension of the moratorium on utility shut offs for low-income Rhode Islanders until spring 2021.
At the moment, the Center and its members are advocating for a Percentage Income Payment Plan (PIPP) in Rhode Island. With PIPP, low-income households would pay lower rates for utilities. This would prevent thousands of utility terminations in Rhode Island every year.
Additionally, the George Wiley Center informs Rhode Islanders about their rights as utility customers in meetings, phone consultations, presentations, and its Rhode Island Utility Consumer Rights Booklet.
At a meeting at the George Wiley Center, I spoke with members Elaine and Everett about the Center and social and racial justice. Here’s what they said:
Katharina Weygold is a member of the Tiny Team and a second-year student in the Public Humanities MA program and in the American Studies PhD program. She studies the entanglements of race, gender, nation, and empire, particularly in the context of the US occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934.
Many thanks to PrYSM, DARE, and the George Wiley Center, their members, organizers, and directors for giving me insight into their work, for taking time to speak with me and schedule meetings, and for making available the materials. Without you, this exhibit would not have been possible.