The Number of Vaccinated Rhode Islanders Continues to Climb: A summary of the governor’s COVID-19 briefing

Vaccinations continue to climb in the state, but we can’t seem to shake slowly rising COVID-19 case numbers. State leaders at the weekly press briefing today announced 428 new cases of the virus since the previous day. Percent positivity remains hovering around 1.9%. While case numbers have broadly plateaued, hospitalizations and fatalities are shrinking. There are 138 people hospitalized with the virus, 30 in ICU, 24 on ventilators. 

“Fatalities are down 94% compared to their peak in December,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott, further stating she remains unfazed by the consistently stable case numbers as long as percent positivity of all tests remains as low as it is. The RIDOH director credited case numbers staying the same day-to-day with Rhode Island’s small, densely populated area, noting many new cases come from younger Rhode Islanders who haven’t been eligible for the vaccine yet.

On Monday state leaders are widening the vaccine pool to anyone over the age of 16, a group the state estimates to be around 258,000. The state administered 79,000 doses last week of all vaccines, and is on track to administer 68,000 this week. Interested Rhode Islanders on Monday have the option of signing up for a vaccine through the state’s online pre-registration system.

The Janssen vaccine or Johnson and Johnson vaccine was put on pause across the nation earlier this week as federal health officials examine the risk from rare blood disorders causing blood clots. Dr. Alexander-Scott emphasized that the vaccine is safe for everyone, nationwide less than one in a million people are at risk. The pause was to educate healthcare providers on the signs of the rare blood clotting disorder, who to look out for, and what the necessary treatment is. Meanwhile the state will put its doses of Johnson and Johnson into refrigerated storage where it will have a shelf life of three months. State health officials expect the pause to be lifted well before then.

No-shows at state vaccine appointments are slowly rising, according to Tom McCarthy, the state’s executive director of COVID response. Crediting the rise in vaccine availability, no-shows to state appointments have risen from 10% to 13%. McCarthy encouraged people to cancel their appointments if they need to for any reason.

Gov. McKee announced a new vaccine equity initiative. With some federal funding, starting on Monday, RIPTA will provide free bus rides to people going to or from their vaccine appointments. Many of the pharmacy and state vaccine sites are on already existing bus routes. Passengers should first make a vaccine appointment and provide that information to RIPTA’s customer service representatives by email (customerservice@RIPTA.com) or by calling 401-781-9400. An eight dollar value will be loaded onto the a Wave smart fare card “This is a big win for Rhode Island vaccine efforts,” said McKee.

Today also marked the launch at 3pm of the state’s latest round of COVID relief grants. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced the Relief RI grants earlier this week. State leaders set aside $20 million from CARES Act money to award $5,000 grants to 4,000 businesses. To qualify, a business’s gross receipts must be less than a million dollars a year, and they must show a decline in receipts from 2019 to 2020. Additionally, they must still show a need for a $5,000 grant, and show that other forms of aid such as EIDL loans.

McKee encouraged people to make Mother’s Day reservations at restaurants today, as he expects the state’s economic opening to continue as vaccinations continue to rise. Additionally, McKee said today under questioning that he expects the RI Convention Center to be dismantled for COVID operations soon. The RFP for it went out next week, and the Center should be ready for hosting events again starting in August.




Protesters Gather on the State House Lawn: Rhode Islanders gather in solidarity to protest the killing of Daunte Wright

Hundreds of activists and protesters gathered last night at the State House in response to the killing of Daunte Wright. Wright was killed on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, during a traffic stop, where it’s alleged Officer Kimberly Potter fired her service weapon, which she mistook for her taser. The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC organized the event to stand in solidarity with people in Minnesota who have protested outside the Brooklyn Corner police precinct for the last four nights.

“This country, this state is sick — sick with white supremacy,” said BLM RI PAC’s executive director Harrison Tuttle on the south State House steps. The PAC is composed of young Rhode Islanders of color, with the intended aim to end systemic racism and support progressives running for office.

Local activists are long past being simply fed up, with anger focused on law enforcement, state leaders and systemic racism. “Everything I can say to you, you already know,” said Rodney Newton, one of the speakers last night. He called for people in the crowd to aggressively combat racism and hold state leaders accountable for systemic racism. “Don’t be an ally,” he said. “Be an accomplice.”

Other speakers encouraged more people to run for office. Miguel Sanchez called for people to organize and mobilize for Providence residents, saying there were eight city council seats and the mayor’s office up for election in 2022. Activists promised to primary elected leaders who did not do enough to combat systemic racism or help distressed communities.

Providence Police held a minor presence throughout the rally, and were a frequent target of activists’ criticisms surrounding the killing of Daunte Wright. Sanchez cited Tuesday’s public safety report. The report, compiled by Public Financial Management, was the result of a seven-month audit dedicated to analyzing the city’s spending in its public safety operations. Sanchez emphasized the service call statistics in the report. While less than 4% of all calls for service were for violent crime, 4.6% of calls were for loud music. “We don’t need to send people with guns to civilian homes for loud music,” said Sanchez.

Activists allege that the kind of police violence that happened to Daunte Wright happens in Rhode Island now. They argue that Jhamal Gonsalves crashed because of police actions, that Providence Police shot out a protester’s eye last summer, that law enforcement endangered civilians during peaceful protests by attempting to drive into protesters, and then there’s Joshua Robinson. 

Robinson was stopped at a traffic stop in March 2013 and was subsequently beaten by officers after they suspected him of swallowing drugs (no drugs were found on Robinson and a medical exam showed none in his system). He later sued the city of Providence, with the city settling for $72,500 in 2019.

Rep. David Morales (District 7, Providence) asked rhetorically what the cops at the end of the mall were scared of. “They have all the power, but they act like the victims,” he said. Morales went on to call for the repeal of the law enforcement bill of rights, and for reallocating police funds, alleging that law enforcement sees increased budgets, while state Medicaid faces cuts multiple years in a row, education remains underfunded and Providence still has lead in water pipes.

The crowd was composed of young people carrying signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Fuck the Police,” “Blue Lies Matter” and other similar sentiments. Protesters were entirely peaceful and the rally ended just before dark without incident.




Khmer During COVID-19: A conversation with Andy Chao of the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island

Photo credit: Cambodian Society of Rhode Island

One week before COVID-19 caused Rhode Island to enter a state of emergency, the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island announced its plans for the Khmer New Year. Along the Pawtuxet River in Cranston, Buddhist monks from the state’s temples would bless attendees during a morning ceremony as local Cambodian families gathered to remember and honor their ancestors. At night, a Khmer dance troupe would perform as the featured act in an annual celebration intended to preserve a cultural heritage. With nearly 6,000 Rhode Islanders identifying as Cambodian in the 2010 U.S. Census and nearly 4,000 residents living in a household in which Khmer is spoken, their experiences differ across generations. The cancellation of the April event ushered in a year focused instead on community health and safety.

Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated 1.2 million to 2.8 million of Cambodia’s nearly 8 million people were murdered or starved to death under the Khmer Rouge. In the preceding period, from 1969 to 1973, the U.S. Air Force conducted covert bombing campaigns — Operation Menu and Operation Freedom Deal — which led to the deaths of an estimated tens of thousands of civilians. By 1980, half a million Cambodians were estimated to be living in limbo in refugee camps in Thailand. In a statement delivered to a U.S. Congressional subcommittee, a program director with the International Rescue Committee advocated for urgent assistance with their resettlement: “They are the survivors brought back from the edge of death… It would be too cruel and ironic a fate if they were to be abandoned and forgotten.”

In Rhode Island, thousands of Cambodian refugees found a new home, but little immediate refuge. Reports from the 1980s noted doctors declining appointments on account of language limitations and frequent victimization by landlords, employers and neighbors. Local community organizations started up to provide support and advocate for the new arrivals. Four decades later, Rhode Island today has the largest per capita Cambodian population in the country. At the start of another Khmer New Year, Motif’s Sean Carlson interviewed Andy Chao, president of the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island, about the organization’s evolution and community-based health outreach during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sean Carlson (Motif): From your beginnings as a resource for new refugees, how has the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island (CSRI) adapted to the needs of the community you serve?

Andy Chao: We were founded in 1982 to bring Cambodian refugees and their families together and to help them transition into life in America. As they began to stand on their own, we shifted more into cultural arts to help preserve and educate others about our Cambodian heritage. One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our advocacy for members of the Khmer community. This past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted our energy and efforts toward becoming a health resource as well. We now plan to further expand our mission to include more social work geared toward Cambodians locally.

SC: For those who came as refugees to Rhode Island, what effects have you seen from their traumas?

AC: The families who fled and came to the United States often missed out on their education and had undiagnosed PTSD after surviving genocide and war. In many cases, they were never taught how to effectively communicate with one another, and this only led to fractures and disagreements continuing for generations within our community. Families often don’t know how to handle conflict or find resolution, or how to use their communication skills to deepen how they understand one another. We see this worsened by the language barrier that exists today between Khmer elders and youth. We hope to be able to provide social workers who are bilingual in Khmer and English and can assist with therapeutic and meditative care. Our elders need closure. Many still live with the pain they experienced 45 years ago.

SC: This week marks the Khmer New Year. You usually celebrate the holiday with an event held at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston. How have you had to adapt on account of the pandemic?

AC: Because of COVID-19, we haven’t been able to hold any community events or social gatherings. We cancelled our annual Khmer New Year celebration, annual community potluck, and annual community camping trip. These events usually bring in donations, so we’ve also faced financial struggles for the year. We’re fortunate to have an all-volunteer board so we’re able to function even with low funds, but the past year has been tough on everyone in our community so we haven’t expected too many donations. Thanks to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, we were able to acquire emergency funding to keep us afloat and upgrade our old technology to be able to host virtual meetings and events.

SC: But you’ve also taken steps to provide public health information and support within the community.

AC: We held multiple COVID-19 testing events at the heart of the West End of Providence. Collaborating with the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC), we handed out almost 1,000 bags of adult masks, children masks and hand sanitizer within the Khmer community. One of our initiatives was to bring PPE to every Cambodian-owned business, and we counted nearly 60 — though we know we missed a lot. We translated the Rhode Island Department of Health’s flyers into Khmer, and we distributed hundreds of copies. We worked with Wat Thormikaram, the temple across the street from our office, to register Cambodian residents for vaccination appointments. And last winter we held a flu clinic as well.

SC: The COVID-19 testing events you’ve managed have been open to the public, not only to Khmer speakers or the Cambodian community. How did this initiative come together?

AC: One of our board advisors, Phanida Phivilay, acted as a liaison with the Department of Health. She connected us with the National Guard team who’s organizing COVID-19 testing, we chose a date and we set up our first testing event to welcome Khmer-speaking and other members of our local community. Every time we held another testing event, we improved based on what we learned from the previous one. Overall, we’ve tested around 400 people for COVID-19. Many Cambodian elders came into our office with no idea how to answer the questions required for testing. Without our translation and interpretation, it would have been difficult for them to be tested anywhere due to the language barrier. Being a center for the community, we were able to help folks who were scared to feel more comfortable.

Khmer flyer advertising CSRI’s COVID-19 testing; also distributed in English and Spanish

SC: The Department of Health has published some COVID-19 materials in more than a dozen languages, including Khmer, but its testing and vaccination portals are available only in English, Spanish and Portuguese. What’s your process for sharing information in Khmer? How do you get the word out?

AC: We use the English versions hosted on the RIDOH website and hire translators to write up Khmer editions. We post these at local businesses and temples. We also include them with the bags of PPE we distribute. Word of mouth is especially important because that’s how news travels within our close-knit community. For many of our elders, because they left school early in Cambodia, they may not be able to read well even though they speak Khmer — and would rather learn from talking with others or listening to podcasts. It’s important that our flyers don’t only include words, but that our visuals speak for themselves.

SC: Are you also leading on any community initiatives around vaccination efforts?

AC: While we haven’t been able to provide vaccinations yet, we offer general support and answer any questions our community may have about the vaccination in general or about registering for updates or making appointments. We’re discussing with the Rhode Island Department of Health and the National Guard whether we can offer vaccinations, either at our temple on Hanover Street in Providence or in the West End Community Center’s gym since our office is so small. But we’re waiting on vaccine availability.

SC: What unique needs or sensitivities should be taken into consideration when discussing vaccination?

AC: We still see a stigma attached to Western medicine and practices. Some of this relates to drug abuse within our community as a way to cope with the PTSD and intergenerational PTSD of war. For refugees, medicines were not readily available when growing up in Cambodia. If they were available, they were expensive. As a result, many of the elders in our community weren’t educated about different types of medicine, and that lack of education can equal a lack of trust. We see that now with the COVID-19 vaccination. But the best way to address these hesitations is not just to force people to take it, but to help them understand what it is and how it works. We can’t look down on those who are uncomfortable with the vaccine and treat them like they are ignorant. This will only make members of the community less likely to ask the questions on their minds and eventually to warm up to the idea of getting vaccinated.

SC: We’ve discussed community outreach overall, but are there any personal stories you can share, too?

AC: One older Cambodian man and his family were referred to us by another organization who had difficulty communicating with him in Khmer. After being hospitalized with COVID-19, he had been discharged but didn’t understand what the next steps were with his care or how to get his vehicle back from hospital parking. We were able to speak with the hospital about his situation and ensure he faced no extra charges as a result of the confusion. Every two weeks, we checked up on him and his family and dropped off boxes of fresh groceries. Another time, a single mother with a toddler reached out to ask for help with getting masks for her child. Adult masks are easy to find, but you rarely see children’s masks.

Preparing PPE for local distribution; Photo credit: Cambodian Society of Rhode Island

SC: Given the difficulty of the past year, have any particular Cambodian-owned businesses stood out?

AC: While so many businesses have been shutting down during COVID-19, we want to highlight two new Khmer businesses: Pailin Cuisine (705 Cranston St., Providence) and We Stand Social Club (174 Taunton Ave., East Providence), which is a tattoo parlor and tea cafe. Both opened up despite the challenges and have been especially active in the community. We Stand even sponsored the West Elmwood Intruders youth football team and held a turkey and toy drive to help during the holidays.

SC: And how have you been processing recent incidents of anti-Asian vitriol and violence nationally? 

AC: The recent spike in attacks toward Asians feels like history repeating itself. When Southeast Asian families came to the United States in the 1970s, we experienced a lot of racism, hate, and attacks — so much to the point where we even formed gangs to protect ourselves. It’s still not talked about a lot, and it’s a part of American history that many outside of our community seem to either forget or ignore. Anti-Asian hate is finally gaining mainstream attention, but our only hope is that we can see lasting action and support. When we were refugees, they had nothing to hate on us for, so focused on our physical appearance. Now, we’re scapegoated because of COVID-19. China is blamed for a pandemic that would have affected millions regardless of its origins, and somehow all Asians are facing repercussions.

SC: Thank you for sharing with Motif. Is there anything else you’d like other Rhode Islanders to know? 

AC: We’re one of a few Southeast Asian non-profits that have long advocated for Cambodian and other communities: the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), and the Center for Southeast Asians (CSEA), which started out as the Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians (SEDC). Together with these organizations, we pushed for social justice and spoke up to represent voices that were going unheard. For decades, we’ve spread awareness and made steps toward reforming the systems that keep us marginalized.




“Making Great Progress”: A summary of Governor McKee’s weekly COVID press conference

Governor Dan McKee, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, COVID Response Executive Director Tom McCarthy, RIDE Commissioner Angelica Infante Green and Commerce director Stefan Pryor gave the weekly COVID-19 press conference today.

COVID cases are slowly on the rise across the state. DOH reports 360 new cases since yesterday with a percent positive test rate of 2.1%. Case numbers continue to hover between 300 and 400 new cases daily. There are 154 people hospitalized for reasons associated with the coronavirus. Dr. Alexander-Scott noted today state health officials are also seeing hospitalizations starting to tick up, and younger people are making up those hospitalizations. It’s uniform statewide, 19 out of the state’s 39 cities and towns saw significant increases in COVID cases over the last five weeks.

Metrics like hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators, they don’t go up or down for weeks after case numbers do. There are 28 people in the intensive care unit and 21 are on ventilators. There was also one additional death since yesterday.

Gov. McKee and other state leaders set bold goals today. By May 16, 70% of all Rhode Island adults age 16 and over will have received their first dose and let two weeks pass. By June 5, this number will be 70% of all Rhode Islanders, including teens and young children. 

McCarthy said he is “confident we can transition from COVID response to recovery” if the state hits the stated goals.

The ambitious goal comes after the rollout that some big summer events, such as Newport Folk and Jazz Fests will be returning in a diminished capacity this summer. The governor promised proms and graduations will be able to happen this year, although proms themselves are expected to have more restrictions. 

“We’re making great progress [in vaccinating Rhode Islanders],” said McKee.

State leaders today announced 20,000 new vaccine appointments would be made available at 5pm starting on the state’s vaccine appointment website. Vaccine eligibility is also being expanded to additional ZIP codes. Starting tomorrow, specific ZIP codes in Woonsocket will open vaccine eligibility, and more across Providence, Cranston, North Providence, East Providence and Johnston ZIP codes starting Monday. On Monday, Rhode Islanders 40 and older will be eligible to start making vaccine appointments. 

The state’s vaccine pre-registration list recently sent out its first notifications of appointment availability. McCarthy also addressed the accidental cancellations yesterday. Earlier this week, cancellation notices went out to people in communities of color. McCarthy stated today those appointments were not cancelled, and they are reaching out to connect those people with appointments.

Events are slowly starting to happen. Events where food will not be served will have three phases from now until May 15. Limits will be 250 indoors, 500 outdoors. Once the state hits the 70% benchmark on May 16, it will double to 500 indoors, 1,000 outdoors. Commencement ceremonies with more than 500 people need to have plans approved by the state.




Equity, Social Justice, and Weed: Introducing Yes We Cannabis

Humanity has a peerless ability to make a mess of even the most beautiful of things, and for quite some time, cannabis has been right there at the top of the heap, entangled with racist and anti-immigrant motivations ever since Federal prohibition reared its ugly head in 1937. 

In Rhode Island, the situation is dire. In April 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that people of color are almost 3 and a half times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession in the state than white people, despite comparable usage rates. The report further revealed that racially motivated trends have been getting worse, not better, over the past 10 years. Cannabis prohibition and discriminatory immigration practices have also found themselves entwined in Rhode Island, with an individual deported as recently as early March under the auspices of a cannabis-related crime. And with a quickly devised adult-use bill from the new McKee State House expected to get over the line sometime this summer, unaddressed community disparities will likely continue to fester unresolved.

That is why a group of cannabis equity advocates and non-profit organizations from across the state united to form Yes We Cannabis, a community-focused collation that fights for cannabis legalization that “prioritizes social justice and equity.” In the words of group spokesperson Emily Cotter, “Yes We Cannabis elevates the voices of those who normally don’t get an opportunity to have a seat at the table.” 

“Many states have failed in social equity,” continues Cotter during a lengthy phone call on drizzly afternoon, “but if we move forward without addressing the harms of cannabis legalization, we will fail to construct a framework than ensures equity into the future. What Yes We Cannabis strives to achieve is to put these pieces into place before laws pass.” 

Emailing a single, comprehensive document, Cotter reveals how Yes We Cannabis is structured around five key points that outline “what a just and equitable model of cannabis legalization” would look like in Rhode Island (edited):

1. Automatic expungement for prior cannabis offenses.

2. An equitable, fair and inclusive cannabis industry, including cannabis business licenses not exceeding $500 and tax breaks for businesses with workforces that include a significant percentage of people who were formerly incarcerated and/or who live in a disproportionately impacted area.

3. Reinvest cannabis revenue in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs, including affordable housing, community schools, expanded Head Start and scholarship assistance.

4. Establish civil protections and prohibit discrimination, including ending state and local agencies taking actions against an employee for using cannabis outside of work, as well as protections for undocumented people and immigrants.

5. Strengthen the medical cannabis program and support economically disadvantaged patients, including eliminating the 4% Compassion Center surcharge applied to medical marijuana sales.

The collation’s message is uncompromising, and Cotter, who is the Chief Operating Officer at hemp operation Lovewell Farms in Narragansett Pier, is surrounded by powerful colleagues and peers who add further weight to the collective voice: the ACLU, the Marijuana Policy Project, Formerly Incarcerated Union (FIU), Rhode Island Political Cooperative, Regulate RI and Reclaim RI, as well as a host of independent cannabis and drug policy reform advocates, lawyers, public defenders and legal experts.

“The time to act is now,” continues Cotter. “In Rhode Island we have to legalize through legislature, not a ballot measure. This year with a new governor, there is a new attitude at the State House, but what they are proposing fails to mention expungement and community investment.” 

But what of the governor’s seemingly Marvel-inspired “Cannabis Reinvestment Task Force,” an outfit permitted to make recommendations on how cannabis revenues could be used in job training, small business support and community development, including affordable housing and equity?

“It is so lackluster, nothing more than lip service. We don’t want it passed through.” 

Even with McKee’s “lip service” toward equity and affordable living, the issue of social housing remains a murky grey area. The Federal government oversees the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, and since cannabis is currently on the Federal Controlled Substances naughty list, the two are unable to legally coexist. And here we step once more into the matter of race. According to the State Of Rhode Island’s 2020 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, black and Hispanic families are more likely to live in Section 8 housing than any other group. If adult-use is legalized for Rhode Islanders, just what percentage of us will benefit, and more critically, what will our skin color be? 

“What we need is the removal of cannabis from the state-controlled substances act,” explains Cotter, finding a loophole as a fight for equity (how far haven’t we come). “Only then can we be truly in control of what happens in our own backyard.”

Cherie Cruz is the co-founder of Yes We Cannabis Collation member FIU, and as an individual directly impacted by cannabis inequity, Cruz is clear on the local situation: “Rhode Islanders have spent decades with these barriers in place, these collateral consequences, barring them from housing, employment, education.

“We know that the criminalization of marijuana is a tool that has been used to disproportionately impact certain populations, particularly Black and brown and poor communities. [Adult-use legalization] is an opportunity for our state legislators to really turn the tide and make this right, repair those harms.”

Cruz’s colleague Meko Lincoln has also been directly impacted by cannabis discrimination, and has suffered similar shared experiences: “For too long has our country turned a blind eye to particular populations pushed to the fringe and not allowed to participate in the process. This shift to legalize the sale, purchase and consumption of marijuana is a welcomed by Yes We Cannabis, but it must accompany some real reparations and reflect a true understanding of the harms done in the past.”

By uniting this varied group of committed, differently experienced individuals and community groups, Yes We Cannabis has achieved the unthinkable: a formidable force for good spearheading a charge against institutional inequity that the state has not been seen before at this level. Indeed, the collation is even singular among advocacy groups at a national level.

As Cruz neatly concludes: “It’s about having all these different viewpoints, perspectives, knowledge and skills, and bringing them together to make sure we have a great legalization bill here in Rhode Island. 

“Because we have an opportunity to show the rest of the country how we can do it.”




Stop. Look. Listen

If you’ve noticed some unusual street signs around Providence in recent months, they’re the work of a street artist known as Ghostbutter, who has put up wry, encouraging signs throughout the city. Camouflaged to look like yellow street signs, his work catches you by surprise with messages meant to bolster spirits during the pandemic. 

Davis Alianiello (Motif): What inspired you to do this project?

Ghostbutter: I was inspired to do this project because of two things: the pandemic and the death of my father. My father died this past January and ever since I have just been trying to put two and two together. The signs are a very public kind of Note to Self to try and get myself back on track. “So Lovin U,” “Don’t Lose Heart,” “Almost There,” are all things I’ve been telling myself. They’re like those self-affirming Post-It notes people sometimes put up around their homes, but in this case they’re street signs and very out in public. The pandemic obviously plays a huge part in this, too. I think it’s been a long slog and I’m trying to slyly give people a little encouragement. I think it was important for me personally to do it publicly because so much ease and general humanity has been stripped from our public spaces in the last year.

DA: What do you think the role of public art should be?

Ghostbutter: I think public art should surprise people to begin with. And then like all other art, I think, from there it should either disturb the comfortable or comfort the disturbed (David Foster Wallace is where I heard that first, but it’s likely attributable to other sources). In this case, I’m trying to create work that comforts the disturbed. Also it should wrestle with the contradiction of its own existence, and other contradictions. Most of the time public art doesn’t do this because it gets watered down by committee. That’s why guerilla public art gets me — it’s not agreed upon or approved. It’s just one person desperately putting something up on the street trying not to get caught. 

DA: In a way, your art seems intentionally inconspicuous, unlike a lot of street art. What do you hope a viewer’s experience of your art would be? 

Ghostbutter: Yes, with the signs, being inconspicuous is entirely the point of what I’m doing. I’m trying to camouflage myself, pretend as though I’m just something state issued. I like taking on that voice of the state because normally it’s simply the facts relayed in the most dispassionate way. Caution Speed Bump. I figured that if I could take on that voice and then say something utterly empathetic and human then I could surprise people in a decent enough way, kind of catch them a little off guard. Also personally I really respond to the contradiction of form and the content. That’s the kind of stuff that I stay up late thinking about.

DA: What’s your favorite of the signs?

Ghostbutter: Don’t Lose Heart. I’ve made that one a few times already and I think it stays truest to my original vision of the piece. Street signs are often telling you not to do something, so it seems really to fit in with the existing Street Sign Tone. Also it has three words and the first two are negative and the last one is positive, so it has a kind of contradiction at play just in the language. Like one of those haiku poems where in a three line poem, the third line is a complete repudiation of the first two lines. Also so far it’s the one I relate to most.




Made To Be Broken

Marijuana prohibition isn’t the most ridiculous law on the books in Rhode Island, and these questions will test your knowledge of the laws that are. Knowing the right answer just might keep you out of jail!

Next time you ride the trolley, whatever you do, do not throw this liquid (do we even have fucking trolleys?).

ANSWER: Pickle juice. It is illegal to throw pickle juice when riding on a trolley. That’s oddly specific, isn’t it? One must wonder if there was a phenomenon of people assaulting each other with pickle juice in old time Rhode Island.

If a man slaps you in the face with a glove, turn the other cheek to avoid breaking the law, because this practice is illegal in good ol’ RI.

ANSWER: Dueling.

You can marry your cousin, you can marry your friend, you can marry that guy everybody thinks is wrong for you, just don’t marry one of these.

ANSWER: An idiot. Rhode Island law makes it illegal to marry a lunatic or an idiot.

When passing a car on the left, don’t forget to do this or you might break the law.

ANSWER: When passing on the left, you are required by law to make a loud noise. A horn will do. So will fart sounds, profanity or yelling Marco Polo, as long as you yell it loud.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew might be another way of stating this bizarro Rhode Island law. What are you not supposed to bite off?

ANSWER: Rhode Island law states you must not bite off someone’s limb. We’re talking to you, Jeffrey Dahmer. Don’t come to Rhode Island. We don’t cotton to your kind here.




The Magic of Magic Mushrooms: Psilocin and psilocybin and their effects on depression

Cannabis is slowly becoming legalized, so it makes sense that other natural drugs could follow suit. Hallucinogenic mushrooms are one of those drugs, itching to become legalized, so that they may be appreciated for their medicinal potential. They are a polarizing topic, but understanding the benefits, especially when discussing depression and other anxiety disorders, is imperative.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) reports that 18.1% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Most cases are treated with anti-depressants, which utilize ketamine or ketamine-like drugs to diminish some or all depressive symptoms. But ketamine and similar drugs have their negatives. Ketamine can numb the senses, and people report having trouble speaking while on it. Ketamine also can become addictive and our bodies can build a tolerance to it, which means we need higher and higher doses in order for it to remain effective. And then there’s the problem with finding the right dose and brand. 

Prescribed anti-depressants do not always work and we often have to try different doses and brands, constantly tipping the scale of our body’s chemicals to find the right balance. This process can take weeks, months or years. The problem is that we are all different, and our anxieties and depressions are different, too. But the findings in a recent Johns Hopkins study shocked researchers when they saw the effects of psilocin and psilocybin impacting different patients in consistent, positive manners.

Psilocin and psilocybin are the two principle chemicals in magic mushrooms, which produce hallucinogens. In the research process, those two chemicals are isolated by doctors and researchers, who micro-dose patients who have depression in order to treat the symptoms. A 2014 Johns Hopkins study focused primarily on terminally ill cancer patients suffering from depression as they dealt with their impending deaths. The results were so positive that it led to another, more recent study.

In the following Johns Hopkins study, published in November of 2020, researchers stated that: “…two doses of the psychedelic substance psilocybin, given with supportive psychotherapy, produced rapid and large reductions in depressive symptoms, with most participants showing improvement and half of study participants achieving remission through the four-week follow-up.”

Tim Ferriss, who supported and funded the campaign for the most recent John Hopkins study said: “I believe this study to be a critically important proof of concept for the medical approval of psilocybin for treatment of depression […]. How do we explain the incredible magnitude and durability of effects? Treatment research with moderate to high doses of psychedelics may uncover entirely new paradigms for understanding and improving mood and mind.” 

The study is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to medicinal potential for hallucinogenic mushrooms. Magic mushrooms have been known to aid in the cure and management of cluster headaches, alcohol and nicotine addiction, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still, magic mushrooms — like marijuana — are classified as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning that they are considered high-risk for addiction and have no official recognized medicinal usage.

But despite the government dragging its ultra-conservative feet, scientists push forward in research to prove the medicinal benefits of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Once there is enough research and proof, the goal is to get FDA approval to use this natural medicine. The closest anyone has come as of yet, is COMPASS Pathways receiving the FDA Breakthrough Therapy approval in 2018. Breakthrough Therapy approval from the FDA is granted if initial evidence proves that the new drug could be a large enough improvement over any current therapeutic methods. I am personally really looking forward to what happens with COMPASS’ research.

So what can we expect in the future? I believe that utilizing hallucinogenic mushrooms for medicinal use will continue to be a slow, uphill battle, though it is in the realm of possibility now more than ever. I find it very uplifting to see that studies are being conducted and well-funded by reputable companies in order to move closer to this goal.  




Weed It and Reap!

Because of the unregulated nature of the CBD industry, the market has become flooded with low quality, inexpensive and possibly unsafe CBD products. This has made it difficult to know where to buy CBD, and what to look for when choosing the right product for you. It is critical for consumers to purchase from reputable sources and support responsible CBD companies — namely, those that are transparent about production and business practices and committed to providing safe and science-based CBD to their customers.

What to Know:

Before purchasing any CBD product, it is important to do your research and understand how to recognize a safe, high-quality product. Knowledgeable staff, accurate and accessible third-party test results and quality customer service can all be signs of a credible option, but another factor to keep in mind when purchasing CBD is the presence of other cannabinoids. 

Many CBD retailers offer full-spectrum CBD products (made with hemp extract) and/or THC-Free CBD products (made with CBD isolate). In order to maximize the benefits of quality CBD, opt for a full-spectrum product, which usually contains trace amounts of THC (<0.3%, in accordance with the 2018 Farm Bill). This small amount of THC allows for all the cannabinoids to work better together through a phenomenon called the “entourage effect,” which helps to bring out more of the benefits from your CBD. Remember, CBD is non-psychoactive, so the presence of THC does not mean you will feel the “high” experienced by THC users. 

It can be helpful to think of buying hemp and CBD like any other agricultural product. If you prioritize purchasing local and organic food, for example, consider sourcing your CBD from a USDA-Certified Organic farm or a locally owned small business. 

Where To Buy:

CBD Stores 

CBD stores come in many forms and they can be hit or miss in terms of quality. It all depends on the knowledge of the individual owner. Ask a lot of questions, test their knowledge and always ask to see the certificate of analysis (COA). If someone at the store can answer your questions and provide you with the test results, then that is a store you can trust will carry a quality product. Be especially mindful of stores that carry only one brand of CBD, and be sure to inquire as to how it was produced and tested.

Online

Online shopping allows you to compare products from multiple companies, research products thoroughly and ask questions directly of producers and retailers. This is a good option, especially for beginners; however, even online shopping for CBD could steer you in the wrong direction. It is important to know what you are looking for and to shop around.

Gas Stations/Convenience Stores 

CBD products tend to be poor quality at these locations, hence the lower price point. This is definitely a red flag! Some unscrupulous companies may take advantage of the lack of strict regulations by cutting corners to keep the price low, which sacrifices safety and quality on the consumer end (think heavy metals and pesticides). Always use caution and don’t fall for flashy packaging, but it’s probably best to avoid buying CBD at gas stations altogether. 

Specialty Stores — Shopping Local

Local “mom and pop” type stores, smoke shops and natural grocers are typically a good place to check out, especially if you are interested in CBD produced locally. When approaching these stores, feel free to ask questions, and always ask to see the COA. 

Farmers Markets

Farmers markets can be a great place to find high-quality, locally produced CBD. Not only are farmers usually committed to quality and transparency, but you also know that your dollars are going to support a small local business directly. One of the benefits of buying directly from the producer is that they are always excited to meet you and answer all your questions. Farmers and staff are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, which helps them develop trust with their customers. 




Beauty

I am a woman, I am a queen

Beautiful mind, beautiful soul

Sexy from my eyes to the bottoms of my feet

Every bit of me, the pride runs so deep

Walk tall for all to see and witness

The arrival of a Queen

Don’t fret I’m just being me

Seeing you creep and take a peek

Loving and admiring all that you see

Letting my insecurities get the best of me for a moment I get weak

Then I think, oh no girl they like what they see, it’s you they seek

A rockstar when you move the crowd 

A lioness they hear the roar

A warrior fight till they fall

A queen as they stand and bow

A woman I shout out loud

I am Beauty.