Are You Not Entertained?: The river wasn’t the only thing on fire when Who He and Elorza squared off

Oooh, you bitch!

The British would call it, with a dismissive sneer and a smile, “handbags at 10 paces.”

That about sums up the much-inflated confrontation between Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Governor Dan “Who He?” McKee at a recent press conference for the illustrious WaterFire. A lot of heated blather, especially from the diminutive Elorza, who we would say acted like his hair was on fire, save for the fact he has little to burn up top. To Phillipe and Jorge, the best part of the videotaped spat was the intervention of one of McKee’s bodyguards, who looked amazingly like Steven Schirripa, best known for his role in “The Sopranos” as Uncle Junior’s caretaker, Bobby “Bacala.” Now if “Who He?” could find a way to get Paulie Walnuts on his security team, he’d have our votes forever.

The cause of the dispute was the Providence teachers union contract, although some viewed it as a pre-planned PR stunt to show the diminuto Jorge as a tough guy who was standing up for his community. Maybe, maybe not. Just as likely was that Hizzoner wanted to kick off what will undoubtedly be a primary race for the Democratic candidacy for governor in 2022 in which Elorza and McKee will face off. (And P. and J. hope both will get their butts kicked by current Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who has already announced her official candidacy for that slot.)

So calm down, boys, although a shrieking, arms-flapping, wincing and backpedaling slapfest among politicians just can’t be beat for entertainment value.

Jackie, Jackie

Phillipe and Jorge are longtime fans of Borscht Belt comedians. (For you youngsters, imagine a landlocked cruise ship full of Jewish passengers planted in the Catskills.) So we were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Borscht Belt legend (and former rabbi) Jackie Mason. Mason’s self-deprecating humor and stylized Yiddish accent were a big hit in the Catskills before he went on to New York City where he had a chequered, but always humorous, career in stage and TV.

One of his most hilarious bits was about his inferiority complex. A great example was the shtick that went, “I was so self-conscious that when I went to a football game and the players went into a huddle, I thought they were talking about me.”

Rhode Block

Many Vo Dislunders P. and J. have spoken with in the past few years have said they no longer travel to Block Island in the summer because it is simply overrun by tourists. And with locals’ well-known disdain for outsiders, this isn’t a huge surprise.

But you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As this column goes to press, the town council of New Shoreham, which is the official name of The Block, will decide whether to make indoor mask-wearing at public establishments mandatory. As we have all seen since masks became the world’s most controversial accessory, this is a ticking time bomb for Block Island. Enforcing such a law on opinionated tourists from afar is a guarantee of multiple confrontations between merchants and the great unwashed, many of whom can’t pronounce, never mind spell, the word “couth.” (And as far as enunciation, just imagine Joe Pesci’s version of “youths” in “My Cousin Vinny,” which comes out “’utes.” “Hey, get some coot, wouldjuz?”)

The alternative that New Shoreham’s town fathers and mothers are considering is that wearing of masks becomes a “request.” Good luck with that, in a state where the most common polite request made of others is “Go fuck yourself.”

On the Cover

Do you recognize that hand on our cover? No? Let’s play a little game. Gen Xers over here, Zoomers over there. Now, Xers — picture that hand chopping wildly at the air, dressed in an oversized suit, the epitome of cool. Zoomers — picture that hand on TikTok, chopping wildly at the air, the epitome of terrible dad dance moves. Any guesses?

This photo is a crop of RISD alum David Byrne of The Talking Heads as he performed at San Francisco’s The Boarding House in 1977. The photo was taken by storied RI photographer Richard McCaffrey, who has photographed the biggest musicians in the world for the biggest publications in the world. He recently compiled some of his photography into an alphabet book called Richard’s Rock & Roll Alphabet.

For more info on Richard’s latest book and work, go to richardmccaffrey.net.

Trucks Talked, We Listened

The RI Food Truck & Drink Awards are a celebration of two of our most valuable communities, which keep us happy and fed and deserve recognition. Those same communities have been all but overwhelmed with labor, supply chain and COVID-related complications. We get it – summer is fleeting and often packed with activities, and our timing wasn’t a fit this year for those same communities.

So we’re extending summer fun into fall by rescheduling this event. It will still take place at R1 Indoor Karting in Lincoln, only now on September 13, with a parking lot full of food trucks and samples from numerous local brewers and distillers and celebration of RI’s many wheel born culinary delights. More time to vote and more time to try all the delicious food and thirst-quenching drinks featured at our event!

Motif’s Food Truck and Drink Awards will take place September 13, 6pm, RI Indoor Karting, 100 Higginson Ave, Lincoln. Voting will continue through August 29. Vote for the Food Truck Awards at motifri.com/foodawards2021 and for the Drink Awards at motifri.com/drinkawards2021

A Return to the Big Screen! And Some on the Small Screen

The Oscar-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Fest (RIIFF) is back in a big way this year with a COVID-safe hybrid schedule of programming. The event takes place August 9 – 15, with a stacked set of online options and in-person screenings taking place at local drive-ins and outdoor venues. The festival is boasting an impressive 350 films this year, from shorts to features to films for kids. This year, Motif is excited to get in on the game. The August 11 installation of our popular monthly film screening series that takes place at Dusk will feature some RIIFF films, including NAME AND NAME AND NAME XXX.

For more information, go to filmfestival.org or follow @RhodeIslandFilmFest. For info on Motif’s screening of RIIFF films, go to fb.com/motifri

Eviction moratorium extended to Oct 3: Covers 90% US population

UPDATE: This extension of the eviction moratorium was ended by the US Supreme Court on Aug 26. See our follow-up: motifri.com/eviction-october-2

With an estimated six million Americans behind on their rent due to the pandemic, the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium on July 30 set off alarms about the possibility of a major economic and public health crisis if landlords would be able to put tenants out on the street. The US Supreme Court ruled earlier 5-4 that a further extension of the moratorium imposed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would not be allowed without new legislation by Congress, but a new extension issued today to October 3 differs in that it applies only to areas where there is high COVID-19 transmission, encompassing an estimated 90% of the US population.

Congress previously approved $47 billion in rental relief aid that can be paid directly to landlords on behalf of tenants and does not have to be repaid, but states have been slow to disburse the money and have imposed restrictions that halted the process. Some states were only willing to pay a portion of back rent and landlords had to agree to forego the full amount, causing landlords to refuse to participate. Even in states that have been willing to pay the full amount, applications have required filling out forms with dozens of pages and supporting documents, often requiring printing onto paper and electronic scanning that most applicants have limited access to use. If the new extension is challenged, the hope is that the court proceedings will take long enough to allow money to flow to those in need.

RI tenants can apply for rent relief at rihousing.rentrelief.com. MA tenants can apply at mass.gov/info-details/emergency-housing-payment-assistance-during-covid-19.

The CDC said in a statement that “The eviction moratorium allows additional time for rent relief to reach renters and to further increase vaccination rates. In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease. Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation and self-quarantine by people who become ill or who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by keeping people out of congregate settings and in their own homes.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said when signing the new order, “The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated. This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads. It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission.  Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”

The full, official CDC order is downloadable from cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-eviction-declaration.html.

RI Unemployment Insurance website fixed: Was blocking weekly reporting

Required weekly recertification for unemployment insurance was failing on the RI Department of Labor and Training (DLT) website, according to hundreds of reports on Twitter.

DLT advised Motif at 9:41am the problem had been fixed, and users could now certify.

Motif broke this story today just before 5am — twitter.com/MotifMagRI/status/1421757112884121601 — asking for reports as to how many users are affected. Users were being told incorrectly that their Social Security Number (SSN) is not found in the system.

Error message from RI Department of Labor and Training web site, shown to users trying to file weekly certifications for unemployment insurance.

DLT replied at 8:42am to our inquiry: “We have received reports that the reCAPTCHA system, which is intended to stop bots, is causing some claimants to have difficulty certifying this week. We are currently addressing this issue and will have it resolved as soon as possible. In the meantime, claimants who are impacted may certify for their weekly payment via the automated phone system at (401) 415-6772.”

However, reports to us indicate that the telephone reporting system was experiencing the same SSN not found error as the website.

Meeting of Minds: RI Theater Coalition hosts its first meeting to address sexual impropriety

Leaders of Rhode Island’s theaters and theater community gathered in person and on Zoom for more than two hours on July 26 to address weaknesses in their internal processes and policies that have allowed incidents of sexual harassment and abuse to occur in the community. The meeting included a panel discussion and loose roundtable discussion with the directors, actors, managers, crew and others present.

The local theater scene has seen a number of high profile assault accusations over the last few years, the latest being against Epic Theatre Company’s (and former Motif contributor) Kevin Broccoli. According to a statement shared by the Academy Players of RI, “victims of abuse have lost faith in their ability to report, and policy/procedure varies from place to place, creating an unsafe working environment for many performers, designers and crew members as well as permanent staff.” 

The event was organized by the Rhode Island Theater Coalition, a group recently created by members of the theater community. It has no official membership, no formal body and the name was chosen on the spot for the purposes of the meeting. Forty-four people attended online via Zoom, with an additional 28 attending in person. Panelists included presenters from Day One, Tina Christy from the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, Colleen Donnelly, an HR professional from Johnson and Wales, and consultant Judith Kay.

“I think this was a moderate first step, but the momentum needs to continue and we need more help from the community on this,” said Terry Shea, one of the organizers of the event (and former Motif contributor). “Complaining on social media is simply not going to cut it.”

The coalition wants to create an online repository for procedures, policies and other documents pertaining to issues of abuse within the theater community. The Not in Our House campaign in the Chicago theater community was highlighted as a model for this repository. Another action item announced was the intent to draft a single code of ethics with a baseline set of principles for all Rhode Island area theaters to sign off on. 

“The best procedure doesn’t work if people don’t use it,” Kay told the crowd. She continued, “You can have as many written policies and procedures as the biggest corporations and companies — doesn’t matter how big or small, you can have these policies — if people don’t live by them and breathe by them [they don’t do anything].” 

According to 2018 survey data of theater companies provided by Day One, one-third of the respondents said they experienced sexual harassment or abuse in some way, with verbal abuse being the most common type; 80% of respondents said they had at least heard of incidents of sexual harassment or assault and 45% said they witnessed it. Additionally, 81% of incidents of sexual harassment go unreported.

“Victims are the only ones suffering the consequences of sexual harassment,” said Angela Kemp, a presenter from Day One.

Speakers at the event stressed the need for a cultural change within theaters. Codes of ethics and conduct have to be laid down, and everyone must be held accountable to them whether they are ushers, actors, artistic directors or even big-name donors or board members. 

Speakers suggested theaters choose a point person, someone who is not the artistic director or in a similar position of power, and have that person deal with sexual abuse allegations or similar complaints. Some theaters expressed the need for mandatory reporting and the need of a good board to be able to lean on, with one attendee stating, “If I hear it, I report and we talk about it.”

Some attendees were more direct. One said, “If my daughter comes home and says something happened, I’m not calling the organization. I’m calling the cops.”

But not all theater members present in the room were comfortable with going to law enforcement, pointing out that in many cases its not their story to tell.

“If someone calls the Commission for Human Rights and says they’ve been sexually harassed physically, we definitely recommend they call the police,” said Christy. She continued, “It’s hard to talk somebody into coming forward when they don’t want to, I understand that’s very difficult and it takes a lot of courage to do that … with the Commission, the victim has to come forward and file the charge. All you can do is support and encourage them.”

No timeline has been formalized yet, but future meetings to further address these issues and the specific needs of the theater community as it navigates these vital issues are in the planning stage.

The RI history we don’t talk about: Hard Scrabble and Snowtown

Recently, conservatives have been campaigning to keep critical race theory (a theoretical framework that states that race is a social construct designed to oppress people of color) from being taught in schools. Although it is not taught in most public education systems to begin with, these attempts to prevent people from learning about the more shameful and horrific parts of American history highlight just how necessary it is to learn them.

While many people learned about Tulsa and Rosewood last year after the murder of George Floyd, it’s likely most of us don’t know the stories of countless other incidents just like these — some of which happened in Rhode Island. Among those are the cases of Hard Scrabble and Snowtown. In the early 19th century, in Northeast Providence lay the neighborhood of Hard Scrabble. It had a few poor white residents but was primarily a Black community. Exactly where it used to be located is debated by historians; some say it was where University Heights apartment buildings are now, others that the statehouse has since been built atop of it, and others that it is currently covered by railroad tracks.  

On October 18, 1824, A white mob attacked and destroyed Black homes in the neighborhood after a Black man refused to get off of the sidewalk when approached by some white people. The mob claimed they were targeting places of “ill repute,” but in reality destroyed indiscriminately, using axes and their bare hands, and setting some homes on fire. Approximately 20 Black homes were decimated, and some of the furniture from these homes was stolen and auctioned off at the Pawtucket Market. There are mixed reports about the repercussions for rioters, but the common conclusion seems to be, even with sources that report a rioter was found guilty, all the rioters got away with the mass destruction without consequence. Likewise, local leaders openly voiced their support for the rioters, and racist pamphlets were spread around mocking the victims of the attack.

Many of the victims of the Hard Scrabble attacks took up residency in the nearby neighborhood of Snowtown. That lasted seven years. In 1831, another white mob attacked and destroyed Black homes after the shooting death of a sailor, despite that the owners of the homes destroyed had no relationship to the shooting. The violence lasted days and eventually a militia was called in to stop the rioting. Providence officially became a city in response to the destruction of Snowtown because with city status, Providence could create a police force. The motivation was less to protect the victims of these assaults so much as “to maintain order.” There are no records suggesting the Black Americans who had their homes and businesses destroyed received any kind of reparations. 

I did not learn about this in school; I graduated from high school in 2018. I think it’s safe to say that most if not all of us who received our education in Rhode Island did not either. 

There are markers for each event. The one for Hard Scrabble rests in the traffic island where North Main Street meets Canal Street. In 2009 Richard A. Lobban Jr., then a professor in African studies at the Naval War College in Newport and board member of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, remarked that “Unless you are jogging or cutting the grass, which is one-tenth of 1% of Rhode Islanders, you wouldn’t see it.” The marker for Snowtown is slightly more visible. However, scholar and activist Ray Rickman, former state representative and former president of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society remarked of it, “No one knows it’s there.” He added that at only a mere 6 inches above the ground, it’s “like a bad headstone.”

Knowledge of the recurring history of white mobs destroying Black communities across America is crucial to how we view our current systems. One of the most significant ways that wealth is acquired is through generational wealth. When Black Americans’ homes and businesses are repeatedly destroyed, it makes what was already so difficult to obtain even harder, resulting in the disproportionate poverty faced by Black Americans that lingers to this day. 

The destruction and displacement of Black communities is just one way that systemic racism is interwoven into the very fabric of how this country works and who benefits from it to this day. We cannot fix what we cannot know, and those trying to ban the discussion of racism in schools are aware of this. It’s why they’re trying their damndest to ensure that the majority of Americans never know. 

Live Music is Back!

Check this space for updates on Motif’s RI Music Awards 2021. Everything that almost happened in 2020 and more! Voting will start in August, and the event will be Monday August 23, 2021 at Fete Music Hall.

On the Cover: July 2021

Original cover by Ry Smith

Typically, we plan our covers nearly two months in advance while remaining nimble enough to change our cover art at a moment’s notice should breaking news warrant it. For the first time in Motif’s history, we changed our cover art three times in one week – from the gorgeous work (pictured above) by Ry Smith, to another cover (pictured below) photographed by Small Frye as shocking news rocked the theater community, to still another as a horrifying tale of police brutality in Providence took center stage.