Patinkin: Welcome Kamala, to the home of the independent, the free and the ethnic – The Providence Journal

Posted By on May 10, 2021

Gina Raimondo sworn in as Commerce Secretary

Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island governor picked by President Joe Biden to lead the Commerce Department, has been sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris. (March 3)

AP

Madame Vice President:

Its great to see youre planning to visit Rhode Island Wednesday, with Gina.

Who, by the way, deserves the titleMadame Secretary, since she now runs Commerce, but around these parts, shes Gina.

From when she ran the state.

Rhode Island being a bit smaller than California, thats how we refer to governors.

Linc, Bruce, Joe, Gina.

Its not just out of familiarity, but a reminder.

Politicians here arent above us, but of us.

Its been that way since Roger Williams fled here from Massachusetts in 1636 because he didnt like Puritans telling him how to think.

He then started his own refuge for what the author H.P. Lovecraft called The Odd, the free and the dissenting.

Still guilty of that.

Proudly, I think.

But theres a valuable lesson herefor the times.

These divided times.

Rhode Island, Im convinced, is less divided than many places because of that founding idea.

Freedom of thought.

And creed.

It was born here.

Its why Rhode Island has both the nations oldest synagogue and the First Baptist Church inAmerica the faith's mother church.

Its where Roger Williams preached.

And they continue his irreverence, like not long ago displaying a sign out front saying, What if Jesus, Mary and Joseph were separated at the Egyptian border?

And another time: Jesus had two dads & turned out fine.

As for the oldest synagogue, thats in Newport, where George Washington, embracing Roger, made an American pledge to a people who faced prejudice: To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance.

That legacy is still part of Rhode Islands DNA.

So is freedom of conscience, which is one of many reasons we have the third highest number of unaffiliated voters almost 50%.

Our political model is the states favorite icon, the 11-foot-tall statue atop the State House called The Independent Man.

Hes holding a spear, I think as a reminder to those in the chambers below who they work for.

Voters here are indeed independent.

Were a blue-collar state that once sent a house painter to Congress, but at the same timeembraced two pedigreed New England aristocrats for the U.S. Senate, Claiborne Pell and John Chafee.

And a few years later, elected Bruce Sundlun as governor a CEO with a horse farm in Virginia, but we liked his politics.

Weve liked some scoundrels too, like Buddy Cianci, reelected Providence mayor after being booted for felony assault. But he did a great job turning the city around before ending up in the big house for corruption. And he still got a third act as top-rated talk show host.

I wont deny its a quirky state, so we have non-political icons too.

Like a landmark 58-foot-long blue termite overlooking Route 95, and a regular summer campfire along Providences river, Gregorian chant in the background, with room for 10,000.

Unique local cuisine, as well, like Dels lemonade slush or the countrys only official state appetizer calamari, which you may recall was mentioned when our convention delegation endorsed Joe Biden. Our draggers bring a lot of that back to our docks.

And you wont find a richer Little Italy than the one in Providence, on Atwells Avenue.

Which brings us back to why, in divided times, Rhode Island is less divided.

RI Political Scene: Removing 'Plantations' from the state name is easier said than done

Were a lively cultural mlange, where Italians, Portuguese, Latinos, Irish, African Americans and yes, New England Yankees too, all celebrate the richness of other cultures. And I better not leave out Native Americans, Armenians, Cape Verdeans and many others.

We do have political divides. Trump may have lost here, but he got more votes than many past Republican candidates.

He even took some heavily Democratic towns, like Johnston, which has a traditional Italo-American heritage.

But thats why you dont see a key source of divisiveness here: white supremacy.

Pockets of conservatism, yes.

White supremacy?

Weve been vibrantly ethnic for so long it wouldnt occur to people here to think ethnic groups are replacing us.

That trains come through.

And it's done so in the healthiest of ways, which should be a model for other states.

Patinkin Column: How dare they! DC seeks to undercut RI as smallest state

The odd, the dissenting, the free, the ethnic.

MadameVice President, welcome to how America was meant to be.

mpatinki@providencejournal.com

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Patinkin: Welcome Kamala, to the home of the independent, the free and the ethnic - The Providence Journal

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