PowerPlayer: Kate Brock

Monday, June 27, 2011


No matter what side of the aisle you're on, if you follow politics on Smith Hill, you know who Kate Brock is. The Executive Director of Ocean State Action, Brock is a veteran when it comes to grasroots organizing and played a major role in getting Governor Chafee elected last fall.

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Brock was kind enough to sit down with GoLocalProv and tell us more about her career and offer a few suggestions about how she would like to see Rhode Island solve some of its most pressing issues.

1) You run the state's most influential progressive organization. What led you to want to devote your life to social change?
First, thanks for recognizing Ocean State action as the state’s most influential progressive organization. We are proud to bring together most of the state’s progressive groups into our coalition, fighting every day for social, economic, and racial justice and arelucky to work with some of the most talented people in the state.

My story is this: when I was twelve I spent five mornings a week for several months volunteering at the Amos House. Day in and day out, I cut vegetables, organized the stock room and served meals in South Providence. And each one of those days, I would see people who didn’t have enough to eat. Kids, just like me, who, if not for the charity of others, would go to bed hungry. And the only difference between us was that I was born to a different family in another neighborhood. This violated the fundamental value of fairness that I had been taught to cherish. It also taught me that through simple acts, cutting vegetables, or spooning mashed potatoes onto a plate, a single person could ease the suffering of another.

Each day we are faced with injustice and human suffering. And each time we all have a few options. We can pretend we don’t see it (which I’ve never been good at). We can get depressed by it, or we can get angry and do something about it. And when we’re all angry, and we all decide to do something about it we can create the change we want to see in our communities.Margaret Mead said it well: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

2) Take us through a day in your life.
One of the things that I love about my job is that every day is different. They do start off the same: coffee and the newspaper.Then I comb through the General Assembly website to see what bills are up.From there all bets are off.

Most days, I meet with coalition partners and community members to plot (or, you could say, strategize), plan actions and craft our message.I generally have to spend some time makingfundraising calls, or working on grant proposals (we’ve got to keep the lights on somehow).On days with legislative committee hearings, I draft testimony or action alerts for our activist base and call scripts for volunteers. And at least once a week, I meet with our staff to help guide their work planningcommunity events, phone banks, and canvasses and then set them loose to organize.

During the session, I head up to the State House in the afternoon to talk with legislators about our campaigns, and to testify on legislation. And when the legislature is on break, I spend as much time as possible at community forums talking about the issues with every day Rhode Islanders, and I conduct activist trainings to give people the tools they need to create change in their communities.

3) Rhode Island is facing a number of problems right now. Give us the most pressing issue the state faces and your idea on how to solve it.
The biggest problem facing our state today is a lack of accountability among our elected officials. Rhode Islanders want a fair budget. We want to invest in higher education. We want to ease the burden of property taxes while providing our state’s children with a world class education. We want the civil rights of all our residents protected equally and that includes full marriage equality. We want worker’s rights respected and investment in job creation. And the General Assembly is not responding to those needs. For example, we heard a legislator say last week that we can’t change our personal income tax structure, because we already changed it. First of all, that’s ridiculous. The Assembly can make the change we need to take care of Rhode Islanders. And second, it reflects a lack of accountability and a refusal to evolve.

The solution is simple. Get involved! If your Representative doesn’t have a voicemail set up on their phone when you try to call them about an issues, show up at the Statehouse and tell them how you feel. If they still don’t listen? Run for office. Work on a campaign. Get involved in your government and make it work for you and your community.

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4) You've said the House budget is going to make things more difficult for the neediest Rhode Islanders. What could the House have done differently?
We often hear the words “we can’t afford it” during the budget process and forget that our budget is not just numbers on a ledger. A budget is a statement of priorities and values, which should reflect our values as a state. Yet the House’s budget prioritized preserving corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthiest in our state, over investing in higher education, or funding programs to address homelessnessand help domestic violence victims.

The House should have passed combined reporting this year to end legal tax evasion by multi-state corporations who are moving their profits to out-of-state tax shelters to avoid paying taxes here in Rhode Island. Not only would combined reporting help to level the playing field between big box stores and Rhode Island’s mom and pop businesses, but it would have generated $8.9 million that could have gone towards making college tuition a little more affordable at our state schools or making it a little easier for low income families to have access to quality affordable health care.

Similarly, the House should have followed Representative Guthrie’s lead, when he introduced a floor amendment on the budget to enact a 2% surtax on incomes over $500,000. This would have generated $88 million that could be returned to cities and towns to ease property taxes.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about.
I dream of buying a little piece of land in Vermont and spending my days starting a little organic farm. They are going to be the first state with single payer health care, so I figure at least I will have access to high quality, low cost health care, while I figure out how to grow lettuce.

Quick Hitters:
Role Model: Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Maya Angelou.
Favorite Restaurant: Julian’s
Best Beach: Any and all!
Best Book You've Read This Year:“Waiting for the Barbarians” by J.M. Coetzee
Give Some Advice To The Next Kate Brock: Find Marti Rosenberg and listen to everything she says.

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