Discover more from Steve Ahlquist
PVD City Councilmember John Goncalves is running for Congress
"To be frank, we need more housing. We have all this surface-level parking. Why don't we create more housing opportunities?"
I'll be interviewing as many candidates as I can ahead of the special election to fill the House seat vacated by David Cicilline. My eighth interview is with Providence City Councilmember and teacher John Goncalves.
We interviewed on the South Water Street side of the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge. The interview has been edited for clarity, but not brevity.
See my other Congressional District One race interviews here:
See my other articles on the Congressional District One race interviews here:
Steve Ahlquist: First, I need to break my own rules and say thank you for your recently introduced resolution in the Providence City Council that bans book bans in all Providence Public Schools and libraries and asks the Rhode Island General Assembly and Governor Daniel McKee to do the same statewide. [See press release below.]
John Goncalves: I appreciate that. As a teacher, it's incredibly important to me. The impetus for it is what we're seeing at the federal level where we've got Supreme Court Justices, unfortunately, undermining people's basic rights, whether it's women’s reproductive rights or LGBTQ rights, and we need to stand up and fight back. You've got Republican extremists that are more intent on banning books than banning assault weapons. One of the things that spurred me to take action on this issue, particularly at the local level, was when Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill to make his state the first to outlaw book bans. The Rhode Island General Assembly can do something about this, and that's what our resolution calls for. But what we're going to be working on is putting together an ordinance that will prohibit the banning of books at the local level. That will protect Providence and we hope that the General Assembly will also act and ensure that books can't be banned all across the state.
Steve Ahlquist: Okay. Let me get back on track. My first question is why you and why this job?
John Goncalves: That's a great question. Why me? I'll explain that in-depth, but why now? It's the urgency of the moment. That's why I'm in this fight. I think the challenges and struggles we face compel me to be in this race. But I'll start with your first question, which is, Why me?
I grew up in the City of Providence, and I think I am symbolic and representative of the struggles that people go through every day in our state. So I grew up in the Fox Point neighborhood. I went to Varten Gregorian Elementary School from K through eight. I went to Providence Public Schools. From nine through 12th grade, I went to Wheeler, and then I went to Brown University for undergrad and grad school. I've served nearly the last decade as an elementary school teacher.
Those are my values. I'm someone who has been deeply rooted in my community. I grew up in a single-parent household. My mom immigrated from the Cape Verde Islands in the 1980s, so I’m first gen. It wasn't easy for us growing up. My mom had to work many jobs to put food on the table. We suffered from poverty and food insecurity. You'll hear a lot of politicians out there listing all the talking points, saying, “This is what we need to do. This is what we need to do, this is what we need to do.” That's all good, but this isn't theoretical for me. I'm in this fight because this is personal to me.
When we think about what's happening, particularly at the federal level, where you've got Supreme Court justices undermining our basic human rights, we need strong leaders in Washington who aren't just going to use all the talking points that sound good, but people who have dealt with those experiences in a real way. I think that separates me from the field, in addition to being a teacher. If you want someone who's going to fight for education but understands the nuances and challenges of our education system, then send a teacher to Washington. If you want someone who's going to fight for Universal Pre-K and someone who's going to fight for universal childcare and fight for $60,000 in base salary for teachers, then send a teacher. I know what that's like. I know what that's very intimately.
But I'm not just a teacher. I'm a two-term councilman who has gotten stuff done as a legislator. I've been the lead sponsor of dozens of pieces of legislation. I have solved thousands and thousands of constituent service issues right here on the ground. I fight for everyone and that includes the most vulnerable people because I know what that feels like. I can give you a million stories of people that we've positively impacted or people that we have helped on the ground. During the height of the pandemic, we sent out hundreds and hundreds, thousands of emails to our constituents to keep them safe, and to make sure that we were getting people vaccinated. Some people reached out to my office who were bedridden, trying to get a vaccine and we made sure that those people got what they needed.
During the height of the pandemic, there was a woman who reached out to me and was afraid to go out. She was an elderly woman. She was afraid to go to the grocery store because of the challenges associated with that. In response, we launched a program called Produce in the Parks that allowed people, particularly seniors, to access fresh fruits and vegetables at a park where they could pay with SNAP and EBT. By solving one person's problem, we were able to solve the problem for hundreds of people. That's the kind of leadership I've exhibited at the local level and that's the job of a Congressperson. Your job is to deliver the best and the highest quality constituent services. And I'm not going to be naive and say that legislatively, I'm going to be able to get a ton done being the 435th member of Congress in a House led by Republicans, but I'm in this for all the right reasons.
I'm in it to help the people who struggle the most. I can assure you that I'm going to be a fierce advocate for the people of Rhode Island. I've proven that I'm responsive, reliable, and effective. I have long-term connections here in the community.
I started, my first job when I was 15 at the Boys and Girls Club, busing tables, and helping kids get meals at night. And if you look at my trajectory I have been in my community teaching our next generation of kids for nearly the last decade in addition to my work as a councilman. As an underdog, I have always fought for the underdog. And as your next congressman, I'll never forget where I came from. I'm going to fight like hell for the people of Rhode Island. That means fighting for economic opportunity. It means fighting for education in an equitable Rhode Island. It means fighting for a green future and reproductive rights and fighting to end gun violence.
I'm going to fight to hold special interests accountable, whether that's big oil, the gun lobby, or big pharma because I know what it's like for people on the ground who have to live with these experiences every single day. I want to be a fierce advocate for those people.
Steve Ahlquist: What do you see as the two or three biggest problems or opportunities that Rhode Island faces right now?
John Goncalves: I'm going to start with the economy, then gun violence, then climate change.
The economy is broad, so encompassed in my definition of the economy is creating opportunities for people to succeed. I think education is an important component of that. When we think about the economy, the biggest thing we're dealing with, not only as a state but as a country, is income inequality. The stark disparity between the rich and the poor is something that needs to be addressed. I agree. That's the center of everything here. If we don't address income inequality, we're going to see a bigger divide in our country and all facets of life. The rich keep getting richer and the people who are getting the short end of the stick, keep getting the short end of the stick. When we think about poverty and education, we see that these issues are intertwined. I believe, and this is a part of my lived experience, that you're zip coach shouldn’t determine your destiny.
As an educator, I want to focus on education. I want to focus on everything from childhood education to public colleges and universities and how we make that free for everyone so that students can have the best quality of life and also economic opportunities to contribute to our local economy.
The Ward that I represent includes Fox Point, Wayland Square, College Hill, the Jewelry District, and all of downtown. It is the fastest-growing Ward not only in the City of Providence but in the state of Rhode Island. I've been very involved in that growth and creating more opportunities for people here.
One of the biggest issues that we're facing is housing. Housing is a prerequisite for all of these other things, yet there are people right now who are being priced out of their neighborhoods. So many people can't afford to live where they want to live. So many people are living paycheck to paycheck. So many people are one medical emergency away from bankruptcy.
Steve Ahlquist: We also have record-breaking eviction rates and homelessness.
John Goncalves: Exactly. I know people who live on a fixed income. I know a constituent who lives on $25 a month. We need to address this issue. To a lot of candidates, especially if they're operating in theory and don't know these people, it's talking points. I know the experiences and the stories and have deep-rooted connections with people who deal with this. When I was growing up, Fox Point was a very diverse community, a community of immigrants who were Cape Verdean, Portuguese, and Irish. All of those people have been completely displaced from that community. It's a very different place. It is. When we think about the gentrification that's happening, the displacement of communities that's happening, that's a big concern for me. It's the reason I stood on principle and fought for fairness when I voted against the budget because the city proposed a massive break to corporate landlords, pushing more burden onto the citizens who live in our city.
I said that before we get to the budget, we need to have a deal with our large tax-exempt institutions in place because otherwise, who's going to be holding the bag? The residents of our city. And that's exactly what happened. That's why I voted against the budget because I know people in my community who are elderly and on a fixed income. They can't afford to pay more property taxes, especially in light of this economy. So many people are attacking this from all different angles but when you understand the nuances and the challenges of people right here on the ground, it's a different perspective.
Steve Ahlquist: I'm going to use the term rent control, by which I mean putting limits on rent increases and the number of increases per year. Would you be in favor of that kind of legislation?
John Goncalves: I'd have to look at it more closely. There are several different models out there, and I don't necessarily subscribe to policies until I've had the opportunity to read them.
Steve Ahlquist: Is there a version of that you could see happening?
John Goncalves: Ultimately what we need to do is focus on housing affordability. And it can't just be about development because if we're just going to build a bunch of market-rate housing, that's fine it will help alleviate some of the pressure on the market. But we need to be laser-focused on low-income, affordable housing. We need to be laser-focused on creating not just more affordable housing opportunities across the board, but real affordable housing, not the state's definition of 80% of area median income. Because if you look at my ward, 02903 and 02906, the incomes are going to skew higher.
Steve Ahlquist: I had this discussion with Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor, and he said we need more housing at every level. And I openly doubted that. We need more housing at the lower level because people who have a lot of money will be fine. They're not under the existential threat of sleeping outside in a tent. We need low and no-income housing. How we get there, I'm not exactly sure. There seems to be a little profit margin in doing so.
John Goncalves: That's why we need federal resources. Federal funding is critically important to this issue. In Ward One, we have over a thousand units coming online over the next couple of years. That's a fact. I shared with you that we are the fastest-growing ward, not only in the city but in the state.
Steve Ahlquist: How many of those are low-income?
John Goncalves: I'll point to several great projects that I've supported through and through because of exactly what you're asking. This Thursday, the Governor, the Mayor, and I are going to be a part of a ribbon cutting for Parcel Nine. Parcel Nine is going to be right next to the Our Lady of the Rosary Church. The entire project, in its entirety, is going to be over 130 units. 41% of those units are going to be low-income, affordable housing. Initially, there was going to be commercial space in the project. We wanted to make sure that there was a childcare component to that. We met with the outside developer, from Pennsylvania, and we said, “What can we do to ensure that we can bring more childcare to our neighborhood? That's an immediate need that we have right now.”
He said, “We don't know any of the childcare providers. Would you be willing to facilitate some introductions?” I reached out to the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club and said, “Hey, would you be willing to have a meeting with the developer and talk about any plans you might have to have to expand your facilities?” We reached out to Children's Friend, we reached out to several childcare providers all across the city. Sure enough, the developer was able to strike a deal with Children's Friend that's going to bring 50 childcare seats to the neighborhood. That's the kind of leadership I exercise. That's the kind of leadership that I exhibit. People don't see this stuff, but it's important to be actively engaged and involved in your local community. I think the growth we're experiencing is in part due to that leadership. On every single street in our ward and district, I can point to something that we've done to help a neighbor. Look at South Water Street, the bike lanes protecting our environment. We're leading the charge on building more of that kind of infrastructure. We’ve got multimodal transportation.
Steve Ahlquist: The bike lanes on this street right here are amazing. Traffic flows at a reasonable speed, the streets are easy to cross, there’s plenty of parking and there's no effect on businesses that I can see.
John Goncalves: Look at the projects downtown. There was a lot of scrutiny of the Superman Building. That's in our ward.
Steve Ahlquist: Is that happening, by the way? I haven't seen so much as a hammer in there.
John Goncalves: It is happening. One of the challenges we're seeing with a lot of projects across the state is there's an interest rate environment pushing the cost of labor and construction materials up. This goes back to the economy. It’s the same with Tidewater Landing in Pawtucket. That’s impacting the development of these projects. It seems like these projects should have been in the pipeline much sooner or should have had shovels in the ground much sooner. All of these projects are being delayed, whether it's supply chain issues or interest rates. Strategically, I think a lot of people are waiting for the interest rates to come down.
Steve Ahlquist: The plan is for interest rates to go up at least twice more.
John Goncalves: That's a problem. These are massive projects, but I would say, and this is where the pragmatism comes in, every time I've thought about these projects, I've thought about the bigger picture.
When we were thinking about the Superman Building, our ordinance only compels them to do 10% MBE [Minority Business Enterprise] and 10% of affordable housing. We pushed them to do double. I thank the former Commerce Secretary for his leadership on that. All of these things are a part of making sure that Rhode Island succeeds and that the city's skin in the game is minimal. My role is to protect the city taxpayers in that whole dynamic. We got them to double the MBE requirement, we got them to double the affordable requirement with us contributing 2.2% skin in the game in terms of what we're going to be providing from a subsidy perspective. That's a win for the City.
On the other side of that, you're going to have 245 residential units in a building that is now vacant, that is not producing anything for the city, the taxpayers, or the state. When you get the Superman Building back online, you're going to spur and catalyze downtown Providence. It's going to create more density around it with other projects.
To be frank, we need more housing. We have all this surface-level parking. Why don't we create more housing opportunities?
Steve Ahlquist: Ee should be taxing parking lots at a higher rate so we can incentivize building on those lots.
John Goncalves: It's about nuance too. I wouldn't want to undermine single-family neighborhoods. I think people live in certain areas of the city for a reason. They love their neighborhoods for a reason. I think there has to be a balance where we protect the nuances of historic preservation in neighborhoods that are beautiful in their character and their vibrancy. But where we can afford more density, where we can afford to build more housing to help people, we should do that. And that's exactly what we're doing in Ward One.
Steve Ahlquist: I can talk about housing forever, but let's talk about gun violence and climate change.
John Goncalves: The issue of gun violence is personal to me because as an elementary school teacher, I have to go to school every day with the anxiety of someone potentially… I mean, we've seen the stories.
Steve Ahlquist: Are your students aware of this?
John Goncalves: When we have these conversations, I have to keep it developmentally appropriate., but there is anxiety. I'll get kids who raise their hand and say, “Mr. G, what if this happens? Or what if that happens?” When you're talking to fourth graders, I try to frame it appropriately. There have been times when schools have had lockdowns because a stray dog walked through the door, or because there is someone on campus that people do know, but they didn't sign in at the front desk or something.
We don't want our kids to have to think about the worst-case scenario, but that is the reality. When I'm discussing this with my kids, I try to have a very fun, sort of playful demeanor and share different scenarios, which results in us having a lockdown drill. But the fact of the matter is, at the federal level, we need to stand up to the gun lobby. We need to stand up to the NRA [National Rifle Association]. There is no reason why people should have access to assault weapons. And there is no reason why, as a fourth-grade teacher, I should have to spend so much time trying to ease the anxiety of my students or teach my students about what they need to be doing to stay safe during active shooter drills as opposed to teaching them about multiplication and division.
Republicans are intent on banning books in classrooms that allow kids to become critical thinkers, have access to multiple perspectives, learn about what it means to be kind and inclusive, and affirm people's identity, whether it's their gender identity, racial identity, or their religious identity. Those fundamental rights are literally on the chopping block. I can tell you about the great conversations I have with my students, and this gives me so much hope for the future. We have a robust immigration unit, and there's this great book we read that's called Sylvia & Aki. It's a fourth-grade book, so it's developmentally appropriate, and it talks about the Japanese Internment camps. It's about Sylvia Mendez who received the Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. It was about Mendez v Westminster, a 1946 case that preceded Brown v Board of Education.
John Goncalves: She was a third or fourth-grader of Mexican descent and she couldn't go to the all-white school. Her parents wanted her to get a good education. They took over this farm for a family that got sent off to the Japanese Internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is written for fourth graders. It's a fourth-grade book.
Steve Ahlquist: That's a tough story.
John Goncalves: It is. It weaves history but also talks about racial injustice. The book doesn't demonize anybody, it tells the story of people who wanted a better education. There’s no proselytizing. Kids will ask, in a very innocent way, “How could they treat someone differently because they have different color skin?” And I tell my kids, “That's a very good question.” It's a great question to ask. When we talk about kindness and inclusivity, it's about asking what we can do to make sure that we're going to be kind and inclusive to our classmates and our peers. It's very authentic. They're living in a different world than their parents or grandparents lived in, but they just get it.
That's another reason why I'm in this fight. When it comes to gun violence, this stuff is personal to me because I know people in Providence who have suffered from gun violence. There were kids I recall going to Providence Public Schools with whose families were impacted by gun violence. This stuff isn't theoretical to me. These are people I know. It's why I support Gavin Newsom's 28th Amendment to the Constitution. I think it's a great idea to enshrine gun safety into law. I also think we need to do everything in our power, at the federal level, to mandate universal background checks. We need red flag laws. We need to support the ban on assault weapons. If you want to exercise your Second Amendment rights to go hunt geese again, be my guest, but there should be limits. There is no reason to enable the purchase of assault weapons anywhere.
Steve Ahlquist: Climate change.
John Goncalves: Climate change is the greatest existential threat to our planet. I've been on record about this for years, even as a councilman.
Steve Ahlquist: We first met during the opposition to the proposed Port garbage transfer station, I believe.
John Goncalves: That is a community of color that's been disproportionately impacted by the polluting industries in the Port. It's not an accident that the highest rates of asthma in our city, but also our state, are around the Port of Providence. That's a perfect example of the work that we've been doing on the ground, but when we think about this more globally, the climate is an issue that we need to address right now. Not tomorrow, not in the future, but right now. If we don't address it right now, we will not have a planet for our children
We need to fight with every fiber of our beings to ensure that we are passing the most aggressive climate change legislation. At the local level, I've been very vocal about passing the Green New Deal. It's what we need to do. We need big transformational change to get us to a hundred percent renewable energy, in my opinion, by 2030, because we don't have time. If we don't address this existential crisis right now, we will cease to exist as a species. It's why our campaign doesn't accept any corporate PAC money or fossil fuel money. It's why I've led the charge on some critical legislation at the local level. Our right-to-charge law was a proactive piece of legislation so we could leverage the millions and millions of dollars in funding that's coming from the federal government to build out more electric vehicle charging stations. We plan to look at expanding composting citywide and that's a big lift because you have to educate people.
In my capacity as a local legislator, I have done everything that I can to keep pushing on this issue because we can't afford to wait, even if it's small things. If we add up all those small things, whether it's our ban on plastic bags or BERO [Building Energy Reporting Ordinance], which is a large ordinance, that would mandate tracking energy usage in buildings that are 10,000 square feet and over.
Our municipality is a big contributor to climate change in terms of energy usage and sheer output. The number of single-use plastics, for example, in Providence Public schools, I mean, it's a lot. If we cut back on single-use plastics just in public schools, that would do a lot for our environment. Locally, we've got a lot of work to do and I look forward to fighting tooth and nail, particularly at the federal level, to address climate change, and I intend to be a sponsor of any legislation that is going to aggressively mitigate some of the challenges that we experience around climate.
Steve Ahlquist: Going to international issues, I have two questions. What are your thoughts on the United States supporting Ukraine against Putin?
John Goncalves: It's about protecting democracy. We have a very complex geopolitical crisis right now, and we need to do everything in our power to keep our world safe. I'm someone who listens to the experts on these issues because the people in military intelligence are going to have a lot more knowledge than the general public. We do need to trust their expertise. Ultimately, it's about protecting democracy, but also protecting our world from the threats that have been imposed on the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin.
Steve Ahlquist: Israel is a complicated subject. Right now we're seeing a Trump-like authoritarian move on the part of Netanyahu, especially with the takeover of the courts and the protests that are happening. And there are more judiciary changes to come. What are your thoughts on Israel, Palestine, the two-state solution, and all that?t are your thoughts?
John Goncalves: Thank you for this question. This is where I take a more nuanced view, as a progressive, because I think it's a very complicated quagmire there.
Steve Ahlquist: I'm not expecting you to solve it.
John Goncalves: I'll just say, and I'm very open about this, my significant other is Jewish. One of the things that we are working on, and one of the things that we care about is eventually having a family that is rooted in Judaism and Jewish values. So what I would say is I support a two-state solution. Progressives might look at that askance…
Steve Ahlquist: The two-state solution isn’t a progressive idea? I don't hear many progressives necessarily saying Israel shouldn't exist.
John Goncalves: With the BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanctions] I think the complications get overly simplified and that's a disservice to everyone. Sometimes the issues in Israel get minimized to talking points when it's a lot more complex than that.
Ultimately what people want is peace. Peace for people who identify as Jewish and peace for Palestinians. I take a very different approach to this issue. We can't have a litmus test on what's more progressive. We need to call out atrocities. What we all would love to see is a peaceful two-state solution there.
Steve Ahlquist: I don't want to be in the position of defending the BDS movement because I’m far from an expert on all this, but this is what worked in Apartheid South Africa. Are you saying that the state of the Palestinians is significantly different from the state of black people in South Africa, so it's not an analogous situation?
John Goncalves: You can't conflate the two.
Steve Ahlquist: The situations are not the same. What I'm saying is that BDS is just a set of tools used to apply pressure on governments that may be treating a minority (or in the case of South Africa a majority) population unfairly.
John Goncalves: I don't want to minimize this to a short segment here.
Steve Ahlquist: That’s fine. This is another hour of conversation.
Let's move on to abortion rights, which we touched on it a little bit, and LGBTQ rights. And, as a teacher, have you dealt with issues around trans kids in your classes?
John Goncalves: I serve as a diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator. One of my chief roles, in addition to being a teacher, is making sure that we have spaces that affirm all identities. Affinity groups are a perfect example of this, where we try to create safe spaces for kids. It's what I've done my entire career as an educator, making sure that we're pushing on things like gender-neutral bathrooms for our kids. As a practitioner, I've been on the ground floor, doing this stuff for years.
Some kids identify in certain ways, and our job is to make sure that we are meeting their needs if they say that socially or emotionally they feel a certain way. We want our kids to succeed. We want them to do well so we have to tend to those needs. There are kids who I've worked with who identify as non-binary and our job is to make sure that we're affirming those kids. If you look at the suicide rates for children who are not affirmed or embraced at a very young age, it's troubling. This is a life-or-death situation for these kids, but also for their mental health and their futures. We need to make sure that we're fighting tooth and nail to embrace and affirm their identities. That should not be reduced to political talking points, especially from the other side that tries to claim there's indoctrination going on in schools. That can’t be further from the truth. Politicians are using that as a way to mobilize and distort information.
I'm very clear about the issue of abortion. I also want to affirm that women are a critical voice in this and I don't want to take away from that. But if you elect me to Congress, I'm going to fight like hell to make sure that abortion is a human right all across our country, not only just here in Rhode Island, and that women can make their own decisions, with their doctor, about the healthcare choices that they and they want to make. I believe in repealing the Hyde Amendment. I think the radical Dobbs decision needs to be addressed legislatively and we do that through the federal codification of Roe v. Wade. It's it, it's sickening to think that as few Supreme Court justices can do this and they're going to continue to do more. Shockingly, they can strip the reproductive rights away from millions and millions of women. And it is going to disproportionately impact women of color. It's going to disproportionately impact our most vulnerable women and that is not okay. That's why I'm going to be a fierce advocate for this issue at the federal level.
Steve Ahlquist: We're coming to the end. Medicare for All. What do you think?
John Goncalves: Absolutely. It's a no-brainer. We talked about the cost of living. Healthcare is an enormous challenge for our society personally.
Steve Ahlquist: It's crushing for my wife and I. We were debt free 10 years ago. Now we're very much in debt due to her cancer treatments and that's with Obamacare, with gold-standard healthcare.
John Goncalves: It’s stories like that. I hear these stories all the time. I can't tell you how many seniors I've talked to who have told me about rationing their prescription drugs because of the price gouging of the pharmaceutical industry. I know people who are a medical procedure away from bankruptcy. We're the only modern country in the world that is unwilling to stand up to the pharmaceutical companies and hold them accountable for the price gouging that's happening. These are people's lives.
So again, the reason I am in this fight is those people. If we keep sending the same old kind of people to Washington, nothing's ever going to change. I'm building a multi-racial, multi-generational coalition. I think people overlook this candidacy because we're not the loudest in the room. We're not trying to earn a bunch of points by attacking other candidates.
Steve Ahlquist: I won't ask you who the loudest candidates are.
John Goncalves: A lot of people are doing stuff for media hits. We're focused on the people. What the pundits tend to miss is exactly what happened in my first race, and exactly why we think we have a path to victory here. To put this in perspective, during my first race, I was outspent four to one. We won that race. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were poured into that race and we won with 60% of the vote. It feels like the same dynamic here.
Steve Ahlquist: I felt like you out-walked everybody on that campaign.
John Goncalves: Yes, but we are outworking people during this campaign. We've raised over a hundred thousand dollars in small grassroots support from all across the state. This is the grassroots campaign. If you compare the dollars that we're bringing in to any of the other candidates, 71% of our contributions are coming from in-district, whereas, if you look at some of the other reports, not even counting the self-funding that candidates are doing, it's the opposite. It's like 80% of their money is coming from DC or it's coming from outside of the district. This is important because it's exactly what happened in my first race where we had a lot of deep-rooted, in-district support. Remember, half the kids that I teach live in Barrington. I've served as a city councilor in the City of Providence, solving thousands and thousands of people's problems over the years. I grew up in Providence. That's very different than someone who moved here for college. I have deep-rooted relationships in the City of Providence, and the only thing that's been a barrier to me electorally is that I've only run in a small sliver of the city.
I grew up in Providence. You're talking about decades of connections with people. I went to Vartan Gregorian School. All of my teachers, who live everywhere across this district -who do you think they're going to vote for? All the kids I've taught over nearly the last decade. You're talking about a lot of families out there. We've got Barrington and Newport families in my classroom. I have several connections to places like Pawtucket, me being Cape Verdean, people of color, and my track record of being able to win. This is a very white, affluent, liberal district, but we're also going to be picking up a lot of votes from people of color. I think when you put that all together, we have what no other candidate has in this race. Also, the work that we've done on the ground for years can't be replicated. So sure, you can go on television for the next month and try to get as much name recognition as possible, but I've been in the community doing the work for decades, and that just can't be replicated.
Steve Ahlquist: My last question was going to be, what's your pitch? But I think you may have just answered that.
John Goncalves: Right? The pundits don't know me enough to know about all this stuff. It's something that is being overlooked. It's going to be our path to victory. I've always been overlooked. I've always been counted out. I've always been outspent, that's par for the course.
But when people listen to my story, they learn that I’m a teacher. I have legislative experience, which a lot of candidates in this race do not have. I grew up in poverty. I grew up in Providence. I'm intimately involved in some of the starkest challenges, on the ground floor, every single day. Not only in our city but in our state. I think when you couple all of those things together, it's going to give us a path to victory that I think a lot of people are overlooking.
Steve Ahlquist: Thank you. Was there anything I should have asked that I didn’t?
John Goncalves: I appreciate the long form because I don't often get an opportunity to do this in other interviews.
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Councilman John Goncalves Introduces City Resolution That Bans Book Bans in All Providence Public Schools and Libraries
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Councilman John Goncalves today introduced a resolution that would ban book bans in all Providence public schools and libraries (full resolution text below). This resolution affirms the constitutional right of students, especially children, to receive a full education, including access to books.
This is in response to increased attacks by Republican extremists on public education, libraries, and books. According to the American Library Association, a record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship in 2022, with the vast majority written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Statement from Councilman John Goncalves on this resolution:
“It’s no wonder that Republicans are banning books that encourage curiosity and compassion – both are dangerous to their extremist, white supremist agenda.
“Right-wing extremists are targeting books about the experiences of Black people, women, immigrants, the LGBTQIA+ community, and others because they want to push those people back into the margins. We have to fight like hell to stop that from happening and make it clear that we stand for public education.
“That’s why I am introducing a resolution in the Providence City Council that prohibits banning books in our schools and instructs our libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights that states materials should never be removed because of partisan disapproval. I’m also calling on Governor McKee and the General Assembly to follow Providence by prohibiting book bans statewide.
“This isn’t just about protecting access to books, this is about preserving the free flow of ideas that underpins our democracy and lifting up the voices that enrich our society.
“As a teacher who strives to create a welcoming classroom where every child is respected and heard, I am proud to introduce this resolution and encourage the full City Council to pass it unanimously.” – Councilman John Goncalves
Resolution In Support Of The Prohibition Of Banning Books In
All Providence Public Schools and Libraries
WHEREAS, book bans are a slippery slope that can lead to censorship, marginalization of people, and the stifling of ideas, creativity and knowledge; and
WHEREAS, In recent times, book bans, laws and policies to limit books have become increasingly common in schools, libraries, and public places around the country; and
WHEREAS, according to the American Library Association, a record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship with the vast majority written by or about people of color of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community; and
WHEREAS, President Biden announced he plans to appoint a new federal coordinator to address the increase of newly state laws enacted to book bans; and
WHEREAS, with books being banned, readers are left without access to literary works that may provide essential history, education or encourage thought-provoking conversations and new ideas; and
WHEREAS, This poses a real threat to the right of individuals to access information freely and without judgment; and
WHEREAS, as books often contain different perspectives, book banning prevents readers from developing an understanding of a topic and thinking for themselves; and
WHEREAS, book bans narrow the range of books that people are exposed to, denying them an opportunity to explore the spectrum of ideas available within a certain subject area; and
WHEREAS, Book banning can also have a detrimental effect on societies; and
WHEREAS, what’s more, banning books can lead to bias and prejudice, as society becomes more entrenched in its own viewpoints and less open to alternative idea; and
WHEREAS, we must actively seek out different perspectives and strive to embrace different ideas; and
WHEREAS, this way, readers can come to their own conclusions based on the evidence presented within a book, rather than just being told what is right or wrong; and
WHEREAS, we must also look to foster an environment of understanding and acceptance by not banning books that have been deemed controversial or inappropriate, ; and
WHEREAS, Book banning is a dangerous practice that has the ability to limit free expression, stifle creativity and knowledge, and prevent the development of healthy dialogue within society; and
WHEREAS, If we are to truly experience the freedom of knowledge, we must recognize the importance of protecting our right to access different ideas, so that we can explore them fully and come to our own conclusions;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Providence City Council hereby supports the prohibition of banning books; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Providence City Council hereby supports that all public libraries in the City of Providence shall adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights that indicates materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Providence City Council supports the prohibition of the practice of banning books or other materials within all public schools, libraries or library systems in the City of Providence.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Providence City Council shall eventually pass a law outlawing book bans and cut off local funding for any Providence public library that tries to ban
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Providence City Council urges the general assembly and Governor McKee to sign a state law protecting the freedom of public libraries to acquire bookswithout external limitations and strip funding from any public library that threatens to ban Books.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that copies of this resolution be sent to Providence Public Schools, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Providence Public Library and the Community Libraries of Providence.