Community activist elected in Providence

Mary Kay HarrisPhoto: Robert Malin

Mary Kay Harris
Photo: Robert Malin

Providence, R.I. — African-American activist Mary Kay Harris won the general election for City Council from Ward 11 on Nov. 4, defeating her Republican opponent by 1,669 to 258, or better than six to one. This is despite support for the Republican from the incumbent machine Democrat, whom Harris had defeated in the primary.

Harris had won the primary race on a very small budget, with lots of door-to-door campaigning by volunteers. She continued that strategy during the general election. Campaign flyers described her record of support for tenants’ rights, affordable homeownership, better schools and safe streets.

Rhode Island has an official poverty rate of more than 13 percent and the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, behind Georgia and Mississippi. With an overall population of just over a million, the state has a very large Latino/a immigrant population, in excess of 100,000, including Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Mexicans and other Central and South Americans. West Africans, mainly from Liberia and Nigeria, and Black Caribbean islanders together number at least another 50,000.

Dissatisfaction with the current City Council leaders, reflecting anger over joblessness and poverty, enabled Harris’ People First/El Pueblo Primero campaign to win both elections.

As a former organizer of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), founded in the 1980s to fight for social and economic justice in communities of color, Harris learned the lessons of mass people’s power movements, such as that led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and 1960s. She says that one of her greatest inspirations comes from seeing Black, Latino/a, Asian, Native and white people unite around a common struggle for justice.

Harris called for and chaired the Women of All Colors Assembly in Providence on International Women’s Day this year and has been an active participant in the Rhode Island Peoples Assembly since its founding 10 years ago.