Plans for a march in North Providence this Sunday by the Providence chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and its supporters had all the makings of a potentially ugly clash. With the IWW predicting a turnout of hundreds for the protest on Mineral Spring Avenue, at least one local resident had started organizing a counter-demonstration, and the two groups seemed in diametric opposition to one another.
During a meeting Monday at North Providence Town Hall, the IWW agreed to change its plans, preparing instead for a rally at 1:30 pm this Sunday in the parking lot of North Providence High School.
IWW organizer Mark Bray says the union was amenable to the change for several reasons, including turnout from around New England that is thought to be larger than originally expected and a desire to not be a party to “vigilante justice.” “We came up with what both sides thought was the best compromise,” Bray says. He expects the rally to be safe and absent of conflict while still conveying the IWW’s message through Rhode Island and beyond.
Richard Fossa, chief of staff to North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, says city officials sought Monday’s meeting with the IWW, state police, and the North Providence police because of concerns about a confrontation between supporters and opponents of the union.
“The mayor’s main goal is to have this be as peaceful as possible,” says Fossa, adding that a town resident who had emerged as a leader of the counter-demonstration agreed when Lombardi asked him to cancel it.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Alexandra Svoboda, whose leg was broken during an August 11 incident involving the North Providence police, is “eager to get back out and spread the word on what happened to her,” Bray says, after recovering from a series (three so far) of surgical procedures.
This weekend’s rally was organized, he says, to bring attention to Svoboda’s case, to demand that authorities uncover the truth of what happened, and to demand compensation.
The episode — parts of which were recorded through still photography, including an image showing Svoboda with one leg bent back at a very unnatural angle — is under review by North Provi¬dence police and by the office of Attorney General Patrick Lynch. While North Providence police have defended their conduct, Fossa acknowledges that the matter “will probably be settled in the courts.”
The IWW has also claimed victory after Jacky Ko, the owner of Jacky’s Galaxy restaurant, testified under oath on August 16 that he no longer does business, and will not, with the New York restaurant supplier initially targeted by the union. While critics accuse the IWW of harassing Ko after he had indicated that he was no longer doing business with the supplier, Ko had offered only partial proof, Bray says, before the August 11 demonstration.
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