Happy July 4 — to survive and persevere in perilous times

ConvergenceRI will be taking a three-week break and plans to resume publication on July 22

Photo by Richard Asinof

The mural painted by Joanna Vespia for The Avenue Concept on the wall of Not Just Snacks building on Hope Street, incorporating the line from the poster by Mad Peck Studios, "But most of us live off Hope."

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/24/25

PROVIDENCE – ConvergenceRI will be taking a break for the first three weeks in July, in concert with what once was a long observed Rhode Island tradition. The digital news platform will resume publication on Monday, July 22, health permitting.

The first two weeks in July were once the time when industrial manufacturers shut down, repairing and retooling their boilers, as a Rhode Island labor historian explained it, creating a calendar-driven schedule of vacation for workers. That tradition still holds, if somewhat tenuously, even if the state’s economy has mostly shifted away from its former manufacturing base. Tradition!

The coronavirus pandemic has changed, perhaps forever, what a vacation means and what work means – and the uneasy relationship that flows between them. So much has been disrupted in our lives. We are still in long-term recovery [some would call it denial] from all of the trauma and loss we have suffered. Before we can move ahead and achieve a new balance in our lives, we must take the time to grieve for the more than 1 million who died during the last four years.

The transition from “pandemic” to “endemic” is being actively promoted by state health authorities, but the realities of long COVID – the continuing damage the virus seems to be wreaking upon the human body, its immunologic systems, and its organs – has resulted in an upsurge in chronic conditions, from the onset of diabetes to brain fog.

Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic continues to exact a heavy toll – we have become dopesick. Despite the courageous reporting by Beth Macy and Martha Bebinger, the corporate “undertoad” of greed keeps pulling us down, deeper and deeper into the darkness. The disliked fact is that we no longer have an opioid epidemic but a “poisoning” epidemic.

Each year at this time, ConvergenceRI has written a brief interlude to celebrate the time away from the treadmill, a narrative that has kept getting longer and longer. The chorus and chords have remained much the same, even as new verses keep being added to this song of seasonal change.

Here are some of the refrains that have been repeated, year after year, for the last decade: 

  • During the upcoming break, ConvergenceRI plans to sharpen the saw, tending to the garden of new ideas, trying out new recipes, tuning in to new conversations, trying to keep my balance and not stumble while walking, and to keep listening to new voices.
  • What ConvergenceRI has done, hopefully, during its first 11 years of publication, is to create and support an engaged community of readers, where content is shared across networks and platforms, information that is unavailable anywhere else in Rhode Island.
  • ConvergenceRI will continue to promote conversation and convergence, to break down silos, to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to report on the success of engaged communities in Rhode Island.

A pivot toward hope.  
In the past, this story’s headline has always wished everyone a “Happy July 4,” 
as a way of celebrating our nation’s independence from tyranny by kings, queens, and dictators, and the emergence of a new democratic form of government. This year, we need to acknowledge the truly perilous times we are living in, and to reaffirm that we are still a nation of laws – and trust that former President Trump will be prosecuted for his many crimes.

Benjamin Franklin, when asked by citizens about the new form of government being created by the 1787 Constitutional Convention, if it would be a republic or a monarchy, replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.” If we can keep it is still the challenge we face.

On Thursday, June 20, we arrived at the solstice when, as a result of the tilt and spin of the Earth, the Northern hemisphere celebrated the longest, brightest day of the year, a chance to embrace a rebirth of wonder and the lushness of our lives together, even in the midst of the pandemic aftermath, the widening war in Ukraine, and the “eras” tour of climate disruption. Our goal: To remember to breathe in, and to breathe out.

Beyond patriotic parades to march in, there are always a plentitude of positive vibrations to celebrate – all the diverse community voices that are proud, resolute and successful. Just as monarch butterflies and milkweed pods have evolved into a beneficial, symbiotic relationship, so, too, I believe, that good reporting has become the crux of citizens taking action to change the dynamic around political decision-making.

Call it a convergence, a breaking down of silos, and a celebration of the emergence of new, diverse voices.

The questions that need to be asked
The questions that need to be asked – a tradition that has been part of every story published in ConvergenceRI since 2013 – serve as a reminder that the facts are nothing without their nuance, and that new narratives are always emerging, challenging the dominant narrative of the status quo.

Here are the questions ConvergenceRI first posed in 2020; they still seem relevant to ask again, in 2024:

  • What kind of economic niche Rhode Island will carve out for itself in the future regional innovation ecosystem remains an open question, worthy of conversation and convergence.What priority will be given to protect and replenish the human enterprise, the workers, as this new engine of economic prosperity evolves? What does it mean to be deemed “an essential worker” and how does that translate into a higher hourly wage?
  • Of equal importance, in health care, in education reform, in climate change, in research and innovation, in how the news is covered, the question remains: Whose voices will be heard? Too many important community voices keep getting left out of the conversations.
  • When it comes to future statewide health planning, whose voices will be heard? Where do health equity zones and neighborhood health stations fit into the equation? Will nurses and patients have a seat at the decision-making table?
  • When it comes to improving education outcomes, how will the efforts to reform the state’s approach include access to safe, affordable, healthy housing as part of the equation? What is the strategy for promoting place-based health? Whose voices will be heard?

  • When it comes to the ever-increasing disruptions from climate change, when will it become part of our future economic development equation? Whose voices will be heard?Will it be community residents living under the cloud of toxic health threats, or the corporate lobbyists with the ear of legislative leaders?

In 2023, I added another question: When will we recognize the toxic connection between plastics manufacturing and fossil fuels? How can we amplify the courageous voices of Rebecca AltmanSandra Steingraber, and Rosanna Xia? And, when it comes to gun violence, how can we better recognize the writings of Ieva Jusionyte, author of Exit Wounds?

Worth repeating
Some ideas bear repeating. As ConvergenceRI wrote four years ago: In 1776, news of the Declaration of Independence, which redefined the social contract between the government and the consent of the governed, was first shared in printed broadsides and then read aloud in public gatherings, including to General George Washington’s troops in New York City. 

The document was then reprinted in newspapers in the 13 colonies. It was not printed in British newspapers until more than a month later.

Today, 248 years later, in the digital world we live in, the news is a constantly flowing, instantaneous source of filtered information, entertainment and advertising, far removed from conversations in the public square. 

Amidst all the noisy din of corporate greed, self-evident truths are much harder to identify or to recognize in the slipstream of competing narratives, monetized and weaponized by big corporate money and private equity schemes. [We are fortunate that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has served as an outspoken advocate in fighting against dark money in our politics – and for his recent attempts to enforce a legal code of ethics for the U.S. Supreme Court justices.]

Call this holiday an important time for talking, face-to-face, in person, because our nation has reached an inflection point in the battle against authoritarianism and fascism.

A few more thoughts – about honesty.  
In an interview I conducted this past weekend with investigative reporter and editor Moe Tkacik, whose recent stories have included deep dives into the alleged greedy enterprise being practiced by Medical Properties Trust, involved with the buying and then shedding of hospitals, she said she was astonished that no other Attorney General in the U.S. has been so aggressive in pursuing the legal problems related to private equity investments in hospitals as Attorney General Peter Neronha in Rhode Island has been.

Indeed, Attorney General Neronha’s aggressive advocacy on behalf of the public health of Rhode Islanders – regarding nursing homes, hospital transactions, protecting children from lead poisoning, suing the manufacturers of PFAS – is a reminder what a dedicated public servant can do. Through funding provided from legal settlements from drug manufacturers, AG Neronha has been able to expand the legal capacity of his office.

His recent ruling on making some documents public is a reminder that sunlight serves as a cure for government corruption.

We all live off hope    
Three years ago, ConvergenceRI closed out this annual summer song with a section entitled, “A sense of value,” which began: My apologies if this entry point into my planned two-week break, [one of the smartest things I designed as part of my initial business plan], has gone on far too long and been far too jumbled and rambling. 

The last part of this is the hardest to write. As observant readers of ConvergenceRI may note, I have been afflicted by an unknown malady that is eating away at the myelin in my spinal chord in my thoracic region. The good news is that most of the bad things about what it could be have been ruled out – it is not cancer, it is not a brain tumor, it is not MS or Parkinson’s disease, it is not related to previous spine surgeries, and it is not Lyme disease.

The bad news is that I am struggling to be able to walk, which has restricted my mobility. I still can drive. I still have managed to keep my sense of humor as well as to maintain my mental acuity in producing ConvergenceRI. [When asked how I am doing, I respond by saying: I am practicing the rutabaga yoga pose, firmly rooted, breathing in and breathing out.]

Some would consider it a mistake to share such vulnerabilities in public. I see it as a sign of strength, to be honest and direct. Avoiding such conversations and pretending that everything will return to a sense of normalcy is not, in the long run, I believe, helpful.

I read about someone who attempted to run the length of Rhode Island in one day, and I think: climbing up and down three flights of stairs, more than three times in one day, is an amazing feat of endurance for me.

A feat of endurance.  
Two years ago, I wrote: The last year has truly proven to be a feat of endurance – one in which my malady has been diagnosed as auto-immune encephalitis, and for which I have been undergoing infusion treatments to arrest what has been eating away at my spinal cord.

The good news is that the treatments appear to be working: I have regained some stability; there has been a reduction in what has been diagnosed as the culprit; and I have learned to depend on the kindness of neighbors, friends, colleagues and family to move forward, cautiously. 

The value of ConvergenceRI has never been clearer, recognized by a broad community of engaged readers. It is the trusted place where important stories get told, in a world of disrupted media.

Last week, the Community Care Alliance of RI awarded me its Advocacy in Action Award at its annual meeting on June 18, which says, in part: “For dedication in directly addressing policy matters on behalf of people that often feel  unseen and have no voice politically.” 

My body is doing everything it can to fight off the immunological affliction. My mental acuity has not diminished, but my symptoms are worsening – and my health care providers have given me some stern advice to lower my stress levels.

In the next few months, I will be looking to find a way to transition ConvergenceRI to new owners, what those in the venture world would call an exit strategy. I expect that I will continue to be involved in the ongoing editorial direction, but the time has come for me to slow down and not move so fast.

To paraphrase the old typing exercise: Now is the time for all good men and women, supporters, readers, sharers, subscribers, and kibitzers, to come to the aid of ConvergenceRI, in assisting me in this time of transition.

Part of being a good reporter is being honest, direct, and accurate. In sharing this information, I believe it is important to be up front with the news, good and bad – and not to evade or obfuscate. Thanks for listening.

This year, in 2024, as in 2023, looking to the future and being honest about my current health condition is not an easy task. To be frank, my health continues to deteriorate. We all show pain in different ways. Still, I will continue to persist and to persevere.

Last year I concluded with an excerpt from a poem from Pablo Neruda, which spoke of an “inexhaustible heart.”

This year I am concluding with a poem I wrote more than a decade ago, about the harvesting of sunflowers from my garden, entitled “Stevedores.”

once tall stevedores
hauling warm rays
into our summer bed,
can no longer lift up their faces
toward the deepening blue September sky.

Necks bent, they bow down
to the gods of stenosis
and arthritic night.

It grows colder now
each dawn; the wrens still sing
but my garden has grown
past its prime.
Mildew creeps up the stalks,
while aubergine morning glories
fade and wrinkle in the afternoon shade,
ready to succumb.

I take my son into the front yard
and ask him: “Help me cut off all the heads.”
In minutes, the execution is over.
Honey bees still cling madly
to the beheaded yellow and black faces;
stubborn pollen sticks to their legs — and
to our hands. “Fallen stardust,” I say,
and hold up my hands toward the sun.

I mumble some maudlin words: “Rage,
rage against the dying of the light.”

My son asks: “Were you talking to me?”
Yes and no, I reply.

My grandfather, when he was 99,
told me he was dying, but I pretended
not to hear. “What did you say?”
Again, in a hoarse whisper, he said:
“I am dying.”
I nodded, replying: “Yes and no.”

Pick two of the sunflower heads,
I instruct my son, and bring them
to our neighbor. “They’re for next year —
the seeds, that is.”

“How many seeds will bloom next spring?”
he asks me.

“It all depends,” I answer him.
“It all depends.”
I trust that you will understand.

© | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.