One of Rhode Island’s finest passed away last night. John Joyce was a friend, hero, and mentor of mine. He was truly one of the most committed and effective organizers I’ve ever known. John was a driving force behind the Rhode Island Housing Advocacy Project, Occupy Providence, and countless aggressive direct actions against unjust economic policies and laws.
He was tough as nails. Like a badass construction worker version of Michael Landon in Highway To Heaven with a Carhardt jacket and a thick Rhode Island accent. There’s no way to explain it unless you knew him. He was literally a guardian angel on the Providence streets. An advocate who didn’t spend his days bogged down with conference calls, pining for audience with politicians, writing grants, or networking from behind a computer, John hit the street nearly every day, rain, sleet, or snow, and literally sought out those who were in the most danger and were in the most need of help. Whether in an abandoned building, down by the river, highway overpass, park, bus station, or alley way, John was there. Letting folks know what resources were available to them, but more importantly, being a friend. Sharing a cup of coffee, honestly connecting, honestly caring, and never patronizing. John was sometimes the only person folks who’d fallen on severely hard times would listen to, and there are many who would not be alive today, and many who stayed alive much longer than they would have, had it not been for his efforts.
John was candid as hell. He spoke and conducted himself the same whether talking to a judge in court, to folks on the street, to senators at a State House hearing, whether he was de-escalating a potentially violent situation or whether addressing someone he just met in a coffee shop. Honest and sincere as the day is long. He was nobody’s fool.
He definitely wouldn’t want us moping around over his passing- he’d want us to be good to one another, to consider what life is like for those left out in the cold by a system that rewards exploitation and thrives on economic, social, and racial injustice (regardless of whether or not we ever find ourselves in that situation but knowing that it could happen to anyone). Above all, I believe he would’ve wanted us to stay involved, to keep fighting, and to have fun and enjoy the ride while doing it. John said to me on more than one occasion, “Jared, you’re a hard worker, but you can’t control everything, no one can. You could spend all month or or all week planning out every last detail of a direct action, but once the bell rings, whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen, so have fun! Organize as best you can, but you gotta have a good time too.”
I’m so proud of him. For living such a full, amazing, and compassionate life. For his commitment to the movement, and for enduring his battle with cancer as long as he did. I celebrate his journey, and am grateful to have had him in my life as a friend and a role model. He accomplished too many things to list but I will close by pointing out the passing of RI’s “Homeless Bill of Rights”- legislation, the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S., that mandates an equal right to jobs, housing, and public space for all inhabitants, whether they have a home or not. It also prevents landlords, employers, health clinics, and police from legally denying services to any one simply because they don’t have a permanent residence. The bill guarantees confidentiality of personal records, the right to receive voting materials, and the right to privacy of personal property, as well.
Personally, I don’t think capitalism can ultimately be reformed through legislative change within the system but for those in the most need, those dealing with immediate cold, hunger, and serious health issues in the street, survival is not an abstract dilemma. This bill made an immediate difference in people’s lives in real time. It’s success was made possible by the aggressive direct action and organizing efforts of many members in the Rhode Island Housing Advocacy Project, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, unaffiliated houseless Rhode Islanders, students, and other local activists, but John was a core organizer for the campaign and it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened, or happened when it did, if not for his efforts. I’ve posted links to relevant and related articles at the bottom of the page.
John, and people like him, are heroes to me. His life deserves to be celebrated and remembered, more than any millionaire exploiter tycoon turned “philanthropist” with the money to put his own quotes up in big letters all over the city, more than millionaire athletes and actors, more than war mongering, union bashing presidents, and more than well known musicians and poets who romanticize, sing, and write about the struggle John put his flesh and blood into.
Be safe, brother. We see you, and will continue the struggle. This world is truly a better place because you were in it.
Love and Solidarity,
*Info on RI Homeless Bill of Rights: