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DeVos funded think tank Acton Institute on the move in Grand Rapids

February 27, 2012

Last week, Rapid Growth Media (RGM) posted a short article about the Acton Institute’s announcement that they would be buying and moving into the Wim-CAT building on the corner of Sheldon and Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids.

The RGM story focused on the new location, but also including some commentary from an Acton representative on the future use of the space they purchasing. The only comment about the Acton Institute referred to the group as, “a faith-based proponent of free-market economies worldwide.”

Considering the history of their founder and current President Robert Sirico and the organization itself is one of supporting far right positions, it is worth taking a critical look at what the Acton Institute is about and who they are aligned with.

The organization was founded in 1990 by Fr. Robert Sirico, whom at the time was a Paulist Priest working with the Catholic Information Center in downtown Grand Rapids. Sirico had already aligned himself with the more reactionary sectors within the Catholic Church on issues such as US policy towards Latin America, particularly in opposition to the Liberation Theology movement.

My first encounter with Sirico was a forum we organized in Grand Rapids in 1991 to debate Liberation Theology in Latin America. It was clear that Sirico sided with the Vatican in its opposition to Liberation Theology as was manifested by the witch hunt that then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) engaged in by silencing and marginalizing Latin American Catholic clergy, a topic explored in numerous books and most recently in The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.

The Acton Institute’s decision to take a position against Liberation Theology stems mostly from its promotion of free-market capitalism. Liberation Theology advocated for justice for the poor and a redistribution of wealth. The Grand Rapids-based think tank believes that capitalism is the best remedy for economic equality, despite the historical track record of capitalism leaving a path of suffering, exploitation and inequality in its path.

The Acton Institute supports economic policy that promotes deregulation of the economy and austerity measures (similar to what Michigan is experiencing under Gov. Snyder). It is no surprise then that the DeVos family has been a big supporter of the Acton Institute, with Betsy DeVos previously serving on the Board of Directors and the DeVos family being major donors to the think tank. Richard DeVos Sr. was also given the Faith and Freedom Award from the Acton Institute in 2010. You can see from the graphic below the interlocking systems of power that connect the DeVos family and the Acton Institute.

The current Board of Directors at the Acton Institute is a mix of corporate CEOs and religious leaders, such as Calvin College President Gaylen Byker, J.C. Huizenga of the National Heritage Academies (advocates the privatization of public education), John Kennedy (Autocam), Sidney Jansma (Wolverine Gas & Oil Corp) and John Gordon (Gordon Food Service).

The Acton Institute also has a history of denying global warming and taking a very critical attitude towards much of the focus of environmental justice work throughout the world. According to the website Exxon Secrets, the Acton Institute has received over $300,000 from Exxon/Mobil since 1998 to engage in anti-global warming propaganda. One way the group has used this money was to organizing public screenings of a climate denial film, which they showed at the Wealthy Street Theater in Grand Rapids a few years back.

The Acton Institute’s Environmental Stewardship web page links to the Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Free-Market Environmental network, Green-Watch, the Heartland Institute and the Heritage Foundation. All of the entities linked from the Acton Institute web page take a pro-business, anti-regulation, anti-worker, anti-environmental position and influence both state and federal policy.

Considering this history, we thought it would be useful for people to understand a bit more about the Acton Institute and have some background on the think tank that will be sharing a building with the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology.

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