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New Michigan House bill would punish undocumented immigrant workers

February 24, 2017

logoOn January 31st, House Bill 4130 was introduced, a piece of legislation that is seen by the immigrant community as another attack against those who are most vulnerable. 

HB 4130, “would require public employers to verify the legal residency of employees to determine eligibility for employment through “E-Verify”. Currently, the E-Verify program is a largely voluntary program that allows employers to verify employment eligibility with the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. This bill would make it a felony in Michigan to make a false statement about one’s work authorization, punishable by imprisonment for up to fifteen years.”

This is according to an recent campaign to defeat the legislation, a campaign that includes a simple mechanism for people to contact their state legislators

The person who took the lead on introducing this bill, is Rep. Jim Runestad, who represents the 44th District in Michigan. Runestad has also recently come out against refugee resettlement in Michigan, thus demonstrating his opposition to immigrants and refugees, much like the current administration. 

Runestad is primarily a self-financed candidate, but he also has received funds from various Political Action Committees like the Michigan Association of Realtors and Auto Dealers of Michigan.

Joining Runestad in this most recent legislative proposal to punish immigrant workers are Representatives Hank Vaupel, Tim Kelly and Peter Lucido. By clicking on their names you can get campaign finance information.

It is interesting to note that Hank Vaupel received $8,250 from the Michigan Farm Bureau PAC, which represents the agribusiness sector, a sector that relies heavily on migrant farmworkers. The question to ask them is, “who is going to do the pick crops in Michigan, under awful conditions and for little pay, if the politicians want to punish those who are undocumented?”

Again, the link to the online campaign to voice your opposition to this bill is here. However, much more will be needed to stand in solidarity with immigrant workers.

Grand Rapids Stands in Solidarity with the Water Protectors

February 23, 2017

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-12-24-59-amYesterday, about 100 people gathered at the Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids to offer songs, prayers and stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

February 22nd was the day that the Water Protectors had to leave the OCETI SAKOWIN encampment. We now know that there were several arrests of Water Protectors at the encampment. For up to date analysis and reporting on what is happening at Standing Rock, check out the reporting from Unicorn Riot, both narrative and video. screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-12-29-32-am

The Grand Rapids Water is Life action began with songs and prayers being offered by members of the local Native community. Jonathan Rinehart welcomed those in attendance and provided some context for the action and what it means to the Native community. Here is a video of the open song.

After the welcoming, several Native speakers addressed the crowd, with most of them having spend a fair amount of time at Standing Rock, including Nancy Gallardo, Holly Lin Wood-Jones and Regis & Amos Ferland.

Each of these speakers had very moving stories to tell about their time at Standing Rock and why they believe that the resistance will continue and that they will win. Other Native speakers made the point that because of the resistance at Standing Rock, indigenous issues have been part of the public discourse in ways that has not happened for several decades. Words like sovereignty and treaty rights have now entered a larger part of the consciousness of Americans because Standing Rock has brought those issues to the forefront.

There were also some Native speakers who addressed environmental issues around renewable energy and how we treat the water and land. One Native speaker implored the crowd to vote with their dollars by making sure that how people spend their money or where they have their money doesn’t support oppression and exploitation. This point was emphasized, since the No DAPL campaign has been targeting the banks and other financial institutions that have provided the funds for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be built.

After the speakers were finished at the Calder Plaza, people were invited to march through downtown and to cross the river and gather again at Ah Nab Awen Park. During the march people chanted and sometimes marched in the streets. Here are a few videos of the march:

Once people reached the Ah Nab Awen Park they were invited to take some tobacco and offer up their own prayers. The tobacco was then put in the water as an offering in solidarity with those at the OCETI SAKOWIN encampment facing eviction.

Another Native speaker talked about the importance of water in Native culture and spirituality.

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Once this part of the action was over, people marched back to other side of the river and ended up in front of the Chase Bank building, since JP Morgan Chase is one of the financial backers of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Grand Rapids Police were present throughout the entire action, but were particularly present when people gathered in front of the bank, since they anticipated that people might try to go in. This same action was attempted back in late December on the anniversary of the US Army massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. 

Grand Rapids Econ Club hosted the President of the American Enterprise Institute: The most influential Right Wing Think Tank in DC today

February 21, 2017

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-7-18-13-pmThe President of one of the most influential right wing think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute, spoke to a crowded room at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids today.

Hosted by the Econ Club of Grand Rapids, Arthur C. Brooks, spoke to a room full of business people and other members of the power structure today about an idea they all love, which was entrepreneurship. Nothing that Brooks had to say was terribly interesting, rather it was just a 30 minute cheerleading session about how great starting businesses are.

However, the American Enterprise Institute is something worth talking about and something that everyone who cares about social justice and collective liberation ought to pay attention to.

Here are just some of the positions that the American Enterprise Institute has taken in recent decades:

  • Opposes minimum wage laws and living wage campaignsscreen-shot-2017-02-20-at-7-24-45-pm
  • Opposes any regulation of Wall Street
  • Questions Climate Change and promotes the use of fossil fuels
  • Promotes and endorses US foreign policy that perpetuates imperialism
  • Was a big proponent of the US invasion/occupation of Iraq
  • Endorses the privatization of public education and was a big cheerleader for Betsy DeVos
  • Promotes corporate trade policies
  • Opposes government welfare programs
  • Opposes and makes fun of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock

downloadCheck out the information that the American Enterprise Institute has at their own site, as well as the resources available from SourceWatch to get more information on what this right wing think tank is all about.  

Protecting Betsy DeVos: On the Nature and Function of Power

February 20, 2017

It has been reported in many news sources that the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, now is receiving protection from the US Marshal Service. 

This news comes just days after Betsy DeVos was confronted by protestors who preventer her from entering a public school in Washington, DC, as can be seen in this video. 

The decision to provide US Marshals to accompany Betsy DeVos, should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the nature and function of power in US politics.

Those who have power over others, those with political and economic power, will always be the beneficiaries of protection from state agents, like the US Marshal Service.  The nature and function of power in the US is such that those who have power will be protected at all costs and anyone who threatens that power will suffer the consequences.

Whether you are protestors trying to non-violently prevent a government official from entering a public school, water protectors trying to stop an oil pipeline from entering the land you care for or fast food workers fighting for a living wage, you are threatening power. When power is threatened, it will engage in various forms of repression to suppress those engaged in whatever form of resistance they chose to employ.

  • When was the last time you saw cops defend people from corporate greed?
  • When was the last time you saw ICE officials defend immigrants who are fleeing political or economic repression?
  • When was the last time you saw an FBI agent defend those fighting against Islamophobia and hate crimes?
  • When was the last time you saw a member of the Grand Rapids Police Department defend a black person from other law enforcement agents who wanted to do them harm?screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-2-50-09-am

The fact that Betsy DeVos is now receiving protection from federal law enforcement agents, is based upon how power functions in this society. She represents power and any threat to that power will not be tolerated.

Here we can turn to the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who has some very astute things to say about power, from an 1857 speech

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”

Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes march in Grand Rapids: We are here and we are not leaving!

February 17, 2017

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Yesterday, over 1,000 people marched in Grand Rapids for immigrant rights and to send a clear message to people in power, Aqui Estamos y no, nos vamos – We are here and we are not leaving!

People gathered near a store owned by Latinos on Division, just a few blocks north of 28th street. There were a few people who spoke, which energized the crowd and then the march began at about 5:20.

There were no permits obtained, people just simply went out into the street and took up the 2 south-bound lanes on Division and the middle turn lane. People march we great enthusiasm, using horns, drums and chanting all throughout the march. One chant said, Grand Rapids, escucha, estamos en la Lucha! – Grand Rapids, Listen Up, We are in the Struggle!

There were also lots of flags being carried or waved, some American flags, but mostly Mexican and Guatemala flags. I asked a few people about why they were carry their home country flags. One person said it was because they wanted to demonstrate the pride they have in their country of origin. Another person said they were angry at the US government for wanting to build a wall along the US and Mexican border and because of the recent ICE raids being conducted in the country, even in West Michigan.

Once the march got to 28th street, those marching turned right and began going west on 28th street towards US 131. Again both west-bound lanes were taken up by marchers and the middle turn lane. Despite blocking traffic, lots of people were honking their horns in support of the march, with people waving and taking pictures with their cell phones.

Just as we crossed US 131, the march made a big u-turn and then went east-bound on 28th street, back towards division, as can be seen in the video below.

dsc00261The police response to this was surprisingly slow, since the first cop cars did not appear until the march was headed back towards Division on 28th street. The police tried to block the center turn lane and get people to stay in the right two lanes, but lots of people didn’t comply, especially since we were turning left back onto Division to the place where the march began. You can see in the video below people turning onto Division and how long the march was, backed up to 28th street.

The march was the culmination of actions taken throughout the day. People were encouraged not to shop or spend money, not to go to work and to not attend classes or send their children to classes. We have as yet to know what impact the Say Without Immigrants action had economically, but we know for sure that so many students that make up the Grand Rapids Public Schools didn’t show up, forcing the GRPS administration to declare a “snow day.” 

Lastly, it should be noted, that unlike the marches held out at the Kent County Airport in recent weeks, the number of allies at this march was significantly smaller.

Grand Rapids Right Wing Think Tank President Praises Betsy DeVos after Confirmation as Secretary of Education

February 16, 2017

The Acton Institute President Robert Sirico said last week on a blog post, that Betsy DeVos was the best choice for Secretary of Education. betsy-devos-and-priest_1484681039527_7704948_ver1-0

The blog post does acknowledge early on that the Betsy and other members of the DeVos Family have played an intricate role in supporting the work of the Acton Institute over the years.

Betsy DeVos is a former board member of the Acton Institute. She and her family also have been loyal philanthropists for the Grand Rapids, Mich., area of which Acton faithfully belongs. That written, it must be added that Acton’s relationship with the DeVos family and Betsy specifically and personally shows the passion and intellect that she brings to bear on those issues upon which she has been focused for decades. Among those issues is school choice so direly needed for students forced to suffer the failures rampant in our public schools.

However, Fr. Sirico fails to mention the vast amounts of money (over a million dollars) the DeVos family has contributed to the right wing think tanks since its founding, nor does he mention that other members of the DeVos family have served on the Acton Board or that Betsy’s mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, currently serves on the Acton Board.

The founder of the Acton Institute then goes on to say:

The hue and cry from Betsy DeVos’ detractors has been, frankly, disingenuous. She has shown time and again her mastery of intricate details of the many problems facing our country, and now has an opportunity to reverse the unfortunate circumstances facing many of our nation’s public schools.

I’m not sure of her mastery of intricate details, but I do agree with Fr. Sirico that Betsy DeVos intends to reverse the circumstances of the nation’s public schools.

For a significantly different take on what Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education means check out this interview by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that was posted last week. 

acton-meme

Another announced land grab by GVSU means more surface parking lots

February 14, 2017

Yesterday, in an article on MLive, it was announced that Grand Valley State University would be leasing (but ultimately purchasing) 3.5 acres of land currently owned by the Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company for $3.38 million. 

The MLive article stated that GVSU would have a new surface parking lot ready for us by the 2017 Fall semester. In this arial view, it is the land/property outlined in red that will be used for parking. This decision was made by the GVSU Board of Trustees, which makes complete sense since the trustees represent monied interests throughout the state.

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This is just the latest development in GVSU’s history, when it comes to their expansion through land grabs.screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-1-38-49-pm

Ever since GVSU has had a presence on the westside, they have continued to gobble up land. This first began when the Eberhard Center was opened in 1988 in downtown Grand Rapids, along the Grand River and has continued through this most recent acquisition of land south of the downtown campus.

Other examples have been the purchase of land on Michigan Avenue for the Cook/DeVos building on the corner of Michigan and Lafayette. This process of land acquisition began when Butterworth Hospital (now Spectrum) began buying land that impacted the Belknap Neighborhood back in the 1990s. 

After the mid-1990s, when over 70 homes were bull-dozed on the westside between Lake Dr. and Bridge St, it paved the way for GVSU to eventually build the larger Pew Campus and all the accompanying parking lots/structures that came with it.

More recently there is the example of the GVSU purchase of land north of 196 in the Belknap Neighborhood. This project displaced dozens of families and resulted in the demolition of numerous homes. You can see in this map, the amount of land GVSU purchased in that particular land grab.

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We also took pictures last fall of the demolition, which is posted here.laker-effect

So you can see that GVSU has a long history of land grabs and that the announced new surface parking lot is just the most recent. No doubt it will not be the last.

In addition, it is also important to recognize that all of the new construction that GVSU is engaging in in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods also makes it attractive for other investors to want to cash in on new developments in the area, including upscale apartments, more breweries and restaurants. This process creates a snow ball effect that adds to gentrification and the displacement of working class individuals and families that can no longer afford to live in the spaces that GVSU controls.