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A Brief History of how the GRPD responds to protests and dissent

June 1, 2020

Since the demonstration on Saturday, I have seen a awful lot of White people complaining about property destruction in Grand Rapids and using language like peaceful and violent protesters.

These types of reactions are to be expected, especially from people who generally have no idea of what it means to be systematically brutalized and oppressed.

There have been numerous reports on the ground of people talking about the tactics and weapons of the GRPD. This is always important for people to understand, as the GRPD is just like any other police force in the country. What I want to do in this article is to provide a brief overview of how the GRPD has responded to protests and dissent since its founding in 1871.

However, before we look at some examples of how the GRPD has responded to protests and dissent in Grand Rapids, it is important to make clear what the origin and function of police departments are.

First, the origin of policing in the US comes right out of slave patrols, where white men organized for the specific purpose of hunting down and capturing black people who had engaged in self-emancipation from slavery. (see Kristian Williams book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.) 

Second, the function of policing is primarily about protecting systems of power and maintaining “order,” which is to say that the police will not tolerate any disruption to structural racism, patriarchy, capitalism and environmental destruction. The real crimes, which is structural violence, is protected and maintained, especially when law enforcement agencies prevent people from resisting these crimes. 

Now, people will argue that there are good cops and bad cops, so we can’t lump them all together. However, this is not about individual behavior, but a system or structure of law enforcement, which has historically oppressed black, brown and indigenous people, along with suppressing dissent and protest from a variety of sectors in society, around numerous issues. What follows are some examples of how the GRPD has responded to protests and dissent over the years.

1967 Rebellion in Grand Rapids

Now that the City of Grand Rapids has brought in the National Guard and imposed a curfew, the best example to start with is the 1967 riot/rebellion in Grand Rapids. The last time the National Guard came to GR was in 1967. The city also imposed a curfew on the residents.

The 1967 rebellion in Grand Rapids was sparked by the GRPD, when they pulled over several black youth. The city was under a militarized lockdown for three days. White people were calling for blood and several white people contacted the GRPD offering to bring their guns to stop the black rebellion.

Several months after the 1967 riot, the Grand Rapids City government published a report called, Anatomy of a RiotWe posted an article that provided some analysis of the report by the City of Grand Rapids, which is very instructive, both in terms of the data and the recommendations that make up part of the report. The recommendations were the standard recommendations that focused on “providing opportunities” instead of addressed systemic problems.

1911 Furniture Workers Strike

In April of 1911, thousands of Grand Rapids furniture workers went on strike, demanding better pay, better work conditions and the right to form a union. Who do you think the GRPD protected during this strike, the workers or the furniture barons? 

Jeffrey Kleiman’s important book, Strike! How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids, provides some answers to what the GRPD did. Kleiman writes about striking workers who had gathered outside of the Widdicomb factory to confront the owner:

“Finally, thirty club-wielding policemen pushed forward, breaking the crowd up and falling upon one stubborn protester who refused to leave.

Midway through the efforts to disperse the rioters, the police arrested a few men and began to retreat towards the Sixth Street Bridge. Using their prisoners as shields, the policemen fired their weapons into the air until they ran out of ammunition. Hand-to-hand battles ensued and the rioters threatened to overwhelm the police until reinforcements appeared. The fighting continued until the street was filled with madly running and cursing men and women with almost every other face….streaked with blood from an injury or from the injury of another.”

2003 Anti-Iraq War Protests

Before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq had begun in 2003, the GRPD attempted to infiltrate the anti-war movement in Grand Rapids, sending undercover cops, spying on organizers, intimidating people involved and arresting dozens of people who were protesting the brutal US invasion/occupation of Iraq. 

With the assistance of the ACLU, anti-war organizers were able to obtain FOIA documents, which can be found at this link.

1980s Central American Solidarity Movement

There was a pretty lively Central American Solidarity Movement in Grand Rapids during the 1980s, with numerous action direct at Congressman Paul Henry. Rep. Henry consistently voted in support of US military aid the El Salvador and to the Nicaraguan Contra terrorist forces.

People would occupy Congressman Henry’s office in the Federal Building and shut down Michigan Street when the Jesuit priests were murdered in El Salvador. In another action, protesters used Congressman Henry’s phone to call the GRPD to tell them that Crimes Against Humanity were happening at 110 Michigan. The GRPD showed up and dragged the protesters out of Rep. Henry’s office. For the GRPD, it was ok that Congressman Henry and his staff were participating in war crimes, but it was not ok for people to protest such crimes. 

GRPD after Ferguson uprising

The GRPD and the City of Grand Rapids decided that body cameras and racial bias training would be enough to satisfy people after the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. However, there were numerous incidents where the GRPD pulled guns on black youth, arrested and beat black adults, which led to ongoing protest and resistance from the black community in Grand Rapids.

Here are some examples from the past few years, where members of the black community have followed “official channels,” only to be ignored or minimized by the City of Grand Rapids and the GRPD.

“It was a peaceful event”: How media framed Saturday’s event and virtually eliminated any analysis of state violence that targets the Black community

The GRPD, White Supremacy and Community Accountability

Calls for a State of Emergency in Grand Rapids elicits no meaningful response from City Officials

Billed as Community-Police relations “listening tour,” the meeting was a highly managed forum

Chief Rahinsky gets nauseated, but defends police violence against the black community in Grand Rapids

GRPD’s recent detaining of black youth was just following procedure and it was racist

Latest GRPD Press Conference addresses recent police assaults on residents of color: Acting Chief says if people obeyed the police there would be no problems

Later this week, we will post about the recent history of GRPD’s harassment, intimidation and surveillance of Movimiento Cosehca GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Don’t Let the System Control the Narrative on the Black Lives Matter protest in Grand Rapids

May 31, 2020

Yesterday, there were several calls for protests in Grand Rapids, protests against the ongoing murder and repression of black people by cops all around the country and in this city.

Some black organizers began hosting demonstrations at 11am at Rosa Parks Circle, with another protest joining them, a protest which started at MLK Park. A third call for resisting police violence against black people was scheduled for 6pm, also at Rosa Parks Circle.

I arrived at 4:30pm to be part of a crowd safety team for the 6pm Black Lives Matter protest, which was organized by several young black women. The black women who organized the action had been in contact with volunteer organizers with Movimiento Cosecha GR, who offered to provide a crowd safety team.

Just before the march began, the crowd had grown to maybe 2,000 people. Signs and banners were numerous, with most of the signs centering either on the white supremacist violence of police or the names of black people, like George Floyd, who have recently been murdered by cops.

At this point the GRPD primarily had cops on bikes in several areas around the park, with several cops doing surveillance on rooftops, using cameras and drones.

The march left Rosa Parks Circle around 6pm and came out on to Monroe street, taking up the two lanes of traffic going south. March organizers then moved east on Fulton. The cops on bicycles followed on the sidewalk, but did not intervene and prevent people from protesting in the street. Over the last few decades, the GRPD has generally not tolerated people marching in the streets, unless there are numbers, and there were definitely too many people to police last night.

The march was billed as a Silent March, but there could be chants of “No Justice, No Peace” or “Black Lives Matter” heard throughout the march, especially since there were several thousand people marching at this point, making it impossible to see the end. As the march moved up Fulton, nearing Division, protesters could still be seen turning left on Fulton from Monroe.

The march paused at the corner of Fulton and Division for a brief period, allowing time for those coming up Fulton to catch up. People who were in cars didn’t seem to mind having to wait and many of them hand sings in support of the protest.

March organizers then decided to go in front of the GRPD headquarters on Monroe Center. When the march arrived to to the front entrance of the police department, there were about 15 GRPD cops on bikes lined up in front of the entrance facing protesters.

The protesters began chanting “I can’t breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Ass Police.” The crowd was moving closer and closer to the police station, many verbalizing what they thought of the cops on bikes. The march organizers did not want to stay at the police station for long, and after 15 minutes decided to keep marching.

The march then moved down Monroe Center to Ionia, then to Lyon and eventually to the Calder Plaza. At the Calder Plaza several of the march organizers spoke about how they were just so tired of the way that black people were being treated, they were tired of living in a world where black bodies are disposable and where black lives don’t seem to matter. One black mother spoke and then talked about her son who was recently beaten by the GRPD. You can see a photo here below of her son. She fought through tears talking about her son and his future aspirations, only to feel anger and rage at a system that brutalized her son.

At this point, one of the people doing crowd safety had come to tell everyone that there were still hundreds of people in front of the GRPD headquarters and that things were getting tense. Several of those who were at Calder Plaza, then went back to the police station to see what was happening.

When we got back to the GRPD headquarters (around 7:30pm), there were still hundreds of people in front of the building. However, after maybe 10 minutes, lots of people began to move away from the police station, back towards Rosa Parks Circle. The entire stretch of Monroe Center was filled with people who had come to say to the city, Stop Killing Black People! The air was electric and filled with anger.

It is no surprise then that things escalated later that night. I was not there, so I do not want to speculate on what happened. However, I do think it is important that people, especially white people, stop with all the complaints and questions about property destruction. We as White people have no understanding of what it means to be black in America. We do not know what it is like to be terrorized every day by police and the larger systems of White Supremacy.

The commercial news media has already made the narrative about what happened yesterday about property destruction. It is critical at this point that we make the voices of black people central to any conversation we have about what happened yesterday. We need to shut up about property destruction and listen to the lived experience of black people. We need to say their names – Breanna Taylor, George Floyd and the countless number of black people who have been murdered by cops! SAY THEIR NAME!

GR Rapid Response to ICE begins campaign to get more faith communities to declare themselves a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants

May 28, 2020

In March of 2018, a UCC church, Joy Like a River, declared itself a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. At that event, there were several dozen area religious leaders who came in support of that declaration.

This declaration of sanctuary was the first time that someone has become a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, since the Koinonia House did it in 1986 in Grand Rapids

However, Joy Like a River is the only faith community that has publicly declared themselves as a sanctuary, in a region of the state that is known for being deeply religious. There are an estimated 800 churches in Kent County, which means that only 1 out of 800 is willing to put faith into action on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

This reality has led the grassroots group, GR Rapid Response to ICE, to begin a campaign to encourage more faith communities to declare themselves as sanctuary. This campaign is centered around the 800 to 1 ratio of churches to sanctuaries in this community.

We spoke with Karen Meyers, one of the volunteer organizers with GR Rapid Response to ICE about the campaign.

GRIID – How do you react to the fact that only 1 church in the Grand Rapids area is willing to be a sanctuary?

Karen – My reaction is some surprise, as well as disappointment and anger. Grand Rapids is almost jokingly known for its density of churches, and you don’t have to spend much time here before someone talks to you about their faith. In a city with so many Catholic churches as well as a large, vibrant immigrant community (many of whom are Catholic), it seems only natural that churches–particularly Catholic churches and other Christian churches that profess to do as Jesus did–would step up to offer sanctuary to immigrants in danger. The Catholic church has been pretty awful in many respects, but it also has a tradition of participating in peace and justice movements. 

I’m not totally surprised that there aren’t more sanctuary churches in Grand Rapids, however. I’ve come to realize that West Michigan Nice can mean that you preach kindness and love, but putting those words into action isn’t always done.

GRIID – GR Rapid Response approached the Catholic Diocese back in March, wanting to talk about offering Sanctuary and other support for undocumented immigrants. What was their reaction?

Karen – The diocese initially responded and suggested a meeting date of May 1, which at best betrays a cluelessness on their part about the community, or at worst, is an intentional insult. May 1 is May Day, and has been the annual date of the Día Sin Inmigrantes/Day Without Immigrants march. We reminded the diocese of that and suggested a better date, but despite multiple attempts at contact on our part, have not heard back from them again.

GRIID – What message do you think it sends to the undocumented community for faith communities to declare themselves a sanctuary?

I think it tells them that they are welcome here. That they are valued, respected human beings, who deserve to live and enjoy happiness and safety together with their families and not separated from them, just as we do. That people have the right to cross borders (borders that once crossed them), in order to make a new life for themselves or to flee the dangerous conditions in their countries that the US has had a hand in creating.

For those interested exploring the possibility of their faith community becoming a sanctuary and what that entails, you can contact GR Rapid Response to ICE at or leave a message on their Facebook page.

White People with guns to host another protest at the Capitol in Lansing on May 31st

May 27, 2020

The group that has been organizing anti-lockdown protests in Lansing, will be hosting another demonstration at the Capitol on Sunday, May 31st.

Billed as Sunday Funday, Michigan United for Liberty is hosting a demonstration in defiance of the Stay-at-Home orders, this time with the focus being on venders who are currently not allowed to be open.

Join us for a celebration of our freedom and a direct action to restore Michigan by coming to the Capitol to engage in the great American tradition of free enterprise.

According to their Press Release for the event, the event will feature food, live music, and vendors, including arts and crafts, beauticians, massage therapy and more. 

“Our previous Capitol demonstrations have thoroughly made the point that the people of Michigan are fed up with the governor’s lockdown orders and will not be intimidated by her empty threats. Now it’s time to strike a more positive tone, to celebrate our constitutional rights, not just by exercising our freedom of speech and assembly, but our fundamental right to the pursuit of happiness by earning a living,” explained organizer Jenny Darling. “It’s long past time to re-open Michigan, and we are going to lead by example.”

I think most people are aware of how small businesses are being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, but this protest on Sunday doesn’t really have much to do with supporting small businesses. Here is our take on what the Michigan United for Liberty demonstration is really about:

  • It’s about White people being upset that in the midst of a pandemic their ability to do whatever the hell they want has been limited…..and that’s just not very American.
  • It’s about White people with guns knowing that they will not be subjected to state violence or state repression, thus providing the world with yet another example of how White Privilege and White Supremacy works.
  • It’s about how these White people will never be on the streets or organizing against cops killing black people, ICE agents arresting and detaining immigrants, religious groups policing queer and trans people or how capitalism is killing the planet.
  • It’s about how these White people are really distracting us from paying attention to how the Billionaire class  – Bezos, Zuckerberg, DeVos, Meijer – are getting the federal government to re-direct more public money into their hands, and state governments to push policies they will benefit from
  • It’s about how these White people, who are using this opportunity to blame Gov. Whitmer for everything, while rallying other White people to support Trump.

Why we can’t go back to the way things were in Grand Rapids: Part III – Radically re-imagining work and a new economy

May 26, 2020

Last month, we posted an initial article about Grand Rapids can’t go back to normal after the COVID 19 crisis. We made the argument that the inequities that existed before the crisis which amplified with the crisis, but they would continue to exist long after COVID 19, unless we begin to radically re-image another way of organizing ourselves. 

In Part II, we focused on food, the current food system and why we need to radically re-imagine a new food system in this community. In Part III, we want to look at labor, labor unions and the future of work.

While most of this post will be discussing the nature of work within a capitalist system, it is critical that we think about and imagine work in a post-capitalist system. Part of the problem with labor/work in a capitalist system is that it is too often framed as jobs, specifically jobs that require bosses and owners.

Work, however, can be a liberating experience, if we see work as what people do when growing a garden, cooking, doing grassroots organizing, raising children, making music, art or any other activity that is uniquely human.

Unfortunately, before we can get to a more liberated notion of work, we need to create opportunities for people to see the possibilities of labor organizing within the current capitalist system.

Most of us have jobs, where we spend a great deal of time on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. However, how many of us go to a job where the workplace itself is based on cooperation, where the workplace is democratic?

Current estimates are that only 10% of those who have a job in the US are part of a labor union. This percentage is the lowest it has been in more than a century. IF we want our workplaces to be more cooperative, more democratic, where people feel valued and have a voice in how things operate, then why not join a union or start your own?

How many people have been saying for years that they could do their job from home? Working from home has been a demand of those with disabilities for decades, but most employers were not interested in such ideas. Now with COVID-19 we see that indeed many people can work from home. If more labor unions existed, such a demand could have become a reality, way before we were in the midst of a pandemic. But here is thing, we have to make working from home a demand right now, even after the pandemic is over. What would employers use as an argument post-COVID-19 for not allowing people to work from home?

When people have labor unions, they have the possibility for workplace democracy. People can demand better wages, better benefits, better working conditions, plus they can advocate as workers to have greater say in day to day operations.

We know that labor unions have fought and won the 8 hour work day, workers compensation, workplace safety, better wages, pensions, improved workplace environment and the abolition of child labor. These were all victories that workers fought for, since they were never a gift from bosses, corporations or members of the capitalist class. For an important overview of this history, see From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, by Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty.

However, since the end of WWII, labor union have been losing ground on numerous fronts. The number of workers in the US that are part of a labor union has steadily declined since the 1950s. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was a major blow to workers, since it attempted to make strikes, particularly wildcat strikes illegal. 

The de-industrialization in the US, also weakened worker unions, as did the rise of globalization, which included trade agreements that fundamentally undermined unions and workers rights in general. However, a major factor in the weakening of organized labor has been its decision to attach itself to the Democratic Party, especially in the past 50 years. Now, before people dismiss this point, I ask you to think about 2 things. First, how much money have unions and their members dished out in recent decades to support Democrats, and second, how has that money resulted in worker justice and increased workplace democracy?

Unions and the Financial backing of the Democratic Party

If we look at the data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, we can see what the major unions have contributed to the Democratic Party since 1990. Lets take a look at four examples, especially four of the major labor unions in the US; the United Auto Workers, the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

This means that these four major unions combined have spent $365 million to influence elections and another $231 million to lobbying those already elected. What this says is that these four unions have used $596 million of their members money to try to influence election and policy at the federal level since 1990.

In Michigan, the trend is not much different. If you look at the data provided by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) for all the state races in the 2018 election, you will see that the Democratic candidates have received hundreds of thousands from various labor unions within the past 18 months and will continue to receive thousands more before the November election. In addition, some of the largest Political Action Committees in the state are labor unions, which you can also see from the MCFN. 

A more specific example of how unions have spent money during an election cycle, was in 2012, when unions spent $21.9 million to pass Proposal 2. The business community however, spent $25.9 million to defeat the measure, which it did. Just after the November election in 2012, there was a major rally held in Lansing, where some 10,000 workers and allies came to protest the austerity measures being passed by the state, particularly making Michigan a Right to Work state. Unfortunately, instead of occupying the capitol building or shutting down Lansing, most of the rally organizers proposed that they get their people elected in 2014……….which didn’t happen.

What have unions and workers won with millions going to the Democrats?

It will be argued that if unions did not support Democrats with millions during elections in recent decades that the GOP would have pass even more draconian laws to further weaken labor laws and give private capital even greater power. This may be true to some extent, but what such an argument doesn’t take into account, is the fact that in the heyday of the labor movement – late 19th Century through 1945 – is that workers won a great deal without primarily aligning themselves with the Democrats. In fact, what labor historians have made clear is that the labor movement, by engaging in massive organizing efforts and using direct action were the reasons why they won so many labor disputes.

In more recent decades, say during the 8 years of the Clinton administration and the 8 years of the Obama administration, we need to ask what major labor victories took place? My read on those years was that there were no major labor victories, but there was a steady decline of union membership and numerous set backs for working people. Think of the number of trade agreements that were enacted since 1992, when NAFTA went into effect. The massive WTO protest in Seattle took place in 1999, while Clinton was in the White House.

During the Obama years, the only significant thing that organized labor asked from the Obama administration was to not sign on to more trade policies like the TPP and to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The TPP did not pass, despite the Obama administration’s support of it and the EFCA never got any traction. Again, unions may argue that if they had not financially backed Democrats then workers would have lost more ground, but the real question should be, what are labor union getting/winning by giving millions to Democrats?

Time for a new Labor Movement/Labor Strategy?

Ok, so lets say that organized labor decides to stop funding the Democratic Party and instead focuses on movement building. Union members could still vote for Democrats if they chose, but they could be part of a new labor movement that would not be beholden to political parties and could actually affect change.

There are already some signs to workers and unions pushing for more transformative justice. There is the $15 an hour movement, the numerous teacher strikes across the country and there are efforts to organize workers from corporations like Amazon. However, these efforts are often unconnected and they are not primarily focused on workplace democracy.

First, what if organized labor used the funding that they would have put towards elections and use it for paying people to organize shops and other work places? Not only would this scare the shit out of the capitalist class, it would give more workers an opportunity to be part of a union that actually fought for them. This kind of union organizing should also take place outside of specialized work and organize migrant labor, service sectors, restaurant workers and the unemployed.

Second, workers could engage in wildcat strikes, walkouts or other forms of direct action that would force companies to the table. In demonstrating their power, workers could negotiate wages, benefits and workplace dynamics that would result in victories. As individual shops and work places win labor battles, these same unions could join other labor struggles and support workers who were fighting get get a union and all the possibilities that come with being organized.

Third, unions could re-direct the money that they were spending for elections and lobbying to provide mutual aid to families that are experiencing poverty, facing foreclosure or any other economic hardships, including the corporate-driven health care costs. Not only would this kind of mutual aid help build relationships with working class people, it could result in an increase in union membership.

Fourth, what if the labor movement began to develop their own independent media. The commercial media will not represent the collective struggles of workers, in large part because they are dependent on advertising dollars from the very entities that exploit workers. We used to have a lively labor press in the US, but so little of that exists now. We need an independent media that tells the stories of the people whom the commercial media ignores. With an independent media, more people will have access to information that the commercial media marginalizes or represses. I’m not talking about just online media, I’m talking about labor-based press, a newspaper that is run by and for workers. Such a tool and other forms of media are weapons we need in the war of propaganda that the capitalist press is winning.

These proposals are not necessarily new, since much of what we have been talking about has been done before, with a great deal of success. However, we do need to do some things differently from what organized labor has done in the past.

Fifth, the worker-led movement needs to also connect to other movements around fighting white supremacy, patriarchy, ablism, homophobia, transphobia and fighting for food justice, immigrant justice and climate justice. Class issues can bring us together, but only if we do not make class the center of all justice struggles. The new work-led movement needs to be intersectional and transformative and not settle for just fighting against capitalism, but creating new economic systems that are democratic, local and multifaceted. We can take a cue from the wobblies who believed that, “An injury to one is an injury to all.

Organized Labor is Not Enough: We need a new economic system

As we noted in the beginning of this article, we need to radically re-imagine our beliefs about work and what is truly essential in a post-COVID-19 world. It seems that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated to millions around the world that the current system of capitalism primarily benefits the super rich and it is ecologically unsustainable. 

Workers around the world have already been demanding more and going on strike in record numbers. Well, when I say record numbers, I mean for what we have seen in recent decades. However, if we look to a previous crisis in the US, say the Great Depression, then the amount of strikes that are happening now are minuscule, compared to then.

According to the book Strike!, by Jeremy Brecher, there were literally thousands of strikes that took place in the early and mid-1930s, mostly due to the growing unrest amongst workers and the Capitalist system. There was also lots of frustration with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was focused on craft unions and did not share the same anti-capitalist sentiment that a growing number of workers felt. This political climate is what gave birth to the Committee for Industrial Organizing (CIO).

It is also important to note that many of these strike in the post-Great Depression era were wildcat strikes or sit-down strikes, where workers were not outside of factories on a picket line, but where workers showed up for work and then refuse to do anything. Sometimes these wildcats strikes involved workers literally taking over a factory and not allowing bosses or owners to enter. According to Brecher, in 1936, there were 48 sit-down strikes and in 1937, there were 477. Not only did these strikes scare the shit out of the capitalist class, it forced the administration of FDR to adopt more labor-friendly policies in the 1930s. When the labor movement was well organized and engaged in direct action, that is when they were able to win legislative victories. They did not need to be tethered to a political party.

Labor strikes and General strikes can and should be a tactic that we use today. What would it look like if migrant farm workers went on strike and had millions of people supporting them? If our food system comes to a halt, then the chances of winning demands of farmworkers would likely become a reality.

However, all of these efforts should not limit un to thinking about a new economic system(s), where people and the planet are truly valued. Equally important is the idea that we cannot limit ourselves into thinking that doing work is the same as having a job. There are millions of people who hate their jobs. They hate their jobs because they are not financially compensated in a just way, they have no power, and for many people they hate their jobs because it is meaningless, often soul-crushing, work.

Lets face it, there are millions of jobs that exist that perpetuate environmental destruction and the consumption of shitty products. In a radically imagined world, where work was truly valued and people were not forced to find a job, do you think people would willingly chose to build bombs or manufacture Monsanto products? Most of us have jobs to pay the bills, to pay off our student-loans and to have some form of health care coverage. In a radically re-imagined world we could all participate in doing doing work that was life affirming, that was nurturing, work that was creative and work that was not environmental destructive. In a radically re-imagined world we would all have more time for relaxation, for pursuing our creative interests and for play. Anything is possible if we are organized and practice direct action to win the kind of demands we want. Another World is possible!!!

A follow-up to the American Patriot Rally that was held in Grand Rapids last week

May 25, 2020

Last week, I wrote about the American Patriot Rally that was held in downtown Grand Rapids, where anti-lockdown protesters filled Rosa Parks Circle and defied the Stay-at-Home order of Gov. Whitmer. 

Today’s post is a follow up, with some new information about some of the people who spoke at that rally.

First, the people who organized the rally have created their own blog, which has been live since May 8. The blog does contain a post about the Grand Rapids Rally, with all of the obvious biases, referring to the event as a “smashing success.” This particular post is instructive to read, in terms of how the writer reflects on what happened and how the rally was framed.

Second, one of the speakers at the rally was US congressional candidate, Mike Detmer, who is running for Michigan’s 8th district. Detmer is running against an incumbent, Elissa Slotkin (D), but based on the campaign finance data so far, Detmer doesn’t seem to have much of a chance and is behind several of the other Republican candidates running for the same seat. 

Detmer is running on a far-right platform, with little information on the issues and virtually no sourcing of his positions. Detmer claims he will protect Michigan jobs, provide better health care access, push for more border security, supports gun rights, is anti-choice and claims he wants to support US military veterans. Detmer’s entire issues page is based largely on rhetoric, with few facts and no clear proposals.

Lastly, the person who led the prayer at the American Patriots Rally is Bernadette Elizabeth Smith. Bernadette and her husband Phillip, are co-pastors at the Eternal Word Church in Grandville, Michigan

According to Bernadette’s Facebook profile, she has been involved in some of the anti-lockdown protests in Lansing, also in a ministerial capacity. Bernadette and her husband Phillip have both been supporters of President Trump, with Phillip giving an invocation at a Trump rally held in Grand Rapids in 2016. Bernadette was also featured in a GOP video that was tweeted, where she claims in 2018 that unemployment for African Americans is the lowest it has ever been. Bernadette’s husband Phillip, right after Trump was nominated as the GOP candidate in 2016, tweeted this:

How do we know if the illegal Mexican immigrants aren’t a Trojan Horse sending their army ahead for a future conquest?

All of this is to say that the kind of people who were involved in the American Patriot Rally in Grand Rapids last week, are people who embrace who a White Supremacist ideology, promote xenophobia and use the US Constitution to justify their own brand of free market fanaticism that will likely result in a spike of new COVID-19 cases in Michigan.

Liberal responses to the anti-Lockdown protest: Why we need more than a binary political vision

May 21, 2020

We celebrate the abolition of slavery, the welfare state and women’s right to vote as if these were wrestled away from the hands of dictators whose interests lay in bygone ideologies. This is despite the obvious fact that it was the fight against liberal elites which led to these achievements, against liberals did direct interests. – From the book: Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream

Over the past several weeks, I have been writing about the groups that have organized the anti-lockdown protests in Lansing and in Grand Rapids. During those weeks I have also been trying to pay attention to the responses that people are offering on social media about these protests and the people involved.

Some responses are understandable, where people have expressed anger and frustration against those protesting Gov. Whitmer’s decision to have the Stay-at Home orders. I too have been disturbed by some of the comments from protesters and the signs they have made. I agree that the Stay-at Home orders have been important to try to protect lives and flatten the curve.

However, it has been instructive to see how people, who would generally refer to themselves as liberals, have responded to the anti-lockdown protesters. Many of the responses demonstrate a very binary worldview. What I mean by a binary response is that people are either against what the Governor has done or supportive of what she has done. At some level I get this, but by just saying you “support that woman from Michigan,” doesn’t really mean much in the end.

For example, one response I saw was a suggestion that the National Guard be called to the State Capitol to arrest the anti-lockdown protesters, particularly those with guns. This of course did not happen, but it said to me that the person making the suggestion was unaware of the history of the National Guard being called in to deal with domestic conflicts. The majority of examples of the National Guard coming into communities was to respond to black resistance to police brutality, to housing injustice or to larger urban renewal policies, often resulting in displacement of black residents. Calling in the National Guard to deal with white, armed protesters would only further legitimize their existence.

A second example of a liberal response to the anti-lockdown protesters was a response to the Sheriff who spoke at the Grand Rapids rally earlier this week, who was calling for law enforcement officials to defy Whitmer’s Stay-at-Home order, because it was against the US Constitution. One liberal response was that law enforcement should also defy orders to put children in cages. Now, I would support cops not complying with orders to put children in cages, but the reality is that law enforcement agencies have been fully cooperative with ICE efforts to arrest, detain and deport undocumented immigrants. The primary function of law enforcement agencies is to maintain the status quo, to maintain business as usual, and to protect systems of power. Their function is not now, nor has it ever been to really protect people, especially black people, indigenous people, queer and trans people or even white people, particularly those who are resisting the status quo.

In the recently published book, Reactionary Democracy: How Racism and the Populist Far Right Became Mainstream, the authors make an important point:

The far-right is used as a decoy, diverting our attention away from new political imaginaries: our only choice is between an increasingly resented status quo and the far right.

Liberal democracies have become consumed by a fight for survival against a threat they have themselves nurtured, to divert attention away from their inability to respond to the inequalities and growing number of historical crises fuelled by capitalism and its innate conflict with liberal-democratic ideals of liberty and equality.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the far right, whether they are armed protesters, the Acton Institute or the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure – all of which are calling for a re-opening of the state’s economy – should be ignored. However, if all we are doing is to simply react to the far right by saying that they are idiots, then we just end up feeling good about ourselves. What I believe the excerpt above is saying to us is that; 1) we often use the far right as a diversion to maintain business as usual; and 2) we fail to craft a vision and agenda that truly practices collective liberation, resulting in economic justice and racial equity.

As I said before, in general I have been in support of the Stay-at-Home orders from Gov. Whitmer, but that doesn’t mean that I give blind support. The movement for de-carceration has pushed the Governor to release people from jails and prisons during the COVID-19 crisis, yet that has not happened. The housing justice movement has forced the Governor to pass eviction moratoriums, but housing inequities are still a major problem across the state. Gov. Whitmer ran on a campaign promise to shut down the Enbridge operated Line 5. Not only has Line 5 not been shut down, Enbridge is currently moving forward with plans to construct a oil line tunnel under the Straights of Mackinac.

This is why I think it is critical to stand outside of the binary positions of “standing with that woman from Michigan” and “lock her up.” Our political vision has to be more robust, more radical and more imaginative. Do we want to live in a state that encourages and allows cops to kill black people? Do we want to live in a state where corporations can profit from bottling water? Do we want to live in a state where Immigration and Customs Enforcement can destroy the lives of immigrant families? If your answer is NO, then we can’t just be content with mediocre politics and policies. We can’t be content with business as usual or with just getting back to normal after the pandemic.