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Managing Michigan Politics: Greg McNeilly, the DeVos Family and the November Elections

October 14, 2018

Last week, the West Michigan Policy Forum posted a link on their Facebook page that directs people to an opinion piece in the Detroit News, written by Michigan Freedom Network Director and DeVos Family operative, Greg McNeilly.

McNeilly was the campaign manager for the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006. McNeilly is also a board member of GLEP and is the Chief Operating Officer of the DeVos run Windquest Group. McNeilly was quoted in an MLive article from last year, boasting how political donations are the most protected form of speech:

“Political speech is the most protected form of speech, and we need more people participating at higher levels. We should applaud anyone who is leading on that dimension and try to encourage greater participation in our great American experiment.”

What McNeilly is really says is that those with the most wealth really really determine the outcome of elections, or as the first Chief Justice of the US, John Jay once said, “Those who own the country, ought to govern it.”

Like John Jay, McNeilly understands that those with real power in the US are the owners, members of the private sector, not the politicians. One only need to look at who the largest political donor in Michigan has been for the past 20 years, the family that McNeilly works for, the DeVos Family. 

McNeilly’s Opinion piece in the Detroit News

The article written by McNeilly for the Detroit News is entitled, Don’t Hijack Michigan’s Constitution. Wanting to appear as if he supports the state’s constitution, McNeilly’s opinion piece is really just a way for him to demonstrate his obedience to the DeVos Family and tell everyone to vote No on all three Ballot Proposals in November.

McNeilly’s analysis of the three ballot proposals are weak and he provides no evidence to back up his claims. A good way to begin looking at anything that will be on the ballot this November, is to look at who is financially backing the ballot proposals. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) has good data on this. 

For instance, McNeilly says that, “Proposal 2 provides for more run-away government spending.”  However, McNeilly fails to let people know that some of the largest contributors to the no vote on Proposal 2 are the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC and member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, John Kennedy. According to MCFN, Enbridge Energy (Line 5 through Michigan) has been the largest contributor to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce PAC for 2017-2018. Enbridge Energy embodies John Jay’s philosophy that those who own the country ought to govern it.

Managing Michigan

In McNeilly’s Detroit News opinion piece, he begins by stating:

Forty days from now all of Michigan’s votes will be cast. Michigan will elect new management. Really new management. None of Michigan’s top executives (governor, secretary of state and attorney general) will have done their job before. Two-thirds or more of the Legislature will also be new on the job. 

If one was to look at this statement, one might be tempted to think about McNeilly’s comments through a partisan lens. This is understandable, especially since the DeVos Family is deeply committed to the Republican Party and the other two groups that McNeilly is directly involved with, the Michigan Freedom Network and the Great Lakes Education Project have both made clear who they are endorsing in the November Election.

However, while I find McNeilly’s reference to politicians as managers of the state disgusting and reprehensible, it is not a completely inaccurate statement. Representative Democracy is tremendously limited and it provides an easy opportunity for those with tremendous wealth to dictate who runs government, at any level.

In Marina Sitrin and David Azzellini demonstrate in their important book, They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy From Greece To Occupy, liberal democracy is actually a barrier to full public participation in the ongoing developments in society. Too often, people of good will accept the notion that representative democracy is the best that we can do and if we just get enough people to vote for “our candidates” then things will be just fine.

Such sentiment is naive and will prevent us from ever envisioning and creating the kind of society that is built upon the values of collective liberation and revolutionary love.

Legal experts send letter to Kent County Sheriff Stelma to say that the County is NOT obligated to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement

October 11, 2018

On September 27th, lawyers with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and the ACLU of Western Michigan sent Kent County Sheriff Stelma a letter with significant legal citations claiming that the County was not obligated to cooperate with ICE.

Some of the main points of the letter are as follows:

  • One of the most important concepts to understand about ICE detainers is that detainers are requests from ICE, and are not legally binding orders on the Sheriff’s Department to hold individuals for ICE. Your office has the choice to cease the practice of honoring ICE detainers and to end the contract for reimbursement at any time.
  • Other Sheriffs in Michigan – including those in Wayne County, Washtenaw County, and Ingham County – recognize that entanglement with ICE damages both their relationship with immigrant communities and their ability to protect the public, and have chosen not to cooperate with, or severely limit their cooperation with, ICE. There is no legal reason Kent County could not make the same choice.
  • You emphasized in our meeting the use of the proscriptive “shall” in the first paragraph of this section of the statute prohibits you from choosing not to comply with ICE detainers. However, that is an overly broad reading of the statute. The statute, of course, does not mention any required action with respect to ICE at all, nor does it indicate that the county jail must accept any and all prisoners presented to it for detention, only that jails shall be used in a certain way—for housing certain types of prisoners. For example, the statute allows Kent County to accept prisoners from the City of Grand Rapids, but it does not compel Kent County to have a contract with Grand Rapids to house the City’s prisoners. The same is true for ICE. We have found no cases or other authority suggesting that the statute has ever been interpreted to impose a mandate that a county jail hold federal prisoners. The statute authorizes the jail hold federal prisoners, but does not require the jail to do so.
  • Your office believes that because this section requires the federal government (“the United States”) to pay when it houses a prisoner in a county jail, the Kent County Jail must have a contract with ICE because that is the only way it can get paid. But that analysis presupposes that Kent County is going to hold detainees for ICE in the first place. Because detainers are voluntary, and because Kent County has no legal obligation to hold immigrants for ICE, it can simply stop doing so. And of course if Kent County is not holding immigrants for ICE, there is no need for the federal government to pay Kent County. In other words, MCL § 801.1 comes into play, if at all, only because your Department has elected to hold immigrants for deportation by ICE. If you change that policy, you would no longer be holding individuals for the federal government, and MCL § 801.1 would be irrelevant.
  • Finally, you stated that you understand your oath of office as requiring you to collaborate with ICE. That is simply not the case. MCL § 51.73 requires sheriffs to swear the constitutional oath of office, which provides: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of [Kent County Sheriff] according to the best of my ability.” Mich. Const. Art. XI, § 1. There is absolutely nothing in that oath that requires the Sheriff to take on the entirely voluntary option of holding immigrants for potential deportation by ICE.
  • Contracting with ICE sows distrust in immigrant communities who are afraid that the Sheriff will turn them or a loved one over to ICE, starting a process that will tear their families apart in devastating and permanent ways. The Sheriff’s Department cannot expect to regain the trust of immigrant communities or repair its broken relationship with those communities so long as it prioritizes the desires of federal officials over the needs of immigrant residents of Kent County. The Sheriff’s Department is making an affirmative choice to hold immigrants for ICE – a choice which has caused great pain in the immigrant community. Ending the contract with ICE and ceasing the entirely voluntary practice of carrying out ICE detainers will go a long way in restoring that trust.
  • Furthermore, current federal deportation practices are inhumane and arbitrary. The ICE contract and the underlying policy of holding immigrants for ICE implicate the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in deportation practices that increasingly target immigrants with deeply rooted lives in the United States, right here in Kent County. These are people the United States has often explicitly invited to build families, careers, businesses, and communities in our country—over many years, sometimes decades—and now suddenly face deportation. The cruelty of these policies presents a further reason to disentangle your agency from the ICE detainer system.

The ACLU/MIRC letter ends with a plea to the Kent County Sheriff to rebuild community trust and to end the entanglement with ICE, stating:

We urge the Kent County Sheriff’s Department to stop the practice of carrying out ICE detainer requests and to terminate the contract with ICE. We encourage you to reach out to the Sheriffs of other counties in Michigan who have also taken proactive steps to limit, or stop altogether, the practice of helping ICE target the immigrant residents of their communities, such as Sheriff Jerry Clayton of Washtenaw County, Sheriff Benny N. Napolean of Wayne County, and Sheriff Scott Wrigglesworth of Ingham County, among others. Their experience confirms that you have a choice about whether to hold our immigrant neighbors for ICE, and that other Sheriffs have found that it is in the best interests of their communities not to do so.

Again, the entire letter can be read at this link. For those who will be attending future Kent County Commission meetings or wanting to be part of the Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE campaign to End the Contract with ICE, this legal argument is a useful tool.

We don’t want promises, We want Licenses: Movimiento Cosecha rally inspires!

October 10, 2018

Yesterday, Movimiento Cosecha’s 5 day pilgrimage ended in Lansing at the state capitol. The pilgrimage was designed to draw attention and kick-off a statewide campaign to get drivers licenses for all.

In addition to those who were walking, people from all over the state – Ann Arbor, Detroit, Sturgis, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, made the trek to Lansing to kick-off their campaign and to demand divers licenses for all. Their strategy is to build a statewide mass movement of immigrants and allies that will apply public pressure to force lawmakers to make it possible for everyone to obtain drivers licenses.

This strategy, which is part of their theory of change, is a result of past experiences around immigration policies reform promises that never came to pass. Movimiento Cosecha was formed in 2015, through the lived experiences of immigrants who fought for DACA and DAPA and who were betrayed by previous promises not kept by politicians. Learning from previous social movements, their strategy is to build power from below to obtain respect, dignity and permanent protection for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Just before 1pm yesterday, Cosecha groups from across the state began arriving in Lansing, some by bus and others by car. The group pictured above was from Detroit and they got people energized before those participating in the pilgrimage arrived. They immediately began opening up banners and standing on the steps of the capitol building.

At about 1:45pm, those walking in the pilgrimage for drivers licenses could be seen walking towards the capitol, which elicited a huge round of applause from everyone gathered. People began chanting as the walkers approached, both in Spanish and English, saying, “Si, Se Puede” and “Promesas No, Licencias Si.” One person who had been providing support from those walking the entire five days, turned to me with tears of joy as the walkers moved past us and gathered in front of the capitol building.

Once everyone arrived, there were numerous short speeches made by people, first by several of the pilgrimage participants. One woman made the point that walking in the cold, wet rain some days, reminded her of coming to the US on foot, when she left her home in Mexico and made the difficult trek north in search of greater opportunities for her family.

Many of those who participated in the pilgrimage spoke about how why it was important for them to walk, both for themselves and for their community, which has lived in the shadows too long. Another pilgrimage participant made it clear that she was walking because, “to drive without a license and then be stopped by the police could change one’s life forever.” What she was referring to was the fact that if immigrants are stopped by law enforcement and don’t have licenses, not only would they be fined and arrested, but they would then have a hold put on them by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and normally go to a detention facility and possibly deported. This point underscored the urgency of the need for immigrants in Michigan to be able to obtain a drivers license, regardless of their immigration status.

There were also several clergy members who spoke during the rally. Rev. Justo Gonzalez made it clear, that even though the system often referred to immigrants as criminals, it was the representatives, senators and the Governor of Michigan who were the real criminals for deny immigrants the opportunity to obtain a drivers license. An lawyer from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, based in Grand Rapids, also addressed the rally crowd by talking about how irrational it is for states to deny immigrants the opportunity to obtain a drivers license and how everyone would benefit, for safety reasons and because insurance costs would go down.

However, the most important comments came directly from the immigrant community, who shared their stories and talked about the Drivers Licenses for All campaign.

What felt different about this rally than most rallies I have attended at the state capitol, was the fact that this campaign is being built by a mass movement that does not put their hopes in politicians to act. People were not pleading with those at the rally to go out and vote as the primary action to take. Indeed, most of those gathered cannot vote as they are not full citizens in the US. More importantly, their strategy is to build a mass movement that will force systems of power to give them what they want, much like the civil rights movement and so many movements have done before them.

Organizers with Movimiento Cosecha kept reminding people to sign up for their action alerts, to organize in their individual communities and to donate when they can to support the work of Cosecha. Cosecha organizers reminded people that there would be a Live Facebook event on Monday, October 15, to explain to anyone in Michigan, how they can be involved in the fight to win drivers licenses for all.

At about 3:30pm the rally came to a close, with people offering hugs to everyone, more words of encouragement and one last opportunity for a group photo. The crowd left energized and inspired to be part of this historic work and historic movement.


The Matrix of ICE in Kent County: Opportunities for Organizing and Resistance

October 8, 2018

A recent article in the monthly publication, In These Times, had excellent information and analysis on the corporations that have contracts with ICE. 

The article focuses mostly on the immigration detention facilities and all the businesses that are complicit with ICE violence against the immigrant community. The number of businesses complicit with ICE in regards to detention is pretty astounding, as you can see from the graphic here below.

This matrix of private collusion with Immigration and Customs Enforcement got me thinking about how many private and public entities have a contractual relationship with ICE in Kent County.

We have known for the past six months now, that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has had a contract with ICE since 2012. This contract was renewed in 2017, but has been challenged by the immigrant community and some allies since June of 2018 to end the contract with ICE.

On October 1st, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE organized a protest for the national NoBusinessWithICE day. The target of the action on October 1st was the Edmark Developement Company, which is located at 161 Ottawa Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. The reasons for targeting Edmark, is because they rent to the Department of Homeland Security in their Water’s Center building.

However, there are many more entities that are complicit with ICE in Kent County. First, there are at least two other ICE offices in Grand Rapids (that we know of), both of which lease space from private companies.

The ICE office at 517 Ottawa Ave. NW, just north of 196, is owed by FMS Property Management LLC. FMS Property Management LLC has their office right next door, located at 525 Ottawa Ave. NW.

The other ICE office is located at 545 Michigan St. NE on the Medical Mile. This is a new ICE office, which deals with people who have been arrested or detained at on point, but are now no longer in custody, but need to check in with ICE regularly so that the agency can keep tabs on them until the courts decide their fate. This ICE office is owned by NAI Wisniski of West Michigan

In addition to office space that ICE rents in Kent County, there are numerous other private entities that are listed on the graphic above, which also operate in Kent County. First, there is Aramark, the food service company that operates across the country and has numerous contracts with ICE detention facilities. Aramark also happens to have a contract with the Kent County Jail.

Then there is GPS, which makes the ankle trackers that many ICE arrestees must wear so that ICE can keep tabs on them. Those who work with the GR Rapid Response to ICE project are aware of several people who have been arrested by ICE and asked for their assistance, that must wear these GPS trackers.

Another company listed on the above graphic is Akal Security Inc. Akal Security Inc. is another national entity that works closely with government law enforcement. According to their website, they have an office a 1 Division Ave NW in Grand Rapids, which interestingly enough is the building that houses the GRPD.

There is also the G4S company, which is an international corporation that has contracts with ICE. G4S also has an office in Grand Rapids, located at 1444 Michigan St NE, a few blocks east of Fuller, where they rent space in a small office complex.

Lastly, there is the Keefe Group, which has a contract with ICE to provide financial services. The Keefe Group has an office located just off of Kraft Ave SE and 32nd St, just off of highway 96.

Organizing and Resistance Opportunities

It is bad enough that ICE operates in Kent County and is doing serious harm to immigrant families on a weekly basis. However, with more information about the private and public entities that are complicit with ICE, through contractual agreements, his provides us with greater opportunities to organize, resistance and eventually abolish ICE’s presence in Kent County.

Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE are already committed to working on reducing ICE harm to immigrant families in Kent County. These two grassroots and autonomous groups are also working on a campaign to end the ICE contract with Kent County and we exposed the relationship between the Edmark Development Company on NoBusinessWithICE day on October 1st.

However, we need more people and organizations to be part of this movement to kick ICE Out of Kent County. We need a multi-pronged attack against ICE and in order to do that we need people who can commit to doing education, organizing and contributing funds to Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. We need people who are willing to confront the other entities listed in the Matrix of ICE in Kent County.

For instance, GVSU also has a food service contract with Aramark. If GVSU students, faculty or staff would join the campaign to kick ICE out of Kent County by informing people on campus, boycotting Aramark or resisting other ways, that would be an important contribution for this movement.

In many ways, the effort to abolish ICE is similar to the current BDS campaign, which is seeking to win justice for Palestine, but it is also similar to the South African Anti-Apartheid campaign, which was a significant part of the process to defeat the racist Apartheid system in South Africa. The South African anti-Apartheid Movement took decades to eventually win and the Palestinian BDS campaign is nearing a decade of organizing. However, like all social movements, these struggles take time and we need people who are committed to the long fight. If you are interested, contact Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE. Hasta La Huelga!

How is Columbus Day still a fucking holiday: The resiliency of White Supremacy in West Michigan

October 8, 2018

“As Native American peoples in this red quarter of Mother Earth, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people, and is still causing destruction today.”

Suzan Shown Harjo – Creek & Cheyenne

Just last week, the City of Cincinnati passed a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on what is known on the calendar as Columbus Day. This kind of action has been taking place in several cities across the country in recent years, as Native communities and their allies have raised the issue and accurately called out Columbus Day as an ongoing manifestation of White Supremacy. Challenging the legitimacy of Columbus Day is an important anti-racist act, but it must be seen in the larger context of challenging White Supremacy.

It is increasingly imperative that we come to terms with the function that Columbus played in the European conquest/colonization of the what we now call the Americas. Columbus was commissioned by the Spanish Crown and sanctioned by Catholic Church (through a 1493 Papal Bull) to conquer new lands and extract resources  to benefit Spain. Therefore, Columbus not only is the primary symbol of the 500 years of genocide and slavery that has plague the western hemisphere, he is the symbol of political, religious, social and cultural imperialism that continues to the present by a White Supremacist system of Capitalism.

I don’t want to spend much time further exploring these historical dynamics, as I want to get to what it is that White people should be doing confront the legacy of Columbus Day. However, there are a few resources that I would highly recommend for people who want to investigate this history. (See Resources listed at the end of this article.)

Undoing part of White Supremacy: A Proposed Agenda

The list that follows includes not only some clear principles of Racial Justice, but are directed specifically towards White people who inhabit what we refer to as Michigan or as Indigenous people often say, Anishinaabe territory that is currently occupied by the State of Michigan. These are proposed actions and are meant to create discussion, while ultimately leading to concrete action for those of us who have White privilege. While these actions might not seem urgent in the face of recent US politics and with the upcoming election in November, it is critical that we come to terms with the fact that the land we stand on, the land we occupy, was stolen from Native people. In addition to coming to terms with this reality, this admission should inform how we organize for something more than just getting the right leaders elected, because at the end of the day, whoever is elected will still ignore and dismiss the fact that we are currently on stolen land.

Grand Rapids was founded on Settler Colonialism – As a foundational framework, it is vital that we come to terms with the fact that Grand Rapids, like virtually all US cities, were founded on what Native scholar Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz calls Settler Colonialism. Settler Colonialism in West Michigan is the result of a larger White Supremacist strategy that included legal means (treaties), forced relocation, spiritual violence (role of churches) and cultural imperialism, most radically seen with the policy of putting Native children in boarding schools with the goal of, “Killing the Indian, Saving the Man.” 

Get the City of Grand Rapids to denounce Columbus Day – For those of us who claimed to be against White Supremacy and want to engage in acts of racial justice, here is a concrete action to organize around. The fact that the City of Grand Rapids still recognizes Columbus Day means they support the White Supremacist narrative of Settler Colonialism and what was done/is being done to Native people in this area. We need to organize to end Columbus Day in Grand Rapids. If the Native community wants them to rename October 12 Indigenous People’s Day, we should support that, but that is a decision for Native people to make.

Resist Economic Policies that Negatively Impact Native People – Over the next several days there will be Columbus Day sales, which would be equivalent to Himmler Day sales in Germany. This is low hanging fruit, but we should not shop at stores having Columbus Day sales, we should be protesting them. More importantly we need to find out how larger economic policies, particularly extractivist policies impact Native communities. The extraction of oil and gas worldwide disproportionately impacts Native people, which is why Native communities are at the forefront of campaigns to resist projects like the Alberta Tars Sands and all the pipelines connected to such projects. Groups like Idol No More and the Indigenous Environmental Network are groups that we need to be in solidarity with by providing whatever support they are asking for. Nuclear energy should also be resisted, since uranium mining in the US happens on or adjacent to Native land. (see If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans)

Demand that Land be Given Back to Native Nations – As the map here illustrates, the amount of land that was inhabited by Native people before the European Conquest was massive. The US government and State governments have violated virtually all treaties signed with Native Nations (remember, treaties can only be signed between nations) and one of the major aspects of the Native Sovereignty Movement in the US is to reclaim some of the land taken in the process of Settler Colonialism. What this would look like in West Michigan is for Native people to decide, but those of us who claim to support racial justice must make this a priority. Land is justice.

End Native Cultural Appropriation – We have to stop appropriating Native culture and Native spirituality in all its forms. White people are notorious for appropriating Native traditions and making them their own and this has to STOP. Whether we are talking about sports mascots, sweat lodges or any other Native cultural and spiritual traditions, we have to stop appropriating them and challenge other people from doing the same.

Accomplices Not Allies – Lastly, I would highly recommend that people read, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex. This article/zine is reflective of the important and uncomfortable work that White people need to do if we are to take seriously our role in dismantling White Supremacy.

While this list is short it provides White people with a lot of opportunities to practice racial justice and confront White Supremacy. This has to be our work. In the same way that men have to make the end of rape culture a priority, White people have to make the end of White Supremacy a priority. Let’s get to it.

Some Resources:

The Canary Effect (film)

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, by Winona LaDuke

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by Gord Hill

Custer Died for Your Sins, by Vine Deloria Jr.

A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, by Ward Churchill

GRPD threatened to arrest members of Movimiento Cosecha for chanting near the ArtPrize closing ceremony event

October 6, 2018

Last night, Movimiento Cosecha began its 5-day pilgrimage from Grand Rapids to Lansing, to demand drivers licenses for all.

This campaign not only highlights another repressive component of state violence – not allowing immigrants to obtain a drivers license – it demonstrates the resiliency and commitment of a movement led by immigrants.

An estimated 50 people gathered at Fountain Street Church last night, in order to share food and get last minutes instructions on 5-day pilgrimage, which would end in Lansing on October 9th for a state wide rally at the Capitol building.

However, before beginning the pilgrimage, Movimiento Cosecha organizers decided to hold a press conference by the statue at Rosa Parks Circle. The participants walked from Foundation Street Church to Rosa Parks circle and along the way they were met by cops with the GRPD.

This has been a pattern that Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have seen in the past 18 months since they began organizing around immigrant justice, ICE violence and demanding an end to Kent County’s contract with ICE. Police have been intimidating, harassing and attempting to prevent participants in this movement from engaging the public through a variety of tactics. Within the last few weeks, we have seen an even larger police presence, most notably at the People Commission Action on September 13, an anti-ICE action that took place during the opening ceremony of ArtPrize on September 19th,  and the NoBusinessWithICE action on October 1st

This is what DeVos money buys in Grand Rapids

It was discovered a few days ago, that ArtPrize was further restricting what people could have on their person while coming to the closing ceremony in Rosa Parks Circle, displaying these signs at the entrance to a completed closed and policed event.

So, when the Drivers Licenses for All pilgrimage decided to walk by the Rosa Parks Circle, in order to get to the statue of Rosa Parks for their press conference, it was clear that the police were going to try to prevent them from disrupting the ArtPrize festivities.

There were no less than 50 members of the GRPD present around or near Rosa Parks circle – on foot, in cruisers, on bicycle, on horseback and using segways. This was on top of the ArtPrize security personnel, which were place at all of the entrances to Rosa Parks circle, which was completely closed off aside from one main entrance on the east side of the park. There was fencing place around the entire park and they police presence was so extreme, you would have thought they were trying to protect the Arc of the Covenant. (the pictures are grainy, since it was dark and raining, but you can get a sense of where the cops were stationed around the perimeter of Rosa Parks Circle)

Allies with Movimiento Cosecha who were providing crows safety were met by a line of cops, near the southeast entrance to Rosa Parks Circle. When they asked to speak to someone who was in charge the cops present called for one of the captains to come over. The crowd safety personnel were told that people walking with Movimiento Cosecha could got through the park, as long as they didn’t use bullhorns or making any noise that would disrupt the ArtPrize event.

Movimiento Cosecha participants walked through and when they got to the area of the northwest corner of the Art Museum, they began chanting and handing out flyers about the drivers license campaign. The cops were extremely agitated and told some of the crowd safety personnel that they would start arresting people if the chanting didn’t stop. However, those walking were continuously moving and eventually made it to the statue of Rosa Parks.

Once they arrived at the statue, they used a technique, which was made popular during the Occupy Movement, the People’s Mic. The People’s Mic is where someone says a sentence and then the entire crowd repeats it back, thus amplifying what was being said. The police did not stop this from happening and the press conference continued.

As is with all Movimiento Cosecha actions, the press conference was conducted in Spanish and English. There were no major news agencies present, but there were at least two Spanish-language entities there, filming the entire event, along with someone from the Rapidian.

Once the press conference was over, the pilgrimage officially began. Participants walked up Monroe Center, passing the ArtPrize event and chanting along the way. Once they arrived at Fulton St., they stayed on Fulton Street the entire time until they reached the destination of their first stop along the pilgrimage. The police followed the pilgrimage at least until Lafayette Street, making sure that the Movimiento Cosecha participants were not going to come back and further disrupt the ArtPrize event.

You can follow the progress of the pilgrimage to Lansing, by checking the Movimiento Cosecha GR Facebook page, where there will be regular posts throughout the next several days.

One Legacy of Sheriff Larry Stelma – Profiting from Separating Immigrant Families

October 4, 2018

It was announced a few months ago that Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma was retiring.

The announcement of his retirement came in the midst of the campaign led by Moviemiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapids Response to ICE to end the county’s contract with ICE.

In an article announcing his retirement, Stelma said that the campaign to end the contract with ICE had nothing to do with his decision to retire. While it is up for debate whether or not the campaign to end the ICE contract had anything to do with his decision to retire, it certainly is part of the legacy that Sheriff Stelma will leave behind.

Larry Stelma served as Sheriff during a time of jail expansion, which means that he presided over an increase in Kent County’s role in the Prison Industrial Complex and Mass Incarceration. Thousands of people who have come through the Kent County Jail were there for non-violent offenses, which speaks to the county’s failure to provide adequate alternatives for people who did not need to go to jail.

In 2012, Sheriff Stelma agreed to a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a contract that saw an increase in arrests, detentions and deportation during the Obama administration and the subsequent Trump administration. 

In 2017, Kent County signed an extension of the ICE contract, a contract which provided financial incentives for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Stelma signed onto a letter from the National Sheriff’s Association in March of 2018, which is more of an ideological statement about immigration. Part of that letter reads: 

Congress must act to pass legislation to secure our borders through enforcing immigration laws, tightening border security, support the replacement and upgrades to current barriers and fencing and construction of barriers along the U.S. and Mexico international boundary as requested by those areas where it is needed, suspending and/or monitoring the issuance of visas to any place where adequate vetting cannot occur, end criminal cooperation and shelter in cities, counties, and states, and have zero tolerance and increased repercussions for criminal aliens. I stand firm with my fellow Sheriffs throughout our nation to have our borders secured first, in full cooperation and support of our promise and mission to uphold and enforce our nation’s laws, and we expect nothing less from Congress.

This ideological commitment to criminalize immigrants became evident as soon as the End the Contract with ICE campaign began in late June of this year. In late July, after organizers from the End the Contract campaign went to Kent County Commission Chair Jim Saalfeld’s home, Stelma had these words to say:

“Trying to intimidate anyone just isn’t the American way.”

We responded with an article headlined, Kent County Sheriff Stelma is either stupid or in denial about intimidation being un-American. 

The Sheriff’s Department, under Larry Stelma’s leadership, has continued to hold firm on their position that they will not end the County’s contract with ICE, despite the growing opposition to the contract and numerous meetings that organizers have had with county officials.

As Sheriff Larry Stelma is set to retire by the end of October, it is important to point out that he leaves a legacy of separating immigrant families in Kent County and endorsing

a contract with ICE, which allowed the jail to profit from family separation. I, for one, am not sorry to see him go.