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Billionaire Meijer Family opens store on Bridge St. now that the neighborhood is catering to the professional class

June 28, 2017

On Monday, Meijer executives and other members of the Grand Rapids elite showed up for a photo opportunity and to promote their own business interests.

Meijer held a “ground breaking” ceremony, where a bunch of White-connected men did the whole, “we are only mimicking that we are doing actual physical labor,” photo op.

Channel 8 began its news story with the news reader saying, “It’s an exciting day for Grand Rapids’ westside,” which normalizes the ongoing celebration of more development that will cater to the more professional/business class and further marginalize the working class and communities of color. 

The WOOD TV 8 story, like most media coverage of the new Meijer store on Bridge St, leaves out any historical context, which the billionaire Meijer family is happy about. MLive has Hank Meijer talking about how proud his father would have been about this new urban store. However, neither Hank, not his brothers, would be talking about what his Grandfather Hendrik Meijer may have thought about this, especially since Hendrik was part of a Socialist community and even made it a point to get married on the anniversary (November 11, 1912) of the execution of the Haymarket Anarchists.

The other major contextual piece that is ignored in the commercial media narrative about has to do with white flight. Meijer stores, like most retail stores, has focused heavily on suburban store development since the 1960s, in part because of the ways that cities were being designed around the use of cars, but primarily because there was tremendous economic divestment from the urban core of major cities, along with lots of white people fleeing cities out of fear, since black people were more aggressively demanding justice.

Now, the opposite is happening, where white people are re-investing in the urban core and re-taking property that has been lived on by communities of color. This is definitely the case on the near westside, which has see a significant increase in the number of Latino and African Americans over the past 20 years. However, now that white folks are seeing the benefits of “walkable” communities, they are moving back in droves to areas like Bridge St, which has been radically altered in recent years to cater to the professional and business class, with high-end stores, breweries, cafes and market rate housing.

Rockford Construction, the company that is behind this major re-development of the near westside, confirms the financial benefits that market rate housing options have on retail in their Complete Neighborhoods report, where they state: 

Locally, Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. demonstrated in a January 2014 presentation the effects of housing on retail. Market rate housing was estimated to generate $15,559 annually in retail spending, with affordable housing generating $7901 annually.

Market rate housing is already dominating the majority of the new housing options in the Bridge St. corridor and it is likely that the push for more market rate housing in the area will increase. Development projects like the new Meijer Bridge St. Market have a domino effect on neighborhoods that will ultimately mean that working class people and communities of color will be displace because existing housing options will be torn down and because landlords and property management companies will increase the rental rates.

There is nothing surprising in the commercial media’s response to the ground-breaking photo op for the new Meijer Bridge St. Market. However, it is important that we can counter the narratives about what this new grocery store will mean for the westside, who benefits and who will be marginalized. We don’t have to buy into billionaire Meijer family project, which will further the gentrification of the westside.

8 of Michigan’s top 26 Families making political contributions in the last election cycle are from West MI

June 27, 2017

A new report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, reports that the top 40 families in Michigan contributed a total of $44 million dollars in the last election cycle.

Not surprising, the DeVos Family contributed to the most on that last at $15 million in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle.

However, it is important for those who live in West Michigan to recognize that there were other families in this area that also contributed a significant amount of money to influence the 2015-2016 election cycle. These are all families that make up the local power structure, some have large foundation, many sit on boards of non-profits, others contribute to local colleges and many are involved with groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Action and the Econ Club.

The amount of money from this list, provided by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, includes federal and state money. At the federal level the families from West Michigan primarily gave to the Republican Party, but in some cases they provided funds to candidates like Rep. Justin Amash and Rep. Bill Huizenga.

Contributions at the state level have receive less attention, which is unfortunate, since state policy often impacts people more directly than federal policy. For example, here is just a sampling of state laws that have been passed, which was introduced and promoted by lawmakers that the DeVos Family made contributions to:

Now, let’s look at the other 7 families from West MI that were in the top 26 in the state on political contributions in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle.

Jandernoa Family (42 North Partners, Perrigo) – Contributed $827,500

Kennedy Family (Autocam) – Contributed $723,100

Van Andel Family (Amway) – Contributed $667,300

J.C. Huizenga (National Heritage Academies, Huizenga Group) – Contributed $445,489

Meijer Family (Meijer) – Contributed $386,400

Haworth Family (Haworth Inc.) – Contributed $367,536

Secchia Family (Sibsco) – Contributed $317,380

What we are listing below are some of the committees and State Legislators that these families from West Michigan gave money to in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network provides a document that lists the top 40 Families in Michigan, the breakdown for Federal and state contributions and the top recipients. 

Top donors to the House Republican Campaign Committee for 2015-2016: DeVos family, $720,000, Kennedy family, $160,000, Haworth family, $80,000, Meijer Inc. PAC, $60,000, J.C. Huizenga, $55,000, Michael Jandernoa, $50,000

Top donors to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee for 2015-2016: DeVos family, $121,000, J.C. Huizenga, $55,000, Meijer Inc. PAC, $40,000, David Van Andel, $40,000

20th House District, Rep. Jeff Noble – DeVos family, $9,000

30th House District, Rep. Diana Farrington – DeVos family, $8,000

32nd House District, Rep. Pamela Hornberger – DeVos family, $9,000

38th House District, Rep. Kathy Crawford – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, $2,000

39th House District, Rep. Klint Kesto – DeVos family, $9,000

41st House District, Rep. Martin Howrylak – Meijer PAC, $2,000

43rd House District, Rep. Jim Tedder – Kennedy family, Autocam, $2,000

45th House District, Rep. Mike Webber – Kennedy family, $2,000

51st House District, Rep. Joseph Graves – DeVos family, $8,200, Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000

56th House District, Rep. Jason Sheppard – Meijer PAC, $3,000

57th House District, Rep. Bronna Kahle – DeVos family, $9,000

61st House District, Rep. Brandt Iden – DeVos family, $9,000, Meijer PAC, $4,000

62nd House District, Rep. John Bizon – DeVos family, $9,000

66th House District, Rep. Beth Griffin – DeVos family, $9,000

70th House District, Rep. James Lower – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000

71st House District, Rep. Tom Barrett – DeVos family, $9,000

72nd House District, Rep. Steve Johnson – Peter Secchia, retired, $1,000, Matthew Haworth, Haworth Inc., $1,000

73rd House District, Rep. Chris Afendoulis – John Kennedy, Autocam, $5,000, Meijer PAC, $3,500

74th House District, Rep. Rob VerHeulen – DeVos family, $9,000, Meijer PAC of Michigan, $2,500, Kennedy family, $2,000, Haworth family, $2,000

77th House District, Rep. Tommy Brann – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000, Michael Jandernoa, 42 North Partners, $1,000, Peter Secchia, Sibsco, $1,000

80th House District, Rep. Mary Whiteford – Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000, Peter Secchia, Sibisco LLC, $1,000, Michael Jandernoa, 42 North, $1,000

82nd Houst District, Rep. Gary Howell – DeVos family, $9,000

85th House District, Rep. Ben Frederick – DeVos family, $9,000, Jandernoa family, 42 North Partners, $2,000

89th House District, Rep. Jim Lilly – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000

90th House District, Rep. Daniela Garcia – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, $3,000, Kennedy family, Autocam, $2,000, Meijer PAC, $2,000

91st House District, Rep. Holly Hughes – DeVos family, $9,000

93rd House District, Rep. Tom Leonard – DeVos family, $9,000

97th House District, Rep. Jason Wentworth – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth Inc., $2,000

99th House District, Rep. Roger Hauck – DeVos family, $7,000

101st House District, Rep. Curt VanderWall – DeVos family, $9,000

102nd House District, Rep. Michele Hoitenga – J.C. Huizenga, Huizenga Group, $1,000

103rd House District, Rep. Daire Rendon – DeVos family $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth, $2,000

104th House District, Rep. Larry Inman – DeVos family, $9,000

106th House DIstrict, Rep. Sue Allor – DeVos family, $9,000

107th House District, Rep. Lee Chatfield – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth International, $2,000

108th House District, Rep. Beau LaFave – DeVos family, $9,000, Haworth family, Haworth, $2,000

13th Senate District, Sen. Marty Knollenberg – DeVos family, $3,000

19th Senate District, Sen. Mike Nofs – Meijer PAC, $1,000

28th Senate District, Sen. Peter MacGregor – Michael Jandernoa, $2,000, Meijer PAC, $2,000

29th Senate District, Sen. Dave Hildenbrand – David Van Andel, Van Andel Institute, $2,000

30th Senate District, Sen. Arlan Meekhof – John Kennedy, $50,000, DeVos family, $40,000, Van Andel family, $15,000, Peter Secchia, retired, $10,000, J.C. Huizenga, $10,000, Dick Haworth, $5,000, Meijer PAC, $3,500

32nd Senate District, Sen. Ken Horn – DeVos family, $3,000

Rockford Construction has been working on the Southtown Development Project since at least 2014

June 26, 2017

In our ongoing coverage of DeVos-led AmplifyGR group and their partner, Rockford Construction, we want to continue to ask relevant questions and raise the level of awareness about those who are part of the local power structure are planning to do in neighborhoods across the city.

In our original story, we looked at what the AmplifyGR/Rockford Construction efforts were proposing in the Southtown area of Grand Rapids. We reported that over the past 6 months AmplifyGR and Rockford Construction have been meeting with city planners and people who make up part of the Southtown Corridor Improvement District committee.

In Part II of this series, we looked at the number of plots that Rockford Construction has already purchased in both the Boston Square Area and the Cottage Grove area. We made the point in this post that AmplifyGR is really a project that amplifies the voices of developers and investors who have already created an unequal power dynamic by virtue of how much land they control in the target areas.

In our third article on AmplifyGR, we wanted to alert people to a meeting that AmplifyGR was hosting on June 29, shed some light on the process and provide some information on the entity that is financing AmplifyGR – the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation. 

In today’s post we continue to want to raise relevant questions about the AmplifyGR project.

Last year, we ran a story about a Rockford Construction development plan that had created some controversy at the time, because they already had a proposed plan before even discussing the development idea with people who actually live in the target neighborhood. The development project became public when someone from Linc posted information on Facebook and in their online news section. The online news piece is entitled, Rockford Construction’s “Hushed” Plan for Southeast Redevelopment Brought to Light 

The “Hushed Plan” that Linc is talking about is a 43-page document, ironically titled, Complete Neighborhood. We revisited that document, in light of the recent revelations that Rockford Construction was working with AmplifyGR. AmplifyGR has stated that their proposal for the Boston Square area is based on the Purpose Built Communities model. In re-reading the Rockford Construction document, they mention that they had attended a Purpose Built conference and were working with consultants from that organization. On pages 6 – 7 of the Rockford Construction document it states:

Purpose Built Communities, led by Greg Giornelli, has provided support to the Grand Rapids team in a number of ways:

Strategic Planning Session – Greg Giornelli visited Grand Rapids to review the fundamentals of the Purpose Built Model and to assist in goal-setting. While the pillars of Purpose Built are foundational for every member community, each neighborhood bring its own unique challenges, and each community must craft its own approach to solving problems.

Members of the Grand Rapids team attended the Purpose Built Conference in September, 2014. Other Purpose Built Members were in attendance and topics ranged from neighborhood resident engagement to early childhood brain development. Of note was the wide variety in both the physical characteristics of each neighborhood and the organizational approach to implementing strategies.

So, it seems clear that Rockford Construction has been working on a plan to re-develop part of Southtown since 2014, based on their own report comments about meeting with folks from Purpose Built Communities. Three years later, they appear to be ready to implement such a plan, even before those who live in the target area even know what the hell is going on.

We also looked closer at the land purchases that Rockford Construction has been making in the Southtown area, particularly the Boston Square neighborhood and the Cottage Grove area. Below you can see which parcels they have purchased, for how much and in what year.

All of the property purchases combined is an estimated $10 million that Rockford Construction has spent on the land in the two areas of Southtown. This is an incredible amount of money and one wonders if the company has that kind of money to spend or if they have other financial backers?

One thing that isn’t clear from the 2015 Rockford Construction document is who will ultimately maintain control over all this property in the Southtown area, not how much the company stands to profit off of such a plan. The company clearly is motivated by profits, so it will be interesting to hear what their CEO has to say about this at the public meeting on June 29.

The report does provide a Mission Statement, which is worth reprinting here:

What the mission statement says to this writer is that this is all just another neoliberal capitalist scheme that will make money off of poverty, while attempting to present the proposed development and Rockford Construction as Saviors of the neighborhood.

What if instead, people were to make a counter proposal back to Rockford Construction and AmplifyGR. The community proposal could go something like this: How about all the land you have purchased, and the additional money that investors are willing to throw at this project, were given to those who live in the community to be put into a Community Land Trust (CLT). This CLT would be completely under the control of those who lived in the neighborhood, could provide tremendous financial opportunities for home owners and tenants in the area and could lead to community based ideas for how best to move forward. If Rockford Construction and the DeVos-created AmplifyGR really wanted these neighborhoods to truly prosper, then they wouldn’t have a problem transferring all those assets over the the people who live there.

Betsy DeVos Watch: On Charter Schools and possible new Student Loan Chief

June 22, 2017

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke to a gathering of people at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is an organization committed to the growth of Charter Schools and lobbies at both the state and national level on education policy. You can see from the graphic below, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has spent several million dollars over the years to influence federal education policy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools relies on some of the richest family foundations, like the Walton and Gates Foundations and they boast being in partnership with some of the most anti-Public School groups in the country. A few of the groups they partner with have strong ties to Dick & Betsy DeVos, such as the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federal for Children

What Betsy DeVos had to say to those gathered at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools event was not terribly revealing, but there were some comments that are worth pointing out.

First, she likes to talk about her and her husband, Dick DeVos.

Defenders of the status quo like to paint me as a “voucher-only proponent”, but the truth is I’ve long-supported public charter schools as a quality option for students. I worked with many others to get Michigan’s first charter legislation passed in 1993—the third state to do so. And my husband founded a charter high school in Michigan that focuses on aviation, educates kids in the STEM fields and prepares them to contribute in significant ways to our 21st century economy.

Midway through her comments at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, DeVos mentions several school programs that she has high regard for, one of which is the Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence (CARE). Jeff Bryant, a national writer, who advocates for public education has the following comments about Betsy DeVos and CARE

DeVos’s belief in using education as a way to “advance God’s Kingdom” is well documented.

As Kristina Rizga reports for Mother Jones, the lengthy philanthropic record DeVos and her husband have amassed over many years shows “the couple’s clearest preference is for Christian private schools.”

CARE elementary certainly fits that profile. Students at CARE, according to the school’s handbook, “Attend weekly chapel, they are taught Christian principles with love and respect, and they are exposed to the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Prayer is part of the CARE experience.”

On its website, CARE says the school admits students of “any race, color, national, and ethnic origin” and “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin.” Discriminating based on religion is notably absent.

Since the school’s opening in the fall of 2015, it has gotten significant praise from school choice advocates in South Florida, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which endorsed DeVos’s nomination.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and has received generous support from DeVos and her foundation. DeVos has also served on its board of directors.

The Secretary of Education wraps up her comments to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools by making the following comments near the end of her speech. This comment is simply an affirmation on her commitment to fund education systems that are anything but public education.

Today we have a great opportunity. While some of you have criticized the President’s budget—which you have every right to do—it’s important to remember that our budget proposal supports the greatest expansion of public school choice in the history of the United States. It significantly increases support for the Charter School Program, and adds an additional $1 billion for public school choice for states that choose to adopt it.

Possible Student Loan Officer should scare the shit out of students

The other news about Betsy DeVos that is worth mentioning is her announcement about who she intends to appoint as the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid

The Education Secretary wants to bring in , whom the Education Department press release says has, “more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry.”

Johnson has been the CEO of numerous financial institutions and has spent more than 30 years working to make money for those same institutions. Having him as the Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid should make any student with federal loans scared and angry.

A recent article on Buzzfeed does point out the predatory nature of Dr. Johnson being Betsy DeVos’s choice to head up this position.

The Education Department’s statement described A. Wayne Johnson as the “Founder, Chairman and former CEO” of a payments technology company called First Performance Corporation. It noted his PhD in education leadership, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, citing his dissertation, said he “actually wrote the book on student loan debt.”

But what wasn’t noted was Johnson is currently the CEO of Reunion Student Loan Services, a detail confirmed by a company representative reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon. Reunion originates and services private student loans, and offers refinancing and consolidation for existing loans.

GVSU Magazine, the Westside, and Gentrification

June 22, 2017

Developers, whether they are private or public, always have an impact on neighborhoods no matter how much they try to hide it.

This is the case with a recent Grand Valley State University Magazine article, which depicted the impact that campus was having on the westside of Grand Rapids.

The article, entitled, West Side Story: Grand Valley Strengthens Connection to Neighbors Through Collaboration, paints a very one-sided picture of what the school’s impact has had on the lower westside since they first moved to that part of town beginning in 1988, when the Eberhard Center opened. 

The first person interviewed in the article is a student who was involved in a project called Civic Studio. Civic Studio has not been shy about exploring the history and contemporary dynamics that impact the westside of Grand Rapids, with a significant emphasis on gentrification. This writer has attended many forums on this theme at Civic Studio hosted forums and there has been plenty of community and student discussion, some of which has been critical of GVSU’s role in perpetuating gentrification.

However, the article ends that section by stating that the student who was interviewed, “is just one of the estimated hundreds of students who live on the West Side, home to Grand Valley’s Pew Grand Rapids Campus, where university collaborations with residents, organizations and schools are common.”

The rest of the article includes several GVSU faculty and staff voices and just one perspective from a local non-profit, all of which support the notion that GVSU has been nothing but good for the westside.

The article even includes an image of westside map that is very cute and fun and has landmarks such as the John Ball Zoo, several schools, a park and of course the GVSU campus.

Now, there might be some people, even westsiders, that feel that the GVSU presence is a good thing, but to present this issue so one sided is not only dishonest, it ignores the complexities of how any major institution impacts neighborhoods.

This writer has attended many forums on gentrification in the past two years and there have been many people from the westside who have spoken about the negative impact that GVSU has on that part of town. The most frequent response that people give, in terms of the GVSU impact on the westside, is on student housing.

There are hundreds of students who rent on the westside of Grand Rapids, often sharing a house or an apartment with other students. What landlords and property management companies have realized is that charging 4 students (at $500 – 600 a piece) is much more profitable than it is to rent to a family of four. This dynamic has caused rental costs to increase across the board on the westside, making it difficult for working class individuals and families to afford rent.

In addition, many of these rental properties have been purchased by investors, many of which are from out of town and out of state. The Michigan Radio documentary, Pushed Out, provides important details about this dynamic. Beginning with the 2008 economic crisis, hundreds of homes in Grand Rapids were foreclosed, bought up by investors and then turned into rental properties right at the time that the most recent gentrification push took off. The map here shows (in red) where homes were foreclosed on the westside and purchased by investors.

Besides the increase in rental properties and higher cost of rent, there are more and more development projects that are located near the GVSU westside campus, development projects that primarily cater to those who can afford $1500 a month rental costs, $4 cups of coffee micro-breweries, boutique shops and all the other upscale services being offered. An article from If the River Swells, provides important analysis of how these development projects impact the westside, projects which is connected to the ongoing expansion of the GVSU campus. 

It will be interesting to see how the Grand Valley Magazine would spin the campus expansion in the Belknap neighborhood. Would they say they are practicing good community engagement or that it is another “model partnership?” Not everyone in the community is fooled by these kinds of glowing PR pieces.

Doug DeVos and Friends say they want to create opportunities, but they really just need skilled workers to help them make more profits

June 21, 2017

Last month we posted a story about a new report from the local group Believe 2 Become about Workforce Development. The report was arguing the need to create more “opportunities” for students, but tended to focus on building stronger relationships between the business community and the schools.  

The Believe 2 Become report also references the talent management group Talent 2025, which has identified these three goals for West Michigan, if the economy is to grow. Below is what Talent 2025 is suggesting and our own translation of what they are proposing.

In the report there are also quotes from representative of the local power structure. You can see what Doug DeVos says here, which is really a way of saying, “we need more skilled workers in order to increase our profits.”

Recently, the Believe 2 Become report was the focus of gathering of local power brokers, who came together to discuss ways in which to facilitate a deeper relationship between schools and the business community.

Here is the video that provides a summary of the invitation only gathering that took place at Meijer Gardens. Pay close attention to which voices are heard.

It’s interesting that there are three women who set up the video, who are then followed by several people who make up the West Michigan Power structure, particularly Doug DeVos, Rockford Construction CEO Mike VanGessel, Peter Haines from the Ottawa Intermediate School District, Shana Welch from Mercy Health, Kenyatta Brame with Cascade Engineering, President of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Rick Baker, Kevin Stotts with Talent 2025 and Teresa Weatherall Neal – Superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

The most instructive thing shared in the video is when Doug DeVos says that the people to fix the workforce shortage problem are in this room. Again, people with power making decisions for the rest of us, because they know best what we need and what we want.

Town Hall Meeting in NE Grand Rapids a clear example of NIMBY

June 20, 2017

About 60 people showed up to a meeting last night that was held outside across from a building that some people believe might be the future site of the Guiding Light Mission.

A Facebook posting and a flyer (seen here) is what brought out people to the gathering.

Mike Farage, someone who is running for 2nd Ward City Commission, was facilitating the meeting and another person was passing out a document that said it was presenting facts about what was happening.

One “fact” that the document listed said, “A developer purchases the property from the City of Grand Rapids to do a 15 year build to lease to the General Services Administration (GSA) for Federal VA use.” This fact seemed to be called into question, since according to the City Parcel map, the current owner of the property is listed as VA Ventures Grand Rapids, which is based in Crown Point Indiana. Several commercial sites, including Bloomberg, list VA Ventures Grand Rapids as being founded in 2004 and identifies them as a real estate entity. 

The document shared at the meeting was also claiming that an anonymous person was going to Too Talls Ice Cream and Dale’s Party Store and asking that flyers be taken down. Again, no one could substantiate said claim.

The meeting was run in such a way that didn’t make it easy for most people to speak, partly because the facilitator kept injecting his own commentary during the meeting and because it was not a safe space for people with differing opinions. There was one person who challenged the authenticity of the claim about Guiding Light moving into the building at 3019 Coit NE and another person who stated that they felt like the meeting was using fear tactics.

Another neighbor spoke up at one point about how she and other residents got a halfway house kicked out of the neighborhood some years back, because of the dangers it was posing to the area. At one point this same neighbor acknowledged that Guiding Light Mission deals with people with addictions, but that “those people needed to be in the right facility, in the right neighborhood.” This begs the question, what is the right neighborhood?

In many ways this was a classic example of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) politics. In addition, it should be stated that most if not all of those in attendance were white. The Not In My Back Yard also seemed to have a racial component to what was taking place. Dale’s Party Store has a sign on the outside of the building that clearly targets black youth, saying No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service – Pull up your damn pants (shown above). Inside the party store they have posted a Do’s and Don’ts (on the left) that clearly reflects a bias against non-white cultures and how others speak.

To other observers, this gathering may have seemed like an example of people engaging in the process of democracy, with a simple desire to not have a facility that deals with the homeless, relocate to their neighborhood. However, a great deal more was happening at this gathering, including racist attitudes and a political candidate that had his own agenda. The meeting last night also seemed to reflect much about the current political culture in the US, where people can say stuff that is not based in fact and get a whole bunch of other people to node their heads in agreement.