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Political Ads are designed to be vague, deceptive and to misinform the public: Part III

September 27, 2022

In Part I, we discussed some of the larger reasons why political ads are so offensive. We talked about how journalism has failed us on election coverage and how candidates center themselves instead of the community or issues that people care about.

In Part II, we looked at an attack ad that was paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which was attacked the 3rd Congressional District Democratic Party candidate, Hillary Scholten. This video ad use deceptive images and  a misleading narrative, most of which was not based in fact.

In today’s post, we want to look at print ads, specifically ads one would receive at their homes, like the ones pictured here below.

First, it is worth pointing out, that when you contribute to political candidates, particularly at the State and Federal level, most of their campaign funds are spent on advertising. Political ads, as we have pointed out in the first two parts of this series, are inherently misleading and they often utilize deceptive imagery and narratives. Political advertising should be abolished, then we could allow every candidate the same amount of time to present their platform and voting record on broadcast TV and radio. This, of course, is unlikely to happen, since radio and TV stations rely heavily on political ads for revenue.

Now, lets look at some of the vague language used in a few of the ads I received at home in the mail, specifically ads from candidates David LaGrand and Mark Huizenga, who are running against each other for a State Senate seat, and Rachel Hood and Lynn Afendoulis, who are running for a State Representative seat. 

In the two ads I received having to do with LaGrand and Huizenga, the Huizenga ad was paid for by the Michigan Republican Party and the LaGrand ad was paid for by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee. The LaGrand ad is focused on public safety, with the tag line being, For David LaGrand, keeping us safe is never a partisan issue. Here the Democrats want to present LaGrand as someone who “reaches across the isle,” always wanting to be bipartisan. 

When it comes to public safety, the ad provides 3 talking points – more funding for police, eliminating the cash bail system and rehabilitating low-level offenders to reenter the workforce. The first talking point is misleading, since there is no evidence that more funding/more hiring of cops leads to greater public safety. We encourage readers to check out a recent report from the group Interrupting Criminalization, entitled, Cops Don’t Stop Violence. Getting rid of the cash bail system is certainly a positive step, but there is a great deal more to be done to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex. On the matter of getting ex-offenders back to work, this is an issue the Capitalists like the Koch brothers to the DeVos family salute, because they are in need a workers, particularly low wage workers. In fact, the West Michigan Policy Forum held a conference last year on this very topic. Lastly, it is important to point out that the LaGrand ad had no souring on it, so people would have a hard time verifying the claims made on the print ad.

The Huizenga ad, chose to go the route of comparing Huizenga to LaGrand, with the claim that LaGrand has voted on his that negatively impact Michigan families. The images used are also unflattering to LaGrand, using a black background, whereas the Huizenga images are in color and much brighter. This technique is pretty common, but it should be offensive to any free thinking person. 

The three talking points for the Huizenga print ad are – income taxes, American energy independence and property and other taxes. Huizenga clearly is trying to present himself as being better on economic issues that LaGrand, but these are only a few economic issues and one cannot make an informed decision on such a narrow spectrum. One could easily argue that both Huizenga and LaGrand to not support working families, since neither of them is advocating for a $20 – $25 an hour minimum wage in Michigan. This would be more of a living wage for people/families, but such political ads avoid discussing things like a living wage or narrowing the wealth gap. One positive note on the Huizenga ad was that the talking points are sources, so at least people could verify the claims.

The other two print political ads were about Rachel Hood and Lynn Afendoulis. The ad from Hood was paid for by the Michigan Democratic Party and was a 4 sided fold-over ad. The front cover had a large beer glass on it, highlighting the restaurant bar that Hood owns with her husband. On the inside pages the tag line is, State Rep. Rachel Hood is a brewery owner who understands what matters to Kent County families. There are three major themes included in the content: helping families and small businesses deal with rising costs, Supporting men and women in uniform, and keep the water safe and clean. There are no sources to substantiate the claims about Hood. 

The ad for Afendoulis, which is paid for by the Committee to Elect Lynn Afendoulis, is similar to the Huizenga ad, where Afendoulis juxtaposes her policies with Hood, primarily economic policies – income taxes and gas taxes. The ad has a darker image of Hood with a Black background and a color image of Afendoulis with a white background. 

In the end, none of these ads provide much substantive information on voting records or campaign platforms. Both of the Democratic candidate ads have no sourcing for their claims, but the Republicans do. The Democrat ads we looked at only talk about their candidates, whereas the GOP ads made comparisons to their opponent. All of these ads used vague language and campaign buzzwords like family, high prices, taxes and public safety, yet offered little on what those things mean in the real world, especially to families that are struggling to survive. 

Do we really want immigrants as neighbors? Misleading memes, bipartisan realities and immigrant justice

September 26, 2022

I have been seeing a meme on social media recently, which is completely in response to recent ridiculous and abusive actions towards immigrants in the US.

The meme I am referring to originated on the site Occupy Democrats, which states: I would much rather see immigrants being sent to my state than MAGA Republicans. And, the is #TheTruth!

Someone I know reposted the meme, then included the following comment under the meme: 

For me a choice between a family of Central American immigrants fleeing violence and persecution or some right wing xenophobic saga nutcases as neighbors would be an extremely easy one……

Now, I get the sentiment of both the meme, and the above comment about preferring Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution over Trump supporters. I too would prefer the former over the later. However, sentiment is not enough, especially since US policy towards immigrants has a dark history, particularly if those immigrants are not from Europeans countries or countries that the US identifies as client states. This is a topic that I am very familiar with, as I have taught classes on the history of US Immigration policy. Check out this popular education tool on this topic.

Even if people in the US would rather have Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution over Trump supporters as neighbors, it doesn’t mean much if, 1) those same people keep voting for political parties that perpetuate a very exclusionary and racialized immigration policies, and 2) those same people are not part of grassroots movements like the Sanctuary Movement.

The reality is, when it comes to anti-immigration policy, both Republicans and Democrats have consistently not supported truly progressive policies that both welcome any and all refugees/immigrants since the country was founded or change foreign policy towards counties that immigrants flee from, in part, because US policy in those countries is a major factor that contributes to people fleeing their homelands. For details on this bipartisan anti-immigrant policy, check out the following books – All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It, by Daniel Denvir and Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, by Todd Miller. 

The second critique I have of the Occupy Democrats meme is that it is not reflective of the Democratic Party’s position towards grassroots movements that are centered around immigration justice. For example, in the US during the Reagan Administration’s obsession with Central America in the 1980s, there was a lively Central American Solidarity Movement and a Sanctuary Movement. However, both of those movements did not receive significant support from the Democratic Party. The Central American Solidarity Movements saw thousands of US citizens go to Central American and stand against the US-backed death squad governments in El Salvador and Guatemala, in addition to people going to Nicaragua to oppose the US-trained and financed Contra forces, which were really a terrorist group. On the domestic end, you have over 400 faith-based groups and other community groups offering sanctuary to refugees who actually fled violence and persecution in El Salvador and Guatemala, even though the Reagan Administration was actively persecuting some of the more visible sanctuaries at that time. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party did virtually nothing to oppose this persecution, nor did they publicly support the Sanctuary Movement. See the Grand Rapids People History Project information on the Central American Solidarity Movement in Grand Rapids and the Central American Sanctuary Movement as well.

More recently, especially after Trump was elected in 2016, there was somewhat of a revival in the immigrant justice movement, a movement that has been led by immigrants. The Trump administration made no bones about going after immigrants who were undocumented, which led to lots of organizing across the country and in Grand Rapids. From 2017 through 2021, there was an urgent need for sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. The group GR Rapid Response to ICE has been speaking with numerous faith-based entities to declare themselves a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, over the past several years only one church has been willing to take on this responsibility. Grand Rapids boasts of having some 800 churches, yet only one has been willing to truly welcome all immigrants, particularly those most vulnerable, to safe from persecution in Grand Rapids. Lastly, the Democratic Party in the Grand Rapids area never took a public position in support of the immigrant justice movement, nor the efforts to find more groups willing to become immigrant sanctuaries. 

In the end, the meme from Occupy Democrats is just plain misleading. Personally, I don’t expect either political party in the US to become a champion for immigrants and refugees. I do however, have a great deal of hope in social movements that are rooted in immigrant justice and movements that are willing to take risks to defend and support immigrants who come to the US, whether that have documentation or not. If we want to have immigrants as neighbors, then we need to actively support immigrant justice and join groups like Movimiento Cosecha, which is an immigrant-led movement fighting for the rights of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrations currently living in this country. 

The ongoing court case and Grand Rapids news media coverage of the ex-cop who murdered Patrick Lyoya

September 25, 2022

On Friday, there was a meeting between the Kent County Prosecutor and the legal team representing Christopher Schurr, the ex-GRPD cop who was charged with 2nd degree murder in the killing of Patrick Lyoya.

I, along with several other Justice4Patrick activists, were present in the courtroom on Friday, although most of the meeting between the lawyers and the judge, took place in the judge’s chambers. 

Twenty minutes after the scheduled court hearing, lawyers from both sides came out, but 5 minutes later they left. Eventually the legal teams returned, along with the judge, to talk a bit about whether or not the lawyers representing Schurr had all of the documentation necessary to move forward. The lawyers representing Schurr said they now had all the documents they requested in order to move forward. The judge then set October 27 as the next court date for a hearing on this case. October 27 is a Thursday, but the judge made it clear that they were also reserving October 28th as well, in case the hearing would spill over into a second day.

Local News Media Coverage

Also present in the courtroom were several local commercial news media agencies – MLive, WOOD TV8, WZZM 13 and Fox 17. I found stories from all of the news agencies, except from Fox 17. What follows is a brief deconstruction of the local news coverage.

The MLive story, ran as its headline, Key hearing date set for former Grand Rapids officer accused in Lyoya’s shooting death. As the headline suggests the story was mostly about the date that the judge set for the next hearing in this case, plus the MLive story did acknowledge that the lawyers from both sides did meet in the judge’s chambers. In addition, the MLive story had one paragraph about what happened on April 4th, when Christopher Schurr shot and killed Patrick Lyoya. There was also a paragraph about legal proceedings leading up to now. MLive also included 8 photos, all of which were of the legal teams and the judge, plus one picture of Christopher Schurr sitting on top of Patrick Lyoya, just before he was shot in the back of the head.

The WOOD TV8 story had some of the same information, but also included a comment made by Patrick Lyoya’s father in August, regarding the the court delays were affecting their family. In addition, channel 8 included this:

Some anti-police activists attended the brief Friday court session at which the hearing date was decided. One posed a question to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker as he prepared to leave the courtroom. “Why doesn’t Schurr have to appear for the court date like everyone else?” the activist inquired. Becker said, “It’s up to the judge,” to which the woman responded, “Preferential treatment.”

WOOD TV8 was the only commercial news agency to acknowledge that there were activists there, referring to them as “anti-police activists.” It is worth noting that this exchange between activists and the Kent County Prosecuting Attorney did take place after everyone left the court room, yet channel 8 felt it was content worthy to share. It was the only “drama” of the day, which is probably why WOOD TV8 included it.

The WZZM 13 story was the worst of the bunch, since it was written before the judge announced the October 27 hearing date. Not only did the story fail to provide information on the next court date, they included video of Schurr’s lawyer commenting on June 21st.  

Omissions in the local news coverage

There were also a few critical omissions in the local commercial news media coverage of the court proceedings in the case involving Christopher Schurr, the ex-cop who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya. 

The first omission has to do with the fact that one of Schurr’s legal team, Mark Dodge, had recently represented another GRPD cop who was found not guilty of intentionally discharging his firearm when approaching a Black man.

The second significant omission has to do with a comment from Mark Dodge, a comment the lawyer made on June 11th, after the initial court date, where Dodge was representing Schurr. The statement reads:

We were disappointed to learn that Officer Schurr has been charged with murder by the Kent County Prosecutor. Officer Schurr is a decorated member of law enforcement who has dedicated his career to helping others and protecting the citizens of Grand Rapids. The evidence in this case will show that the death of Patrick Lyoya was not murder but an unfortunate tragedy, resulting from a highly volatile situation. Mr. Lyoya continually refused to obey lawful commands and ultimately disarmed a police officer. Mr. Lyoya gained full control of a police officer’s weapon while resisting arrest, placing Officer Schurr in fear of great bodily harm or death. We are confident that after a jury hears all of the evidence, Officer Schurr will be exonerated.

This statement is important, since it not only suggests that Schurr was justified in shooting Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head, it reflects the sentiment that the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) has taken and many others in the community. On September 2, the GRPOA wrote on their Facebook page, “Never a doubt Officer Bauer would be acquitted.  What a waste of tax payer dollars. Way to go Becker!! Officer Schurr will be the next to be acquitted.” We have also documented that numerous people have suggested that Patrick Lyoya was at fault and ultimately responsible for his own death, like the guy who spoke at a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting in August. Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that the Black community and the African immigrant community continue to be traumatized by what Christopher Schurr did to Patrick Lyoya. Unfortunately, none of the trauma experienced by these communities is reflected in the ongoing commercial news media coverage of this case.

We will continue to report on this case and the legal proceedings, as well as track the commercial news media coverage, which has been filled with misinformation at times and demonstrates a certain bias, particularly how they often frame their stories and which source they disproportionately use. This was particularly the case in the June court date coverage and the MLive story profiling Christopher Schurr, which perpetuated a form of White Saviorism and White Supremacy.

A few thoughts about the proposals submitted to Kent County for use of the American Rescue Plan Act funds: Funding business as usual

September 22, 2022

The Kent County Government recently posted all of the proposals submitted by organizations who are seeking to access some of the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Remember, this is public money. You can go to this link https://kentcountyarpa.com/proposal-catalog/ to view the 319 different proposals. 

The proposals have been broken down into categories, such as Affordable Housing, Art & Culture, Broadband, Business Grants, Community Center, DEI, Disability Services, Education, Energy & Environment, Food & Nutrition, Government Services, Homeless Support, Hospitality, Immigrant Services, Lead, Medical Care, Mental Health, Parks & Recreation, Public Safety, Roads and Transportation, Rockford Ice and Turf, Senior Citizen Support, Substance Abuse, Water and Sewer.

After reviewing all 319 proposals, here are 7 points I would like to make.

First, there are numerous proposals around issues like mental health, food & nutrition and housing that are from organizations that one would expect to submit ideas. Many of these proposals offer particular social services, services that are needed, but there are only a few proposals that address root causes of serious social problems – more on this at the end.

Second, then there are proposals that center workforce development. Most of these proposals are from the business community or business associations. For example, Experience GR submitted a proposal to expand the workforce in the hospitality industry. Part of this project would involve partnering with the GRPS, specifically Ottawa Hills High School to develop a hospitality academy. This would target students that are not college-ready and provide incentives for them to find work in the hospitality field. There is a second Experience GR proposal ($900,000), which would expand the marketing of Kent County as a tourist destination, particularly in cooperation with the Pure Michigan campaign.

Third, then there are several entities that are faith-based, which have submitted proposals to use public money. The very fact that this is public money should disqualify faith-based groups from receiving COVID-19 stimulus funding. Some of the faith-based groups that submitted proposals are Rise Up Church, David’s House Ministries, Mel Trotter Ministries and Catholic Charities, with proposals ranging from $750,000 up to $10 Million.

A fourth point worth noting, is that various departments within Kent County submitted proposals. It seems a bit disingenuous to ask the community for proposals and then include several local government proposals. Governments are already generating funding sources through taxes to fund the work that they do to serve the public interest, or at least that is how it is framed. Maybe two of the most offensive government proposal was submitted by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department ($2,837,500), for a  Quality of Life Project, which would have the Sheriff’s Department do trainings for schools on shooter preparedness. The other offensive proposal was from the Kent County Jail ($2 Million), which was also a workforce development plan. Thus, they want to hire more guards for the jail, in order to perpetuate mass incarceration.

A fifth critical point to make about the 319 submitted proposals to use public money are much larger proposals that seems rather excessive. The John Ball Zoo submitted at $40 Million proposal to expand the zoo, while another proposal, from Grand River Inc., for $175 Million, would be to transform the Grand River area, primarily for development.

A sixth point worth noting is that there were four specific proposals submitted by entities that were started by and are part of the DeVos family – ArtPrize, Start Garden, AmplifyGR and Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders. Look, the DeVos family has more than enough of their own money to fund any and all of these projects. They do not need to use, nor should they ever use public money.

The last point I wish to make in regards to the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), is that instead of giving this money to agencies, businesses and government bodies, why not give the money directly to the residents of Kent County, particularly those most impacted by the pandemic? Those individuals and families that would share the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding could use it for housing, food, utilities or whatever it is that they want to spend it on. If the people who have been most impacted by the pandemic are collectively spending $127.6 million, then that money will be injected back into the economy, which is what financial experts are always saying is a good thing. Why not bypass the agencies, businesses and government groups that claim to provide public services and just give the money directly to those most impact by the pandemic. Imagine how much relief it would be to the thousands of families to receive the Covid-19 stimulus funds, public funds, and how it will improve their quality of life. 

Tenants fighting back against Landlords and Property Management Companies in Grand Rapids

September 21, 2022

(Editor’s note: I work as a volunteer organizer with the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union. The information included in this article is based upon concrete examples of tenants asking the Tenant Union for assistance to deal with exploitative landlords and Property Management Companies.)

Question, what happens when an apartment or an apartment complex becomes infested with bed bugs? Answer, more often than not in Michigan, tenants are 100% responsible for paying to have the bed bugs eradicated.

This is a harsh reality for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families who rent in Michigan. In fact, many landlords and Property Management Companies include, as part of their lease agreement, that tenants are responsible for covering the cost of eradicating bed bugs in their apartment.

Now, there are no concrete laws in Michigan that hold landlords and Property Management Companies responsible for the cost of bed bug infestation. The Michigan Tenant and Landlord Guide, has the following paragraph, which is rather vague language:

While current state law does not address bed bugs directly, there are a number of tools available to tenants with bed bug concerns. As discussed under Repair and Maintenance, a landowner has a statutory obligation under MCL 554.139 to repair defects about which he or she knows or should have known, but does not have a duty to regularly inspect the premises to search for defects. As such, a tenant who believes that bed bugs are present must notify the landlord that they believe a problem exists.

In October of 2021, there was proposed legislation that would regulate some of the issues around bed bugs. This piece of legislation, known as HB 5412, states that a landlord cannot enter into a lease agreement if they know that an apartment they are renting is already infested with bed bugs. To read the actual language of HB 5412, go to this link.

Based on how legislative politics works, it is highly unlikely that HB 5412 will be voted on before the November election. However, even after the upcoming election, it may never pass, precisely because the Rental Property Associations lobby is strong and makes significant campaign contributions to political candidates. 

But let’s say that the bill will pass next year, what are tenants to do in the mean time? This is an important question and the answer that the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union gives to tenants who are dealing with bed bug infestation is this, “we can work with you to pressure the landlord/Property Management Company into incurring the cost of bed bug infestation and to put an end to this added burden on tenants.” In fact, any issue that tenants are faced with shouldn’t depend on what the law says, what what justice demands. For instance, Michigan does not rent control laws, so landlords/Property Management Companies can pretty much charge whatever they want for rent. However, that does mean that tenants have to just accept it. Tenant Unions all over the country have been organizing over the last decade to win rent control agreements from specific landlords/Property Management Companies, because those tenants got organized. For example, tenants in Oakland, California recently engaged in a rent strike and won. Not only did they win rent control, they actually were able to de-commodify their housing, where tenants are now in charge of making decisions about their housing.

Now, even if HB 5412 is voted on and passed in the Michigan House, it still does go far enough to prevent landlords/Property Management Companies from taking advantage of tenants. Many of the tenants that the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union hears from, are people who are on a fixed income, often senior citizens, people with disabilities and those that are military veterans. Having to pay the cost of bed bug extermination is really not an option, plus there are numerous other costs involved when someone’s apartment becomes infested with bed bugs.

Besides the cost of extermination, tenants have to deal with:

  • The cost of deep cleaning or throwing away furniture and bedding that is infested.
  • Purchasing new furniture and bedding.
  • The psychological stress of living with bed bugs.
  • Loss of sleep, since many people will sleep in chairs or in their car…..if they have one.
  • The emotional cost of societal shame due to bed bug infestation.

This underscores the tactical and strategic difference from pursuing legal changes that would benefit tenants, as opposed to engaging in direct action, where tenants organize to make demands. 

In addition, since more and more of rental properties are owned by larger Housing Development Corporations and Property Management Companies, which have deep pockets, it is not unreasonable for them to incur the costs of extermination of bed bugs. One Property Management Company that the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union is currently dealing with, regarding the bed bug issue, is KMG Prestige. KMG Prestige owns numerous rental properties in this area and in other communities. Interestingly enough, KMG Prestige applied for a PPP loan during the COVID pandemic and was given $7,845,514, which was forgiven. If a company that makes money from tenants can receive nearly $8 million of public money, they can surely incur the costs of exterminating bed bugs, especially for tenants who are financially struggling.

If you are a tenant or you know someone in the Grand Rapids area that is a tenant and is confronted with a landlord or Property Management Company that is charging too much rent, threatening eviction, not making repairs in a timely fashion or any other issue, please contact the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union who will help you get organized to fight for housing justice. You can contact them via their Facebook page or send them an e-mail gratunion@gmail.com. 

It’s never a question of funding, rather priorities: Making the area around the Van Andel Arena more appealing or providing housing relief for marginalized families?

September 20, 2022

On Monday, it was announced that Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. would receive an $800,000 State grant offered through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. This grant is to upgrade an alleyway between the Van Andel Arena and numerous bars and restaurants which have their back entrance facing the arena.

According to MLive, the project would repave the alley, add some green space, seating and relocate dumpsters that the businesses currently use to a more central location. The $800,000 grant is only part of the $4.5 million that the project is estimated to cost. In 2021, landscaping in the front of the area was completed, which cost $2.1 million.

The state entity that granted the $800,000 for the project, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has a board of directors that is made up of corporate representatives and other well connected people from foundations to universities.  The entity that submitted the grant proposal, The Right Place Inc., also has a board of directors that are mostly part of the corporate world, with first and second tier members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

The MLive article does not provide further information on where the rest of the funding has come from – $4.5 million for the current alley project, with $2.1 million for the 2021 completed project in the front plaza of the arena – but I would suspect that there have been other costs incurred by the public.

However, if we just looked at the $800,000 state grant that was recently awarded to improve the alleyway between the east side of the arena and a string of businesses, that is no small amount of money. In fact, if we think about how that money could have been re-purposed, for saying housing support, then $800,000 takes on a different tone. 

For example, if $800,000 were equally distributed to families looking to put a $50,000 down payment on a house, that would mean that sixteen families would be able to purchase a home. If we are talking about rent support to families, and each family would receive $5000 in rent support, which would easily cover 5 – 6 months of rent, then 160 families would get $5000 each. This would be significant, since it would provide a great deal of relief to families who are always struggling to make rent on a monthly basis. Having enough to cover rent for 5 or 6 months would give them some breathing room, potentially reduce stress and minimize the chances of these families being either homeless or forced to stay in a shelter or other types of transitional housing.

Of course, if we took it a step further and looked at the total that will be spent on upgrading the Van Andel Arena plaza and the east side alleyway, which is $6.6 million, then we have exponentially raised the bar to provide even more housing relief for families. With the $6.6 million, it would provide 132 families with a $50,000 downpayment for a home, and 1320 families $5000 to go towards rent that would likely cover half a year. Now we are talking about 1352 families that would experience some form of housing assistance with the money that is currently being spent on making the Van Andel Arena area more pleasant for those attending arena events and those spending money to eat and drink at nearby establishments.

I always find it interesting that when it comes to development projects in the City of Grand Rapids, those involved never really seem to have a problem finding funding for projects that benefit members of the business class, the professional class or tourists who come to Grand Rapids because it is marketed as a tourist destination. However, when it comes to providing economic relief to families that are experiencing poverty, those that are struggling, which are often the most marginalized, then finding funding doesn’t seem so easy. If however, the narrative were to shift, where instead of making development projects the priority, families who are experiencing poverty were given priority, how would people view Grand Rapids then? 

The Black Freedom Struggle and the Justice4Patrick Movement in Grand Rapids

September 19, 2022

It has been five and a half months since the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya, with a bullet to the back of his head. The judicial system, which is part of the Prison Industrial Complex, has been dragging their feet on moving forward with the prosecution of Christopher Schurr, the ex-cop who killed Patrick on April 4th of this year.

Over the past five and one half months, there has been a tremendous amount of organizing, resistance and protesting over the murder of Patrick, coupled with demands to reduce the funding of the GRPD. 

During these five and one half months, there have been lots of criticism from various sectors, specifically criticism of those organizing under the banner of Justice4Patrick. Some of that criticism has come from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, the GRPD, Grand Rapids City Officials and pro-Police groups like Voice for the Badge. This is to be expected, since the Justice4Patrick movement is not just demanding justice for the Lyoya family, they are confronting the very way that the City of Grand Rapids is complicit with the GRPD, police funding and how policing is done in this city, specifically how policing disproportionately impact BIPOC residents.

At the same time there has also been plenty of criticism coming from groups that are generally identified as liberal, even progressive. The Kent County Democratic Party, for instance, made it known to their members to stay away from or to not participate in any of the actions that have been organized by those operating under the Justice4Patrick banner; the marches, protests and the ongoing presence of people challenging GR City officials during City Commission meetings. Democratic State Representative David LaGrand, in late July, posted on his FB page that the anger displayed by BIPOC people during City Commission meetings was “misplaced,” even unproductive. These comments are instructive, since they are coming from a politician that has continued to endorse more funding for policing, even funding for the recruitment of more cops. This call for more funding for cops has been a consistent message from the Democratic Party, from President Biden, to Senator Gary Peters, Gov. Whitmer, on down to State and County Democratic Party officials. 

Over the over again, those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement are counseled to be patient, to let the system work, to be nice and to not make too many demands. As someone who has explored the rich history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the US, this sort of counsel, which almost always comes from systems of power and those with more privilege, is very similar to the counsel that those involved in the Black Freedom Struggle have heard over the past two centuries. Whether we are talking about the 19th Century Abolitionist Movement, to those involved in the Reconstruction era, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, the Black Power era, or the Black Lives Matter era, these movements have always had significant push back from systems of power or from groups that are part of the non-profit/social service/religious communities, what some from refer to as buffer groups. Buffer groups are often organizations who practice Respectability Politics and prefer to work within systems of power, as opposed to those working to dismantle systems of power. 

Observations of the Justice4Patrick Movement

So as to be transparent, I have been part of the Justice4Patrick movement since it began. However, what I want to speak on now, is not about my own involvement, but what I have observed from those involved in this work. In addition, I want to say that I have been part of various social movements since I first moved to Grand Rapids in the early 1980s, such as the anti-Nuclear, Central American Solidarity, Housing Justice, anti-war, anti-Globalization, anti-racist, Food Justice, Environmental Justice and Immigrant Justice Movements that have come and gone over the past four decades. What follows are some of my observations about the Justice4Patrick movement, which includes the movement to Defund the GRPD.

  • There is a deep sense of commitment from many of those who have been part of the movement to demand justice for Patrick Lyoya and to Defund the GRPD. People show up, do all sorts of organizing work, which is often behind the scenes stuff, but is often the most important stuff that makes whatever action possible. This commitment has been both constant and consistent. In fact, the kind of commitment I have witnessed is often overlooked, because we don’t talk about what is actually necessary for social movements to have a real impact. It’s one thing to show up at a march, but it is another thing to organize a march, to get the word out, to make sure there is a clear message, that there is crowd safety, street medics, support people for transportation. This is what I mean by commitment.
  • A second thing that I have observed in recent months is very much related to people’s commitment, which is what one might call moral fortitude. It takes a great deal of physical, emotional and psychological energy to keep showing up and showing out. Think about it. Systems of power and oppression are constantly working against you, whether we are talking about cops, politicians, cop-apologist groups, and others who want to tear you down, bad mouth you or refer to you as unrealistic. Now, I know it is fashionable to think that those who are constantly in the street, engaging Mutual Aid work, confronting power or attending meetings, are people who are “career activists” who get paid by people like George Soros. The reality is, those who have consistently showed up are regular people, people with families, jobs, student loans, car payments, people who care for pets, people who work intheir gardens, people who grieve and those that dream of a better world.
  • A third thing that I have observed from those involved in the Justice4Patrick movement is that these are people who are single issue focused. More and more, particularly with younger organizers, I have witness a great deal of intersectionality in both their analysis and their practice. These are people who really care about their communities and have a constant desire to learn and grow in the practice of Collective Liberation. 
  • A final thing I have witnessed from people in recent months are those engaged in radical imagination. The great Puerto Rican poet, Martin Espada says, “No change for the good ever happens without it being imagined first, even if that change seems hopeless or impossible in the present.” Engaging in radical imagination means to imagine a world where there are no cops, where everyone has their basic needs met, where people can be free of doing meaningless work that only lines the pockets of capitalists or spend most of their days taking care of themselves and others. Radical Imagination can lead us to a world where care, compassion and joy are what we can all experience on a daily basis.

A great deal more could be said about what I have observed in recent months from the community of care and resistance that have been organizing around Justice4Patrick and the defunding of the GRPD. But let me leave you with this. The commitment, the moral fortitude, the intersectionality, and the radical imagination that is being practiced by the community of those operating under the banner of the Justice4Patrick movement are continuing the legacy of the Black Freedom Struggle here in Grand Rapids. We all should be supporting them! 

MLive reporter fails to see or explore the serious conflicts of interest when reporting on the proposed soccer stadium, public money and the DeVos family

September 19, 2022

Last week, we wrote about the proposed Soccer stadium that is deeply entrenched within the control of the DeVos family.

In that article, we discussed the recent land purchase by Dan DeVos, under the name of  DF Fox Ventures LLC. The land in question is where the current Big Boy restaurant currently sits, which would be the southern end of the potential stadium property.

We also discussed how the DeVos family has so many other connections to those who will make the decisions and have a say in the financing of this project – Grand Action 2.0, the Downtown Development Authority, the Right Place Inc., etc.

Since then there have been two additional news stories on MLive that are worthy discussing, particularly as it relates to the possible Soccer Stadium being located in downtown Grand Rapids.

The first article, from the past Friday, was an MLive article focused mainly on all of the submissions for how to spend the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In that article, the reporter spends several paragraphs discussing the fact that the, “Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority made the request for assistance for the proposed $125 million stadium.” 

Now, the ARPA funds can only being used to cover costs incurred by existing businesses or projects, not one that is only on paper at this point. The fact that the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, which also has a DeVos employee and two politicians who have received DeVos campaign contributions, should tell you something about how shameless these people are. Everyone who submitted a proposal to access ARPA funds being administered through the county knew exactly who was eligible for those funds. The fact that the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority submitted a request to use ARPA funds for the soccer stadium simply demonstrates that they were hoping that their submission would be considered, since those making the decisions are always influenced by money. 

The second MLive article, which was from yesterday, is more directly about the proposed downtown Grand Rapids soccer stadium, with the headline, As group eyes Grand Rapids soccer stadium, questions swirl over housing, neighborhood impact. Housing concerns are high on the list for many people in this community, so MLive was right to look at this issue as it relates to the proposed soccer stadium. Unfortunately, the MLive reporter did not explore the housing consequences very far. 

For instance, there were two westside neighborhood association representatives cited in the story, but only one of them addresses housing. The spokesperson from the West Grand Neighborhood Organization did make the comment, “We desperately need housing, so I’m not sure how a soccer stadium’s going to accomplish that goal.” However, the MLive reporter does not explore the implications of the desperate need for more housing, particularly affordable housing. There was also no discussion about building the proposed soccer stadium in the area behind the YMCA, which is primarily parking. If the soccer stadium goes there, it will displace most, if not all, of those surface parking spots, which means they will need room for more parking. This gets more complicated, since GVSU owns most of the other parking spaces in that area and is not likely to give up those spaces. In addition, building a soccer stadium might raise the cost of property taxes in the area, which could negatively impact home owners and cause an increase in rental costs as well. 

Unfortunately, none of these issues are explored. Instead, the MLive reporter gives lots of print space to comments from Grand Action 2,0 and to Richard Winn, who is chair of the board of directors for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The MLive reporter did mention that Richard Winn is the president of AHC Hospitality, which is owned by the DeVos family, but they did not mention that Winn and another DDA member, Greg McNeilly, have been longtime political operatives for the DeVos family. Even more egregious is the fact that the MLive article did not mention that Richard Winn sits on the board of the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, which just submitted a proposal to use COVID relief money, public money, for the proposed soccer stadium. This all screams of conflict of interest!

Once again, we see how local news reporting, which is critical in this instance around the current housing crisis and the tremendous influence of the DeVos family, fails the public by not exploring the connections and the numerous conflicts of interest. Instead, the MLive reporter finds too many people who happily regurgitate messages about how wonderful a new soccer stadium would be for downtown Grand Rapids. As is generally the case with the local commercial news media, they fail to ask who will really benefit from a new soccer stadium. Or maybe they want us to just forget about all of this non-sense and enjoy ArtPrize.

Stephen and Amy Van Andel are one of the largest donors to Hillsdale College, one of the most reactionary, far right colleges in the US

September 18, 2022

Members of the Van Andel family have been contributing money to the far right Hillsdale College for decades. While writing for an independent newspaper in the 1990s, I wrote about this dynamic in an article, Giving til it hurts others: Another look and Rich DeVos & Jay Van Andel’s benevolence. In his book, The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, author Russ Bellant also documents the longstanding contributions from the Van Andel family to Hillsdale College.

In looking at the most recent 990 documents for the Stephen & Amy Van Andel Foundation that are available from GuideStar, here is how much the couple donated to the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College:

  • $1,200,000 2018
  • $3,000,000 2019
  • $4,200,000 2020

This means that in just a three year period, from 2018n – 2020, the Stephen & Amy Van Andel College has contributed $8,400,000 to promote the far right perspectives taught at Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College has a long history of practicing and promoting far right values. The former President of Hillsdale College, George Roche, was also on the advisory board of the US affiliate of the World Anti-Communist League, according to Scott and Jon Lee Andersen’s book, Inside the League: The Shocking Expose of How Terrorists, Nazis, and Latin American Death Squads Have Infiltrated the World Anti-Communist League.

Hillsdale College has hosted forums over the years with speakers such as Manuel Ayau, a member of Guatemala’s Amigos del Pais, a group linked to the death squads in Guatemala. Hillsdale also houses the late John Bircher Clarence Manion’s tape collection, with lectures from former Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza Hillsdale’s magazine, Imprimis, which provides a forum for anti-minority views. 

In another book by Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, the author writes: 

“Longtime Hiilsdale President Roche is opposed in general to social engineering plans, among which he includes affirmative action and public education. Roche has attacked the Civil Rights Restoration Act as frightening federal intervention. He calls affirmative action “the putrid backwash of all the tired social engineering schemes and complains that its advocates are so hypersensitive that a school’s unwillingness to set up advanced bongo drum programs is called racist.” 

Bellant goes on to say: 

“The selection of contributors for Hillsdale’s monthly magazine, Imprimis, also relfects the school’s far right political views. In one issue, Gerda Bikales, a founder and former executive director of the English Only organization, US English, condemned the advocates of cultural diversity and bilingual education. She attacked the skilled language planners and other militant advocates who promote bilingual education, as well as those who aggressively pursue diversity and cultural pluralism.”

However, don’t just take the word of Bellant, even a recent article in the New York Times made it clear that the politics of Hillsdale College are reactionary and far right.

Because Hillsdale College does not accept federal money, they do not have to follow federal policy, like Title IX.  As a result, the college does not follow Title IX guidelines on sex discrimination and the handling of sexual assault cases and it has refused to engage in the otherwise required reporting on student race and ethnicity, let alone develop an affirmative action plan. Not surprisingly, the school’s “race blind” admissions policy results in an overwhelmingly white student body.

In 2013, Dr. Arnn was castigated by Michigan legislators when, during testimony against the Common Core, he made a remark about officials who questioned Hillsdale’s racial record. Years before, he said scornfully, Michigan officials had come to the campus with clipboards, trying to count faces and prove, he said, that the college “didn’t have enough dark ones.” He later issued a barbed apology: “No offense was intended by the use of that term except to the offending bureaucrats.”

The New York Times article goes on to say:

It is no coincidence that Justice Clarence Thomas, an advocate of strict “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, delivered the commencement address last spring, likening Hillsdale to a “shining city on a hill” for its devotion to “liberty as an antecedent of government, not a benefit from government.”

On a recent episode of Doug DeVos’ podcast Believe, GRIID provided some analysis on the comments from the current Hillsdale College President, Dr. Larry Arnn, which are here below.

The President of Hillsdale College engages in what most scholars refer to as American Exceptionalism. American Exceptionalism is the idea that the US as a country is unique and special and should be seen as a model for the rest of the world. This sentiment is reflected in the conversation between Dr. Arnn and Doug DeVos, since neither of them mention anything about the US genocidal policies directed at the First Nation’s people that lived here way before the Europeans invaded these lands. 

The Hillsdale President does acknowledge slavery, but just in passing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Arnn then spends a great deal of time talking negatively about the 1619 Project, stating: 

You know, the New York Times has done that fright­ful 1619 Project. And they claim that the move­ment of the found­ing of Amer­i­ca from the colonies for­ward was in the direc­tion of per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery. 

The President of Hillsdale College then cites Gordon Wood as the leading US Historian, so as to contradict the claims made by the 1619 Project. This theme is not really explored by DeVos or his guest, since both are not interested in a serious exploration of the more honest history that the 1619 Project explores, particularly as it related to the centuries long practice of systemic racism in the US and how it has impacted the Black community in particular. 

While DeVos and his guest make backhanded comments about Critical Race Theory, they fail to mention that Hillsdale College has developed their own curriculum to counter the 1619 Project. The Hillsdale project is called The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, which is a very sanitized and whitewashed version of US history.

Hillsdale College is also smack dab in the middle of the Charter School debate in the US, providing curriculum resources and a cadre of ideological apologists for far right values. In fact, a recent investigation by NewsChannel5 in Tennessee, “discovered new evidence that reveals the true Hillsdale connection, including more hidden-camera video from the reception hosted by Hillsdale president Larry Arnn for Lee.

That’s the same video where Arnn famously declared that public school teachers come from “the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges.”

Following the release of that controversial video, three Tennessee school boards voted down applications from the Hillsdale-affiliated American Classical Education to open charter schools in their districts.

All of this is to show that, like so many other wealthy families from West Michigan, the Van Andel family has a long history of funding far right causes and institutions, like Hillsdale College. This example demonstrates once again, that philanthropic contributions are not simply charitable gifts, the foundations of wealthy families are designed to channel massive funds to promote their ideological interests. 

Tudor Dixon wants to present Gov. Whitmer as the Defunding the Police candidate, when both the Republicans and Democrats are calling for increased police funding in Michigan

September 15, 2022

On Tuesday, the Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, stood in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department and laid out her plan for funding police in Michigan if she wins the election against current Governor Gretchen Whitmer in November.

According to an MLive article, Dixon is proposing a $1 Billion increase in funding over a four year period, for the police and other first responders. Here is the breakdown from the MLive article:

Dixon’s campaign said the plan would “recruit and retain” more than 12,500 officers between local and state police, firefighters, paramedics and corrections officers. She would allot $700 million to that effort — about $56,000 per first responder — proposing they be offered perks like stipends during training and free hunting licenses. Another $250 million would be allocated to equipment, training and mental health support, with a final $50 million devoted to forensics lab expansions and tracking down fugitives.

You can read a more detailed account of the proposed $1 Billion over 4 years for cops and first responders at Tudor Dixon’s campaign site.

What is interesting about the proposal on the campaign site, is that there is language about Gov. Whitmer, claiming that crime has gone up in Michigan on her watch and that she has “defunded” some law enforcement programs. One would expect this, considering that candidates are in competition and always want to make their opponent look bad. 

The MLive reporter did reach out to the Whitmer camp to get a reaction. They did quote a spokesperson for the Whitmer campaign, Maeve Coyle, then wrote: 

Coyle said the 2021 budget included a 12 percent funding increase for the Michigan State Police and that the total number of police officers in the state has increased under Whitmer’s administration.

I’m sorry, but this is just plain lazy journalism. Sure, go ahead and get a response from the Whitmer camp, but then do you own work on verifying the claims of either candidate. 

A More Honest Journalistic Response

Here is what the 2023 Michigan Budget includes for policing for a 1 year period, which we wrote about in July, which clearly shows that Gov. Whitmer is committed to police funding:

  • $9.2 million to support a Trooper Recruit School (general fund) anticipated to graduate 50 new troopers in addition to the 120 troopers that are anticipated to be hired and trained using existing attrition savings. This investment allows the department to increase enlisted strength to nearly 2,200 while continuing to increase the diversity of uniformed personnel. 
  • $3.7 million to improve Data Collection during Traffic Stops (general fund) through the development of new tracking and documentation systems including a benchmarking dashboard and increasing data collected during traffic stops to allow for easier review and analysis of traffic stops made by the State Police. These improvements will build upon the recommendations of the recent Michigan State University Traffic Stop Study. 
  • $3 million to expand Training and Professional Development (general fund) to provide training on cultural competency, implicit bias, and decision-making to expand positive interactions between department members, minority groups, and the diverse communities that the department serves. 
  • $1.8 million to establish a Victim Services Program (general fund) that will support 14 full-time Victim Advocates across the state. These positions will serve to support victims’ needs early in their interactions with the criminal justice system while also building partnerships with community organizations in support of victim advocacy. 
  • $1.1 million to increase the department’s capacity to Prevent, Detect, and Investigate Cybercrimes (general fund). This investment will support statewide investigatory assistance and digital forensic examinations to further the department’s position as a leader in areas of cyber security, computer crimes, and digital evidence. 
  • $1 million for Trooper Recruitment (general fund) to broaden the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of the department to make it more representative of the communities it serves. This investment will support digital marketing campaigns, recruiting events, and improved public relations to assist the department in achieving its recruiting goals for enlisted positions.

Clearly, Gov. Whitmer has not been engaged in any defending of police departments, despite the claims of the Dixon campaign.

Therefore, the MLive reporter failed to do their own investigation of how Governor Whitmer has already adopted a 2023 Budget, which provides a significant increase in funding for the police. In addition, the reporter could have looked at how much money Gretchen Whitmer has received from police unions in Michigan. The website, No More Cop Money provides data on police union campaign contributions to all elected officials in Michigan, which you can access here.

The MLive reporter could also have talked to Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young to get a response for why she stood with Dixon on Tuesday, or any of the other area legislators and cops who were present to endorse the GOP candidate. That, of course, did not happen.

Lastly, the MLive reporter could have asked the basic question about Dixon’s police funding plan and how adding more cops would reduce crime. This is a basic, but critical question, because there is plenty of research that shows that having more cops does not reduce crime. In fact, policing in general is not an effective strategy to combat crime, based on this excellent report from the group Interrupting Criminalization, entitled, Cops Don’t Stop Violence.

In the end the public is left with the top two gubernatorial candidates fighting to out do each other on funding for the police. Where is there a candidate that supports defunding? They are no where to be found in Michigan, which is exactly why social movements like the Movement 4 Black Lives and other grassroots groups are engaging in direct action to get local police departments to defund, instead of relying on a political system where both parties want to increase funding for cops.