Skip to content

Amazon says No to Grand Rapids and the Right Place Inc. will still not make the proposal public

January 19, 2018

Yesterday, it was reported that the online sales giant Amazon, has narrowed down their list of cities to twenty and Grand Rapids is not on the list.

MLive reported, “Although we were not selected to advance in this process, we take great pride in how the greater Grand Rapids area was presented to Amazon and the collaborative work that went into it,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place economic development program. 

MLive went on to say, “The Right Place team included Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc., the city of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.”

Considering that the City of Grand Rapids was involved in the process, one would think that the 108 page proposal from Grand Rapids to Amazon would have been a public document. Not so.

I inquired with a few Grand Rapids City Commissioners, who directed me to Kara Wood, the Director of Economic Development for the City of Grand Rapids. Wood said that the proposal to Amazon was NOT a public document and that I should talk to someone from the Right Place Inc.

I sent an e-mail to Tim Mroz, who wrote back saying:

Thanks for asking about Amazon and the proposal. Unfortunately, as hard as everyone worked on it, and as incredibly proud of it that we are, we have decided not to share it publicly. If it would help, I can provide some images/photos of the actual proposal.

Why is the Right Place Inc unwilling to make the proposal to Amazon available to the public? One can only speculate. It seems reasonable, however, to assume that part of the pitch was to provide Amazon with major tax breaks and subsidies, like so many other cities did. Many cities also offered public land for the new Amazon facility. Therefore, if public tax breaks were part of the equation and possibly public land, why was the document not made available to the public?

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, and now the wealthiest person on the planet, is accustomed to getting tax breaks from the government. According to an article in Slate.com:

Good Jobs First, which tracks corporate welfare, shows that Amazon has received $1.2 billion in subsidies since its founding, including $177 million this year alone. Economists are very skeptical about tax breaks for corporate relocation generally—including for Amazon’s strenuous warehouse jobs—but the scale of the HQ has brought subsidy offers to new heights. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, backing Newark’s bid, announced $5 billion in tax breaks.

The massive tax breaks issue is also echoed by Neil deMause, who was interviewed on Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s radio show, CounterSpin

“I think that clearly paid off for Musk and Tesla, to the tune of $1.4 billion. So I’m not really surprised that Jeff Bezos and Amazon are looking at something similar here, and I think, given what we’re seeing from what’s leaking out about some of the bids (which are not public) for Amazon, it looks like they’re going to be looking at some kind of tremendous taxpayer windfall as well.

deMause goes on to say:

And, this is what really is driving the bidding war so crazy, what Greg LeRoy talks about, is that you’re seeing these crazy numbers being thrown around, because it’s not like there’s another company down the road that you can say, well, if we don’t get Amazon, we’ll just get the second-best thing to Amazon, because there is no second-best thing to Amazon. It’s Amazon or the highway.

Sure, there would have been new jobs provided by the company, but Amazon has a track record of having many of their workers needing to rely on Food Stamps, just to get by. 

However, the lack of transparency is what is particularly troubling in this case, especially since it is quite certain that tax breaks were offered in the deal.

Immigrant Youth Fight for Their Future: What Will We Do in Grand Rapids?

January 18, 2018

Since the Trump administration announced that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, the immigrant community has been fighting to maintain this program.

DACA youth, their families, friends and allies has been organizing on all kinds of levels, from educational forums to meeting with members of Congress, engaging in sit-ins, strikes and other forms of Direct Action.

Yesterday, hundreds of immigrants, DACA recipients and allies visited members of Congress. These visits were more like office occupations, where Dreamers made lots of noise to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act. A Clean Dream Act would mean that it is not attached to other issues, especially the Congressional budget. Those in DC raising hell have been clear, by saying, “We are not a bargaining chip to be used by Republicans and Democrats.”

Dozens of people from West Michigan sat in on Senator Stabenow’s office in DC, as you can see from these pictures below. Senator Stabenow, while saying she supports Dreamers, has NOT committed to supporting a Clean Dream Act bill.

What Are We Willing to Do?

Of course, when I say we, I mean those of us who are white. Immigrants are fighting every day for their lives. Immigrants are taking risks. Immigrant youth are faced with the possibility that they might also be deported, if DACA is not renewed.

So what are we willing to do? The easiest thing to do is to call Senator Stabenow’s office today and tomorrow to demand a Clean Dream Act. Her DC office phone number is (202) 224-4822.

However, this is only the first of several things that those of us with tremendous privilege, must do. Second, if you are in West Michigan on Friday (January 19), come to the protest rally at 4:30 in downtown Grand Rapids and meet at the Calder Plaza. Information on this direct action can be found on Facebook at this link https://www.facebook.com/events/1557143701005498/. Also, don’t just show up, invite your circle of friends and help us spread the word.

If Congress does not pass a Clean Dream Act on January 19, be ready to take action and find out what groups like Movimiento Cosecha GR, an immigrant-led movement, is asking from us. 

DACA is just part of the Immigrant Justice Movement

As important as it is to pass a Clean Dream Act, this is only one part of a larger movement to provide permanent protection to all immigrants. Movimiento Cosecha GR is leading that movement here in Grand Rapids and you can be part of their work as an ally and fight for permanent protection, dignity and respect for all immigrants. Contact them through their Facebook page to find out when they meet. 

In addition, immigrants are constantly being targeted by ICE agents in West Michigan. If you want to be part of the GR Rapid Response to ICE project, go to their Facebook page. Their next training is scheduled for Wednesday, January 31st, with details here https://www.facebook.com/events/1993245604249285/.

The GR Rapid Response to ICE project consists of directly intervening to stop ICE agents from taking people, plus providing a variety of Mutual Aid to families that have had loved ones put into detention or deported. Here people can offer transportation, provide courtroom solidarity, contribute funds or assist with fundraising.

People can also be involved in offering sanctuary to immigrants who are being targeted, either in their own home or by getting their faith community to commit to being a sanctuary.

These are all important and necessary aspects of being in solidarity with immigrants. We have to be willing to take risks and to put our bodies on the line. If we don’t, then we are no better than the racists who scream, “immigrants should not be allowed to stay here and should just go back to their country of origin.”

Solidarity Event Planned with J20 Arrestees

January 17, 2018

(Editor’s note: This post was submitted anonymously.)

Almost a year ago, 230 people were mass arrested at protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Following the arrest – which happened at an “anti-capitalist and anti-fascist” march – approximately 210 people were indicted on eight felony charges of inciting a riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot, and five counts of felony property destruction, punishable by up to 75 years in prison. While two charges – rioting and conspiracy to riot – have been reduced to misdemeanors, defendants are still facing the prospect of 60 years in prison.

Since January of last year, the cases have wound their way through the legal system. After mass arresting an entire city block, the government is attempting to retroactively build a case by searching seized cell phones, pouring over video recordings (some of which were obtained by alt-right sources), and subponeaing website records in an attempt to bolster its prosecution. Beyond this, the prosecution is arguing that mere presence at the protest is enough to warrant conviction.

For those who want a quick overview of the case, the following video provides a helpful introduction:

In December, the first six defendants to go to trial were acquitted of all the charges against them. Despite this legal victory, there is no indication from the prosecution that they plan to drop the charges against the remaining defendants. Instead, trials are scheduled through October of 2018.

Beyond the individual consequences of repression for the defendants – which have included emotional stress, financial stress, lost jobs, and harassment – the case could have broad consequences for social movements. If the state succeeds in this experiment, it will mean that any protest could be mass arrested and face the prospect of felony convictions and lengthy prison terms. Moreover, the state is attempting to redefine basic political organizing as conspiracy, which would greatly increase the stakes for anyone who chooses to organize within their communities. In light of the always increasing inequality brought by capitalism and the blatant white supremacy and misogyny represented by the Trump administration, “organizing” – as it always has been for marginalized communities – will increasingly become less of a choice and more of a necessity – meaning that we all will face this risk if the state is successful.

The primary need for the J20 defendants is money. The lengthy legal process is incredibly costly, with defendants from diverse regions being forced to travel back to Washington DC for court dates and eventually having to move to DC for trial. You can donate to the legal defense fund here.

A diverse group of people have organized to support the J20 defendants. The umbrella group Defend J20 Resistance is a centralized location for these support efforts and information on the case. Other initiatives – such as a recently called for week of solidarity – aim to raise the profile of the case. A “Statement of Solidarity” has been endorsed by dozens of organizations. Beyond these efforts, it is critically important that people help spread the word about the case as much of the broader left has been strikingly silent about it.

J20 Solidarity Event Planned in Grand Rapids

Here in Grand Rapids, there is an event planned on January 20 – the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration – to raise awareness about the J20 cases. The event is at 1:00pm at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

In addition to information about the J20 case, there will also be speakers from a variety of organizations about the various struggles taking place against the Trump administration.

This underscores an important point about the necessity of continued struggle as a means of solidarity. When the state increases repression, it should be met with increased resistance. If people simply cower and walk away, it will make it that much easier for the state to succeed. An important part of supporting the J20 defendants is to continue the struggles against capitalism and fascism.

Boarding Schools In Michigan: An Interview with Dee Sherwood

January 16, 2018

Dr. Dee Sherwood is a member of the social work faculty at Western Michigan University. She teaches courses on the American Indian Boarding Schools and intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities.  She is a mixed blood descendant of Paiute, French and English Nations.

Dr. Sherwood has helped to organize community events in the Grand Rapids Urban Indian community including film screenings, marches and educational forums, including events featuring Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement. She served as the advisor to the Native American Student Association at a local university. She also co-authored a curriculum guide  published by the Ziibiwing Center for Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways.

In this seven-part interview, Dee talks about the origins of boarding schools in the US, how the history of boarding schools was a form of genocide against indigenous people, how boarding schools impacted indigenous communities, where some of them were located in Michigan, how this history is rarely taught even at the university level and how indigenous people have dealt with the consequences of boarding schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Real Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

January 15, 2018

As we celebrate one of the great leaders in the Black Freedom Struggle, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the real Dr. King and not the one that is promoted in commercial media or by organizations that have their own agendas.

Like most people, Dr. King was not a static person and was not part of a static movement. He evolved over time and continued to sharpen his own view of the world as he moved beyond a civil rights view to a more global liberationist view. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also matured in his use of tactics and strategizing when dealing with systems of oppression.

What follows are resources that we encourage people to investigate, so as to drawn your own conclusions about who Dr. King was, what he preached and practiced before he was assassinated nearly 50 years ago.

One good sources is The King Center Archive, which can be found online at http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive. The archive contains nearly 1 million documents associated with the life of Dr. King.

Another great source is a collections of King’s writings published in 1963 called, Why We Can’t Wait. This collection of writings includes his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Of course, there is the I have a Dream Speech, which give delivered in Washington, DC in 1963 at one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in US history. Some great sources to accompany that speech are Gary Younge’s book, The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington, by Charles Euchner.

It is also important to know that Dr. King did not limit himself to challenging institutionalized racism, he also spoke out and organized around economic exploitation. Michael Honey’s book, All Labor Has Dignity, is a collection of writings and speeches that Dr. King gave that challenged economic injustice and well as demonstrating his relationship to organized labor groups in the US.

In a Single Garment of Destiny: A Global Vision of Justice, edited by Lewis Baldwin, you will find an amazing collection of writings and speeches by Dr. King that not only explored the issue of global poverty, but makes clear the tremendous understanding Dr. King had of US foreign policy and global solidarity. Included in this collection is King’s famous speech, Beyond Vietnam, which contains not only his denunciation of the US as the “Greatest purveyor of Violence in the world today,” it contains Kings naming the Evil Triplets of Racism, Militarism and Capitalism as the greatest threats to humanity. 

As King’s vision of liberation became more radical, he began to name systems of oppression and to call out the unjust US war in Vietnam and the violence perpetrated against the black community in the US. In a little know book entitled, The Trumpet of Conscience, there are 5 lectures that King delivered on the Canadian Broadcasting System in 1967. These are some of the most powerful articulations of King’s vision and makes clear why he was such a threat to those in power.

The further radicalization of King is also capture well in another collection of King’s work, edited by Dr. Cornel West, entitled, The Radical King.

One of the last campaigns that Dr. King was involved in was The Poor People’s Campaign, which began in the summer of 1968, months after he was assassinated. This campaign was originally designed to have thousands of people set up a tent city in Washington DC until their demands were met around racial and economic justice, what King called a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged.

During the same time, the Memphis sanitation workers were organizing a strike for better wages and working conditions, Dr. King went to Memphis to support the strike and lend his solidarity to their struggle. The sanitation worker’s strike and King’s visit is well documented in the book, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign, by Michael Honey.

Memphis is where King was assassinated, on April 4 of 1968. King’s assassination is the subject of two important books. One book is Michael Eric Dyson’s book April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr’s Death and How It Changed America. A second book, written by William Pepper, explores who was actually involved in King’s assassination and what role local, state and federal authorities played in the shooting of Dr. King. Pepper’s book is entitled, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King.

It is also important to understand that the FBI had been monitoring Dr. King’s activities for years, making threats against him and wire tapping his phones. One book, which documents the FBI monitoring of King (with actual documents), is the book by Michael Friedly and David Gallen, Martin Luther King Jr: The FBI File.

There are other important scholarly works on the message and person of Dr. King. Three books in particular are worth mentioning. The first is by John Ansbro, entitled, Martin Luther King Jr.: The Making of a Mind. The second scholarly book is by Michael Eric Dyson, entitled, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. Lastly, no investigation of Dr. King is completed without the great Black Theologian James Cone’s book, Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare.

In addition to these books, speeches and essays by and about Dr. King, there are some great films about King and this time period. The PBS series Eyes on the Prize, provides wonderful visual documentation of the black liberation movement and Dr. King. However, a film that deals more directly to the message and person of Dr. King is  Citizen King, which deals particularly with the last few years of his life, his vision and the state repression against him and his family.

All of these resources are important, especially if we want to not let government, non-profit or political groups hijack the message and witness of this deeply passionate man.

Countries that Trump calls Shitholes are violent, poverty stricken countries because of over a century of US Policy

January 12, 2018

President Trump is creating a stir again over his recent comments about immigrants that are coming from “shithole” countries, like Haiti and countries in Africa. 

Numerous commentators are responding to the racist nature of such comments and for good reason. However, there is a completely different component here that most media sources are missing and that is the fact that many of the countries that Trump is referring to have refugees/immigrants coming to the US because of US imperialism and European colonialism.

Let’s start with a look at Haiti.

Haiti became independent in 1804, after a revolution led by Black people.The US hated this fact and has been punishing Haiti ever since. Abraham Lincoln proposed to send all the black slaves to Haiti as a White Supremacist solution and since the early 20th century the US has pretty much run the small Caribbean nation.

From 1914 to 1934, the US Marines occupied Haiti in order to stop numerous rebellions. In addition, during this time the US essentially re-wrote the Haiti Constitution to favor longterm US financial interests. ( See Paul Farmer’s, The Uses of Haiti) Since the late 1950s, the US supported the dictatorships of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. The Duvalier dictatorship was a brutal dictatorship using state terrorism that was enforced by the government’s death squads known as the Ton Ton Macutes.

Then in 1990, the Haitian people elected a Catholic priest by the name of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was a proponent of Liberation Theology. Aristide was overthrown in a US-back Military Coup in 1991 and took exile in the US. The Clinton administration then got Aristide to adopt World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Policies, and in turn the US administration agreed restore Aristide to power.

Aristide was elected again and then over thrown by another US backed military coup and spent 7 years in exile, all of which is well documented in the film Aristide and the Endless Revolution

If we wanted to look at US interventions in Africa over the last 50 years, here is a sampling of how the US has helped to create violence and poverty in that continent:

  • US involvement in the assassination of President Lumumba in the Congo in 1961.
  • US Support for the South African Apartheid government that last for decades and right up until the end
  • CIA involvement in Angola that led to a bloody civil war.
  • US support of dictatorship in Somalia in the 1990, which led to a failed US intervention during the Clinton administration.
  • US support for the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970s.
  • US support for the brutal dictatorship of Mobutu in Zaire (now the the Congo) for roughly 30 years.
  • Egypt was in the top 5 in US military aid for over 25 years.
  • US antagonism of Libya for several decades, leading to the US-back coup in 2011.
  • 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which led to the deaths of thousands, since this pharmaceutical plant provided 50% of the medicines in the Sudan.

It is understandable that people are outraged by the recent comments by President Trump, but he is simply reflecting a long standing US position on Haiti and the continent of Africa.

If you want to explore this history more, participate in the GRIID class, Investigating US Foreign Policy from 1898 to the Present, which begins on Monday, January 29. 

The Business Press in Grand Rapids, 2017 Newsmakers and the local Power Structure

January 12, 2018

Reading the business press can be difficult at times, but for those who are engaged in grassroots organizing, it is important for us to monitor such news sources. It’s important because those who have economic and political power are often more candid with what they think in the business press than in the more mainstream commercial media.

In addition, the business press also is pretty up front about their bias, even allegiance, to those who wield tremendous economic and often political power. This was demonstrated recently in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, with their announcement of the 2017 Newsmakers of the Year awards event, scheduled for January 31st at the Frederick Meijer Gardens. 

The list of nominees reads like a who’s who of the Grand Rapids power structure, with mostly familiar names, to those who follow power dynamics in West Michigan.

There are 16 separate categories, with 3 nominations in each category. However, it is interesting to see how deeply certain people, families and companies are represented in the nominations.

The family/business with the most mentions are of course the DeVos Family. Dick DeVos is a nominee for Economic Development and his wife Betsy DeVos is a nominee for Education. In addition to that power couple, Dan DeVos is a nominee for Sports (ownership of the Grand Rapids Griffins) and Daryn Kuipers is a nominee in the Beverage category because he works for Boxed Water. Boxed Water is part of the DeVos owned Windquest Group Core Companies

Of course, the DeVos connection doesn’t end there. In the category of Non-Profit newsmakers, AmplifyGR is nominated. AmplifyGR is funded by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation and was created for the purpose of getting the family into the development business, along with AmplifyGR’s partner Rockford Construction. Which brings us to another connection, since Rockford Construction is nominated for two categories – Construction and Sustainability.

Being nominated by the Grand Rapids Business Journal as a 2017 Newsmaker, of course is an endorsement that what these individuals or companies were doing in the community over the past twelve months. We take a much different view of these nominees, so we’d like to offer our own awards for each of the people named above.

Daryn Kuipers/Boxed Water wins the We’re Profiting Off of the Sale of Water Award.

AmplifyGR, along with Rockford Construction, wins the Gentrifier of the Year Award

However, since Rockford Construction was also nominated for the Sustainability of the Year Award, we’d like to give them the – We Had to Destroy the Neighborhood in order to make it Sustainable Award. 

Dan DeVos, owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins, wins the We Own Everything Else, Why Not the Sports Teams Award.

Since Dick DeVos was nominated for the Economic Development category, he wins the How to Use Public Money for Private Profit Award.

Lastly, since the Grand Rapids Business Journal nominated Betsy DeVos for an Education award (even though she is the only person nominated who is not working in Grand Rapids), we give her the How to Dismantle Public Education Award.