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Defeated Grand Rapids City proposal attempted to further manage public dissent

May 24, 2017

Yesterday, activists and organizers discovered that the Grand Rapids City Commission was going to vote on a proposal to further limit the ability of people to dissent.

The language of the proposal (read pages 231 – 241) referred to the growing dissent as, “Expressive Activity.” The proposal put forth at the City Commission yesterday states in part: 

As has been the case in cities across the country, Grand Rapids has seen a steady increase in the numbers of parades, rallies, marches and other activities. Since November of 2016, Grand Rapids has hosted at least 40 such events, averaging more than six per month.

The proposal goes on to say:

A “Notice of Intent to Engage in Expressive Activity” is required for groups of fifty (50) or more persons. The notice includes the date, location and a contact person, who shall be the “Receipt Holder” for the activity. The City will, in turn, provide a “Receipt of Notice”. This receipt is not a permit; it is merely an acknowledgement by the City to the Receipt Holder that City staff has received the information. Such notice allows the City to coordinate efforts and proper staffing across departments. City staff will also use the receipt as an opportunity to provide information to the receipt holder, including any logistical concerns the group may wish to take into consideration, such as overbooking of the location or capacity concerns about the crowd expected. Groups of fewer than fifty persons are not required to provide notice, but may do so, if they wish. No fees will be charged for filing a notice.

The Grand Rapids City Commission proposal wanted to have organizers give notice of when they would be having a march (for instance), where it would be and the person or persons in charge.

Towards the end of said proposal, the city lists what they refer to as Standards of Conduct, which, apparently we are all supposed to abide by. These Standards of Conduct are:

  • The participants shall not block access to buildings, nor impede ingress or egress to any parking lot, park, facility, or event. Under no circumstance shall any participant impede vehicular or pedestrian ingress or egress to any hospital, fire station, or other emergency response facility.
  • The participants shall not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic. Under no circumstance shall any participant impede access to any interstate highway, including ramps, access roads and bridges serving such highways.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not constitute unlawful activity. Participants must follow all Federal, State, and Local, laws, statutes, ordinances, regulations, and rules.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not include the use any amplification devices.
  • The Expressive Activity shall not include littering, or posting materials on City property, utilities, or sidewalks. Participants shall be responsible for picking up any printed materials dropped on the ground around the areas of distribution.
  • Parking lots,ramps,and garages are not designated or suitable for Expressive Activities, and placing flyers on windshields is not permitted.
  • The Expressive Activity must occur during the normal operating hours of the facility in which it is held.

The City Commission, during the Tuesday morning session voted down said proposal, which was a small victory, but we should not confuse this vote against the proposal as a signal that the City of Grand Rapids is in favor of dissent and resistance to local, state or federal government policies, white supremacy, US imperialism, transphobia, patriarchy, environmental destruction or any other form of oppression.

The City of Grand Rapids, primarily through their use of the police department, has always been about the business of managing dissent. Whether we are talking about the 1911 Furniture Workers Strike, the opposition to the Vietnam War, the 1967 race riot or any organized resistance in the past few months, the City of Grand Rapids wants to manage public dissent.

This most recent proposal, although not approved, is just another confirmation that the city does not approve of dissent, unless it does not disrupt business as usual.  If people organize a picket, a demonstration, a vigil, a march or any other form of protest, the city could care less, as long as it doesn’t disrupt business as usual.

If however, an action disrupts traffic, shuts down a business or prevents the normal functioning of commerce, then the City of Grand Rapids will respond with force, as people saw during the May 1 action in support of A Day Without Immigrants.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Permits

The whole history of dissent in the US, or any other country, that has been effective, is predicated on the ability of those who dissent to disrupt business as usual. Tactics such as a strike, a sit in, shutting down a military recruitment station, preventing the normalized violence against women, taking over a highway, chaining yourself to trees slated to be cut down, riots against police violence or any other action that costs businesses money are things that are effective and therefore, are the very things that system of power try to prevent or persuade us from participating in.

  • We have to stop asking permission to engage in resistance and dissent.
  • We have to start thinking about effective tactics of dissent and resistance that will cost systems of power, both monetarily and morally.

No government ever gave us rights, we have to fight for them and for our collective liberation.

Workforce Development, Talent Management and Neo-Liberal labor speak: Believe 2 Become report reveals how business views students in West Michigan

May 23, 2017

Last December, we wrote an article responding to the praise that GRPS Superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal, was giving to Betsy DeVos for her “support” for Grand Rapids Public Schools. 

A major part of the reason that Neal was singing Betsy DeVos’s praises was because we noted how much money the DeVos Family had donated to the various programs West Michigan’s most powerful family had help to start. These programs, are in many ways, connected to the main goals that the DeVos Family espouses, which are inserting religion in the public sphere and promoting neo-liberal capitalist principles.

One of the projects the DeVos Family has had their hands in and provided a substantial amount of funding to, is the GRPS-supported project, Believe 2 Become. The Believe 2 Become initiative is funded by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation. According to the most recent 990s, the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation has increased each year the amount of money they have donated to Believe 2 Become.

A new report from Believe 2 Become reflects to worldview of the DeVos Family and many other members and organizations that make up the Power Structure in West Michigan.

The report, Workforce Opportunity in West Michigan:Connecting a Qualified Workforce to High-Growth Opportunities, demonstrates that the local power structure sees students primarily as workers they can make money off of.

The contemporary business community uses terms like talent management and workforce development, but these are essentially modern terms for what 19th century writers would refer to as wage slaves.

Look at these comments from Business Leaders and you can see how they view students:

Each of these members of the capitalist class make it clear that the function of education is to prepare people to be good and obedient workers.

The talent management group Talent 2025 has identified these three goals (on the right) for West Michigan, if the economy is to grow.

These goals are instructive, since they make it clear that education should serve business interests, corporate funding should drive greater economic opportunities and the education system should change, meaning it should become more privatized to serve business needs.

It is crucial that we all not buy into the Orwellian use of language and promote talent creation, talent management or workforce development. This language is simply meant to deceive us into believing the lies of an economic system that only benefits a small percentage of people.

We could make our own three goals or recommendations about how to discern and resist the power of the business community in West Michigan.

  • We should not see students/youth as a talent pool that primarily serves business interests. Instead, we should see students/youth as people who deserve to live in a world that is not driven by the profit motive.
  • We should recognize that when the business community talks about growing the economy of West Michigan, what they really mean is to grow it for themselves. All their talk about low-unemployment rates is contradicted by the fact that 25% of the population of West Michigan lives in poverty. The percentage of those living in poverty increases to nearly 30% if we are talking about communities of color.
  • We need to develop autonomous, grassroots and community-based efforts that are built on cooperation and redefine an economy that serves all people and preserves ecosystems.

In other words, we need to both resist the current economic system, while at the same time begin to develop new economies that are based on justice, equity and ecological integrity.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Education Budget Cuts will hurt communities of color, working class families and promote the privatization of schools

May 22, 2017

The Trump administration is supposed to release their proposed Education Department Budget cuts this Tuesday, followed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos going before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

However, there have been several news outlets that have gained access to the proposed education cuts through leaked documents. The proposed education budget cuts would total of $10.6 billion will be cut from existing programs, with a share of those “savings” invested in school choice.

Here is a breakdown of the proposed education budget cuts:

As was predicted with the nomination of Betsy DeVos, this focus of the new administration would be to accelerate the further privatization of public education, a process that has been happening over the past several decades.

According to a recent article by Jeff Bryant, A glaring example of this pivot to the private sector is the plan’s cuts to programs that make public schools attractive options for parents, especially in low-income communities, while boosting federal support for “school choice” that incentivizes parents to turn to charter schools and private schools instead. 

The proposed education budget cuts would most negatively impact communities of color. Two examples of how these budget cuts will impact communities of color, are the cuts to Alaska Native Education ($32.4 million) and Native Hawaiian Education ($33.3 million) programs.

The Washington Post, which also obtained the leaked documents, provides a useful breakdown of the administration’s rationale for each of the proposed education budget cuts. For the Alaskan Native Education program it states:

This program supports supplemental education services for a very high-need student population facing unique challenges in obtaining a high-quality education.  The Alaska Native Education program largely duplicates services that may be funded through the $260 million in other Federal elementary and secondary programs that support Alaska as well as State, local, and private funds.

A similar rationale is provided for the cuts to the Native Hawaiian Education program.

What is equally devastating are the cuts to support arts education, international studies and foreign languages. A $400 million fund to pay for an array of school-enriching services and academics — such as mental-health support, anti-bullying programs and advanced courses — gets zero. Even money for Special Olympics education programs would be gone.

In addition, these proposed budget cuts provide greater opportunities for the super rich and corporations to channel money into private education programs, programs that the super rich and corporations can write off as major tax deductions.

A new report from the School Superintendents Association and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, confirms this analysis on how school privatization and voucher programs will benefit the capitalist class.

Public Loss, Private Gain: How School Voucher Tax Shelters Undermine Public Education exposes how state and federal tax policy promotes the privatization of education funding while simultaneously draining public coffers to enable savvy taxpayers to turn a profit. 

The report notes that, “Seventeen states divert a total of over $1 billion per year toward private schools via school voucher tax credits. When combined with a federal tax loophole, nine of these states’ credits are so lucrative that they allow some upper income taxpayers to turn a profit (at federal taxpayer expense) on contributions they make to fund private school vouchers, all while leaving less resources available for federal investments in education. Simply put, wealthy taxpayers are benefiting from a federally sanctioned voucher tax shelter.”

The graphic on the right provides an example of how the school privatization/voucher system will benefit the capitalist class.

The report also notes the following:

The Educational Opportunities Act (HR 895 /S 148) would put two new types of voucher tax shelters within reach for many more Americans, and for profitable corporations. It would allow individual taxpayers and businesses in any state to receive federal tax credits for donations to school voucher nonprofits, up to $4,500 per year for individuals or $100,000 per year for corporations. Donors in states with state voucher tax credit programs would also be eligible for a state credit. By stacking federal credits and state credits together on a single donation, some individuals and corporations would be able to double their money by claiming a dollar in state credit and a dollar in federal credit for each dollar donated. The result would be a risk-free, 100% profit of up to $4,500 per year for individuals or up to $100,000 for corporations. Wealth managers and tax accountants would be foolish to not advise their clients to take advantage of this handout from their federal and state governments.

Just one more example of how policy benefits the capitalist class and harms working class and communities of color.

Update on GRPD collaboration with Federal Agents in the Grandville Avenue area

May 18, 2017

We have been made aware of the fact that our posting from this morning, which said ICE agents, when it was US Marshal’s who had the assistance of the Grand Rapids Police Department in apprehending someone they claim was a “suspect on a Felony Warrant.” We did correct which law enforcement agency was involved.

However, we stand by the content of the article posted earlier today, in that the fact that the GRPD’s collaboration with federal law enforcement agents does in NO Way makes those in the immigrant and undocumented community feel safe. Chief Rahinksy makes it clear in his statement at the end of the Media Release they sent out this afternoon, when he says:

“While the GRPD does not enforce Federal immigration law (Title 8, Code of Federal Regulaitons), we cannot refuse a request for assistance from a Federal or State law enforcement agency” – Chief David Rahinsky

Here is the entire media release that was sent to me by the Communications Director of the City of Grand Rapids that was from the GRPD and posted on Facebook, where they respond directly to the GRIID article.

Public Information Release – GRPD Clarifies Role in Recent Arrest
Grand Rapids, MI (May 18, 2017, 2:05 pm)

Amidst growing concerns of the Hispanic, immigrant, and undocumented members of the community, the Grand Rapids Police Department shares the account of a recent incident which resulted in a community member’s arrest. The department also explains its position when responding to requests from Federal Law Enforcement agencies.

On March 17, 2017, at approximately 9:04 am, a Grand Rapids Police Officer was in the area of Grandville Av and Ritzema Ct SW, near the Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School, when a United States Marshal saw the officer and asked for assistance in locating a suspect wanted on a Felony Warrant.

The Officer and U.S. Marshal spoke with a female who resided at a residence on the 1200 block of Grandville Av who was subsequently arrested on the warrant. The 38 year old woman was taken to the Kent County Correctional Facility.

It has been reported by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) that the Grand Rapids Police Department was assisting Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) on this incident. The information contained in their report is not accurate. The officer was assisting a U.S Marshal, whose responsibilities are to locate federal fugitives, provide witness protection and prisoner transport, to name a few.

“The GRPD strives to be transparent and accessible in responding to our community’s concern regarding immigration enforcement. While the GRPD does not enforce Federal immigration law (Title 8, Code of Federal Regulaitons), we cannot refuse a request for assistance from a Federal or State law enforcement agency” – Chief David Rahinsky

Federal agents, along with the GRPD, seen in the Grandville Avenue area raises more questions about the role of the GRPD

May 18, 2017

Yesterday, the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan was informed by residents along the Grandville Avenue corridor that Federal agents and the GRPD made their presence known in the heart of the Latino community.

Shortly after the Hispanic Center received word from residents about the presence of law enforcement, they released a brief statement on their Facebook page stating:

Comunidad Latina de Grand Rapids,

Le pedimos que tenga cuidado hoy, Miercoles, el 17 de Mayo. Tenemos razon de creer que hay U.S Marshals en nuestros vecindarios.

Si usted no tiene sus documentos necesarios no salga de su casa. Si alguien toca su puerta y usted no sabe quien es, no habra la puerta. Informese de sus derechos. El Centro Hispano del Oeste se esta cominicando con la cuidad y el Departamento de Policia de Grand Rapids.

Latin community of Grand Rapids

We ask that you be careful today Wednesday, May 17. We have reason to believe US Marshals are out in our neighborhoods.

If you don’t have the necessary documents with you, do not go out on the street. If there is a knock on the door of your house and you don’t know who it is, don’t open the door. Inform yourself of your rights. The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan is communicating with the city as well as GRPD.

The statement was accompanied by the handout that the ‘Grand Rapids Immigrant Solidarity Network has been distributing, that lets people know what to do if ICE shows up, in both Spanish and English.  

Spanish language radio stations, La Mejor GR and La Poderosa both interviewed Hispanic Center director Roberto Torres about the presence of both ICE agents and the GRPD in the southwest part of the city.

Torres was clearly not happy that federal officers were present in the Grandville Avenue area, since the level of fear that people in the immigrant and undocumented community face on a daily basis. However, what seemed to bother the Hispanic Center director more, was the fact that the GRPD was with the federal officers.

This is in part because of what Grand Rapids Police Chief Rahinsky said at a forum held at the Hispanic Center in early March in regards to cooperating with ICE officials. In an interview that Rahinsky did after that community forum, he stated, “If an agency arrests someone who is here illegally and books them into either their municipal facility or their county facility, I believe we have an obligation to notify our federal counterparts in ICE of that arrest.”

This statement by the Grand Rapids Chief of Police is opposite of what he said to a group of community organizers and immigration lawyers back in December to talk about Grand Rapids becoming a Sanctuary City. At that meeting Rahinsky went so far as to say, “while we are not a Sanctuary City, we operate in such a way that we act as one.” He went on to say, “we don’t work to enforce national immigration policy.”

The question we must put in front of the Grand Rapids Police Chief is, “what were your officers doing with federal agents on May 17 in the Grandville Avenue corridor?” The GRPD claims to serve the community and Chief Rahinsky has gone out of his way to present himself as a supporter of immigrants, yet the practice of the GRPD is a completely different reality, a reality that is causing thousands of people in the immigrant and undocumented community to live in constant fear. 

Do Food Drives End Hunger? Feeding America and the Anti-Hunger Industrial Complex

May 15, 2017

This past week, many in Grand Rapids, in my mail was a grocery bag and a card from Feeding America West Michigan. The grocery bag and the card had the same message, that featured cartoon characters that asked the question – Do We Have an Answer to Hunger? The answer was, Yes, It’s in the Bag.

Thousands of households were asked to either fill the bag to stamp out hunger or donate online on May 13th to Feeding America West Michigan. Both of these options are easy, simple and are based on the notion that if we donate food we can solve hunger.

Filling a grocery bag with processed foods will not end hunger, in fact, it is actually a false solution

Feeding America wants us all to believe that hunger can be solved through charity. However, the anti-hunger industrial complex does is to keep our attention focused on the hunger problem without actually pursuing the necessary steps to truly end it. 

We have written about this issue in the past, looking at groups like Kids Food Basket and Feeding America West Michigan. Our analysis has drawn criticism because some people think that you should never challenge charitable groups that are “attempting to do good.” Such a simplistic and naive reaction to any critique of food charity not only seeks to silence any real dialogue around the need to move from food charity to food justice, it prevents us from having to come to terms with the fact that a food charity model will never solve the issues of hunger and poverty. 

Andrew Fisher’s book, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, confirms the critique that the anti-hunger industrial complex only ends up perpetuating hunger. The book offers some fresh insight into the anti-hunger industrial complex and makes it clear that food charity is a false solution. One major theme of the book is this:

In both allying themselves with corporate America and not pursuing labor-related issues, anti-hunger advocates tacitly exonerated businesses from their role in foster income inequality and, in various cases, of engaging in practices that perpetuated hunger among their own workers or subcontractors.

This relationship between corporate America and Feeding America provides a clear example of why the anti-hunger industrial complex won’t end hunger and only perpetuates it.

According to Big Hunger, “Feeding America’s income from corporate promotions increased six fold from $3.5 million in 2008 to $20.6 million in 2014 (while other corporate donations went up four fold from $8.7 million to $36.2 million during the same time period).” This shift in the last ten years in significant and demonstrates how the much of the charitable food sector has been hijacked through their relationship with corporate America. Walmart is a prime example of how insidious the anti-hunger industrial complex’s relationship is with powerful corporations.

Walmart benefits from this relationship with Feeding America in many ways. First, the largest global corporation uses its relationship to Feeding America as a public relations stunt, that not only wins over the hearts and minds of consumers, it distracts us from looking at the low wages the company pays. Here is a recent commercial that Walmart and Feeding America are airing on TV stations across the country.

Second, the corporate relationship to the anti-hunger industrial complex is problematic, since so many of the major food commodity corporations occupy seats of the board of directors of many of these charitable food entities, as is evidenced by this list from Fisher’s book.

A third consequence is that many of the major anti-hunger organizations have adopted corporate governance models and pay their CEOs outrageous salaries, as you can see from the data below.

The Feeding America West Michigan CEO receives an annual salary of $118,818, according to their 990 documents from 2015

As Fisher points out in Big Hunger:

The cumulative effect of this anti-hunger industrial complex is that the more moderate organizations, the ones that are more in synch with corporate philanthropy, become wealthier and squeeze out the more progressive organizations. Their approach becomes the dominant paradigm.

Indeed, the approach of Feeding America West Michigan is the dominant paradigm in this community. However, this paradigm is being challenged. Access of West Michigan in recent years is moving the organization away from a food charity model towards a food justice model, by challenging food pantries to shift their focus and look at root causes of hunger in our community. Some food pantries are now offering more fresh produce from local farmers, often through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model.

Another local example that seeks to challenge the food charity model is the work of the Other Way Ministries. This long-time westside organization has run a food pantry for decades, but in recent years they have minimized the amount of unhealthy food they carry and promote more whole foods and fresh produce to those who are food insecure. The Other Way Ministries also make smoothies with people who come to the pantry, offers canning classes and has established its own food co-op.

In addition, the westside organization has a community garden and is partnering with Urban Roots to further develop that garden as a more dynamic mechanism for people to access fresh produce and to learn to grow more of their own food.

Lastly, the Other Way Ministries has been partnering with Gardens for Grand Rapids for the past two years to encourage people to access raised garden beds and news soil at no cost, so that residents in the area can be directly involved in some of their own food production.

These are just a few examples of how traditional food charity organizations have been moving towards a food justice model and are operating outside of the anti-hunger industrial complex to offer real solutions that are not rooted in the corporate/capitalist model.

A speech disrupted and deconstructed: On the arrogance of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman University

May 12, 2017

On Wednesday, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave the commencement speech at one of the nation’s historically black universities, Bethune-Cookman University, located in Florida.

Current students and alumni had opposed having DeVos be the commencement speaker, because of racist and insensitive comments she made about black colleges and universities being “schools of choice.” The opposition was public, with marches, formal statements and a petition campaign that had generated some 50,000 signatures prior to May 10. 

When DeVos was introduced students began booing and yelling to attempt to drown out the Secretary of Education. Many of the graduating students also stood and turned their backs on DeVos and the administration that invited her, all of which can be seen in this video.

While much of the news coverage focused on the student opposition, little was shared about what Betsy DeVos said and attempted to say. A story on Buzzfeed included these comments from DeVos: 

“One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree,” she said. “I have respect for all those who attended, including those who demonstrated their disagreement with me. While we may share differing points of view, my visit and dialogue with students leaves me encouraged and committed to supporting HBCUs.”

Like much of her speech, reasonable people would take issue with what she had to say. In all the years of monitoring the activities of the DeVos Family and Betsy DeVos in particular, there is little indication that she is interested in conversations with those with whom she disagrees. In fact, what Betsy DeVos has demonstrated over the years is that she has used her family’s deep pockets to fight against people she disagrees with, particularly those who support public education, LGBTQ rights, public sector unions, pro-choice advocates, working class people in general and anyone who wants to keep religion out of the public sphere.

Betsy DeVos attempted to say many other things during the commencement speech, much of which was difficult to hear based on the videos and often ignored. However, it is worth deconstructing some of the comments from her speech, which can be found in its entirety here.

DeVos’s speech is entitled A Calling to Service, Courage and Grace. One question we might all ask ourselves is how does someone who was born into and married into the billionaire class practice service. It is well known that Dick and Betsy DeVos have numerous people working in their home ion Holland in varying capacities, but primarily as domestic servants.

Early on in her speech DeVos said, “I am at the table fighting on your behalf, and on behalf of all students across this great nation.” This has not been historically true, since Betsy has fought against public education for several decades, both by creating entities such as the Great Lakes Education Project and by funding anti-public education and school privatization campaigns across the country. 

What was most disconcerting about the Education Secretary’s speech was her misuse of comments from the university’s founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. DeVos said there were three main themes she found in reading Dr. Bethune, one of which was that we should, “take responsibility for your families and your communities and never tolerate inequality or injustice.”

So how does Betsy DeVos reconcile her being part of the billionaire class when so many millions of families live in poverty? How does her class privilege relate to not tolerating inequality or injustice? Simply put, it doesn’t. Betsy DeVos, along with the rest of the capitalist class, made their wealth through injustice and inequality.

Lastly, towards the end of her comments, Betsy DeVos stated, “And when some pursue dissention, you can engage in debate with grace and poise, just as Dr. Bethune did.” While it is true that Dr. Bethune may have displayed a tremendous amount of poise and grace in her lifetime, the reality is that it was precisely because of her dissention, and the dissention of countless other black educators, that HBCUs were started throughout the country. Like any struggle for justice, black colleges and universities were build on dissention against institutionalized racism and white supremacy., something Betsy DeVos would know little about.