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GRIID Class for Fall 2016: Fighting Racism, Dismantling White Supremacy – The Responsibility of White People

August 17, 2016

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Beginning on September 26, GRIID will be offering another 8 week class for people who are serious about fighting racism and White Supremacy. The Title of the Class is Fighting Racism, Dismantling White Supremacy: The Responsibility of White People.

The class will be structured in 3 parts. During the first session we will discuss White Privilege, Institutionalized Racism and White Supremacy in a workshop format. In the second part of the class (weeks 2 – 5), we will be reading and discussing the book Towards the Other America: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter, by Chris Crass. Everyone taking the class is responsible for purchasing their own copy.

Here is what Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement says about Towards the Other America:

Towards the ‘Other America’ is an important primer for new and seasoned white anti-racist organizers and activists in the era of #BlackLivesMatter. Today, the Right attacks and attempts to de-legitimize the movement for Black lives by using the age-old wedge of white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy. But tomorrow—the one we must work together to build—will have millions of anti-racist whites who say ‘Not in our name.’ This collection of essays and interviews, grounded in practical lessons, will help us get one step closer to that tomorrow.”

In the final part of the class (weeks 6 – 8), we will be using The Movement for Black Lives policy document and discussing ways to work on these issues in West Michigan.

This is a class only for White people who want to seriously work to confront racism and White Supremacy.

Class begins on Monday, September 26, from 6:30 – 8:30pm and will be every Monday until November 14. (8 weeks)

We are asking for a $25 contribution for the class, but no one will be turned away because of money. Class is limited to 15 people and will be held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, located at 1025 3 Mile Rd NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505. Send an e-mail to jsmith@griid.org if you are interested in signing up for this class.

Also of interest, there is an good interview with Chris Crass and Dara Silverman on the Laura Flanders show, talking about White anti-racism organizing in the US.

West Michigan Congressional Districts Funded by the Rich and Powerful

August 8, 2016

Last week we reported on how much money the DeVos Family spent just 2 months before the August 2nd Primary election. The West Michigan family spent $1.5 million during the 56 day period just prior to the August Primary, which means they spent $26,785 a day to buy candidates and political influence at the state level.Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.36.08 AM

Now we turn to the two congressional districts that make up Grand Rapids and Holland, the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.

These two congressional races have been dominated by Republicans for decades and that trend is not going to change in the near future. According to OpenSecrets.org, the Republican candidates (both incumbents) have a huge advantage in funding compared to their Democratic challengers.

In the 2nd Congressional race, Bill Huizenga has raised $1,047,454, compared to $11,235 raised by the challenger, Dennis Murphy. The disparity in campaign funding is roughly the same in the 3rd Congressional race, with Justin Amash raising $561,183, compared to a mere $8,157, raised by Douglas Smith. What is more interesting than the amounts that have been raised in both Congressional Districts is the sources of those campaign contributions.

Again, according to OpenSecrets, Bill Huizenga has raised money from some of the wealthiest entities in the state.

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One can see from the graph above that the top contributor so far to Huizenga’s campaign is the DeVos/Van Andel run Amway/Alticor Inc. at $18,000. This contribution from Amway is more than the total amount raised by the Democratic challenger. The second largest donor to Huizenga’s campaign is Rock Holdings, which is the parent company of Quicken Loans, owned by billionaire Dan Gilbert.

Huizenga has also received money from Port City Group, CMS Energy, insurance companies and Koch Industries. Koch Industries is none other than the company owned and run by the Koch Brothers, who are in many ways the national version of what the DeVos family is to Michigan. 

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In the 3rd Congressional race, Justin Amash dominates in fund raising. One can see from the graph above that the largest contributor so far has been Michigan Industrial Tools, which is a company founded by the father of Justin Amash. The second largest contributor is S Abraham & Sons, owned and operated by a wealthy Arab-American family in West Michigan.

The third largest contributor to the Amash campaign is the Windquest Group, which is part of the DeVos family empire. In addition to the Windquest Group, Amway, RDV Corp and DP Fox ventures have also contributed to the Amash campaign and all of them are part of the DeVos family empire.Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.23.43 AM

Other major contributors to the Amash campaign are Wolverine Gas & OIl and Autocam Corp. These two companies are run by some of the richest men in West Michigan, Sydney Jansma (Wolverine Gas & Oil) and John Kennedy (Autocam Corp). Jansma is a former board member of the Acton Institute and has been a major player fracking throughout Michigan in recent years

Kennedy is a major player in West Michigan politics and throughout the state. One can see from the chart on the right that both Kennedy and his wife have contributed to hundreds of thousands to candidates across the state and the fifth largest donor to Michigan Political Committees from 2013 – 2014, according to a report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. (see chart below) The Autocam Corp CEO sits on the board of the West Michigan Policy Forum and the Acton Institute.

More clear evidence that money from the capitalist class is what determines the electoral process in this country.

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The DeVos Family, MLive and the Buying of Elections

August 1, 2016

Last Friday, MLive posted some information on which candidates in West Michigan are receiving money from the DeVos family. I say posted some information, because what information was given, was the absolute minimum and required virtually no work on the part of MLive staff. 

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The MLive posting essentially consisted of slides with a picture of the DeVos family and the candidates they have contributed to just before the August 2nd primary. Each slide has a little bit of text, but the posting provides no analysis, not how many other candidates of political action committees the DeVos family has contributed to in the most recent campaign finance disclosure cycle.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 12.32.46 AM

MLive once again demonstrates that they will not challenge or investigate the political and economic influence of the most powerful family in West Michigan.

At a closer and more honest look at the recent campaign donations from the DeVos family reveals that their influence is much greater than what MLive suggests.

First, here is a complete listing of the DeVos family contributions between June 2nd and July 28 of 2016. One can see that there are many more candidates that the family has contributed to beyond West Michigan. It is also evident that the organizations and political action committees they have contributed to have been the real beneficiaries of the DeVos money.

Second, the total amount the DeVos family contributed to influence electoral outcomes in just 56 days is roughly $1.5 million. This means that the family contributed $26,785 per day during this 56-day period. In other words, the DeVos family contributed the same amount of money in one day ($26,785) that thousands of people in Grand Rapids make in one year.

Third, the MLive posting provides no analysis or information on what the DeVos money buys in terms of policy. This is the most relevant question for journalists to ask, since rich people don’t give money just for the hell of it, but to determine policy outcomes. For example, State Representative Daniela Garcia received $9,000 from the DeVos family on July 14th. One can easily check what the representative from the 90th District is voting for and which bill she is introducing by going to this link. Not surprising, Rep. Garcia has voted to support policies that benefit businesses, policies that negatively impact unions and policies that benefit the push to privatize public education. Any of the candidates, that are incumbents, in which the DeVos family has given money to recently, could easily have been looked at the determine how they vote. This is what real journalism would do.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 12.31.15 AM

Fourth, MLive completely ignored the fact that the political action committees and organizations which received the bulk of the DeVos family money in the past two months is a larger issue than what individual candidates receive. It would come as no surprise that the bulk of the DeVos funds during the past two months went to the Republican Party, both at the state and federal level, to spent how they please.

Then there are the funds the DeVos family has contributed to the Great Lakes Education Project and the Michigan Freedom Network, both political action committees that are run by either a member of the DeVos family or a DeVos family operative. Both entities received $250,000 from the DeVos family on July 15.

Betsy DeVos is one of the four board members of the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP). The GLEP is part of a larger national network of organizations that are working to undermine public education. The GLEP is the primary entity work on undermining public education in Michigan and has most recently played a critical role in state policy decisions on the future of Detroit schools

The Michigan Freedom Network is the political action committee of the organization of the Michigan Freedom Fund. It’s director is Greg McNeilly, a long time DeVos political operative. McNeilly was the campaign manager for the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006. McNeilly is also a board member of GLEP and is the Chief Operating Officer of the DeVos run Windquest Group. McNeilly was quoted in an MLive article from last year, boasting how political donations are the most protected form of speech:

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

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MLive completely fails to truly inform the public about the power and influence of the DeVos family. Therefore, we should never rely on it as a source to inform us about how power functions. Instead, we need to create our own mechanisms to inform and mobilize the public to challenge power, whether it is private or government power.

What happens when you invite the cops: WGVU program on Policing

July 27, 2016

What happens when you have a chief of police on a TV program to discuss policing in Grand Rapids? It turns into a show, where not only did the Chief of Police act as an apologist for police behavior, it makes it difficult to have a real conversation about police accountability or community solutions that are independent of the police.8fbc371b0c137fdb53d9ac37f67df1d6

How we frame issues, especially an issue such as police brutality and the institution of policing, is critically important if we are ever going to go down the path to ending state violence. If we understand that the function of policing is fundamentally the armed protection of state interests. Rachel Herzing, the co-founder of Critical Resistance, names policing as follows:

“A set of practices sanctioned by the state to enforce law and maintain social control and cultural hegemony through the use of force.”

For many people and organizations within communities of color, the question is “not how to improve policing, but how to reduce its role in our lives.” 

WGVU TV’s Mutual Inclusive showed aired on Monday night with the topic focused on policing. The program invited the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Briana Urena-Ravelo (Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids) and Darrel Ross (Linc up). The show began with some text on the screen, providing data on how many black people have been killed by police officers across the country, this year alone. This was followed by a video clip of a African American mother talking about how her son was wrongfully accused and then beaten by the GRPD. The mother’s story was powerful.

The TV show’s host then began by asking Briana a question, but before she could respond, the Chief of Police interrupted. Not only did he interrupt, he then wanted to reframe the issue and defend the actions of officers in his department. However, not once did he apologize for the beating this young black kid experienced at the hands of the GRPD.

The video of the mother was countered by a 5 minute video on a variety of programs that the Grand Rapids Police Department uses to engage the community, particularly youth. There were several youth singing the praises of the police department because the cops play baseball with them and take them to Tiger games in Detroit. Several police officers also spoke in the video, but one was particularly revealing. Lt. Patrick Merill addressed the issue of bias training, by saying, “if this training comforts the public, we’ll do it.”

Chief Rahinsky spoke more than the other panelists, using his comments to either defend or deflect questions from the host or those in the audience.

Darrel Ross from Linc Up did offer some poignant comments that challenged what Chief Rahinsky was saying, particularly around the idea that while talking about police behavior it often causes us to discuss specific cases, instead of discussing the institution of policing. Ross also commented that he felt that the result of our collective failure to talk about the institution of policing, perpetuates racialized outcomes.

Briana Urena-Ravelo also challenge comments or responses from Chief Rahinsky. In response to the issue of people living in fear, the Chief equated the fear that the public experiences what the police officers experience. Urena-Ravelo named this as a false binary, since “fear is not equitable.” The police are not as afraid as the public, particularly with communities of color that fear for their lives every day based on what the police do and might do, since these communities are more heavily policed than other communities.

Briana also challenged the very nature and function of the police on numerous occasions. When talking about funding, she stated that the police have recently spent more money on new rifles than they have on bias training. In fact, she said that more money should go back to the community, since they could do more with those funds to transform their communities instead of those funds ending up in the hands of the police.tumblr_nyxx2fiAaJ1tx66yvo1_1280

Urena-Ravelo also stated at one point that the police are not being held accountable. “They use excessive force. I haven’t seen transparency, plus we don’t name the racism and white supremacy perpetrated against the black community.”

What was important about what Briana was saying, was to reframe questions and to do what no one else was doing……which was to try to shift the conversation on the necessity of the police. As was stated at the beginning of this post, there are a growing number of people who think it does no good to attempt to reform the police. Again, to quote Rachel Herzing, the function of policing is the armed protection of state interests.

Just a few weeks ago, the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids chapter, wrote a powerful statement in response to the Am I Next gathering, which had invited the police. Part of that statement read, “We do not think those who police, intimidate and enact violence on communities are healthy, functioning parts of those communities and regard with suspicion those who believe that moral appeals will save Black people from public execution.” 

The whole time I watched this program on policing, I kept thinking, what kind of discussion could have happened if the police chief was not invited. Indeed, what kind of creative and transformative solutions could people come up with that doesn’t rely the cops.

Buying Energy Policy in Michigan is a Bipartisan Affair: Lobbyists for DTE and Consumers Energy

July 25, 2016

A recent report from Michigan Campaign Finance Report documents how state legislators, regardless of party affiliation, are influenced by DTE Energy and Consumers Energy on energy policy.

2340-lobbyists-have-an-opinion-on-how-best-to-enact-climate-policyThe report states:

In addition to the lobbyists working on the legislation, at least 86 individual companies have made their positions known by providing official statements to lawmakers. They range from Ford Motor The top photograph shows the scene at a Senate Energy and Technology Committee this spring.Company to a Holiday Inn Express in Bad Axe. On top of those businesses, at least 95 interest groups or governments have also officially weighed in.

At the center of the fight are the state’s dominant electric utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. Combined, the two utilities have 42 individuals or firms that are registered as lobbyists they employ. However, DTE says not all of its lobbyists are actively working on energy reforms. Plus, DTE and Consumers each work with at least one of the state’s eight largest multi-client firms, which don’t have to disclose how many of their lobbyists are working on specific proposals.

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One can see from this first graphic how both Republican and Democratic legislators in Michigan rely heavily on funding from DTE Energy and Consumers Energy.

  • Of the 63 GOP State Representatives, 25 of them have DTE or Consumers Energy as Top 10 donors.
  • For the 45 Democratic State Representatives, 22 of them have DTE or Consumers Energy as Top 10 donors.
  • In the Michigan Senate there are there are 22 out of the 27 GOP Senators with DTE or Consumers Energy as Top 10 donors and 9 out of 10 for the Democratic State Senators.

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Looking at the second graphic, nearly every member of the Michigan Legislature has received donations from DTE Energy or Consumers Energy. Only 1 Republican State Representative and three Democrats have not received any donations from the two major energy companies in Michigan. However, every single member of the Michigan State Senate has received funds from either DTE Energy or Consumers Energy.

You can track how much each member of the Michigan Legislature has received funding from DTE of Consumers Energy, by going to the MCFN donor tracking data base

The report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network also lists the top 100 lobbyists in Michigan working on energy policy. The majority of these lobbyists are paid by private businesses, such as DTE, Consumers Energy, Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Whirlpool. In addition, there are numerous business associations that also have paid lobbyist on energy policy such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Manufacturing Association.

There are a few entities that have paid lobbyists on energy policy that are based in West Michigan, such as the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Amway.

“It was a peaceful event”: How media framed Saturday’s event and virtually eliminated any analysis of state violence that targets the Black community

July 18, 2016

(As a matter of transparency, I was part of the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids action at the Am I Next rally on Saturday.)Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.41.32 AM

On Saturday, several hundred people gathered at Rosa Parks Circle for an event entitled Am I Next, organized by four black teenagers, in response to recent shootings across the US.

The rally lasted about an hour and featured a representative from the City of Grand Rapids, commentary from the four organizers, the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, 2 representatives from the Western branch of the ACLU, someone from the Be Nice campaign and several religious leaders. 

The rally speakers had some useful things to say, but much of the information that was shared focused on individual behavior, particularly on what individuals need to do to be safe and protect themselves. This was overwhelmingly the message of the person from the Be Nice campaign and the information that was shared by the ACLU about “knowing your rights.”Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 12.08.30 PM

In other words, there was no critique or analysis of state violence at the hands of law enforcement. There was no analysis of why blacks are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement with repression and there was no critique of other systems of oppression such as  White Supremacy and capitalism.

What the crowd was implored to do was to be nice or ask for a lawyer. Such advise is mostly irrelevant when people of color are confronted by state violence at the hands of the police. What good is it to be nice when the cops are beating you? The Grand Rapids Police Chief even had the audacity to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, by saying, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How dare he try to appropriate Dr. King and the Black Freedom movement, which was constantly monitored, harassed, arrested, brutalized and murdered by the very same law enforcement agencies.

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One of the main reasons why Black Lives Matter GR came to the Am I Next rally was to make it clear that police brutality and repression against the black community happens in Grand Rapids. This is why they stood up and held signs right in front of the stage when the Chief of Police spoke, so ask to make a clear statement about why it was problematic for the rally organizers to invite the head of an organization that targets, harasses and brutalizes black people on a daily basis in Grand Rapids. To read the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids statement, go to this link. 

How commercial media framed the event

As of this writing, there has been commercial news coverage on the three Grand Rapids-based TV stations and MLive.13707603_10153616898510966_4545522590783359987_n

The WOOD TV 8 story was framed as a “peaceful” event, juxtaposing the direct action tactics with other places in the country, with the permitted gathering in Grand Rapids. Framing the story this way made it seem like the gathering in Grand Rapids was respectable, when in fact, it demonized confrontational actions. The story gave voice to the organizers of the event and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police. They did mention the statement that BLM GR had published a few days earlier and that members where there to protest when the Chief of Police spoke, but no one from Black Lives Matter GR were interviewed.

The WZZM 13 story also promoted respectability politics and framed the story as a peaceful gathering. Channel 13 gave voice to the organizers of the event and an ACLU representative, but did include a quote from the Black Lives Matter statement on why they were not promoting the event. 13754105_10209939478944629_6977609487713386091_n

The WXMI 17 story continued the “peaceful” mantra, but offered no substantive difference to how the other TV stations covered the issue and completely ignored the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids presence. 

The Mlive story was also overly simplistic, with quotes from the organizers, a couple who attended the event and someone from the Grand Rapids Urban League. The MLive story did mention the action that the Grand Rapids Black Lives Matter group took while the Chief of Police spoke, along with a brief comment from one of the groups members at the end of the article, a comment which appears to be taken out of context. 

Black Lives Don’t Matter: The Political reality of Electoral Politics in Michigan

July 14, 2016

According to a recent report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the top 150 Political Action Committees (PACs) have raised $26 million this year through April. The top ten PACs in Michigan are listed below, but you can go to this link to see what other groups are raising money to buy the elections. 

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Of course there are the usual suspects such as Republican and Democratic Party PACs, which are acting in their own self interest. In fact, most PACs raise money for their own self interests. The Michigan Farm Bureau wants to make sure that agribusiness interests are taken care of by the politicians in Lansing, just like corporations such as DTE, Ford, Consumers Energy, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Meijer.

Then there are other groups like the DeVos led PAC, the Great Lakes Education Project, which seeks to undermine public education. There are other entities like the Michigan and Grand Rapids Chambers of Commerce, which will also try to secure the interest of the capitalist class through their PACs come the November election.

There is nothing shocking or revealing about such entities, which will continue to raise and spend millions of dollars before the election day on November. However, if one looks at the list of top Political Action Committees, one can see that there are numerous trade unions that have also raised collectively several million dollars. Now, it is no secret that they too are trying to influence the outcome of the election and are primarily throwing their funds behind the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates.13728987_915085058620808_5338231205123077566_n

Remember in 2012, when labor groups tried to get Prop 2 passed in Michigan? Unions spent $21.9 million dollars that year to push for Proposal 2. What if that amount of money, along with all the current labor-based PAC money, was spent on paying people to become organizers, to provide resources to those doing organizing campaigns wherever workers wanted to organize? Workplace democracy is one of the strongest forms of democracy and can trump Right to Work laws. If businesses do not have compliant workers, they can’t make money.

In addition, what if unions, which are spending millions on the current election, would redirect those funds to building affordable housing in their communities. What about re-directing those funds used for elections to create community gardens in urban spaces to improve the nutrition of families with children? Imagine if unions collectively spent money that made the statement Black Lives Matter and assisted Black families experiencing poverty, increased rent costs and mass incarceration. Don’t you think that taking these kinds of actions would send a strong message that labor groups truly care about working class people? Imagine what such a show of solidarity would do to build membership. More importantly, imagine how it might radically challenge systems of power and oppression.

BUT…….this is not likely to happen. Those same unions will spend millions and millions of dollars on electoral politics. So, how is that strategy working out for communities of color, undocumented immigrants, communities experiencing violence at the hands of the state and working class families who are struggling to survive? That answer seems pretty obvious. An electoral strategy doesn’t work for communities of color, undocumented immigrants and working class families. The reality is that the trade unions, which give millions to the Democratic Party, send a very real and clear message – Black Lives Don’t Matter! 

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