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Grand Rapids Econ Club hosted the President of the American Enterprise Institute: The most influential Right Wing Think Tank in DC today

February 21, 2017

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-7-18-13-pmThe President of one of the most influential right wing think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute, spoke to a crowded room at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids today.

Hosted by the Econ Club of Grand Rapids, Arthur C. Brooks, spoke to a room full of business people and other members of the power structure today about an idea they all love, which was entrepreneurship. Nothing that Brooks had to say was terribly interesting, rather it was just a 30 minute cheerleading session about how great starting businesses are.

However, the American Enterprise Institute is something worth talking about and something that everyone who cares about social justice and collective liberation ought to pay attention to.

Here are just some of the positions that the American Enterprise Institute has taken in recent decades:

  • Opposes minimum wage laws and living wage campaignsscreen-shot-2017-02-20-at-7-24-45-pm
  • Opposes any regulation of Wall Street
  • Questions Climate Change and promotes the use of fossil fuels
  • Promotes and endorses US foreign policy that perpetuates imperialism
  • Was a big proponent of the US invasion/occupation of Iraq
  • Endorses the privatization of public education and was a big cheerleader for Betsy DeVos
  • Promotes corporate trade policies
  • Opposes government welfare programs
  • Opposes and makes fun of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock

downloadCheck out the information that the American Enterprise Institute has at their own site, as well as the resources available from SourceWatch to get more information on what this right wing think tank is all about.  

Protecting Betsy DeVos: On the Nature and Function of Power

February 20, 2017

It has been reported in many news sources that the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, now is receiving protection from the US Marshal Service. 

This news comes just days after Betsy DeVos was confronted by protestors who preventer her from entering a public school in Washington, DC, as can be seen in this video. 

The decision to provide US Marshals to accompany Betsy DeVos, should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with the nature and function of power in US politics.

Those who have power over others, those with political and economic power, will always be the beneficiaries of protection from state agents, like the US Marshal Service.  The nature and function of power in the US is such that those who have power will be protected at all costs and anyone who threatens that power will suffer the consequences.

Whether you are protestors trying to non-violently prevent a government official from entering a public school, water protectors trying to stop an oil pipeline from entering the land you care for or fast food workers fighting for a living wage, you are threatening power. When power is threatened, it will engage in various forms of repression to suppress those engaged in whatever form of resistance they chose to employ.

  • When was the last time you saw cops defend people from corporate greed?
  • When was the last time you saw ICE officials defend immigrants who are fleeing political or economic repression?
  • When was the last time you saw an FBI agent defend those fighting against Islamophobia and hate crimes?
  • When was the last time you saw a member of the Grand Rapids Police Department defend a black person from other law enforcement agents who wanted to do them harm?screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-2-50-09-am

The fact that Betsy DeVos is now receiving protection from federal law enforcement agents, is based upon how power functions in this society. She represents power and any threat to that power will not be tolerated.

Here we can turn to the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who has some very astute things to say about power, from an 1857 speech

“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages and make no resistance, either moral or physical. Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.”

Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes march in Grand Rapids: We are here and we are not leaving!

February 17, 2017

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Yesterday, over 1,000 people marched in Grand Rapids for immigrant rights and to send a clear message to people in power, Aqui Estamos y no, nos vamos – We are here and we are not leaving!

People gathered near a store owned by Latinos on Division, just a few blocks north of 28th street. There were a few people who spoke, which energized the crowd and then the march began at about 5:20.

There were no permits obtained, people just simply went out into the street and took up the 2 south-bound lanes on Division and the middle turn lane. People march we great enthusiasm, using horns, drums and chanting all throughout the march. One chant said, Grand Rapids, escucha, estamos en la Lucha! – Grand Rapids, Listen Up, We are in the Struggle!

There were also lots of flags being carried or waved, some American flags, but mostly Mexican and Guatemala flags. I asked a few people about why they were carry their home country flags. One person said it was because they wanted to demonstrate the pride they have in their country of origin. Another person said they were angry at the US government for wanting to build a wall along the US and Mexican border and because of the recent ICE raids being conducted in the country, even in West Michigan.

Once the march got to 28th street, those marching turned right and began going west on 28th street towards US 131. Again both west-bound lanes were taken up by marchers and the middle turn lane. Despite blocking traffic, lots of people were honking their horns in support of the march, with people waving and taking pictures with their cell phones.

Just as we crossed US 131, the march made a big u-turn and then went east-bound on 28th street, back towards division, as can be seen in the video below.

dsc00261The police response to this was surprisingly slow, since the first cop cars did not appear until the march was headed back towards Division on 28th street. The police tried to block the center turn lane and get people to stay in the right two lanes, but lots of people didn’t comply, especially since we were turning left back onto Division to the place where the march began. You can see in the video below people turning onto Division and how long the march was, backed up to 28th street.

The march was the culmination of actions taken throughout the day. People were encouraged not to shop or spend money, not to go to work and to not attend classes or send their children to classes. We have as yet to know what impact the Say Without Immigrants action had economically, but we know for sure that so many students that make up the Grand Rapids Public Schools didn’t show up, forcing the GRPS administration to declare a “snow day.” 

Lastly, it should be noted, that unlike the marches held out at the Kent County Airport in recent weeks, the number of allies at this march was significantly smaller.

Grand Rapids Right Wing Think Tank President Praises Betsy DeVos after Confirmation as Secretary of Education

February 16, 2017

The Acton Institute President Robert Sirico said last week on a blog post, that Betsy DeVos was the best choice for Secretary of Education. betsy-devos-and-priest_1484681039527_7704948_ver1-0

The blog post does acknowledge early on that the Betsy and other members of the DeVos Family have played an intricate role in supporting the work of the Acton Institute over the years.

Betsy DeVos is a former board member of the Acton Institute. She and her family also have been loyal philanthropists for the Grand Rapids, Mich., area of which Acton faithfully belongs. That written, it must be added that Acton’s relationship with the DeVos family and Betsy specifically and personally shows the passion and intellect that she brings to bear on those issues upon which she has been focused for decades. Among those issues is school choice so direly needed for students forced to suffer the failures rampant in our public schools.

However, Fr. Sirico fails to mention the vast amounts of money (over a million dollars) the DeVos family has contributed to the right wing think tanks since its founding, nor does he mention that other members of the DeVos family have served on the Acton Board or that Betsy’s mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, currently serves on the Acton Board.

The founder of the Acton Institute then goes on to say:

The hue and cry from Betsy DeVos’ detractors has been, frankly, disingenuous. She has shown time and again her mastery of intricate details of the many problems facing our country, and now has an opportunity to reverse the unfortunate circumstances facing many of our nation’s public schools.

I’m not sure of her mastery of intricate details, but I do agree with Fr. Sirico that Betsy DeVos intends to reverse the circumstances of the nation’s public schools.

For a significantly different take on what Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Secretary of Education means check out this interview by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that was posted last week. 

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Another announced land grab by GVSU means more surface parking lots

February 14, 2017

Yesterday, in an article on MLive, it was announced that Grand Valley State University would be leasing (but ultimately purchasing) 3.5 acres of land currently owned by the Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company for $3.38 million. 

The MLive article stated that GVSU would have a new surface parking lot ready for us by the 2017 Fall semester. In this arial view, it is the land/property outlined in red that will be used for parking. This decision was made by the GVSU Board of Trustees, which makes complete sense since the trustees represent monied interests throughout the state.

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This is just the latest development in GVSU’s history, when it comes to their expansion through land grabs.screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-1-38-49-pm

Ever since GVSU has had a presence on the westside, they have continued to gobble up land. This first began when the Eberhard Center was opened in 1988 in downtown Grand Rapids, along the Grand River and has continued through this most recent acquisition of land south of the downtown campus.

Other examples have been the purchase of land on Michigan Avenue for the Cook/DeVos building on the corner of Michigan and Lafayette. This process of land acquisition began when Butterworth Hospital (now Spectrum) began buying land that impacted the Belknap Neighborhood back in the 1990s. 

After the mid-1990s, when over 70 homes were bull-dozed on the westside between Lake Dr. and Bridge St, it paved the way for GVSU to eventually build the larger Pew Campus and all the accompanying parking lots/structures that came with it.

More recently there is the example of the GVSU purchase of land north of 196 in the Belknap Neighborhood. This project displaced dozens of families and resulted in the demolition of numerous homes. You can see in this map, the amount of land GVSU purchased in that particular land grab.

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We also took pictures last fall of the demolition, which is posted here.laker-effect

So you can see that GVSU has a long history of land grabs and that the announced new surface parking lot is just the most recent. No doubt it will not be the last.

In addition, it is also important to recognize that all of the new construction that GVSU is engaging in in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods also makes it attractive for other investors to want to cash in on new developments in the area, including upscale apartments, more breweries and restaurants. This process creates a snow ball effect that adds to gentrification and the displacement of working class individuals and families that can no longer afford to live in the spaces that GVSU controls.

ICE Raids and the Targeting of the Immigrant Community in West Michigan

February 13, 2017

Reports are now coming in about new ICE raids taking place in some parts of the US. The Trump administration’s Executive Order around immigration, the border and deportation will likely come to many communities, like West Michigan. screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-4-11-28-am

So what will we do in response? What do we need to do to be prepared? Plans in are in the works right now, but one thing we can all do is learn from what other communities have been doing, looking at best practices, strategies and tactics that we can use to mobilize people quickly to prevent harm being done to immigrant community, particularly those that are undocumented.

There are several useful toolkits being used across the country. One Rapid Response toolkit being used in New York City provides lots of great resources and uses popular media and graphics to communicate what people can do, what your rights are and how to mobilize people when needed, in both English and Spanish. 

Then there are these great documents that help people understand the deportation process and who is at risk of such repression from the government. Deportation 101: A Community Resource on Anti-Deportation Education and Organizing provides solid resources, ideas and action plans, that again are both in English and Spanish.screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-4-14-42-am

The Immigrant Defense Project provides great ideas on what we can be working on at the local level, while we fight the federal policy. Here are a list of suggestions, resources and places that are already do good work in defense of immigrants:

Fight for local policies to protect immigrants from deportation, including limiting ICE collaboration with law enforcement. See Local Options for Protecting Immigrants: A Collection of City & County Policies to Protect Immigrants from Discrimination and Deportation, a resource from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. For detailed examples from NYC, see also NYC detainer & probation policy.

• Advocate for state or local funding to ensure public defenders are able to provide proper immigration advice so that immigrant clients do not suffer the harsh consequences that can stem from a criminal case, such as New York’s Regional Immigration Assistance Centers.

• Advocate for state or local funding to ensure representation in immigration court, such as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. See also Blazing a Trail: The Right to Counsel in Detention and Beyond, a resource from the National Immigration Law Center.

• Support campaigns against discriminatory surveillance, special registration, and data sharing. See Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and  Stop LAPD Spying.  

• Stand with calls for  police departments to refrain from handing over  immigrants with administrative warrants to ICE, such as in the initiative as part of the campaign for the IDNYC, New York’s municipal ID.

• Fight for policies to prevent ICE arrests in courthouses, such as in Kings County, Washington and Santa Clara, California.

• Stand up for policies welcoming refugees locally and nationally. See Refugee Council USA’s Post-Election Toolkit.

• Engage in efforts to establish “safe school zones”. See the National Education Association’s resources.screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-4-32-37-am

There is also this four page document that lays out an excellent plan for how to mobilize people quickly when an ICE raid happens or when people are questioned, detained or arrested. Again, a coalition of folks are working on something like this right now in Grand Rapids.

There is another useful toolkit prepared by the Immigrant Defense Project, called Defend Against ICE Raids and Community Arrests

Lastly, a simple handout is being developed with a hotline for people who come in contact with ICE. What you see below is a sample of what this handout will look like, although we will have a local number for people to contact. Once people call the hotline, we will be able to mobilize the community quickly in order to resist the violence being done to individuals and families within the immigrant community. Stay tuned, as plans will be rolled out soon.

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Moral Pronouncements aren’t enough: Artprize, the DeVos Family and Trump’s Executive Orders

February 10, 2017

Yesterday, Artprize made an announcement on their website that appears to be a response to some of the recent Executive Orders coming from the Trump administration, particularly the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim policies.screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-11-49-08-am

Here is part of what the ArtPrize announcement stated: 

ArtPrize operates according to a Mission and a set of Guiding Principles. Recently the ground shifted, and so far the policies and statements of the current  administration have made what were once broadly agreeable sentiments into urgent calls to action.The ArtPrize team is committed to these principles so we’re  compelled to speak out. ArtPrize opposes any efforts to:

  • Discriminate against anyone based on religion, race, gender, sexual identity, physical ability or economic status. 
  • Detain or persecute refugees and immigrants. 
  • Limit or undermine a free press or freedom of speech.  
  • Prevent any child in the United States from accessing a quality education that includes the arts and humanities.

While such a pronouncement is nice and all, it effectively does nothing to address the reality that is faced by immigrants, refugees and Muslims, based on the recent Executive Orders.

No doubt this pronouncement is also influenced by the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, who is the mother of ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos. This seems evident based on the fourth point in the ArtPrize announcement, which says ; Prevent any child in the United States from accessing a quality education that includes the arts and humanities.

Show us the money!

Here are some reasons why the pronouncement is essentially meaningless.

  1. The US government’s negative treatment towards immigrants, refugees and Muslims is nothing new. ArtPrize first came on the scene in 2009, after the Obama administration took office. During his administration more undocumented people have been detained and deported than any previous administration. This included an escalation in the detention of families. So why now?  

2. This announcement is fundamentally a PR stunt aimed to head off any potential or additional anger that might be directed at ArtPrize because of the growing animosity towards the Betsy DeVos confirmation and the increased exposure to the DeVos family history as a result of the nomination and eventual confirmation. 

3. ArtPrize was founded by Rick DeVos, receives a tremendous amount from the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation on an annual basis, gets money from other DeVos family members and the circle of friends that they associate with, like the Seechia, Jandernoa, John Kennedy, etc. These people are all part of the West Michigan power structure that continues to support reactionary policies around labor issues, LGBTQ issues, as well as, promoting a Neoliberal Capitalist model. These people also a major contributors to the Republican Party at the state and federal level. In other words, their funding helped bring about the election of Donald trump. Therefore, unless ArtPrize is willing to stop receiving funds from these major contributors to the GOP, the announcement is essentially meaningless.

4. Lastly, the only real action that ArtPrize could take would be to work to fund the immigrant justice, pro-refugee, in Solidarity with the Muslim community and Sanctuary movements that are currently organizing in Grand Rapids. In other words, raise millions of dollars for these movements, money which we know they are capable of raising for an art competition, so that these movements can reduce the harm being done to immigrants, refugees and Muslims throughout West Michigan.

Failure to act on these four points means that the ArtPrize pronouncement is essentially meaningless.

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