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Michigan Student Power Network statement: Lame duck, Ballot Measures, and Michigan Democracy

December 12, 2018

Below in italics is a statement from the Michigan Student Power Network. The statement is important on numerous fronts, especially with their conclusion that we should rely on the changes we seek through the ballot box.

There has been plenty of national and local coverage on Michigan’s Lame Duck session and how the GOP is attempting to undo some of the recent gains made. The Bridge has an interesting article about how many members of the Democratic Party base are not happy with the lack of action from the party’s leadership. The GOP did the same thing at the end of 2012, where they shoved a Right to Work policy on the public, even though there was massive opposition with 10,000 people protesting. Unfortunately, the labor unions decided to play nice and allow lawmakers to operate in a business as usual climate, much like what we are seeing today. The Michigan Student Power Network provides some interesting analysis here.

This past month, Michigan Republicans launched confidently into the Lame Duck Session proposing a slew of legislation. Among this torrent of bills, conservative legislators have aimed primarily at gutting progressive policies and subverting the outcomes of the 2018 election. They have targeted issues that are particularly important to Michigan students and working people: The two ballot measures: for paid sick time and the $12 minimum wage, as well as removing Line 5 from popular control, and attacking the rights of teachers unions. Being able to earn a higher wage, not being forced to choose between our health and a day’s pay, the end of a dangerous oil pipeline, and the rights of our teachers, all of  these things would be clear tangible improvements or impacts on our lives.

Given the history of the Lame duck period, we expected this attack on Michigan’s people. Unilaterally passing legislation during lame duck has been at the core of the conservative strategy for at least the past decade.. In previous lame duck sessions they passed right to work and the emergency financial manager law, both critical attacks on the ability of working class communities of color to organize. They’ve even made a practice of overturning ballot measures having in the past defeated a popular attempt to end Emergency Financial Management by repealing the law and then re-passing a nearly identical law after the election during Lame Duck.

When viewed alongside long standing support for gerrymandering, voter id laws, and emergency management, it seems that ignoring and subverting the democratic process is critical to the conservative strategy. Sadly the response of progressive forces is plead for decency, and ask supporters to call legislators that are unlikely to listen (given that they will many will never again face the voters), and ask us all to go vote again in two years. This approach seems all the more ridiculous as we watch French protesters bringing their government to heel via direct confrontations in the streets, while reading daily of the latest abhorrent policy making its way through Michigan’s legislature.This back and forth cycle between conservative policies, elections, voter suppression, and ineffective opposition leads us to question whether our state is infact a democracy. We seem to increasingly live in an open oligarchy, our futures decided from above, and our our democratic aspirations subverted by the system that claims to represent us.

The Michigan Student Power Network, has long held that young people must engage in the electoral process, while maintaining a strong focus on long term organization, radicalization, and power building. This latest attack only underlines what we have known all along: that this process and this system was not built for us, and will not work for us; that we must use what little power we have at the ballot box to strike back against conservative policies; and that we must also seek more direct means to fight for a state that serves its people- not wealthy predominantly white political donors.

We will use the coming days to organize and publicize what is happening during this lame duck session, while laying the groundwork both locally and that the statewide level to demand the radical change our state needs through more direct means. Our futures depends on the redistribution of wealth and power through progressive taxation, historic reparations, free education and healthcare, and a restructuring of our democracy beyond the reach of the rich- we shouldn’t expect these things to just come from a ballot box.

GRIID Winter 2019 Class: US Immigration Policy, History and an End to Border Imperialism

December 11, 2018

Immigration policy has been front and center with the current administration as it has been for many others over the past 150 years. One can hardly go a week without hearing about asylum seekers, ICE violence against immigrant families, private detention centers or the targeting of immigration justice activists by police.

Considering how much attention immigration policy is getting, we are offering an 8-week GRIID class, which will include the following themes; 1) a history of US immigration policy; 2) Facts vs Propaganda on US immigration and immigrants; 3) How US Foreign Policy is often the cause of immigration; and 4) Immigration Reform vs Immigrant Justice.

The class will use chapters from a variety of books, online resources and documentaries. GRIID will provide PDFs of all the book chapters we will use.

The class format includes readings for each week along with open and informal discussion during the 2 hour classes, which are facilitated by GRIID.

The class is designed for people who want to expand and challenge their understanding of US immigration policy and practice. The class is also designed for people who want to participate in immigrant justice and practice solidarity with the immigrant community.

GRIID is asking a suggested $25 for the 8 week class per person. However, the cost is negotiable and no one will be turned away based on contribution. Class size is limited to 15 people.

The class will be held on Monday evenings from 7pm – 9pm, beginning on Monday, January 28 and running through March 18. The class will be held at 940 Clancy Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

For more information about the class or to sign up, please contact Jeff Smith

The Fight against Enbridge’s Line 5 and the Future of Climate Justice in Michigan Part II

December 10, 2018

Last week, in Part I, we looked at what the State of Michigan is doing to support the Enbridge Corporation’s Line 5 project, with the recent decision to provide $4.5 million of taxpayer money to construct a tunnel under the lake to connected the lower peninsula with the upper peninsula.

We discussed the Enbridge Line 5 project within the context of recent reports on global Climate Change, which states that current fossil fuel consumption needs to be reduced by at least 50% within the next 12 years or humanity will not be able to reverse the global warming trend. 

There are two additional reports that are also rather alarming as it relates to Climate Change. One report, published in the journal Nature, shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet hasn’t melted this fast for more than 7,000 years.

The second recent report comes from the US Global Change Research Program, which published its Fourth  National Climate Assessment. The summary of findings in this report are rather sobering, which includes this statement:

Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

With all of this new information and analysis, the logical conclusion that one could draw , especially as it relates to Michigan, is that Line 5 cannot continue to operate and must be shut down.

Climate Justice and Resistance to Line 5

Many of the mainstream environmental organizations don’t seem to have the urgency around Climate Justice, particularly when it comes to resisting Enbridge’s Line 5. The Michigan Environmental Council in their Energy and Climate Change section, has some information about Line 5 and its risks, but there is no clear call for it to be shut down and no clear steps and actions that need to be taken for it to be shut down. 

The Michigan Sierra Club has great information about Enbridge’s Line 5 on their main page and even more educational material on the pipelines section. However, the only actions that the Sierra Club is encouraging people to take to Shut Down Line 5 is to contact the Governor’s office, the State’s Attorney General and to sign a petition.

Closer to home, there is the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), which does not have any information about Line 5 easily accessible on their website. The only thing related to Climate Change that you can find quickly is a report about Grand Rapids and Climate Resiliency

The group FLOW (For the Love of Water), which is based out of Traverse City, also has a lot of great information on Line 5, like the graphic below, and a clear demand for the pipeline to be shut down. However, when it comes to taking action, they suggest signing a petition, writing Michigan lawmakers, getting your group to endorse shutting down Line 5, or putting a Shut Down Line 5 yard sign in front of where you live. 

The only group that we have come across that advocates anything other than signing petitions or pressuring state lawmakers is the group known as Anishinaabek Camp – Shut Down Line 5. This is an indigenous-led effort that is made up of Anishinaabek people, many of whom were involved with the indigenous resistance at Standing Rock. They are advocating for direct action to shut down Line 5 and have set up a base camp in Levering, Michigan, just south of Mackinac City.

The group is engaging in rallies, educational work, but more importantly they are using direct action as the larger tactic, with plans to actively shut down Line 5 and not wait for lawmakers to make that happen. You can support them by contributing to their resistance work at this link. They also welcome visitors to the camp, but have made it very clear that this is an indigenous-led movement to shut down Line 5, like to many of the other campaigns that are taking place, which are also led by indigenous people. This seems to be the most important work that those of us who are allies can support, with our money, resources and solidarity. You can contact the group by going to their Facebook page

A critical examination of how WOOD TV 8 reported on Grand Rapids protest connecting violence against asylum seekers at the border and family separation in Kent County

December 7, 2018

Last night Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE hosted a protest/vigil to make the connection to the tear gassing of asylum seekers at the US/Mexican border and the violence of family separation being perpetrated by ICE agents in Kent County.

After a brief informational gathering, the group walked to three different ICE offices located in the downtown area, offices that ICE operates out of, offices that ICE rents from local property management companies that we previously reported on.

However, before the protest/vigil began one member of Movimiento Cosecha GR was interviewed by WOOD TV 8. We recoded the entire interview, which lasted 8:55 and is posted here below.

We think it is important to contrast the interview that we did, with the interview that WOOD TV 8 conducted, which you can view at this link.

There are several differences between the full interview that we video taped with Movimiento Cosecha GR member Karla Barberi and what WOOD TV 8 aired on their channel and posted on their website.

First, WOOD TV 8 felt it was necessary to early on in their story and at the very end to use language from the US Border Patrol to frame their actions against asylum seekers at the US/Mexican border, language that places the blame on those who were coming to the US seeking asylum.

Second, in the WOOD TV 8 interview we never hear Karla talk about what the purpose of the action last night was and why Movimiento Cosecha GR organized the event, along with GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Third, WOOD TV 8 chose to focus on the more emotional comments from Barberi. And while there is nothing wrong with using emotional comments, those comments were taken out of context, thus making it difficult for viewers of the channel 8 story to fully understand what was happening and what the focus of the protest/vigil.

Fourth, in the video tape of Karla Barberi, she clearly discusses what local ICE violence is doing to immigrant families and why it is important for Kent County to end their contract with ICE. Those points, unfortunately are not very clear in the WOOD TV 8 story.

Lastly, since WOOD TV 8 did not accompany the march/vigil to the three ICE locations, they also missed the important information and analysis that was provided at each location by members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. At the last ICE office that the protestors visited, in the old Waters Building, they were met by members of the GRPD, which escorted them out of the building, stating that if they stayed in the building, they would be arrested.

Movimiento Cosecha GR was live streaming the entire action, which you can watch at this link.

Kent County Administrative Staff and Commissioners establish Immigration Focus Group

December 6, 2018

During the November 29th Kent County Board of Commissioners meeting, it was announced near the end that the County administration and the Commissioners have now formed a Immigration Focus Group

Kent County Commissioner Bolter made the announcement, when she said:

I also wanted to make mention that if anyone happened to miss our Executive Team meeting this morning, staff is focusing on an immigration focus group that they have started…….and staff has met with the Sheriff and a few others, but they are putting together an action plan and planning to meet with community leaders and any other commissioners who want to be involved…..and that should be kicking off in January.

(You can watch the video from the 11/29/2018 meeting, with the comments beginning at 55:20 in the video.)

This decision by Kent County is the result of members of the immigrant community and allies pressuring them to end the Sheriff Department’s contract it has with ICE, a contract that has been in place since 2012 and is set to be renewed in September of 2019

I want to make several points in response to this announcement.

First, Commissioner Bolter states that this is an immigration focus group, which is different than what we had been hearing for months. We were told that the County would establish a Task Force.

Second, when they say they are planning to meet with community leaders, what exactly does that mean? There are no defined community leaders in the immigrant community. What this usually means is people who have name recognition or those who work in the non-profit sector. However, community leaders can mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people, especially to those most affected by the contract that Kent County has with ICE. Who do you think that those most impacted by the ICE contract view are the “community leaders?”

Lastly, while some might see the immigration focus group as a positive, those who have been confronting the County to End the Contract with ICE view this announcement with skepticism and frustration. People are skeptical that it will not put the focus on the ICE Contract and they are frustrated that this announcement seems to minimize the actual harm that has been done, and is being done to the immigrant community by ICE in Kent County, including the Sheriff Department’s contract.

Most of the Republicans in the Michigan House who voted for reducing the minimum wage and earned paid sick leave have received financial support from the DeVos family

December 6, 2018

Legislative Republicans passed two bills, SB 1171 and SB 1175, gutting citizen-led ballot initiatives that were passed into law back in September. SB 1171 reduced the minimum wage in Michigan from what was decided back in September and SB 1175 reversed the earned paid sick leave improvements that were also established in September.

All of this has happened in the Lame Duck session by Gov. Synder and the Michigan Legislature. There have been protests against these actions, but no direct action in the form of occupying the State Capital or organized civil disobedience.

These measures taken by the Republican controlled legislature has infuriated people across the state. Such actions by the GOP speaks to the limitations of electoral politics, in terms of following the will of the people.

One thing that has not received much attention is who are the primary financial backers of the Republican controlled House in Michigan. In looking at the data provided by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, we were able to determine that of the 60 Republican Legislators in the House, 41 of them have received funding from the DeVos family or one of the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure – Peter Secchia, John Kennedy or Michael Jandernoa.

To many political observers, the fact that the DeVos family has been contributors to most of the GOP members in the Michigan Legislator, this is fairly well known. However, there are many people in West Michigan who are unaware of the DeVos family influence in Michigan politics. The question people should be asking themselves is: 1) were they aware that the majority of the GOP members of the Michigan Legislature have received significant financial backing by the DeVos family; and 2) what would they think if they knew that the same Republican Legislators who are backed by DeVos, recently voted to reduced the minimum wage and repeal the earned paid sick leave?

What follows is a list of the GOP members of the Michigan House that voted for SB 1171 and SB 1175. If there is a NO after their name then they did not receive funds from the DeVos family or other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. The link after each name allows you to look at their top funding sources as elected officials.

Rep. Chris Afendoulis

Rep. Thomas Albert

Rep. Julie Alexander

Rep. Sue Allor

Rep. Tom Barrett

Rep. John Bizon

Rep. Tommy Brann

Rep. Julie Calley NO

Rep. Ed Canfield

Rep. Lee Chatfield

Rep. Triston Cole NO

Rep. Laura Cox NO

Rep. Kathy Crawford

Rep. Diana Farrington

Rep. Ben Frederick

Rep. Daniela Garcia

Rep. Gary Glen NO

Rep. Joseph Graves

Rep. Beth Griffin

Rep. Roger Hauck

Rep. Shane Hernandez NO

Rep. Michelle Hoitenga

Rep. Pam Hornberger

Rep. Gary Howell

Rep. Holly Hughes

Rep. Brandt Iden

Rep. Larry Inman

Rep. Steve Johnson

Rep. Bronna Kahle

Rep. Tim Kelly NO

Rep. Klint Kesto

Rep. Beau LaFave

Rep. Kim LaSata

Rep. Dan Lauwers NO

Rep. Tom Leonard

Rep. Eric Leutheuser NO

Rep. Jim Lilly

Rep. James Lower

Rep. Pete Lucido NO

Rep. Steve Marino

Rep. David Maturen NO

Rep. Mike McCready

Rep. Aaron Miller NO

Rep. Jeff Noble

Rep. Dave Pagel NO

Rep. John Reilly NO

Rep. Daire Rendon

Rep. Brett Roberts NO

Rep. Jim Runestad

Rep. Jason Sheppard NO

Rep. Jim Tedder

Rep. Lana Theis

Rep. Curt VanderWall

Rep. Scott VanSingel NO

Rep. Henry Vaupel NO

Rep. Rob VerHeulen

Rep. Roger Victory NO

Rep. Mike Webber

Rep. Jason Wentworth

Rep. Mary Whiteford

The Fight against Enbridge’s Line 5 and the Future of Climate Justice in Michigan Part I

December 5, 2018

A little over a week ago, MLive ran a story stating that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was requesting that “lawmakers earmark $4.5 million for “radar current mapping, as well as planning, oversight and legal services related to the proposed Mackinac Straits utility tunnel project.” 

The same MLive article also stated:

The outgoing governor called it a “common-sense solution” to safeguard the Straits from an oil spill while maintaining the pipeline connection.

The notion that this is a common-sense solution is ridiculous and it is in clear contrast to the recent reports from the global climate scientific community, which stated:

We have just 12 years to make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to moderate levels, the United Nation’s climate science body said in a monumental new report released Sunday.

“There is no documented historic precedent” for the action needed at this moment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote in its 700-page report on the impacts of global warming of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Therefore, building new oil pipelines, even if the Line 5 proposal would just be just be a re-routing of the current pipeline is not sustainable if we are to take serious the warning from the scientific community that we have a 12-year window to drastically alter our consumption of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, no where in the MLive article is there even a discussion of information about climate change and the recent IPCC report.

Not that this is what you would expect from MLive when it comes to challenging corporate power. Just after the Enbridge Kalamazoo River disaster in 2010, MLive did an interview with the CEO of Enbridge that was nothing more than an opportunity for the  company to promote it’s own propaganda. We reported on that interview and provide a deconstruction, which you can read here. 

What is the track record of Enbridge?

According to a report from Tar Sands Watch:

Between 1999 and 2008, across all of Enbridge’s operations there were 610 spills that released close to 132,000 barrels of hydrocarbons into the environment. This amounts to approximately half of the oil that spilled from the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez after it struck a rock in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1988.

Since then the company has continued to have oil disasters, like the Kalamazoo River disaster in 2010 and additional accidents since then.

However, if you listed to commercial radio stations throughout Michigan, you will likely here Enbridge commercials telling us all how safe their pipelines are. The company has gone to great lengths to convince the public of how wonderful and responsible Enbridge is. If you spend anytime on their Line 5 website, you can see how sophisticated the propaganda is. 

Over the years Enbridge has also used numerous lawsuits against citizens and communities of people to gain access to land to run their pipelines through. They have used eminent domain as a way to force people from their land and lawsuits against numerous communities, particularly indigenous communities in Canada and the US.

In addition, we know that Enbridge, like all oil related companies, spends a great deal of money on lobbying and channeling money to support candidates. In May, there was a pretty good article that explored some of this Dark Money, which is limited, since Michigan is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to government transparency. 

The incoming Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, has said that she plans to shut down Line 5. In fact, Nessel said it was her top priority while campaigning.  It would be great if that were the case, but we also know how long it could take, considering how Enbridge will fight the closing of Line 5 in the courts, and that could take years. We also know that often candidates say things during an election that they don’t do when in office. The point being, we should not put our hopes in the Michigan government being the ones to shut down Line 5.

In Part II, we will look at what actions are being taken to resist Line 5 in Michigan.