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Local news coverage of the GR Chamber of Commerce proposed ordinance completely excludes the perspective of those who would be most impacted

December 8, 2022

There has been a fair amount of local news coverage after the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce sent another letter to City officials, this time with a proposal around adopting an ordinance(s) that would significantly impact those who are unhoused, experiencing poverty and struggling with mental health issues.

GRIID wrote about the GR Chamber letter/proposal on Tuesday, since it was part of the Grand Rapids Agenda Packet for governments meetings that day. Today, we take a look at which sources the commercial news media relied on for this story and how they framed the issue.

The primary sources are what you would expect from the local commercial news media, which were spokespersons for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids City officials, a business person a few perspectives from the non-profit world. The only news source that had a somewhat critical perspective, was MLive, which included a response from director of the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force and Commissioner Reppart, both of which had a more reasoned view of the larger issue.

However, the primary sources were GR Chamber spokespersons, a business voice on WOOD TV8 and the CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries, which were included in the MLive, WOOD TV8 and WXMI 17 stories. The CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries also was a signatory to the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance, which is not surprising since Mel Trotter Ministries is part of the Homelessness Industrial Complex in Grand Rapids, which doesn’t address root causes, but provides people an outlet to feel better about themselves in the process.

Then there is the issue of how this story was framed by the local commercial news media. Only MLive provided substantive coverage of what the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance would do, while the rest of the coverage limited their framing around the problem as being how the unhoused are being disruptive to the businesses and customers in the downtown area. None of the reporting asked a much larger or more fundamental question about why so many people are unhoused, experiencing poverty and struggling with mental health issues, plus there was no acknowledgement of how the GR Chamber ethos of Capitalism has created the poverty and housing crisis, which are major contributing factors to people struggling with mental health. In one of the news stories (WZZM 13) the newsreaders echos a Chamber perspective, saying that the behavior of the unhoused is “unacceptable.” My question is, why do we talk about how the concentrated wealth in this city is the most grotesquely unacceptable thing about Grand Rapids?

The GR Chamber, City Officials and most non-profits think about this “problem” as a problem of access to resources and services, but such thinking fails to address the more fundamental problem of why there is a housing crisis and why so many people are experiencing poverty. This should comes as no surprise that the commercial news media doesn’t see these connections and won’t likely entertain them since the commercial media is embedded in the system of Capitalism and those who work in news media have internalized the values of that system.

Lastly, it is instructive that those who are framed as the problem and those who would be most impacted by the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance(s) are not included in the commercial media’s news coverage. Are their opinions irrelevant and do they not have a say in this matter? Are the lived experiences of those who are unhoused, subjected to poverty and struggling with mental health issues not important for this larger community conversation? Why is it that the news media fails to follow the journalistic premise of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted? 

One month after Proposal 3 passed in Michigan, what are the Anti-Abortion groups saying?

December 7, 2022

It has been one month since voters in Michigan passed Proposal 3, which amends the Michigan Constitution to add the right to choose to have an abortion and use contraceptives as law of the land.

The passing of Proposal 3 was an important victory for bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. However, most of the US is still confronted with the reality of having Roe v Wade overturned, which criminalizes abortion and will have the largest impact for those living in poverty, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. 

Equally important is the fact that there are still powerful, well organized groups in Michigan that have taken a hard anti-abortion stance and are likely to continue to organize and take action to prevent people from having abortions in Michigan and around the country.

We will collectively need to remain vigilant when it comes to what the anti-abortion forces are thinking and planning for in the near future, especially since we know that they will not let up in the quest to make abortion illegal everywhere. What follows are some comments and excerpts from various anti-abortion groups in Michigan.

Right to Life Michigan

Here is what the President of Right o Life Michigan wrote the day after Proposal 3 was passed:

We are deeply saddened by the tragic passage of one of the most dangerous ballot proposals to face voters in Michigan history, Proposal 3. In the days ahead, Right to Life Michigan will redouble our efforts to work across Michigan communities to protect the dignity of all human life.

On November 14th, Right to Life Michigan posted an article with the belief that the public was lied to by those promoting Proposal 3. In addition, Right to Life Michigan notes that those that support reproductive freedom want to reverse other legislation that put some limitations on bodily autonomy, stating: They already have highlighted two laws they want to repeal: our state’s 24-hour waiting period, and our law protecting people from paying for abortions through health insurance. 

Michigan Catholic Conference

The day after Proposal 3 passed in Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference wrote: 

“This is a tragic day for Michigan and for the cause of protecting and upholding the inherent dignity of all human life. Despite the tremendous hurdle this constitutional amendment presents, we will continue to support policies that uphold parental rights and the sanctity of human life as well as those that offer assistance to women in need. Regardless of what abortion laws and policies are in place, we continue to pray for and work toward a day where human life is welcomed as a gift and where abortion is considered an unthinkable option.”

Then on November 18, the MCC wrote:

“The entire abortion landscape just changed, literally overnight. We must respond. As legal protections for the unborn are not realistic in the near-term in our state, vision, courage, and leadership are thus necessary to anticipate and build the framework for a pro-life culture that supports women and families through sound public policies. That would be our task regardless of the outcome of the election, but it becomes more crucial with the approval of Proposal 3.”

The Ridge Covenant Church

The Ridge Covent Church is not an anti-Abortion centered group, but their church does spent a great deal of time condemning abortion. A good example is this post-Election commentary by their pastor, who likes to refer to Michigan as a state that sanctions baby murdering.

In addition, here are a couple of graphics/posters that The Ridge Covenant Church like to use, which emphasize the “evils of abortion.”

March for Life

It is important to note that most of the anti-abortion groups in Michigan have been promoting and planning to attend the March for Life rally in Washington, DC beginning on January 20th next year. The Grand Rapids Chapter of Right to Life is promoting the national march, which they see as a way to motivate people to come back to their respective communities to fight against abortion. I include this, even though it has been happening for decades, but it is worth noting as people will also be networking with other anti-abortion activists from around the country, so we should be prepared for a renewed commitment from people in Michigan. 

It is vitally important that even though Proposal 3 passed, we should not become complacent in our fight to defend reproductive justice and bodily autonomy. The anti-abortion forces will not be taking time off. In fact, it could be argued that there will likely be an increase in anti-abortion activity in Michigan, with the possibility of actions that will not be non-violent, like the Operation Rescue type of actions we saw in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

Latest GR Chamber of Commerce letter is calling for the City of Grand Rapids to adopt an ordinance that would essentially punish the unhoused in downtown Grand Rapids

December 6, 2022

During Tuesday’s Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, it was acknowledged that the Commission had received a communication from Josh Lunger, the Vice President of Governmental Affairs, for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

The communication from Lunger can be found in the City Commission Agenda Packet for December 6th, on pages 41 – 47. The Chamber of Commerce letter crafted by Lunger, was dated November 29, with the subject being, Request for Action to Improve Health & Safety in Public Spaces. 

You will recall that this is not the first letter that Lunger has written to the Grand Rapids City Commission under the theme of “public safety.” The GR Chamber representative wrote a letter in July of 2022, calling for an increased presence of the GRPD to deal with people who Lunger claimed were a threat to the safety and commerce of the people and businesses in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Just weeks before the November Election, there was local news coverage concerning Lunger and his role in the campaign known as SafeGR, which specifically targeted 1st Ward Commissioner Kurt Reppart and presented information about crime and safety in Grand Rapids, information that GRIID noted was misinformation. We wrote a piece the day after the election which stated:

In addition, the SafeGR campaign used bogus information, which was designed to paint a picture that Grand Rapids is experiencing a crime wave and that less police would mean more crime. Neither of these claims are true, and even one of the sources they used around public opinion and safety doesn’t support their claim. Go to this link, which SafeGR cited, and then click on the heading Safety. 

As one more piece of context for this latest letter from Lunger, it is important to note that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Lunger’s employer, contributed $10,500 to Andrew Robbins, who was running for Reppart’s seat in the 1st Ward. The GR Chamber provided that kind of money, which ultimately helped Robbins win the election under a platform of more cops. 

The most recent letter by Lunger continues the GR Chamber’s plea for increased GRPD presence in the downtown, except in the current letter, there are more developed proposals that would clearly target and punish those who are unhoused. What is instructive about the language that the letter from Lunger/GR Chamber of Commerce is using, are two things. First, the letter wants the City of Grand Rapids to adopt ordinances that would punish the unhoused or are not compliant, and second, the letter goes out of its way to say that these ordinances will “not criminalize homelessness.” 

However, despite the Chamber’s claim that this will not criminalize homelessness, beginning on page 45 of the Agenda Packet there is a section with the heading, “Aggressive solicitation and harassment.” Under that section it makes clear that this type of ordinance would punish those who solicit people for money. What is instructive about this section is that it is prohibiting people (those who solicit) from being within 15 feet of a public toilet entrance, an automated teller machine, any bus stop, taxi stand or rapid transit stop, the entrance or exit from a building, public or private, or within 20 feet of any parking lot, parking garage, parking meter or parking pay station, from any entrance or exit of commercially zoned property, or within 150 feet of any signalized intersection. Lastly, the ordinance that the GR Chamber of Commerce is proposing would prohibit those soliciting -which is code for the unhoused and those that are financially struggling – from, “At any lawfully permitted outdoor dining area, amphitheater seating area, playground or lawfully permitted outdoor merchandise area.” With these distance regulations, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is essentially saying that the poor, the unhoused, those who are struggling with mental health, etc., should just stay the hell out of the downtown area.

Just when you think that it couldn’t get any worse, on page 46, the ordinance that the GR Chamber wants to be adopted would come with penalties, meaning the poor, the unhoused and those with struggling with mental health issues would be punished. Here is what the “penalties are: 

  1. Upon conviction for a first offense for violating this section, the court shall impose a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100.00), or a sentence of probation, or both. 
  2. Upon conviction for a second or subsequent offense for violating this section, the court shall impose a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or imprisonment in jail for a period of not more than ninety (90) days, or a sentence of probation, or by a combination of fine, imprisonment, and a sentence of probation.

If this isn’t a clear path to criminalizing the unhoused, even though the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce  says it isn’t, then it is clear that we need to call what the GR Chamber is asking for, which is in fact the criminalization of people that are poor, unhoused and struggling with mental health. The GR Chamber of Commerce can claim they want services to be provided to people who fall under one or more of these descriptors, but we all know that the GR Chamber of Commerce and its members will not be stepping up to pay for these services. This new letter from the GR Chamber of Commerce demonstrates once again that their primary goal is to protect the interests of members of the Capitalist Class – making downtown safe for commerce and tourists, which always results in punishing those who threaten those interests. We need people to come together to actively resist such an ordinance and to confront the GR Chamber of Commerce for even proposing an ordinance which says it is ok to treat people this way. Who wants to join this fight? 

Grabbing a cop’s taser is becoming a popular legal justification for police shooting of Black people

December 5, 2022

Ever since Patrick Lyoya was murdered by the GRPD back in April, elected officials, cops and police apologists have been making the claim that Christopher Schurr’s use of force – shooting Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head – was justified because Patrick grabbed the cop’s taser.

This is the argument used on a recent Facebook post by the Grand Rapids-based Gerald R. Ford Metro Lodge #97, Fraternal Order of Police. The police union’s post from November 25th reads: 

Anybody else seeing a pattern here? You disarm or grab an officer’s TASER, it unquestionably is a deadly force encounter. But not in Kent County…..no….here the prosecutor goes after you for political points. Unreal. End this madness. 

Even with this comment, you can see that grabbing a cop’s taser is referred to as a “deadly force encounter,” meaning the cop gets to shoot the person who grabbed their taser. 

The social media post included a link to a story out of Chicago about police officer who shot a Black man twice, once in the stomach and once in the back as he was running up an escalator, all because the Black man grabbed at the taser that was used on him twice during the encounter. You can see for yourself in the footage that the news story included. 

After looking at the footage of this story and looking at the video footage that was released on the Patrick Lyoya case, I agree with the first sentence from the Gerald R. Ford Metro Lodge #97, Fraternal Order of Police social media post, I see a pattern here. And, in case anyone is fuzzy on what I mean, the pattern is that cops get to use deadly force, especially against Black people, when they touch or grab the cop’s taser, the very same weapon that was used against the person the cop was trying to detain.

What also makes the case in Chicago and what happened to Patrick Lyoya a pattern is that they were both stopped because of non-violent offenses. Patrick Lyoya was pulled over for having expired plates on his car and the Black man in Chicago was tased and shot by cop because he was moving from one train car to another one, which is a violation of a Chicago City ordinance. 

What is also instructive about the post comments from the Gerald R. Ford Metro Lodge #97, Fraternal Order of Police social media post was the attack on Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker. The vitriol against Becker, who has received police union funding during previous political campaigns, continues in the comments section of the post. One comment reads: 

The whole system is sickening .. BLM   has already been debunked, proven that it was a money scam ..   right is right wrong is wrong ..  try to grab anything from my duty belt and it would be a seriously bad day for you.

I chose to highlight this police union social media post in part, because it exposes the hyper-defensiveness of cops, but mostly because we can expect to see more of the same arguments in the Patrick Lyoya case when Christopher Schurr goes to trial after the New Year. The same “use of force” arguments will be made by the lawyers defending Schurr, along with the expected commentary from the various police unions in Grand Rapids and police apologist groups that exist in this community. 

Cosecha activists show up at the home of Rep. Wentworth, the same guy who cancelled the public hearing on driver’s licenses over a year ago

December 4, 2022

Early Sunday morning, Cosecha activists from several circles around the state, converged on the small town of Claire, Michigan, to pay a visit to the home of Rep. Jason Wentworth.

The focus of the immigrant-led action was centered around the issue of driver’s licenses. Pressuring the state legislature to allow undocumented immigrants the right to obtain driver’s license has been a priority of Movimiento Cosecha since they began a campaign in 2018.

However, the main reason that the immigrant justice activists went to House Speaker Jason Wentworth’s home on the brisk Sunday morning, had to do with the fact that since the legislation for Driver’s Licenses had been introduced in 2019, there had been no public hearings held on the matter until September of 2021. Some 150 immigration justice activists arrived Lansing that day, to speak during the public hearing that was being held on driver’s licenses. Unfortunately, just minutes before the public hearing was about the begin, the Speaker of the Michigan State House of Representatives, Jason Wentworth, cancelled the public hearing, thus denying immigrant activists the chance to speak and share their stories about the difficulties of raising families and working in a state that denies them the right to obtain a driver’s license.

Undeterred by Wentworth’s cancellation of a public hearing, Movimiento Cosecha activists came back to Lansing one year later to hold a 3 day encampment outside of the Lansing State Capitol. In addition to the encampment, immigration justice activists attended State House Legislative sessions, which were also canceled because there were so few in attendance. The reason that so many State Representatives were not present for the scheduled session, was because they were spending time on their own campaigns for re-election, instead of doing what they were supposed to do. Movimiento Cosecha members found out this information after visiting Rep. Wentworth’s office, and a staff member informed them that he was out campaigning. 

Since, Rep. Wentworth canceled the public hearing on driver’s licenses, has not been available to residents of Michigan to discuss the matter and has never provided a reason for cancelling the scheduled public hearing in the fall of 2021, those with Movimiento Cosecha decided to show up at his house.

As Cosecha action’s go, this was a small action, but it was not necessary to have large numbers, especially considering the fact that they were going to the home of an elected official, in a small town, and in an area where there were no sidewalks. 

The Cosecha action involved 12 people, some with banners, some with signs and some with sound amplifying equipment, walking up the driveway of Rep. Wentworth’s home and singing along to the music that was playing. This all began around 8:15am on Sunday.

Now, Cosecha activists came to Wentworth’s home to make a statement and had hope to speak with him about the need to immediately schedule another public hearing and then adopt legislation that would once again allow undocumented immigrants the chance to obtain a driver’s license. 

The Sunday morning air was chilly, but activists didn’t let the cold stop them from making the most out of their action. After playing music and chanting for about 20 minutes, a few of the Cosecha organizers walked up the Rep. Wentworth’s home and began knocking on the door. It was clear that someone was home, both because we saw people pulling curtains back and peering out the widows, plus someone was walking back and forth in the living room. 

Unfortunately, no one came to the door, so one of the Cosecha organizers made a statement in English and then in Spanish, a statement that provided an overview of their campaign and what it was so critically important that the very same people who put food on the table for most people in Michigan, those who work in the agriculture industry, should be granted the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license. The Cosecha organizer made this statement in English, looking directing into the security camera that was mounted on the front porch of Rep. Wentwroth’s home, a camera which happened to be just above a sign that read, “Welcome to our home.” 

After standing on the porch of the house for 20 minutes, the Cosecha activists rejoined there comrades in the driveway, where they sang more songs, chanted more chants and made their presence known to the Republican Speaker of the House in Michigan. Cosecha Michigan live-streamed the action, which you can watch at this link.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the New Year, especially now that the Democrats control all aspects of the State government in Michigan. We will see if the Democrats prioritize getting driver’s licenses passed or if it will take a back seat to other issues. One thing for sure is that you can bet that Movimiento Cosecha and other immigrant justice groups will continue to apply pressure and to demand that State officials pass legislation to allow the undocumented community the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license. Immigrant justice activists are well aware of the fact that no matter which political party is in power they will not get their demands met by elected officials unless those same officials are pressured into doing to. #HastaLaHuelga!

GRPD Podcast is the latest tool in an ongoing effort to control the narrative around policing in Grand Rapids

December 1, 2022

The Grand Rapids Police Department continues to engage in deceptive tactics, meant to convince the public that they ultimately serve them, to distract us, and to make sure that we are not thinking about the real function of policing in Grand Rapids and beyond.

In September of 2021, the GRPD began a new media project called the GRPD Podcast. The language the GRPD uses to describe the show is this:

A behind the scenes look of the Grand Rapids Police Department, its people, how they operate and their experiences serving and protecting the community. The GRPD is dedicated to community engagement, transparency and information sharing with everyone from our media partners to community stakeholders. If you have suggestions for topics to discuss or guests to be interviewed, please contact us at TrustGRPD@grcity.us 

What is instructive about the description of the show, is the language they use, such as, “serving and protecting the community”, along with “community engagement, transparency and information sharing.” Since the podcast began they have only produced 5 episodes and only one since the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya in April. The most recent podcast, which aired on November 25th, featured Police Chief Eric Winstrom. 

Episode 5 of the GRPD Podcast was just over 40 minutes, where the host asked Chief Winstrom softball questions like, “what do you think of Grand Rapids” and “how did you decide to become a police officer.” In fact, most of the show had nothing to do with the supposed transparency that the podcast is supposed to practice. However, there were some comments that Winstrom made that are worth pointing out.

At about 12:10 into the podcast, when talking about the 2020 riot in Chicago (where Winstrom was before he came to GR) Winstrom referred to the riots as “George Floyd riots.” Let’s be painfully clear that the uprising that took place in Chicago, Grand Rapids and all around the world was because of the police murder of George Floyd. It should more accurately be called the Derek Chauvin created riots of 2020, since he is the cop who killed George Floyd. It would be appropriate to refer to the 2020 uprising as the George Floyd uprising, since his murder inspired people to take action. Words matter Chief Winstrom.

At about 15:30 into the podcast, Winstrom talked about how use of force training in Chicago didn’t happen very often. Winstrom then said that Grand Rapids has an amazing culture of police training. So how was that training applied when the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya?

At about 26:50 into the podcast, Winstrom makes the claim that, “everything we do is because the community wants it.” What evidence does Winstrom have? The top cop in GR then said that his department people are always asking the community, “How do you want to be policed,” and they overwhelmingly say “we want to see the police.” Again, how about some evidence.

At about 31:50 into the podcast, Winstrom said, “we need more cops.” 

At about 34:20 into the podcast, was the first time that Winstrom even bothered to mention the Patrick Lyoya case. However, Chief Winstrom never mentioned Patrick by name, instead he simply called it “an officer involved shooting in April.” Winstrom, the GRPD and City officials DO NOT Want to Say HIs NAME!

This GRPD podcast is nothing more than another tool of propaganda, meant to dumb us down or lull us into thinking that the GRPD really cares about the well being of the public. You can tell it is a tool of propaganda, because of their use of language, what they say and what they don’t say. Their podcast is designed to be part of a larger effort to control the narrative about policing in Grand Rapids, which they have always been about, but have ramped that effort up since the 2020 uprising in Grand Rapids.

MLive article fails to investigate a Christian health care organization and their legal team, which does not want to provide service to the LGBTQ community

November 30, 2022

On Monday, MLive posted a news story about a Christian health care facility that filed  a lawsuit against the state of Michigan in September this year. The MLive article from Monday provides a response from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The organization that filed the lawsuit is Christian Healthcare Centers, which has facilities in Grand Rapids and Newaygo. According to the MLive story, the legal team representing Christian Healthcare Centers is arguing:

“Under the guise of stopping discrimination, the law discriminates against religious organizations, requiring them to forfeit their religious character and hire people who do not share their faith.”

The MLive article continues by stating:

The health care provider also claims Michigan law violates its “religious convictions” by potentially forcing the nonprofit to “prescribe cross-sex hormones” and refer to patients by their “stated gender identity, rather than their biological sex.”

This argument, which is a standard strategy for for conservative and far right religious organizations, hides behind their interpretation of Christianity, in order to avoid having to serve members of the public that are living lives they believe are ideologically opposed to the organization’s values. 

Now the particulars of the case were reported accurately in the MLive article. However, the MLive story does a disservice to their readers in terms of how they present the legal team representing Christian Healthcare Centers. 

Here is how MLive presented Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group representing the Christian Health Centers, in their November 28th article: 

Alliance Defending Freedom has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ beliefs. It responded by calling the law center a “radical leftist organization.”

This is a very problematic way to present information about Alliance Defending Freedom. First, there is no verification or further explanation for why the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed them as a hate group other than “its anti-LGBTQ beliefs.” Here is what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) writes about Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF):

Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Trump, ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBTQ rights.

The SPLC also lists some concrete examples of why the ADF has a hate group designation:

In addition to the SPLC information, the Center for Media & Democracy has a significant amount of information on Alliance Defending Freedom. GRIID has also posted several articles about groups in West Michigan that have utilized Alliance Defending Freedom in recent years, specifically to defend far right religious ideology. In 2019, we wrote about how Catholic Charities of West Michigan had ADF work on a case to oppose adoption by LGBTQ couples.

The second major problem with the flippant way that MLive presented what the ADF legal firm was with fact that they let ADF refer to the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “radical leftist organization.” The SPLC is hardly a radical organization, since it is impossible for a group to be a non-profit and be radical, at least the way I understand what radical means. It is standard for groups on the far right to refer to groups that oppose them as radical, since such a label is meant to be dismissive and marginalize. 

One last problematic aspect of the MLive article is that they don’t explore further the ideological framework of Christian Healthcare Centers. At first glance, there isn’t a great deal of alarming content on the  Christian Healthcare Centers website, especially since it primarily about health care related information and services. However, if one looks at who sits on the board of directors, you can get some perspective on why the health care provider is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom. A few of their board members are part of the group Samaritan Ministries International. Samaritan Ministries International is also a healthcare entity, which is member-driven. In order to be a member, one must agree to their statement of faith and their membership agreement. The membership agreement limits the type of Christian Churches they find acceptable and they also only believe in heteronormative sex and marriage.

Then there is a board member who is with another Grand Rapids-based group, The Grand Awakening.  My read on the Grand Awakening organization is that it is Dominionist, meaning they want Christianity to be the law of the land here in the US. In addition, the leader of The Grand Awakening, Randy Hekman, has written a book that condemns abortion and his blog also condemn abortion on a regular basis. GRIID wrote about a Grand Awakening event that was held in Grand Rapids in 2018, called Cityfest. Cityfest was a Conservative Christian event that was also bankrolled by the DeVos family. 

The only daily print newspaper/online news source MLive has once again failed to provide readers with a more critical and investigative understanding on an issue that should be receiving lots of attention from local news sources. LGBTQ rights and safety are under attack in West Michigan and across the US, primarily because of far right Christian groups and the Republican Party. LGBTQ lives are literally at risk, so all news agencies need to step up and report on how they are at risk and which groups are fueling the anti-LGBTQ climate we are currently living in. 

The Housing Crisis and Policing in Grand Rapids: What we can expect from the new incoming City Commissioners

November 29, 2022

Back in October, GRIID posted an article that provided some analysis of the current inequalities and injustices that various social movements in Grand Rapids were attempting to address. We provided several bullet points on the critical issues that these movements were addressing. In that same article, we posted links to the candidates who were running for City Commission, specifically their campaign pages.

Two of the main issues that local movements have been addressing are housing and policing. We now know that Drew Robbins (1st Ward), Lisa Knight (2nd Ward) and Kelsey Perdue (3rd Ward), each were victorious. Here is what each of the candidates who will take office in 2023 had to say about each of these issues during the campaign, at least based on what was on their campaign pages:

Drew Robbins

Robbins did not address housing on his campaign page, but he does say this about policing:

Protecting the community is the number one job of any city. I want to help our new Police Chief, Eric Winstrom, make his changes to the department, to transition from warriors to guardians. Good policing starts with good Commissioners. I want to be your voice on the commission to be helpful, not a hinderance, and to make sure we can all feel we are safe.

Robbins was endorsed by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association and received $10,000 from the cop union, funding which played a significant role in his win. This is completely opposite of what the Grand Rapids movements have been demanding at least since June 2020. 

Lisa Knight

Knight addressed, both policing and housing on her campaign page. On the matter of policing, this is what she said:

Helping our communities feel safer, through continued work with our local Safety departments, State and Community legislators, to help create policies that will impact our community members positively.  

While the language used in talking about policing is more humane, there are no clear policy matters addressed, certainly nothing like what the larger movement around policing has been demanding. 

On housing, this is what Knight had to say: 

I will work with our City and local organizations to address the lack of housing and be strategic in helping homeowners. I plan to expand housing options and engage our community in the efforts for change.

Again, the rhetoric is positive, but also vague and noncommittal, especially around affordable housing, gentrification, the cost of rent, and the issue of the unhoused, all of which are main issues that the housing justice movement has been addressing.

Kelsey Perdue

Perdue does not address housing issues specifically, but here is what was under her heading on public safety:

There is a lot that makes a community safe and unsafe: affordable housing, hazard-free environments, physical and mental health, trusting police-community relationships, green spaces and inclusive development to name a few. Kelsey will bring transparency and curiosity when reviewing and making public safety investments. 

The language that Perdue uses is closer to what some of the movement demands have been, specifically the idea that the more resources that are used for community, the safer they are, thus are less reliant on cops. 

Last week, there was a news story that provided some updates on where Robbins, Knight and Perdue stand on the issues of housing and policing, in an article entitled, Housing, public safety are top concerns for 3 new Grand Rapids city commissioners.

Unfortunately, the article frames the issues around policing and housing by relying on information from the GRPD on the matter of policing and crime, and on the matter of housing they rely on data from the City of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Frey Foundation, K-Connect and Housing Next. In both matters of housing and policing, the reporter limits the narrative and scope of both of these issues. For example, on housing they article deals primarily with the number of housing units needed, but fails to address real affordability, the proliferation of Property Management companies, gentrification and how displacement is taking place in several areas of the city. 

The reporter then asks each of the new City Commissioners to get further insight into what they might do to address policing and housing. Lisa Knight had this to say about housing: 

“Right now we know that on top of everything else we have to be even more creative in the face of inflation in how we support those who cannot afford quality housing. There are a number of different things that went through my mind, such as: E.g. zoning, tiny houses, container houses – I hope we are all ready to come around the table to find ways to address this.”

On the matter of policing, Knight said, “I want to find more ways that they can work with the community to build a stronger bond of trust than we have right now.”

Knight does at least list some possible housing alternatives, but never addresses the issue of affordability, the massive wealth gap in this city or the lack of a real living wage, which is key to what people can afford. On the matter of policing, Knight accepts the notion that the police can be reformed and that the goal is to build trust, both of which ignore what the real function of policing in this community has always been about, which is the protect systems of power and oppression.

On the issue of housing, Perdue states: “Obviously we have a housing crisis, so we definitely have to be part of the leadership and decision making of how we get out of it,” Perdue said. “We know that lack of supply is a big part of the problem, so it’s really important to ensure what’s within the city’s power to facilitate the construction and renovation of homes at all price points. We know that we need more living space in every price range.”

Again, the issue of income, the lack of a living wage, or that housing is a fundamental human right are absent from her comments, which sees housing within a market framework.

On the matter of policing, Perdue states: “What we’ve heard from the community and local police is that safety and crime prevention is about more than the police. People need resources, opportunities and stability, and housing is also part of that infrastructure and access to care.”

While the language around the lack of resources going to real community needs is important, nothing is addressed around what the function of policing is in this community, how there is a disproportionate policing of communities experiencing poverty, particularly Black and Brown communities.

The response from Robbins is not surprising, considering his open support of the cops and their financial backing of his candidacy. Robbins says: “The most important thing is safety. Police response times and crime have also increased. We still need a police department that is fully staffed and highly trained to respond to calls when they arise.” These comments are essentially talking point that the GRPD and the police union have been using since the demand to defund the GRPD has been raised in June of 2020. 

On the matter of housing, Robbins make it about himself, stating, “It’s a very complicated subject and there are a lot of things involved, but I’m a creative thinker and I like to think outside the box.” Robbins also talks about zoning issues, housing density and the housing regulations, which have been concerns and talking points from the Real Estate industry, the Rental Property Owners Association and the GR Chamber of Commerce. Not surprising, Robbins received $10,000 from the GR Chamber of Commerce and $1300 from the Realtors PAC during the campaign. 

Time will tell to see what the new City Commissioners will do on the critical issues of housing and policing in the New Year. However, since it is clear that Robbins will do the bidding of his paymasters, the social movements that have been making demands around housing and policing will need to pressure Perdue and Knight to get them to embrace a non-market solution to housing justice and a more abolitionist framework around public safety and policing.

Andor: A wonderfully honest depiction of regular people resisting state repression

November 28, 2022

“Don’t you want to fight these bastard for real?” (What Stellan Skarsgard’s character says to Diego Luna’s character in an early episode of Andor.)

I don’t usually write about entertainment-based media, even though GRIID has done numerous movie studies (the last was in 2015) and we used to do a regular deconstruction of TV commercials, in a segment we called Media Bites. 

However, I finished Season 1 of the Star Wars show, Andor. The show was so good, I felt compelled to write about it.

The character development is phenomenal, the production value is high quality and the story line makes Andor the very best show that has come out of the Star Wars universe. There are several reasons why I think Andor is the best Star Wars show to ever be produced, but the primary reason is because the show demonstrates how regular people engage in resistance to repression and systems of oppression.

Ever since Star Wars came out in the late 1970s, it was clear that the dominant theme of the franchise has pitted those involved in a rebellion against The Empire. Ever since Star Wars became a cultural force in the world, fans have reveled in the courage and defiance of the rebellion, told primarily through the lives of those who are part of the Jedi Order. Now, I don’t think that was a bad decision on the part of the Star Wars producers, specifically George Lucas. However, the problem with making the films and many of the shows centered around people with Jedi powers diminishes the contributions of regular people, which are generally the people that make up resistance movements in the real world.

With Andor, we are introduced to people who orphans, workers, those who run small businesses, prisoners, even those who are part of the Imperial government. For those of us who have studied resistance movements and have participated in resistance movements, the fact that Andor communicates the idea that no matter what your skill level is, the resistance welcomes whatever part you can play. 

So, in Andor, we have a member of the Imperial government, who somewhat attempts to influence policy, but her real role is to direct or re-direct funds to support the rebellion. We have one of the resistance movement leaders, who runs an antiques business, but spend a great deal of time coordinating strategic aspects of the resistance, along with recruiting new members. Then there are numerous people who are part of the working class, people who have jobs, yet play a critical role in daily forms of resistance. 

Then there are those who are active members of the armed resistance, which engage in actions to destroy Imperial outposts and to infiltrate the military system of The Empire. However, the show doesn’t overly romanticize their role and doesn’t make them out to be people who are more committed to the resistance. In real resistance movements, it is common to over emphasize or romanticize those who are seen as being on the “front lines of the resistance.” 

Another powerful aspect of Andor, is the use of moments, particularly moments where people are experiencing oppression, and how these lived experiences often lead to acts of rebellion. For example, when a security detail comes to Ferrix in search of Cassian (Diego Luna), people who have a relationship with Cassian step up to assist him in avoiding the security detail that was dispatched to arrest him. 

A second example of movement moments is when Cassian is sent to a work prison, which it turns out is a place that is making parts for the Death Star. In the work prison, the level of repression is significant, but when one of the workers die, people realize that no matter how many days people had until their sentence was over, no one was going to leave. A work prison rebellion begins and overtakes the guards, with hundreds of prisoners gaining their freedom.

A third example of movement moments, is in the season finale, where a funeral was taking place for the person who raised Cassian. In this moment, hundreds participated in a funeral procession, which included musicians, women who were part of the Daughters of Ferrix, a bell tower person and numerous members of the working class who converged onto the streets. There was a military garrison dispatched to Ferrix and they demonstrated even greater repressive tactics in the moments leading up to the funeral. The state repression of those who came to publicly mourn one of their own, was the catalyst for people to rise up and fight back, especially after a digital image/message from Maarva was broadcast as part of the funeral. Maarva’s message was not only a powerful and moving love letter, it was a call to arms! The collective act of defiance/resistance not only demonstrated the incredible courage of people, it conveyed the powerful message that people can and will resist state repression, even though the state has more military power and weaponry.

Having spent a great deal of time working with people who were part of resistance movement in Latin America, specifically, El Salvador, Guatemala and Chiapas (Mexico), I can tell you that Andor is fairly spot on in their depiction of resistance movements and how they work. In the case of the countries I did solidarity and accompaniment work, The Empire in those circumstance was the US government. Yes, it is true that each of the national governments in the countries I was working in, was doing the primary dirty work of state repression, but the US government was always providing military assistance, training, weapons, intelligence, along with imposing a larger imperial policy that these governments had to adopt in order to continue reap the benefits of said imperial policies. 

In Andor, the state repression was reflected in the constant military presence in all aspects of life. In every episode we see military reach with check points, with limitation of movement by people, constant surveillance, the prison industrial complex, the judicial system, the use of spies and other intelligence gather resources, the use of torture and the attempt by The Empire to control the public narratives about what was happening. Andor even includes meetings between those in charge of intelligence gathering and those who oversee military sectors, meetings which reflect very honest conversation about how to adjust and plan for further state repression. Most of these meetings were a direct response to the increased activities of those involved in the resistance movement, which is exactly how is has worked in the real world.

All of these elements make Andor one of the best media productions in recent years, specifically when it comes depicting movements resisting state repression. The show is an important mechanism to have robust conversations about the existing and potential resistance movements for our time, particularly in the US, which is The Empire. I can’t wait to see what Season 2 will have in store for us. 

Group that spray painted a message to Focus on the Family after Club Q shooting, calls out the DeVos family for their role in fostering an anti-LGBTQ ideology

November 27, 2022

It has been a week since a lone gunman entered Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shooting and killing at least five people and injuring 25 others. 

As with most mass shootings, US officials make vague pronouncements, offer condolences and make promises to enact “tougher gun laws.” US President Joe Biden did acknowledge, “that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years.” Unfortunately, Biden never addresses the root causes of the horrific hate violence directed at the LGBTQI+ community. 

However, more radical LGBTQ groups, particularly those that identify as queer and trans, have been calling out the source(s) of all of the violence directed at them. The site It’s Going Down, posted an image that many people are sharing on social media, where people spray painted graffiti on the wall of the complex for the far right group, Focus on the Family.

The graffiti states, Their Blood is on Your Hands – Five Lives Taken!

Unfortunately, the accompanying statement that went with the image taken of the Focus on the Family complex, is often not included with the image. The group that is claiming responsibility for the spray painted message released the following statement: 

“It is important to us that you understand why Focus on the Family must be held accountable for the ramifications of their hateful theology. You have likely seen the onslaught of anti-trans legislation, of which Focus on the Family is a huge proponent, both in funding and propaganda. With an alarmingly expansive network, they work closely with powerful entities, such as the DeVos family, to promote and fund this anti-trans legislation. Focus on the Family’s goal is to eradicate queerness. Tactics they use to achieve this include indoctrination, media saturation, falsified research, and conversion therapy. We encourage you to continue to investigate the many examples of their culpability, which can be found front and center on their own website.”

GRIID has been monitoring the kind of support from the DeVos (and Prince and Van Andel) family, which is reflected in this statement. In 2016, when the the shooting at the Pulse Night Club happened in Orlando, Florida, GRIID wrote a response talking about the role that the DeVos family has played in creating an anti-LGBTQ culture, which normalizes violence against those in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans and queer communities. In more recent posts, we have also made the connection to the funding of the DeVos family and how it fosters anti-LGBTQ violence, specifically in the Republican candidates they have endorsed. Here is just a sample of some of those recent posts:

GOP proposes anti-trans legislation in Michigan: Every co-signers of the bill has received money from the DeVos family

DeVos family has contributed nearly half a million to DeSantis, making them complicit in the Don’t Say Gay bill

Republican Representatives introduce a vicious anti-trans bill in the Michigan State House

Now, Grand Rapids likes to claim that they are all about equity and inclusion, but think about this for a moment. There are some 800 churches in Grand Rapids, yet there are only a few that have publicly stated that they support and welcome the LGBTQ community. If you go to the site https://www.gaychurch.org/find_a_church/ and put in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you can see that there are 30 churches listed as open and affirming. 30 out of 800, while pitiful, is not because of a lack of education, but a reflection of the fact that this city, and West Michigan as a whole, is deeply rooted in heteronormativity, which means it is inherently anti-LGBTQ. A major contributing factor in the heteronormativity in this city is because of the role that the DeVos/Prince/Van Andel/Cook families and other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure play in fostering an anti-LGBTQ culture. 

So instead of vague statements or thoughts & prayers for those who were killed at Club Q or the Pulse, or potentially at places like Rumors right here in Grand Rapids, why don’t we organize a real solidarity action that exposes the DeVos family in the same way as the queer activists did in Colorado?