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10th Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Grand Rapids

September 21, 2021

It has been 10 years already since the radically wonderful action known as Occupy Wall Street took place in New York City. 

There have been numerous left and left-leaning reflection on Occupy Wall Street (OWS), so we thought it would be important to talk with someone from Grand Rapids who went to New York back in 2011, get their thoughts on went it was like, and then provide some history of the Occupy Movement that started in Grand Rapids a few weeks after the New York City encampment.

Occupy Wall Street – New York City

Robby Fischer is local musician and an activist I have known since he was a student at GVSU. I spoke with Robby recently about his decision to go to New York City and be part of the first tens days of Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Robby said he found out about the OWS from a flyer that a former professor had shared with him. The flyer was an image of the Wall Street bull, with a person standing on top of the bull, with text that said, Occupy Wall Street, September 17th. Bring tent. Robby said that was all he needed to know to get him to travel to New York City and take part in what would become, in many ways, a global movement.

The former GVSU student said he was at OWS for the first 10 days, and even during those 10 days the size of those participating in the action grew significantly. Robby said the gather was a few hundred on the first day, which did involve actually shutting down operations at Wall Street. From the actions grew, since more and more people were showing up to something that wasn’t just performative. 

In some ways Robby said that OWS was concretely practicing a form of pre-figurative politics, where people were trying to practice creating the kind of world they wanted to live in. Besides people camping out, there were regular meals being shared, there were skill sharing session, workshops and actions that directly targeted centers of power in New York City.

After just a few days, the number of cops had increased, and along with that police repression. The repression by the cops only seemed to catalyze the movement, since more and more people were showing up to participate. There was one incident, which was captured on video, where a woman was forced up against a barricade and being pepper-sprayed by a cop.

Robby also talked about the use of consensus and the general assemblies that were taking place as a way to allow everyone to participate in the decision making process. Fischer said it was a bit unwieldy, partly because of the size of the gathering, but also because there were lots of people that this process was unfamiliar.

Fischer also said there were people from all sorts of political orientation, such as Socialists, Anarchists, Communists, people who were part of labor unions, environmental groups, feminist groups and anti-war efforts. Despite some of the ideological differences, Robby didn’t see at who lot of the cancel culture dynamic happening, mostly because despite their differences, people were sitting down and breaking bread together on a daily basis. 

Another reasons that the group was able to maintain a delicate sense of unity, according to Fischer, was the clear message of the 99% vs the 1%. If anything Occupy Wall Street not only had a very clear class delineation, it was clear that the economic system of Capitalism was the enemy.

Occupy Wall Street – Grand Rapids

Robby Fischer did not start Occupy Wall Street in Grand Rapids, but someone created a flyer and call for an initial meeting to take place on Calder Plaza. There were 75 – 100 people initially who showed up, and once people found out the Robby had just come from Occupy Wall Street in NYC, they wanted him to share his experience. 

Occupy Grand Rapids began on October 3rd, 2011 and lasted for less than a year. It was an experiment, like all social movements, but it did has had an impact on movement ecology ever since.

Those involved in that first day in October of 2011, decided to set up camp in Ah Nab Awen Park, partly because of its significance, but also because there was adequate green space for an encampment so close to downtown. 

There were regular marches in the early days, marches that traveled through downtown, always past institutions that they were calling out – banks, government building, the police station and other powerful institutions. 

Teresa Zbiciak has joined Occupy GR from the beginning and written a short reflective piece for the Rapidian on October 8th, which read in part:

Citizens in Grand Rapids have been developing demands specific to our community – though at this time a General Assembly to discuss these topics has not put them to review. Due concern and consideration is being given by the citizens of Grand Rapids to how best to assemble in an inclusive, peaceful way to raise awareness of the magnitude of the disparity of wealth, political injustice through corporate power over the government, and, in general, the message that the disenfranchised 99% will not sit idly by a moment longer.

True to its non-partisan position, Occupy GR had protested at a $500 a plate fundraiser being held by Vice President Joe Biden in a downtown restaurant. The goal was to bring their message of fighting with the 99% against the 1%. 

After the GRPD had threaded to remove the encampment at Ah Nab Awen Park, participants decided that people were not ready for civil disobedience and were able to use space outside of Fountain Street Church to store supplies. The general assemblies were held in several different places, usually in parks in the downtown area, like the part that has the Civil War monument. 

GRIID wrote a piece about Occupy GR at the beginning of the second week, mostly to critique the local news coverage of Occupy GR. GRIID identified 7 reasons why the local media doesn’t understand what the Occupy Movement is all about, nor will they challenge the 1% in this community, since they have no history of doing so. We also posted a short video from one of the early marches that Occupy Grand Rapids had organized. 

The following month there was a coordinated effort by Occupy chapters all over the country to do an action against police repression, since many of the Occupy groups had been brutalized by the police over the first few months of the Occupy Movement. GRIID also posted a short video from that march. 

In November, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was speaking at the Grand Rapids Convention Center. People who had been organizing with Occupy GR, made a puppet of Rice and marched down to the convention center and joined others who were protesting Rice’s visit to Grand Rapids, mostly because of her role in committing war crimes in Iraq. 

In December, Occupy GR had created their own zine, which provided text and images to communicate their ideas and what they had been doing during the first few months. In contrast, local members of the Capitalist Class, led by Tommy Brann, had organized an anti-Occupy event that was essentially a Pro-Capitalism event that last an hour. At the very end, one of the speakers made the statement, “we are here to occupy Grand Rapids for one hour and then get back to work, because that is what we do.”  

Occupy Grand Rapids last for a few more months, but eventually fizzled out as a movement. Part of its demise was due to not having a more stable encampment space, plus the cold weather made it difficult for people to do ongoing actions, a reality for people who live in Michigan.

Another major criticism of Occupy GR was that is was too dominated by white people and too removed from the realities of BIPOC people, especially those facing eviction, food insecurity and joblessness. This criticism of the Occupy Movement was not just in Grand Rapids, it was nationwide.

However, Occupy Grand Rapids had some lasting impacts. First, this was the first time that numerous people had participated in general assemblies and used the consensus process or the purpose of taking stack. These more horizontally democratic processes have continued to be used in lots of different organizing capacities. 

Occupy GR was also important because it challenged people to think about the function of Capitalism and how it benefits so few at the expense of the masses. The Occupy Movement was a direct result of the 2008 Wall Street Bailout, which demonstrated that both political parties had essentially worked to maintain the status quo with their defense of Capitalism. Exposing this was not only a revelation for many, it demonstrated  produced a certain level of class consciousness in people that had largely been absent from recent movements for social change.  

Doug DeVos’ faux populist rhetoric of celebrating “we the people” is deceptive, since he really means “we own the people”

September 20, 2021

What do you call a West Michigan Billionaire who tries to use populist language? You call him a hypocrite. 

This is exactly what Doug DeVos, the President of RDV Corporation, attempted to do in a recent article posted on the Grand Rapids Business Journal site, entitled, A Question for Constitution Day.

DeVos writes in the article, in reference to the US Constitution:

From the moment those words were written, it was obvious: America fell short. Our country has allowed terrible wrongs to exist, most notably slavery. Such injustices made “we the people” more hope than fact. They concentrated power in the hands of a few, despite the moral mandate to empower the many.

Doug DeVos then goes on to name three social movements, the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, referring to them as a form of “American empowerment.”

Ok, so why does everyone with tremendous privilege hide behind the US Constitution? The history of the US has always been about concentrated power, both political and economic. Doug DeVos and his family have been part of the same power structure he identifies, since Doug’s father co-founded the pyramid scheme known as Amway. 

However, once DeVos moves beyond is faux populist rhetoric, he reveals more about what he really values……often in a contradictory way. DeVos writes, “To start, our elected officials have asserted control over ever more of daily life.” While there is a grain of truth to this, Doug DeVos and his family have funded hundreds of politicians at the local, state and federal level, the very same politicians he is criticizing.

DeVos then advocates for, in a very round about way, states rights or what might be called local control. This strategy is what the far right has embraced for decades, from the Koch Brothers, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, to the State Policy Network and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This strategy has been pushed by the far right for the explicit purpose of undermining any positive federal policies, such as voting rights, LGBTQ equality, worker rights, environmental laws, etc.

Doug DeVos wants us to think that the is beyond a right/left dichotomy, when in fact he and his family have been deeply committed, for decades, to a far right agenda that seeks to undermine the same kinds of social justice movements he identifies in his article on the Grand Rapids Business Journal site.

To further explore why Doug’s rhetoric of faux populism is such bullshit, lets look at the track record of Doug DeVos and his family when it comes to embracing far right political and economic policies. It is also worth noting that these policies are often supported by his own theological framework, one that is rooted in a mixture of Calvinism and Christian Reconstructionism. 

  • In the 2020 US Election cycle, the DeVos family alone contributed $12.7 million to political candidates (primarily GOP), including Donald Trump. In 2018, Doug DeVos personally contributed thousands of dollars to a Senator from Mississippi, Cindy Hyde-Smith, who joked about going to a public hanging, saying she would be in the front row.
  • Doug DeVos is a member of the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), which crafts state policy and then lobbies elected officials in Lansing. The WMPF pushed for eliminating a business tax, helped get Michigan to become a Right to Work State, undermines labor unions, undermines public education and opposes Reproductive Justice and greater equality for the LGBTQ community. How again, does his money and lobbying role with the WMPF seek to thwart the control that politicians have over us???
  • Based on a 2017 FOIA document, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation gave money to the Grand Rapids Public Schools, specifically to the district to have them get services from businesses, many of which are anti-Public Education.
  • The DeVos family was an integral part of the One Kent Coalition, which was made up of wealthy and influential people from Kent County, who wanted to get rid of the current local government system and have just one governing body for all of Kent County. According to the One Kent Coalition documents, they were advocating for the government to act as a CEO. https://griid.org/2011/08/16/update-on-one-kent-local-government-consolidation-proposal/ 
  • In 2018, Doug DeVos, and then Senator Joe Biden, awarded Liberty Medals to George W. Bush and his wife at the annual National Constitution Center event. Awarding George W. Bush a Liberty Medal is like giving a member of the KKK a diversity award. (1:01:26 into the video) 
  • The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation providing the funding for both the creation of AmplifyGR, but also to purchase dozens of properties in the southeast side of Grand Rapids before telling any of the predominantly Black residents of that area. Listen to the rhetoric from Doug DeVos in a video at this link, during an AmplifyGR town hall that received lots of pushback. In fact, the pushback was so great that DeVos and his minions decided to cancel move aways from town hall meetings and get people to buy into a framework for development that they were controlling from the very beginning. 

Doug DeVos ends his article in the Grand Rapids Business Journal with the claim that he is all about the notion of “we the people.” If that were the case, why would he and his family spend millions every year to get people to buy into their worldview, whether they be politicians or non-profits. When people like Doug DeVos say “we the people”, they really mean, “we own the people.”

US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror – Part II: The realities of living in a Police State

September 19, 2021

Last week, we posted Part I on the consequences of US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror, specifically as it relates to US Foreign Policy. In today’s post, we want to explore the same legacy of 9/11 on the domestic front.

In general, the consequences of the US War on Terror for people residing in this country have been increased government surveillance, increased collaboration with federal law enforcement and local law enforcement, the targeting of certain classes of people, Arab, Muslim and undocumented immigrants, along with greater government capacity to suppress dissent.

Of course, what we are primarily talking about was the bi-partisan passage of what is known as the USA Patriot Act, which was signed into law on October 26, 2001. The USA Patriot Act put into effect policies and procedures that means the government can:

  • Search your home and not even tell you. (Section 213)
  • Collect Information About what books you read, what you study, your purchases, your medical history and your personal finances. (Section 215)
  • Label you as a “terrorist” if you belong to an activist group. (Sections 411 and 802)
  • Monitor your E-mails and watch what internet sites you visit. (Section 216)
  • Take away your property without a hearing. (Section 806)
  • Spy on innocent Americans. (Sections 204 and 901)
  • Put immigrants in jail indefinitely. (Section 412)
  • Wiretap you under a warrant that doesn’t even have your name on it. (Section 216)

Now, a second version of the USA Patriot Act was passed years later, along with other amendments, along with some sunset provisions. In 2015, the USA Freedom Act was passed restored many of the provisions of the original USA Patriot Act, even though groups like the ACLU have been fighting these repressive policies all along.

When the USA Patriot Act was adopted, there were some groups that were more targeted than other. One group was anyone who was identified as Arab and/or a follower of Islam. There were thousands of Arabs/Muslims that were rounded up by the US government without being charged and held for long periods of time. We also know that those who were perceived as being Arab/Muslims were also experiencing an increase in discrimination, harassment and violence from the general public and from law enforcement. This dynamic is well documented in the recently updated version of the book by Deepa Kumar, Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: 20 years after 9/11. 

9/11 also led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which created the repression entity known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. ICE has terrorized immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants since the agency was founded in 2003 by the Bush, Obama, Trump and now the Biden Administrations. In this instance, 9/11 has provided a justification for the repression of immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, Black and Brown communities, along with community dissidents and activists. The ACLU writes of this type of repression and surveillance:

The human toll of government surveillance is undeniable. It can have far-reaching consequences for people’s lives — particularly for communities of color, who are wrongly and disproportionately subject to surveillance. The people who feel the impact the most are Muslims, Black and Brown people, people of Asian descent, and others who have long been subject to wrongful profiling and discrimination in the name of national security. Routine surveillance is corrosive, making us feel like we are always being watched, and it chills the very kind of speech and association on which democracy depends. This spying is especially harmful because it is often feeds into a national security apparatus that puts people on watchlists, subjects them to unwarranted scrutiny by law enforcement, and allows the government to upend lives on the basis of vague, secret claims.

One other major consequence of the US War on Terror beginning after September 11, 2001, was how much public money went into the wars abroad, money which could have been spent here in the US, such as fully funding Medicare for All. According to a recent report put out by the National Priorities Project and the Institute for Policy Studies, the US spent $21 Trillion on foreign and domestic militarism over the past 20 years. Just imagine how $21 Trillion could have been used to give people a living wage, to create sustainable energy sources, to provide housing for all, end poverty, etc. We must always remember that creating equity isn’t about a lack of funds, its about how public money is prioritized. Over the past 20 years the US Government chose militarism over equity and justice at home. 

This history is important for all of us to come to terms with. This is especially the case for people who were too young to remember 9/11 or for those born since 2001. The legacy of 9/11 domestically has been even greater government capacity to repress and monitor Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, gather intelligence on all of us, along with providing greater government powers to suppress public dissent of any kind. These dynamics make it clear that we live in a police state.

Ideological Bullshit: Banning housing evictions will actually hurt low-income renters, says the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

September 17, 2021

It has been 3 weeks since the US Supreme Court ruled that the eviction moratorium is unfair to landlords and that it must come to an end soon.

To most reasonable people, people with their eyes open and a basic understanding of the current housing crisis, putting an end to the eviction moratorium is cruel and criminal, especially during a pandemic.

However, some people are ideologically driven, so no matter what kind of harm is being done to people, they will rationalize it away with their ideological perspective. 

This is exactly what a writer and staff member of the Acton Institute has done. On August 9th, Acton writer Noah Gould posted an article entitled, Banning evictions poses harm for low-income renters.

This argument says in part:

The sentiment behind the ban is certainly admirable. An eviction ban, its proponents argue, would keep families off the streets during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the true impact of the ban will harm the very people it attempts to help. Perversely, the ban will result in higher prices for low-income housing and lower prices for luxury housing. This is because it disincentivizes landlords from investing in low-income housing. The eviction ban threatens the very mechanism for improving the housing supply and creatively adapting to people’s needs.

For Noah Gould and the Acton Institute, the market should dictate all things related to housing, since, as Gould says, “Landlords must sacrifice in the present and plan for the future. The risk they undertake is only worthwhile if they have a realistic chance of a return on investment. Instead of disrupting the market process, local and federal officials should look to other means for improving the housing situation for low-income Americans.”

The Acton writer doesn’t want the market to be interrupted, yet they want local and federal officials to “improve the housing situation for low-income Americans.” Not surprising that the Acton writer opposes any disruption to the market-driven system for housing that we have in the US, yet they don’t offer any clear proposal for how to improve housing for low-income people.

Another perspective on housing evictions comes from a recent article by Rev. Liz Theoharis, who is the co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign. Theoharis wrote an article on September 16, entitled, The Moral Case for Resisting Evictions Amid a Pandemic.

Rev. Theoharis writes:

The average household debt burden has only grown during the pandemic and no legislative action has been taken to relieve such a rent or housing crisis. The stimulus payments, unemployment insurance, and an expanded child tax credit were simply not enough. As a result, more than 10 million households are now estimated to be behind on their rent. Rather than bailing out renters and homeowners by canceling such debts or even efficiently distributing the $45 billion in rental assistance that has largely languished in a bureaucratic hell, Congress failed to extend the eviction moratorium, paving the way for disaster.

The co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign also has an ideological framework, but her ideology puts people before profits. In addition, Rev. Theoharis presents some clear ideas about how to “improve housing for low-income people.” Actually, Rev. Theoharis is merely sharing some housing justice proposals that have been created by a larger national housing justice coalition. The national proposals include:

  • Making evictions from any dwelling, including cars, tents, and encampments, illegal.
  • Canceling the housing and rental debt that has been accumulated during the moratorium period.
  • Ending predatory speculation that raises rents and makes housing unaffordable in every state in the country.
  • Ensuring living wages and a guaranteed income so every American can afford a decent place to live.
  • Protecting and expanding voting rights including for the poor, homeless, disabled, and elderly so people have the right to vote officials into office who will represent the interests of the unhoused, the temporarily housed, and those facing evictions.
  • Ending the Senate filibuster that’s preventing the passage of bold and visionary policies, including the expansion of health care, the raising of wages, the introduction of new anti-poverty programs, and so much more.

It is unfortunate that we have the Acton Institute here in Grand Rapids, spewing their contempt for those who are not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. However, it is fortunate that we do have the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, which embraces many of the same suggested by the national housing justice coalition.

For people who are facing eviction, please contact the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union gratunion@gmail.com. For those who want to be in solidarity with those who are facing eviction and work with the tenant union to fight evictions, you should also contact them to ask about when their next Eviction Defense Training will take place. In the meantime, maybe we ought to organize an action in front of or inside the  Acton Institute’s building located on E. Fulton and Sheldon, especially while all of the ArtPrize tourists will be wondering about past the apologists for Capitalism.

ArtPrize is Back and I still Hate it

September 15, 2021

So, ArtPrize is back, and I still despise what it is and who primarily benefits from it. 

Here at GRIID, I have been writing about the monied art spectacle that is run by the son of Dick & Betsy DeVos for the past 12 years. With that, here is a list of why I still hate ArtPrize.

  1. They exploits artists. ArtPrize gets artists to create art to be displayed in order to attract people to come and spend los of money on food, beer, parking and hotels. However, artists are not compensated in anyway. This year, ArtPrize has made some grant funding available to certain artists, but that still means the bulk of submissions will not be compensated for their time nor the supplies needed to create their art.
  2. ArtPrize gets public money from the City of Grand Rapids to promote the event. Why should any public money be given to an event that is run by a billionaire family, especially since the City already provides lots of other in kind services that costs taxpayers money, like the use of police during the monied spectacle.
  3. The local news media spends entirely too much time and energy on ArtPrize, essentially becoming a PR agent for an event that is run by a billionaire family. I mean, WOODTV8 even has a special studio inside the Grand Rapids Art Museum, created just to broadcast live about ArtPrize. In 2010, GRIID conducted a 56-day study of the Grand Rapids Press, to compare how much coverage there was on ArtPrize and elections in Michigan. The 2010 election include a Governor’s, Congressional races, State races, County races, candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court, and several statewide ballot initiatives. During the 56-day study period, we found there were 87 election articles, but 153 ArtPrize articles. For the full findings go to this link.
  4. Most of the sponsors of ArtPrize are either other members of the DeVos family or members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. This group of people fund Republican candidates from the local level all the way up to the likes of Donald Trump. This would provide a perfect opportunity to boycott or disrupt the monied spectacle, yet liberals and progressives would rather attend ArtPrize that challenge their funding sources and the politics behind it.
  5. Early on in the ArtPrize experiment, one of the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Sam Cummings, provided us with an honest reason why ArtPrize exists, when he said “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.” ArtPrize has always been about bringing money to the downtown elites. We wrote The Political Economy of ArtPrize – Part I and The Political Economy of ArtPrize – Part II a few years back to make the point about who the primary beneficiaries of the money being spent during ArtPrize.
  6. ArtPrize is primarily about Whiteness. Sure, there are Black, Indigenous and other people of color that come to ArtPrize or submit their art. However, there are so many BIOPC people who have shared with me that they don’t feel safe during ArtPrize, nor do they feel like it is an event that centers their lived experience. We wrote about this dynamic is an article entitled, Grand Rapids, ArtPrize and Whiteness.
  7. In 2015, the State Policy Network (a far right policy network) was being hosted at the Amway Grand Plaza at the very same time that ArtPrize was being held. The founder of ArtPrize, Rick DeVos, presented at the far right conference, with a session entitled, ArtPrize: Unorthodox, Highly Disruptive, and Undeniably Intriguing. Here is a list of other session being offered at the same conference, which should tell you something about how Rick DeVos views ArtPrize:
  • Get States to pass Right to Work Legislation
  • Get States to adopt austerity measures that will hurt workers, the public sector and public services.
  • Attack Public Education by redirecting more public funds to Charter Schools and other “Schools of Choice.”
  • Privatize Higher Education.
  • Promote more Ag-Gag laws, which attack community based efforts around food production and silences animal rights groups challenging the industrial animal industry.
  • Attacks on Green Energy Legislation.

Lastly, one of the things that I hate most about monied spectacles like ArtPrize, is that they deceive us into a certain narrative about our lives, which is to say a Capitalist narrative. I want to live in a world where artists don’t have to worry about having their basic needs met and can create art that they don’t have to worry about people being offended by or censored. I want to live in a world where art is not a commodity. I want to live in a world where we all have plenty of leisure time to make art, to play, to learn another language or do whatever brings us joy. I don’t want to live in a world where the same people who exploit and oppress us are the same people that host art events that kill our souls, while they try to convince us it’s a fun. 

Feeling deceived by Michigan Legislators, Cosecha organizers remain committed to campaign for driver’s licenses even after Public Hearing was cancelled

September 15, 2021

Yesterday, an estimated 150 people from across Michigan came to the Lansing State Capitol to demand Driver’s Licenses for All.

Cosecha Michigan, which has circles in numerous communities, showed up in Lansing to hold a rally before there was a public hearing on proposed legislation that would grant Driver’s Licenses to undocumented immigrants. There were people who came from Muskegon, Holland, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Berrien Springs, Fennville, Ionia, Niles, Benton Harbor, Detroit and Ann Arbor. The same communities had participated in a tour in August, where each community organized an action to generate interest in the larger statewide campaign.

The rally on Tuesday mobilized Cosecha circles, which came to Lansing with great energy and enthusiasm, in order to demand driver’s licenses. The gathering yesterday felt more like a pep rally, with each Cosecha circle given the opportunity to speak and shout out their own chants. 

Some local news media also showed up to capture the rally and do interviews with key organizers. There was a scheduled hearing on the proposed driver’s licenses legislation, HB 4835, which was then sent to the Committee on Rules and Competitiveness in May. The Committee on Rules and Competitiveness, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Lilly, had a public hearing scheduled for noon on September 14. However, just minutes before the noon hearing, it was cancelled.

Now, we still don’t know the reasons behind the last minute cancellation, but the coalition that makes up Drive Forward Michigan, contacted Cosecha organizers to tell them that the Michigan House Speaker, Rep. Jason Wentworth had cancelled the meeting. Beyond that information, there were no explanations provided to the public on why the hearing was cancelled.

Outraged, Cosecha organizers decided to enter the State Capitol and make some noise. Most of the 150 that had gathered outside the Capitol, went inside, chanting with bullhorns and other amplification systems. The 100 or so Cosecha activists walked up three flights of stairs, chanting and filling the rotunda at one point. Eventually, the Cosecha activists came down to the ground floor and held their own public hearing, inviting members from the numerous Cosecha circles to offer testimony on why having a driver’s licenses would radically improve their lives and the lives of their families. People expressed their anger, their indignation, their frustration and their feelings of being deceived by State Legislators for cancelling the public hearing on driver’s licenses. 

After about 45 minutes, people began to leave the Capitol building and regroup outside in front of the  State Capitol. Ironically, there was a Michigan Corn Growers Association event that taking place on the lawn in front of the Capitol, with a large tent, filled with people, food and beverages. The Michigan Corn Growers Association also had hung a large banner the hung above the steps leading up to the front of the State Capitol. Taking advantage of the banner, Cosecha organizers got everyone to stand on the steps in from the banner and use that moment to say that the people who are part of the Cosecha circles that drove to Lansing from all across the state, that they were the ones who were the real agricultural growers and workers in Michigan. (Photo above) One person said, “Our people are the ones who pick the food that ends up on the tables of families all across Michigan and beyond. We are the one who do this work and make the harvest possible in Michigan.” Not lost on those in attendance, was the fact that the word Cosecha means harvest.

While many of the organizers and participants expressed a great deal of frustration over the cancellation of the public hearing, they also shared a deep commitment to continue to fight to win driver’s licenses in Michigan. Indeed, they are already talking about using this setback as yet another organizing opportunity, because that is what good organizers do.

If you want to support this campaign you can sign an online petition they have, along with contacting one of the Cosecha circles located near you. If you aren’t sure where there are Cosecha circles, you can contact Cosecha Michigan. Lastly, you an contact the Drive Forward Michigan, which is the inside game, by going to their website.

The Transformational 12: Expanding the play area of downtown Grand Rapids for the white business class and their friends

September 13, 2021

On Tuesday, the City Grand Rapids Economic Development Team will be presenting information on what they are calling the Transformational 12.

According to the Agenda Packet from the Economic Development Team (pages 20 – 24):

“The Transformational Twelve” investment list was compiled by Grand Rapids community partners including The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, City management and other stakeholders. The partners engaged in a dialogue to identify shared priority projects that can be advocated jointly for state and federal funding opportunities in response to the unprecedented funding available for public improvements, including through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). Many of the transformational projects are aligned with priorities in the City’s Strategic Plan and Legislative Priorities Agenda.”

Of course the first question we should ask ourselves is, for whom will these 12 projects be transformational for? In reality, the Transformational 12 is a list of projects that will primarily benefit the area’s business class. In addition, the total estimated cost for the Transformational 12 projects is $1,994,500,000, which is nearly $2 Billion. Imagine how $2 Billion could be used to provide housing, health care or combat poverty in this community. 

A second question that should always be asked, is why do the entities listed in the Agenda Packet get invited to the table to make these decisions? Why do The Right Place, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce get invited by the City on these critical economic development projects? These groups represent part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which is responsible for maintain systems of oppression, such as White Supremacy. Subsequently, we should be asking why are groups like the Urban Core Collective, the NAACP, Movimiento Cosecha or Justice For Black Lives not being asked to give their input? The answer seems painfully obviously.

Third, it seems like the language used above suggests that some of the funding that will be used will be public money, since it states:

The partners engaged in a dialogue to identify shared priority projects that can be advocated jointly for state and federal funding opportunities in response to the unprecedented funding available for public improvements, including through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA). 

This means that public money from the federal and state governments will be used, and since the City of Grand Rapids is involved in the Transformational 12 projects, that means that tax money from Grand Rapids residents will be used. Therefore, if public money from the federal government, the state government and the City of Grand Rapids will be used, then is seems to this writer that the public should have a direct say in how public money is being used.

Here are the 12 Transformational projects that are being presented, with an estimated cost in millions of dollars, followed by some observations about the projects:

  • Aquarium $200M+
  • Grand River Greenway Initiative $500M
  • Convention Center Expansion and Hotel $400M
  • GRCC Public Safety Training Center $45M
  • Countywide Affordable Housing $240M
  • GRR Airport Control Tower Relocation $60M
  • GVSU Blue Dot Digital Learning Lab $90M
  • Outdoor Amphitheater $40M+
  • Market Avenue Gateway $270M+
  • Post Office Relocation $70M+
  • MSU Innovation Center Campus Expansion $39.5M
  • Soccer Stadium $40M+

Aquarium $200M+ – Is primarily a tourist attraction, since the accompanying test says that the aquarium would have a $100 million per year direct economic impact. This means that people visiting would stay in local hotels, eat in downtown restaurants, etc.

Grand River Greenway Initiative $500M – The text here states that it would turn the banks of the Grand River into “a major new destination for visitors to Michigan and drive local growth towards an increasingly more livable, equitable and prosperous West Michigan region.” In other words, more tourism. The text also states, “The Initiative will also significantly increase the amount of parks and recreational opportunity accessible to low-income populations, communities of color and youth in the region.” Of course the text doesn’t say how it will attract communities experiencing poverty or Black & Brown youth. GRIID has previously addressed this development project.

Convention Center Expansion and Hotel $400M – more money from tourism and to keep Grand Rapids “competitive.” 

GRCC Public Safety Training Center $45M – Seems that the community college wants to get in on the game of creating future cops.

Countywide Affordable Housing $240M – The text that accompanies this project is instructive: “WHAT: Analysts currently estimate that within Kent County, the current Housing gap between demand and availability exceed 22,000 units. In addition, the rental demand versus availability exceeds 13,000 units. This initiative would begin to address those gaps through the implementation of a countywide housing strategy. WHY: The data shows that housing supply has not kept pace with our growth, creating significant upward pressure on housing costs. To attract the future talent this region needs to fuel its economic growth, readily available housing for that talent is critical.” There is no mention of affordable housing in the text, but they do use language around the need for more housing to attract “future talent”, but is code for the professional class. 

GRR Airport Control Tower Relocation $60M – Expansion of the airport means we contribute more to climate change.

GVSU Blue Dot Digital Learning Lab $90M – This project is designed to further facilitate a Neo-Liberal economic model, by adapting to a post-pandemic world, with more interaction between students and the business class.

Outdoor Amphitheater $40M+ – This is a DeVos family-led project, which has already used taxpayer funds for upgrading the Market Street Corridor and relocating Grand Rapids Government offices, which we have written about.

Market Avenue Gateway $270M+ – Here the text states, “The goal is to create a catalytic vision that will improve quality of life for today’s Grand Rapidians and guide the next phase of downtown development for the next generation.” Really, it will improve the quality of life for people in GR? 

Post Office Relocation $70M+ – Those with economic control in this community have been pushing for this for more than a decade. The reason is…….”The 3.6-acre property has been an optional location for several downtown project initiatives and remains a prime development opportunity in the heart of downtown.”

MSU Innovation Center Campus Expansion $39.5M – This project would, make “Grand Rapids the next Silicon Valley for healthcare innovation and research.” 

Soccer Stadium $40M+ – “Given the size of the Grand Rapids market, and based on the feedback from league officials, the USLC classification represents the best fit to maximize Grand Rapids’ market potential.” Plus, who do you think would own the team???

Lastly, there is text which is on the first page of the document created for the Transformational 12 Project. The text reads:

These twelve transformational projects represent bold community and economic growth initiatives that will have a dramatic and lasting impact on the region. From transforming the Grand River corridor and developing world class entertainment venues, to investing in higher education and affordable housing, this list creates the unified momentum to accelerate the next chapter of West Michigan’s growth story.

We interpret this text to mean that it will continue to solidify and expand economic benefits to white business owners that are already incredibly wealthy, it will rely on lots of public funding with no real public input, and it will expand the play area of downtown Grand Rapids for the white business class and their friends. The Transformational 12 will have little impact for those that are economically exploited and those which suffer the most under a system of White Supremacy.

White Allies and Social Movements in Grand Rapids

September 12, 2021

“The risks of an ally who provides support or solidarity (usually on a temporary basis) in a fight are much different than that of an accomplice. When we fight back or forward, together, becoming complicit in a struggle towards liberation, we are accomplices.”

This observation was written by an Indigenous activist and is taken from a zine entitled,  Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex. 

Too often for those of use who carry lots of privilege – race, class, ability or citizenship status privilege – we fail to act or to stand in solidarity with those who are being targeted by systems of oppression. Or, if we do act, the tendency is to engage as white saviors, which ultimately makes it about us instead of the people we claim to be in solidarity with.

As white people, it is understandable that we often struggle with how to act or when to be involved in social movements, particularly movements that are led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx or other communities that are marginalized by systems of power and oppression. Good intentions aren’t enough, and what is worse is performative politics. Performative politics is often where those of us with privilege show up to struggles that are led by others, and we still make it about us. We take selfies and we post on social media platforms, as if to say, “see, I showed up. I took risks.” However, such self-congratulatory displays are not only hollow, they demonstrate that we are not centering those most affected by White Supremacy, patriarchy, ablism or class oppression. 

In addition, those of us who claim to be allies too often don’t pay attention to what Black and Brown-led social movements are saying. For example, in the summer of 2020, when Black-led resistance to policing was happening all across the country, demanding that police departments be defunded, white allies too often would re-interpret the demand to defund the police. White allies would say, “it doesn’t mean we don’t want police, we just want them to be nicer, get better training or incorporate social workers into their plans.” However, if we actually were paying attention, we would know that the push to defund the police had emerged out of decades of a Black Freedom Struggle that was embracing an abolitionist framework. Ask yourself, how many white friends and white allies had actually read the Movement for Black Lives toolkit on Defunding the Police?

Another example of how White allies more often than not fail to practice real solidarity with Black and Brown-led movements, is how many of us have acted since the 2020 Election. Since the Trump Administration was defeated, there has been a sense that things are better in the country. This may be true for those of us who carry lots of privilege, but it is not the case for Black people, immigrants, queer and trans people and marginalized communities. 

I have seen this dynamic happen since the 1980s, when I first became politically active. When Democrats are in the White House, the level of involvement by white allies often decreases. This was the case when the Clinton Administration came in to power, when the Obama administration came into power, and now the Biden Administration. White allies want to relax, because they think things are better now or they re-direct their energy to obsessing over things like the January 6th fiasco in Washington, DC. 

What we often fail to recognize is that the condition of those most affected by systems of oppression have not improved in a meaningful way, regardless of who sits in the White House. Think about the fact that mass incarceration and the wealth gap grew dramatically during the Clinton years, leading to the anti-Globalization movement and the WTO action in Seattle. The Obama administration gave birth to the Occupy Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement, yet we have somehow convinced ourselves that the oppression these movements have confronted were primarily the fault of Republicans.

Black, Indigenous and other communities that are deeply affected by systems of oppression have disproportionately experienced even more harm since the beginning of the pandemic. This is definitely the case here in Grand Rapids, which is why the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network was created and that gives priority to Black, Indigenous and latinx families. 

So, how can we show up for those most affected by systems of oppression? Again, I want to reference the indigenous zine mentioned above, which states:

Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn. Direct action is really the best and may be the only way to learn what it is to be an accomplice. We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence.

Part of being an accomplice is having mutually respectful relationships with oppressed communities. However, as the above comment makes clear, we must engage in direct action to demonstrate that we are an accomplice in the struggle for liberation.

Now Direct Action can take on many forms, but when it comes to being part of social movements that are led by Black and other marginalized communities, direct action is often determined by those movements and not just what those of us who are white are comfortable with. When Black people are being targeted by cops, we need to step up and do whatever is needed to reduced the ways that cops repress Black people. If immigrants are being harassed and live in constant fear of detention and deportation, then we need to engage in forms of direct action that minimize that kind of state-sponsored violence. Therefore, what white accomplices need to do is to leverage their privilege in service to the social movements that are being led by Black, Indigenous and other communities that are affected by systems of power and oppression.

In this community, there are numerous opportunities to be involved in solidarity work as accomplices. Those of us who identify as white can be part of Justice For Black Lives, Defund the GRPD, Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE, the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network and the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, as some examples. These groups, which are part of larger movements, when they are immigrant justice, housing justice or the abolition of police movements, will all tell you that the condition of Black people, immigrants, renters, workers, etc., has not improved because of the 2020 election outcome. These communities have not been able to relax, catch their breath or feel less oppressed, since last November. Being an accomplice in these movements requires those of us who are white to not only recognize that, but to participate in various forms of Direct Action that can chip away at the systems of power and oppression that plague the lives of Black, Indigenous, immigrant, queer, Trans, and other affected communities.

As the old movement song says, “which side are you on my people, which side are you on?” Are we on the freedom side or the side of oppressors? There is no middle ground.

My initial reaction on September 11, 2001: US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror – Part I

September 9, 2021

It was early in the morning, and I was already at work on September 11, 2001. At the time I worked at the Community Media Center (CMC) on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids. I was the Director of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) and my office was located in the basement of the rectory of St. James Catholic Church, just west of the CMC.

I was coming from my office to the main office of the CMC, which had a TV mounted above the doorway in the lobby area. Several people had already been in the lobby and were looking up at the TV when I walked in. What we were all looking at was the damage to one of the Twin Towers in New York City. People were mostly silent, but at one point someone said, “what would cause people to do something so awful?”

At that time, I had already spent years doing human rights and accompaniment work in Guatemala, El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico. I was well aware of the history of US Imperialism, and had seen first hand what US militarism was doing to people in Central America and Mexico. I also had been living in a community house called Koinonia, which was a Sanctuary for Central American political refugees in the 1980s. We chose ti become part of the Sanctuary Movement as a direct result of the brutal US-backed wars in that region, which caused thousands of people to flee US sponsored terrorism.

When someone had said, “what would cause people to do something so awful,” all I could think about what Malcolm X had said in 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, that this was “chickens coming home to roost.” My understanding of what Malcolm X was saying and my own read of US foreign policy was, you can’t keep bombing other countries, occupying other countries, supporting dictators in other countries, training mercenaries in other countries, and NOT expect that some people will push back.

Native American scholar, Ward Churchill, wrote an essay at the time called, Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, which called out the long standing consequences of US Imperialism. Churchill later wrote a book entitled, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of US Imperial Arrogance and Criminality, which included the essay cited above. The rest of the book consists of two parts. The first part of the rest of the book provides a chronological look at US Militarism at home and abroad from 1776 – 2003. The last part of the book, which is the longest, is entitled, A Government of Laws? This chapter is a methodical and chronological account of US Obstructions, Subversions, Violations and Refusals of International Legality since World War II. Essentially, the final section of the book documents how many times the US violated international law.

For me, when I watched the planes crash into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, then heard comments like, why do they hate us, I was witnessing American Exceptionalism. 

Now the days that followed September 11, 2001, we saw the US government and the US media practicing US Exceptionalism, without questioning or investigating the motives of those who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. All we were hearing was, “They Hate America and what it stands for.”

Within days, there were already memorials being planned for the 3,000 people killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I kept looking for something that would go beyond candlelight vigils and begin to ask serious questions about US militarism abroad. Hell, even the organization in town that had a been questioning US foreign policy for more than 20 years at that time, the Institute for Global Education (IGE), was encouraging its members to go to the candlelight vigil, without organizing any sort of event or crafting a statement in response.

Thankfully, some people who were involved in the anti-Globalization Movement in Grand Rapids, were also wanting to do something that wasn’t just endless chanting of USA, USA. A group of us met and decided we would organize a teach-in, especially since the Bush Administration had already given the government of Afghanistan a deadline to turn over Osama Bin Laden or suffer the wrath of the US military. 

The Grand Rapids People’s History Project has written about that Teach-In and all of the other anti-war activities that the group, People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, was engaged in to oppose the US bombing and occupation of Afghanistan. There were 150 people who showed up for the all-day Teach-In at Aquinas College in early October of 2001.

According to the National Priorities Project, the US has spent $21 Trillion on the War on Terror over the past 20 years. The National Priorities Project also has counters, which show the sobering reality of how much money the US is spending every second to fund the madness of the US War on Terror.

It is critically important that we not only question American Exceptionalism, but that we resist it, since the so-called US War on Terror has killed millions of people over the past 20 years. In Part II of US Exceptionalism and the Legacy of the War on Terror, we will look at the consequences of the US War on Terror here at home, especially with the USA Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The GRPD once again demonstrates that they can wrongfully arrest Black people with impunity

September 8, 2021

I’m sure that most people have seen the viral video of the GRPD wrongfully arresting a Black man in the parking lot of a McDonalds a few days ago.

You can watch a 7 minute and 42 second video at this link, and learn that the Black man that the GRPD arrested was an employee of McDonalds who had been at the fast food restaurant for 2 hours prior to his arrest.

The GRPD was looking for a Black man who was the suspect in a robbery and said that the Black man they detained “fit the description.” However, if you listen to the video, the person who filmed the incident and several other kept telling the GRPD that this Black man had been at the McDonalds on Division, near Hall street, for the past 2 hours.

Despite the fact that several witnesses could vouch for the Black man, the GRPD ignored what they were being told. On top of that, there were several cops who had drawn their guns and were holding this Black man at gun point for several minutes before they put him in cuffs. 

Even though this Black man was innocent, they still arrested him and took him to the Kent County jail, because this Black man did not “cooperate” with the GRPD and was “resisting arrest.” 

The Grand Rapids Police Department released the following statement in the wake of the incident:

“GRPD responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a neighboring building. While checking the area officers observed a subject matching the suspect description. Contact was made and the subject was not cooperative, which resulted in his arrest. The investigation is ongoing. We understand that sometimes bystanders may be upset or concerned about a police contact, but that is not the time to engage or interfere with the officers. That could easily lead to someone getting hurt. GRPD officers will always listen to those who have information in order to ensure appropriate action is taken, but only once the scene is safe.”

This statement was released by the GRPD in order to justify their actions, in the same fashion as they did in May, when the GRPD arrest another Black man who “fit the description”, even though this Black man was on his way to the funeral of a family member. In that instance, the GRPD statement read:

“The GRPD continues to be dedicated to transparency and accountability regarding police operations, particularly when it comes to using force. When it is appropriate, and allowable under law, we are committed to providing full context to our encounters and answering the community’s questions and concerns.”

Ultimately, this means that the GRPD:

  • Wrongfully arrested another Black man.
  • Traumatized another Black man, and likely the people who witnessed what happened.
  • Alienated those who witnessed what had happened, thus making a mockery of their claim to build trust in the community.
  • Will hide behind what is allowable under the law, because the cops can do pretty much whatever they want with no real consequences.
  • Act with impunity, since GR City officials continue to demonstrate that they believe that the GRPD is valuable entity in the city.

If you listen to the video, the Black person who filmed what happened made it very clear when they said, “the GRPD is racist…..and they don’t give a fuck about us.” This is an honest assessment and the most valuable lessen we all need to learn from this incident. Those of us who identify as white and claim to want to be an ally in the Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids should be following the pages of Justice For Black Lives and Defund the GRPD, educating ourselves, then taking action in ways that support these Black-led groups in Grand Rapids.