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Critical Thinking in the Age of Neo-Liberalism: Part I

June 21, 2021

I have been using the Branded Alphabet for more than twenty years as a teaching tool on critical thinking.

Of course, I always have to update it, with every new White House administration, sometimes during administrations, as key staff changes are made. 

This version of the Branded Alphabet includes members of the Biden Cabinet, since those seats have now been filled.

The Branded Alphabet media literacy exercise is a great way for people to:

  • Understand the pervasive nature of advertising in our society and how we are all being targeted by advertising campaigns.
  • Understand how the news media functions and how they decide what information to give us, when to give it to us, and how to give it to us.
  • Juxtapose the Branded Alphabet with the current administration cabinet as a way to demonstrate the gap between our knowledge of products vs our knowledge of politics.
  • Understand how the media system is constructed in such a way as to make consumerism a priority over an informed public

We invite you to test your knowledge, by participating in this Media Literacy Exercise. First, see if you can identify the product for each letter of the alphabet. Second, see how many people you can name in the Biden Cabinet, along with what position they hold in his administration.

Now think about why it is easier for people to identify branded products, than to identify politicians that have a significant impact on policies that affect all of our lives. Some of the most common reasons that people give are:

  1. The products have been around for decades, but administration officials change regularly.
  2. The images of the alphabet are different, colorful and engaging, whereas the image of politicians are very similar.
  3. As a society we are inundated by commercial images, but the faces of administration officials are only on certain news channels or websites that focus on national politics.
  4. We consume products, but we don’t consume politicians. 

Can you come up with more reasons why we know more of the Branded Alphabet over members of the Biden Cabinet?

In Part II of this post, we will then discuss how much or how little people know about the actual members of the. Biden Cabinet. 

Proposed State Legislation that gives the police more power to assist ICE in the arrest of undocumented immigrants could possibly be voted on soon

June 21, 2021

Last week, MLive reported that State GOP Representatives are pushing legislation that would allow local law enforcement officers to coordinate with federal officials on immigration status checks.

House Bills 4197 and 4539 would prevent counties, cities and other local governments from passing ordinances preventing or limiting law enforcement from contacting federal immigration authorities,” according to the MLive article. 

House Bill 4197 states:

A bill to prohibit local units of government from enacting or enforcing any law, ordinance, policy, or rule that limits local officials, officers, or employees from communicating or cooperating with appropriate federal officials concerning the immigration status of individuals; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain state and local officers, officials, and employees; and to prescribe penalties and remedies.

This proposed legislation also states that after 2 months of the bill is adopted by the stated, if local governments do not comply, “the attorney general shall bring an action to enforce this act in the circuit court in the judicial district in which that local unit of government is located.”

House Bill 4539 will do the exact same thing, except it identifies county governments specifically to comply with the proposed legislation. HB 4539 was introduced in March, while HB 4197 was introduced in February. As of right now, the bills were just discussed in committees and could be presented to the full house for a vote in the near future.

Previous iterations of this legislation have been proposed since 2017, as an ongoing way to both undermine and punish local governments that became sanctuary cities. In addition, this legislation also provides some push back against all of the criticism that police departments across the state have received since the 2020 uprisings that took place throughout the country and the state after the police murdered George Floyd. 

Another instructive component of the MLive article is that it only cites the Michigan Municipal League and the ACLU of Michigan as opponents of this legislation. However, the ACLU of Michigan did submit written testimony, which cites a case in Kent County at length, stating:

Take ICE detainers1 for example, over fifty jurisdictions outside of Michigan have abandoned their prior practice of automatically honoring ICE detainers. In 2019, Kent County changed its detainer compliance policy after ICE unlawfully requested the detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a United States citizen and decorated military veteran. Kent County, which received the largest percentage of detainer requests from ICE in Michigan, now requires that ICE provide a judicial warrant in order for the Sheriff to hold individuals for immigration purposes. ICE has tried to minimize those disturbing patterns by claiming that its detainer requests only target people with serious criminal records. But ICE’s own data shows that this is false. The vast majority of detainer requests are issued against people with little to no criminal history. Indeed, two-thirds of the people targeted for deportation have no criminal convictions of any kind. The reality is that ICE detainer requests are indiscriminately issued against almost anyone who comes into contact with local police—immigrants, refugees, students, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers—instilling fear in already scared communities. The liability risks are large in magnitude and high in probability. Federal courts have consistently held that local agencies and officials can be sued for complying with ICE detainers. First, courts agree that extending a person’s detention based on an ICE detainer constitutes a new arrest. Second, courts agree that a local agency violates the Fourth Amendment when it makes a detainer arrest without sufficient probable cause.Third, courts agree that because detainers are fully voluntary, local officials can be held liable for damages when they effectuate a detainer without probable cause. As a result, police and sheriffs across the country have paid millions of dollars in damages, settlements, and attorney fees for detainer arrests. As an example, the City of Grand Rapids recently paid $190,000 for its participation in the unlawful detention of U.S. citizen Jilmar Ramos Gomez, who was held on an ICE detainer. Detainer-related lawsuits have continued to impose major legal costs elsewhere in the country as well. And the federal government has consistently refused to reimburse these costs. Moreover, the time period in which a person is detained via such a request is not reimbursed by the federal government. The proposed legislation guarantees local communities are put in the impossible position of being stuck between costly litigation or in violation of the statute and subject to injunctions and fees.

Since the case ICE/Police case against Jilmar Ramos Gomez was cited at length by the ACLU statement, one would think that MLive would want to get an opinion by immigrant-led groups that are based in Grand Rapids, like Movimiento Cosecha GR. Movimiento Cosecha Michigan is working to get Driver’s Licenses for all adopted in the state. Driver’s Licenses is an important quality of life issue, since allowing the undocumented immigrant to obtain a driver’s license would provide greater freedom to go to work, pick up children from school, access health care and other basic necessities. In addition, if undocumented immigrants had a driver’s license, they would not end up in local jails after being stopped by local police in Michigan. (Failure to have a driver’s license or an expired license are some of the main reasons why immigrants end up in ICE custody.) Once they are in jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is often contacted, which then lands members of the undocumented community in detention center, with the possibility of deportation. The proposed legislation would solidify and expand this relationship between local law enforcement and ICE agents, thus further terrorizing the immigrant community. 

I asked Gema Lowe, with Movimiento Cosecha GR, what she thought about the proposed legislation:

Local police doesn’t need another law that would further more their cooperation with ICE. As it stands, police already cooperates with ICE and intimidates the undocumented community in Michigan. The argument in favor of these bills that would make Michigan a safer place is so far away from reality. The undocumented immigrant workers in Michigan don’t  pose a safety threat to the state, on the contrary, our labor and our consumption sustains the economy and we are an essential part of the state.  Undocumented workers want to live a dignified life without the fear of driving without a license and being detained by the police,  questioned and being turned over to ICE. Undocumented workers just want to get to work.

We also asked Karen Meyers, with GR Rapid Response to ICE, what the proposed legislation would mean. Their response was:

If passed, this bill would not protect communities. It would only further protect police from being fired when they racially profile people, which harms the immigrant community. We know this is true from the many people we have provided support for after a police traffic stop or other minor offense has led to detainment by ICE. We also know from the case of GRPD Captain Curt VanderKooi that when an officer racially profiles someone, that person can end up in ICE custody even if they are a citizen, and the officer responsible will not only not be fired, they will not be punished at all. Bills like these are evidence that–regardless of what party is in power–grassroots immigration rights groups need to be alert and ready to do direct action and provide mutual aid for our under-documented community members.” 

Lastly, it is worth noting that there are 17 GOP legislators who either introduced or cosponsored these two pieces of legislation. Of those 17 State Representatives, over half have received a substantial amount of campaign contributions from the DeVos family, which essentially means that the DeVos family has backed state legislators that want to further criminalize the undocumented immigrant community and give more power to local law enforcement agencies to target the undocumented immigrant community. 

Millions for an Amphitheater, while tens of thousands in Grand Rapids face poverty, eviction and structural racism

June 17, 2021

On Wednesday, MLive reported that the Grand Rapids City Commission has approved exercising the option agreement to purchase property from the County located at 1500 Scribner Avenue NW.

The MLive article also reports that the cost of purchasing the property from the county would total $7,450,000. If the City of Grand Rapids follow through with this purchase, it would then house the following departments at the new location – Public Works Department, Parks and Recreation Department and Office of Special Events. 

All of this, is of course, due to the proposed 14,000 seat outdoor amphitheater that would be somewhere on Market Ave. SW. We began reporting on the amphitheater proposal back in October. We have also written the following articles as this project has unfolded:

Grand Rapids invests over $6 million for private development in downtown, while Southeast Grand Rapids experiences disinvestment: We call this Structural Racism

Grand Action 2.0 speaker provides update on new development vision for Grand Rapids: Whiteness, Grand Rapids as a destination and Disaster Capitalism

DeVos controlled Amphitheater Project using public money will be voted on at the February 9th Grand Rapids City Commission meeting 

How is it that we allow groups like Grand Action 2.0 to get away with the shit they do?

Now, since Grand Action 2.0 first began proposing the 14,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, the City of Grand Rapids, along with the Convention and Arena Authority and the DeVos-owned 63 Market Holdings LLC have agreed to collectively pay for the relocation of the eastside trunk sewer, with the City of Grand Rapids paying $6,252,643. Next, the Convention and Arena Authority has entered into an option agreement that allows the authority to purchase 11.6 acres along Market St. which includes the City of Grand Rapids property that houses the Public Works Department, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Office of Special Events. The estimated purchase cost of the 11.6 acres is $24.5 million, according to MLive. The most recent news is that the City of Grand Rapids will likely purchase the 1500 Scribner Avenue NW property from the County for $7,450,000. 

This whole project so far has involved roughly $42 million, between the City of Grand Rapids, the Convention and Arena Authority and the DeVos-owned 63 Market St LLC. This is a great deal of money, which demonstrates that when a multi-billionaire family the the DeVos family wants something, they usually get it. Sure, building an outdoor amphitheater will bring more people, including more tourists to Grand Rapids, which means more money will be spent in the city. But, we must always ask ourselves who are the primary beneficiaries of such projects?

The primary beneficiary will be the DeVos family, since they own several hotels in the downtown area, a restaurant and a wine bar. The other beneficiaries will be other major property owners in the downtown area, many of which are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Parking dollars go to the City of Grand Rapids and Ellis Parking. Most of the restaurants and bars owned in the downtown area are owned by those who own multiple establishments. It is true that all of the bars and the hotels rely on workers, but those workers will generally not see an increase in pay, which means the majority of the money will go to the ownership class, some of whom are millionaires and billionaires. 

The other thing, which is important to ponder, is the fact that when it comes to the economic interests of the wealthiest in this community, the City of Grand Rapids can move rather quickly and invest lots of public money to accommodate private economic interests. Millions of dollars will be spent by the time the outdoor amphitheater will be built. Imagine if those millions were being spent to provide decent housing to families facing housing insecurity? Imagine what millions could do if they were transferred into neighborhoods that have high concentrations of poverty, particularly Black and Brown neighborhoods, and those residents got to decide on how these millions would be spent? Imagine how much relief these millions, which are going into development for an amphitheater, could provide to families who are struggling to survive? 

It is never a question of a lack of money or a lack of resources when it comes to creating real equity in this city, since millions will be spent for an amphitheater. The question is really about priorities. When will people realize that the priorities the Grand Rapids Power Structure (which includes government officials) is to look out for their interests. Sure, they will always provide charitable donations, but they will never make it a priority to end the poverty and racism that thousands face in this community. We have to build a robust social movement that will not only challenge those with power in this city, but dismantle the power that is responsible for so much suffering in Grand Rapids.

The Devil is in the Details: Public money, ArtPrize and GRPD budgeting issues

June 15, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes. In this installment we look at how the City of Grand Rapids is once again promoting ArtPrize and providing subsidies to the annual Art Spectacle. We will also take a look at some budgetary expenses of the GRPD, expenses we rarely hear about.

ArtPrize will be coming back to Grand Rapids this year. In the Fiscal Committee Agenda packet for June 15 (beginning on page 20), there is a resolution to approve City funding for ArtPrize. The Grand Rapids Fiscal Committee is recommending that the City approve a $50,000 sponsorship Fromm Mobil GR and $50,000 of “in kind services.”

In a separate resolution, the Fiscal Committee (page 23) is asking for:

“a $50,000 General Fund sponsorship contribution to ArtPrize in support of their 2021 event, scheduled September 16 – October 3, 2021. Funds would be supplemental to planned sponsorship investment from Mobile GR and the Parking Services fund, and allocated from budgeted event support/reactivation dollars made available through the American Rescue Plan Act.”

The Fiscal Committee claims that using American Rescue Plan Act funding is consistent with giving ArtPrize this additional $50,000, since the event will respond to the, “health and economic impacts of COVID-19.” The Fiscal Committee does not clarify how giving public money to ArtPrize will respond to the health and economic impacts of COVID 19, most likely because they don’t feel like they have to. ArtPrize has been given preferential treatment by the City of Grand Rapids, since it began over a decade ago, even though the so-called economic impact of the art spectacle has primarily benefited a small sector of the business community, as we noted in an article from 2011.

ArtPrize economically benefits the owning class and the so-called creative class, which is ultimately about promoting an enterprise culture. This sentiment was best described by local businessman Sam Cummings (CWD) in 2009. “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 reached an elite status, so much so, that one can not question or challenge who the real beneficiaries are. In fact, the bulk of the agenda packet for the Committee of the Whole for June 15, is devoted ArtPrize.

The other issue we want to address in this addition of The Devil is in the Details, has to do with funding elements for the GRPD. There are two police funding elements that will be decided by the City Commission. First, is the matter of a Professional Services Agreement between Bluestone Psych LLC and the GRPD. According to page 3 in the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet, it states: 

The Grand Rapids Police Department requests authorization to enter into a new contract effective January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021 with Dr. Robert W. Lamson, PhD, Bluestone Psych LLC. Dr. Robert Lamson will provide psychological services for the Grand Rapids Police Department as assigned by, and under the direction of Eric Payne, Chief of Police. The services may include Post-Conditional Offer of Hire Evaluations at rate of $465.00 per evaluation, as well as Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations at a rate of $240.00 per hour. Payments under this contract will not exceed the total amount of $40,000.

Bluestone Pysch LLC works almost exclusively with professions that are part of the Prison Industrial Complex, such as cops, DEA agents, corrections officers, etc. It would be interesting to know more about this business and Dr. Robert Lamson, especially since it appears that he does evaluations for cops in the GRPD. Since the Grand Rapids Police Department claims they are committed to transparency and accountability, will the evaluations that Bluestone Psych LLC is conducting be accessible to the Office of Public Accountability? I would argue that the public also has a right to see these evaluations, which could protect the identity of individual officers, unless those evaluations reveal serious concerns about individual officers in the department. 

The second funding issue with the GRPD, is also reflected in the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet, on page 59, which has to do with a request for a budget amendment for the GRPD. This budget amendment is for analysis software, which the GRPD has been using, known as PenLink PLX and would be a total of $6,622.92.

According to the PenLink site, the PLX software is designed to, “Investigate all communication types – collect, analyze, and export large volumes of social media, email, and other internet communications data.” In other words, the GRPD is using the PenLink PLX to monitor the digital information being shared in this community, information that they can used against any form of public dissent. An example of this would be the extensive amount of monitoring that the GRPD has done on Movimiento Cosecha GR. (See the FOIA documents obtained from the GRPD from 2019.) 

The funding for this monitoring software will be coming from property that is seized by the GRPD, also known as asset forfeiture. Assets, like cars, tech equipment, real estate, even cash, can be seized by the cops and then used to fund things like the PenLink PLX software. 

Should the City of Grand Rapids be using public money to subsidize ArtPrize, an event that is run by the wealthiest family in West Michigan? The public has a right to know how their money is being used, along with greater transparency of GRPD funding issues. Without transparency, it is difficult to have accountability, which is exactly why many in the community have been demanding a participatory budgeting process. With a participatory budgeting process, people can not only be informed about how their tax dollars are being spent, they can take an active role in determining how their tax dollars are spent. 

Sen. Gary Peters’ response to recent Israeli attacks on Gaza is to perpetuate lies and misinformation about the US role in maintaining Israeli Apartheid

June 13, 2021

The US role in the Middle East is a complex and vitally important role that is grounded in imperialism, particularly when we look at Israel and Palestine.

With recent attention given to yet another round of Israeli assaults on Gaza and continued aspects of Israeli Apartheid, it has generated a great deal of news coverage and public outrage.

My partner wrote to Michigan Senator Gary Peters a few weeks ago and just now received this response from Peters:

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am closely monitoring the developments between Israel and the Palestinians. I share your concerns about the construction of settlements and the annexation of Palestinian territory. Unilateral annexation would destabilize the region and jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution. That is why, last year, I sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz urging them to reject any proposals for annexation. The best hope for peace is a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people. Such a solution should include mutually agreed upon borders that can allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace. To this end I have supported annual foreign aid for both Israel and the Palestinian people. This has been the bipartisan policy of the United States for decades and any plan to deviate from this policy would be counterproductive and would undermine the prospects for peace negotiations.

While I believe the United States should continue to play a critical role in fostering constructive dialogue, only Israelis and Palestinians can make the difficult decisions necessary to ensure peace.  I agree with President Biden’s support for a ceasefire and urged the Administration to work to de-escalate this conflict.  Let me be clear, there is no military solution to the disagreements between Israel and the Palestinian people. Israel has the inherent right to defend itself and its citizens from indiscriminate rocket fire from terrorist organizations like Hamas and I urge the Israeli government to ensure civilians in Gaza and the West Bank are not targeted by the Israeli military. I remain hopeful that a two-state solution can be achieved and that there is a more peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. As the Senate considers policies related to Palestine and Israel, I will be sure to keep your views in mind.

Here is my deconstruction of Senator Peters’ response.

First, it is important to note that as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Peters is essentially acting as a broker with US military contractors to make sure that the $3.5 Billion annual aid that the US provides Israel, also includes military hardware. 

Second, when Peters says he shares concerns about the construction of Israeli Settlements, he is lying. Israeli Settlement construction and expansion on Palestinian land has been going on for decades, and it has been condemned by the international community as an illegal action, since it violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. In addition, Peters cannot really share concern over the construction of Israeli Settlements, since the US (especially Sen. Peters) has never called for an end to the construction of Israeli Settlements, nor has the US (and Sen. Peters) ever made US Aid to Israel contingent on the termination of settlement construction.

Third, when Sen. Peters says he supports US aid to both Israel and the Palestinian people, he is being deceptive. The US has consistently provided over $3 billion in aid to Israel as long as Peters has been a US Senator, but the Palestinian people have only received a paltry amount, averaging around $300 million, with a contribution of only $150 million in 2021. In addition, US Aid to Israel includes lots of military hardware, whereas the Palestinian people get no US military support. Senator Peters goes on to say, in regards to US aid, “any plan to deviate from this policy would be counterproductive and would undermine the prospects for peace negotiations.” What Senator Peters is saying here is that the US will continued to provide massive amounts of aid to Israel regardless of how brutal the Israelis are to the Palestinians.

Fourth, Senator Peters statement that the US can foster critical dialogue and assist with negotiating peace, he is once again perpetuating a bold-faced lie. There is no way that the US can be sincere about wanting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not while the US provides $3.5 billion in US aid to Israel and not while the US continues to vote against the international community’s condemnation of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. (See Nassar Aguri’s book, Dishonest Broker: The Role of the United States in Palestine and Israel)

Fifth, Senator Peters uses language that is instructive, where he refers to “indiscriminate rocket fire from terrorist organizations like Hamas”, but only wants to, “urge the Israeli government to ensure civilians in Gaza and the West Bank are not targeted by the Israeli military.” The fact is that recent Israeli bombing of Gaza has killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children. In Israel, 13 people were killed, including two children. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that more than 1,900 Palestinians were injured, and as of 12 May Israel reported at least 200 injured Israelis. What we need to ask ourselves here is, who are the real terrorists? 

Sixth, Senator Peters ends his response with yet another lie when he states that he remains hopeful, “that there is a more peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians.” 

Senator Peters knows that as long as the US maintains its massive aid to Israel, that there will be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Senator Peters knows this and embraces this reality, since Senator Peters is a significant recipient of PAC money from the Pro-Israeli Lobby in the US. According to OpenSecrets, the Pro-Israel lobby has contributed $174 million to candidates since 1990, with roughly two-thirds of their money going to Democratic candidates. Since Gary Peters became a Senator, he has received about $400,000 from the Pro-Israel Lobby. Whatever Senator Peters has to say about Israel and Palestine, know that his allegiance to weapons contractors and his allegiance to the Pro-Israel Lobby are contributing factors in his unconditional support for Israel. 

Monitoring Wealth & Power in West Michigan: A DeVos Family Reader – We’re Rich and We Do What We Want

June 10, 2021

We try to update the DeVos Family Reader about every 6 months.

We hadn’t updated the DeVos Family Reader since the beginning of December, but we now have an updated version, which puts the DeVos Family Reader over 500 pages. Just go to this link and the DeVos Family Reader is the first item to click on.

In the DeVos Family Reader, you will find archival articles from the 1970s, plus sections on DeVos money and electoral politics, how the DeVos family influences West Michigan reality, the function of the various DeVos Family foundations, how the local news media represents the DeVos Family and a section entitled Betsy DeVos Watch..

There are also a list of books and online resources for monitoring the most powerful family in West Michigan.

The image below includes a direct quote from Richard DeVos, which reveals his White Supremacist values, and his belief in Manifest Destiny. 

Proposed bills would make housing stability for those struggling to afford rent costs in Michigan even more difficult

June 9, 2021

It is bad enough that Michigan will not allow rent control at the state or municipal level, now there is legislation in both the House and the Senate that further takes away the ability of city governments to regulate the length of rental agreements.

The business publication MiBiz, recently reported:

A last-minute substitute to House Bill 4722 — sponsored by state Rep. Sarah Lightner, R-Springport — was given to stakeholders minutes before Tuesday’s House Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting. The committee quickly advanced the bill without providing time to review the new version, critics said.

The language of the proposed legislation states in part, “short-term rental” means the rental of a single-family residence, a dwelling unit in a 1-to-4–family house, or any unit or group of units in a condominium, for terms of not more than 30 consecutive days.”

The Senate version of the legislation (Senate Bill 446) essentially has the same language as the house version.

If this legislation is adopted, it will have three major impacts. First, these bills would further diminish local government’s ability to regulate key aspects of the market economy, in this case the housing market. Second, this legislation would not only allow, it would likely expand an AirBnB boom, which would be great for tourism, but not for those who are struggling to find truly affordable housing in Michigan. Third, adopting this proposed legislation would put renters in an even more precarious situation and create even more housing instability for those who are struggling to afford increased rental costs. 

Not surprising, the Michigan Realtors Association is endorsing this legislation and makes it a point to write about it in their Legislative News section.

Both Rep. Sara Lightner and Sen. Aric Nesbitt, the two legislators who introduced these bills, has the Michigan Association of Realtors PAC in their top 10 of campaign contributors, based on data from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. In fact, 8 of the 15 sponsors of the House version of the bill are also major recipients of the Michigan Association of Realtors PAC, as do 5 of the 7 co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill. In the end, one should always follow the money when it comes to public policy. 

Radical Democracy or Managed Democracy: The Grand Rapids Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project

June 8, 2021

Last week, the City of Grand Rapids announced that it was going to pilot a participatory budgeting project, using some of the money the city received from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act. 

It is instructive that the City of Grand Rapids will be piloting this project just weeks after they received several hundred calls from the community to put the brakes on voting for the 2022 City Budget and allow the community to be involved in a participatory budgeting process to make decisions on how they want their tax dollars spent.

The City’s announcement last week stated that there would be $2 million dollars that residents would have a say in, although the money is not being equally distributed. There will be $1 million going to the Third Ward, $600,000 going to the First Ward and $400,000 to the Second Ward.

Considering the dismissive response that Defund the GRPD received with their recent demand to use a participatory budgeting process, there is sufficient reason to be skeptical about how genuine the City of Grand Rapids will be with giving the public a say in how to use federal funds in the City’s three wards. Here are a few of those reasons for skepticism:

  1. The City of Grand Rapids has pre-determined the parameters for how the money can be spent in this participatory budgeting process. People will be able to pitch proposals, but they must fall under the following factors – Violence Reduction, Public Safety Co-Response, Housing Affordability, Broadband Access and Economic Impacts from COVID. In addition to pre-determined categories, what exactly does the City mean by violence reduction? Does that mean just overt violence, like gun violence, or are they open to considering proposals that take on structural violence, like the violence of poverty or racism?
  2. The City is also forming three steering committees (one for each city ward) and these steering committees with be made up of two residents appointed by Commissioners from that ward. As we have seen in other instances, elected leaders often will pick people who will not challenge structural problems, and in fact, will often maintain the status quo. Last month we looked at this very issue, where City Officials appointed residents to make decisions in numerous city-created entities, but those appoints disproportionately represent corporate interests and/or the status quo.
  3. Once the steering committees are created residents will be able to pitch ideas about how to use the money during both virtual and in person meetings, but the timeline for this process is very short, according to what MLive wrote. “Tentatively, residents should be able to pitch ideas and give feedback during in-person and virtual public engagement starting sometime after June 12 and lasting until July 18.” This means that people will have a month to come up with ideas, which is a very short amount of time. In addition to the short time frame, some people will be taking time off for vacation, while others will be continuing to struggle to survive. The City’s track record for community engagement is weak and what input there is, often comes with those who carry a great deal of privilege – economic, racial and gender privilege.
  4. A fourth, and final, reason for skepticism on the City participatory budgeting pilot project, is that they already want to frame their decision to do this as allowing people in Grand Rapids to have a say in larger portions of money than what other cities are doing. However, this misses the point of what Participatory Budgeting is all about and how it was created. The Participatory Budgeting Movement began in Brazil in the 1990s as a radical democracy initiative by the leftist Worker’s Party. The whole point of Participatory Budgeting is to shift from representative democracy to more direct democracy, where people get to decide how they want their tax money spent. In addition, Participatory Budgeting increases involvement in politics by civil society, creates more transparency, more accountability and it leads to more possibilities for social transformation.

We will certainly be following this process as it develops and we will continue to make posts once the steering committee people have been named and once we know more about how and when people will be able to have a say in this participatory budgeting pilot project. However, given the recent history of dismissing the Defund the GRPD demand around Participatory Budgeting, this writer remains skeptical that Grand Rapids City officials will really allow for radical democracy to be practiced in this city. 

Buying Public Policy: Why do politicians that claim to represent progressive politics take money from the GR Chamber of Commerce?

June 7, 2021

A few weeks ago we posted an article that challenged the claim made by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce that they want everyone in this community to thrive. Anyone who uses their brain will know that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce opposes an increase in the minimum wage, works to undermine labor unions, opposes a tax increase for the rich, and a long list of other policies that do economic harm to people who are not business owners.

The Chambers of Commerce that exist all across the country have a very long history of opposing progressive/left policies that people have fought for over the past century. As we noted in May, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce lobbies states legislators, but they also make contributions to candidates running for office in West Michigan.

The Political Action Committee (PAC) of the GR Chamber is called the Friends of West Michigan Business GR, based on the Michigan Secretary of State campaign finance records. We looked at the campaign finances of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce over the past decade, just to see which candidates were receiving funding from the group that is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Not surprising, the bulk of the candidates that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has contributed to, are part of the Republican Party. This is consistent with the US Chamber of Commerce, which contributed about 80% of their money to the GOP, according to OpenSecrets.

However, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, like the national Chamber, also contributes to candidates running as Democrats or candidates running in non-partisan races that claim to represent progressive politics. Below is a list of Democratic candidates or those claiming to represent progressive policies, which have taken money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce since 2010. However, before looking at these names, it is important for all of us to think about why the below listed below would take funds from an entity that fundamentally fights for and defends Neo-Liberal Capitalism?

  • The GR Chamber is strategic about who they make political contributions to, thus they want to, at a minimum, have greater access to those who get elected.
  • The GR Chamber, like any major political donor, wants to influence the candidates/politicians they contributed to
  • This access and influence that the GR Chamber is buying makes a mockery of the very notion of what the democratic process is supposed to be about.
  • Many of the people on the list below have received campaign contributions from labor unions or other groups that identify as progressive or left groups, so why take money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce as well?
  • Just because the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce makes a contribution to a candidate, doesn’t mean that those candidates have to accept the money. 
  • We should seriously question and challenge candidates who take money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.
  • The list includes people who have sat on the Grand Rapids School Board, the Grand Rapids City Commission, the Kent County Commission and state legislators from this area.
  • All of this money from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is fundamentally about getting public policy that benefits the interests of the Capitalist Class. 

This list is in chronological order from the most recent to 2010, which includes the amount the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce PAC contributed, and the date:

Winnie Brinks $250 3/24/2021

David LaGrand $500 8/20/2020

Rachel Hood $100 10/13/2020

Mindy Ysasi $1,000 6/28/2019

Jon O’Connor $500 6/28/2019

Rosalynn Bliss $500 6/28/2019

Tony Baker $250 9/17/2018

Kimberly Williams $250 9/17/2018

John Matias $250 9/17/2018

Monica Sparks $350 9/17/2018

Jim Talen $250 9/17/2018

Dave Bulkoski $250 9/17/2018

Carol Hennessy $250 9/17/2018

Kurt Reppart $1,000 6/22/2017

Joe Jones $1,000 6/22/2017

Senita Lenear $250 6/22/2017

Kristian Grant $1,000 9/30/2016

Raynard Ross $1,000 9/30/2016

Jen Schottke $1,000 9/30/2016

Winnie Brinks $500 6/22/2016

David LaGrand $500 6/22/2016

Carol Hennessy $150 6/22/2016

Jim Talen $150 6/22/2016

Dave Bulkowski $150 6/22/2016

Rosalynn Bliss $500 5/14/2015

David Allen $250 5/14/2015

Ruth Kelly $250 5/14/2015

Jon O’Connor $250 5/14/2015

Mindy Ysasi $250 9/26/2014

John Matias $250 9/26/2014

Wendy Falb $250 9/26/2014

Tony Baker $250 9/26/2014

Carol Hennessy $250 5/23/2014

Jim Talen $250 5/23/2014

Dave Bulkowski $250 5/23/2014

Senita Lenear $500 7/17/2013

Rosalynn Bliss $250 7/17/2013

Carol Hennessy $100 7/6/2012

Rosalynn Bliss $100 7/6/2012

Dave Bulkowski $100 7/6/2012

George Heartwell $250 9/1/2011

Ruth Kelly $100 9/1/2011

Jim Talen $100 6/22/2010

Dick Bulkowski $100 6/22/2010

Carol Hennessy $100 6/22/2010

Indigenous community in Grand Rapids hosts vigil/protest to hold the Catholic Church accountable for genocidal acts perpetrated against Indigenous children

June 4, 2021

Last night, about 150 people came out to participate in the Every Child Matters Vigil/Protest that was organized by local Indigenous women who had recently organized a protest against the disappearance/death of Indigenous girls/women in recent years throughout the so-called United States.

The gathering of mostly indigenous people was a direct response to the recent news about the remains of 215 indigenous children that were discovered in British Colombia near a boarding school. 

The vigil/protest took place at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids, which began with drumming and included traditional dancing, an honor song and several speakers. 

Many of the people who spoke talked about the historical trauma that occurred with indigenous children being forcibly removed from their community and sent to the so-called boarding schools. For years, First Nations communities have been uncovering new information and providing space for people to share their lived experience at these schools that existed all across the country. 

The United Nations Convention on Genocide names the forcible removal of indigenous children who were placed in so-called boarding schools as a form of genocide.

Shannon Martin, who is the director of the Ziibiwing Center in Mt. Pleasant, said that people need to grieve and people need to be angry about the recent discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous children. Martin said that the residential schools that were created in the US, were duplicated in other countries, like Australia, which have also used the forcible relocation of indigenous children to schools that have been operated by either governments or by churches, particularly the Catholic Church. 

Another speaker, Joe Cadreau, talked about how we need to stop calling these places schools and start referring to them as extermination camps. Cadreau also spoke about the need to purge Christian and Catholic elements from their tribes, especially considering how much harm these religious groups have perpetrated against indigenous people, particularly indigenous children.

The vigil/protest organizers then invited people to march with them over to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was just a few blocks west of Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Almost everyone who was at the park marched to the church, where people were invited to place children’s shoes, stuffed animals, flowers and signs that demonstrated the awful crimes that were committed against indigenous children at these boarding schools. Again, prayers were offered and songs were sung. It was a powerful moment when the items were laid in front of the church’s front door. It was a collective action of accountability, and it sent a strong message to the Catholic Church about their role in committing these acts of genocide. In many ways, what the local indigenous community did last night was historic. We shall see what sort of response the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese will have, if any.