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Re-Thinking the Life of Lena Meijer and her Billionaire family: On why we need to develop a real Class Consciousness

January 23, 2022

It has been just over a week now that Lena Meijer, the wife of Fred Meijer, passed away. 

Once again, the local news media had nothing but positive and glowing commentary about someone who was part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. The local news media did the same thing about Fred Meijer, when he passed away in 2011.

A WOODTV8 story uses the headline, Fred and Lena Meijer remembered for ‘belief in community’. GVSU also released a statement that wants us all to believe that Lena Meijer made an impact on the lives of students.

An MLive headline read, Lena Meijer remembered as caring, community advocate with ‘a wonderful heart.’  In that article there are comments from the Meijer family attorney, the CEO of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the vice president of university relations at GVSU, and the following statement from the DeVos Family:

“Lena Meijer was a quiet force of nature in our community. She had a warm and giving spirit, that was evident from the moment she walked in any room. She was a friend and partner to our parents / grandparents, as she was to us, and a steadfast supporter of her husband, her family and all of West Michigan. We smile as we think of Lena’s love of flowers and how the Meijer Gardens shares that passion with so many others. Lena lived generously and her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched.”

The comments from the DeVos Family are completely expected, since this is one family within the Grand Rapids Power Structure speaking well of another member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. People who have economic and political power will almost always look out for other people who have economic and political power. They do this because they do not want the public to think about how they became so rich and powerful.

Let’s take the Meijer Family. This is a family business that made their wealth by exploiting the workers in their stores, by benefiting from the exploitation of the workers in an unjust food system – farmworkers, for example – and by not having to pay for the consequences of benefitting from an unsustainable and exploitative retail system. Many of the items that are sold in the Meijer stores rely on workers who pick food or manufacture clothing, etc., workers who make poverty-level wages. On top of that, most of the items that are sold in Meijer stores travel thousands of miles, thus relying heavily on the burning of fossil fuels, which have contributed significantly to Climate Change. 

Lena Meijer is fondly remembered for the monetary contributions she and her family have made over the years, but there is no honest discussion or investigation into how the Meijer family became billionaires. People don’t get rich because they are hard workers, they get rich by exploiting people and resources. But this is the con. Lena Meijer is remembered for making contributions to things like the Civic Theater, the Frederick Meijer Gardens, local colleges, etc., all of which do nothing to disturb the oppressive and exploitative economic systems that exist in West Michigan. This is why Meijer and DeVos, and the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, get their names on buildings, because we as a society do not have sufficient class consciousness. We see the Lena Meijers of the world as being generous, when in fact we should be seeing their philanthropy as a PR scam, a diversion from having to actually look hard at how they made their wealth.

The MLive article quote the Meijer family attorney who stated that lena Meijer preferred to remain in the background, and to council members of her family. Do you think for a moment that Lena Meijer was counseling her sons Hank & Doug Meijer to pay the workers at Meijer stores a livable wage? No, she chose to not question how her son’s wealth went from $10.2 Billion at the beginning of the pandemic, to $16.9 Billion after the first 18 months of the pandemic. This means that the Meijer family business increased their wealth by $6.7 Billion, while Meijer workers couldn’t afford health care or pay their rent, and while thousands of families in West Michigan were suffering during the COVID 19 pandemic.

If we don’t stop worshipping members of the Capitalist Class, like Lena Meijer, not much will change. The wealth from the Meijer family alone could eliminate poverty in West Michigan and provide sufficient funds for housing and health care for all. Instead of celebrating the bullshit charity of the billionaire class, let’s organize to redistribute the wealth of members of the Capitalist Class, like the Meijer family. 

New Report demonstrates that Schools across the country and in Michigan, fail when teaching about the Black Freedom Struggle

January 20, 2022

A new report released by the Zinn Education Project, says that State standards are failing to teach the truth about the Reconstruction era in US history.

The report, entitled, Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle, has several key findings:

  • Emphasize a top-down history of Reconstruction focused on government, politics, and policy with little emphasis on ordinary Black people and their organizing strategies.
  • Still promote an inaccurate history of Reconstruction influenced by the Dunning School. 
  • Rarely name or contend with white supremacy or white terror. 
  • Do not provide clear and consistent definitions of Reconstruction. 
  • Limit the significance of Reconstruction to Southern states. 
  • Do not address the enduring legacies of Reconstruction or make connections to the present day.  

In addition, the report provides a grade for each state as it relates to how well or how poorly they teach the Reconstruction era.  Here are the findings for Michigan:

The coverage of Reconstruction in Michigan’s standards is partial, and their content is subpar. The Michigan Department of Education adopted the current social studies standards in 2019. Reconstruction is covered in grade 8. Although the high school history course begins in the late 19th century, Reconstruction is not included in the standards as a topic to cover.

Grade 8

Reconstruction is part of the final unit of the grade 8 U.S. history course. Broadly, the standards ask students to “develop an argument regarding the character and consequences of Reconstruction” and emphasizes “how various Reconstruction plans succeeded or failed.” 

The standards include Black people as one of the groups/individuals whose “different positions” on reconstructing Southern society students should learn. They also contain specific references to the Freedmen’s Bureau, Black participation in government, the Reconstruction Amendments, and racial segregation, the Black Codes, and the KKK. 

However, the standards do not mention white supremacy, framing the actions of the KKK and other groups opposing Reconstruction as part of an undefined “national and regional resistance” to the “change” of Black people’s political rights. The narrative of Reconstruction concludes with the Compromise of 1877, with students tasked with explaining “the decision to remove Union troops from the South in 1877 and investigate its impact on Americans.”

The section on Michigan also includes the following:

In May 2021, Republican legislators in the state Senate introduced SB0460, a bill that would prohibit the inclusion of “anti-American and racist theories” in curricula. They identify the 1619 Project and critical race theory among these prohibited subjects. In Nov. 2021, the Michigan House of Representatives passed HB5097, a law designed to ban “any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping” in classrooms. Several respondents to our survey expressed concern about the possible chilling effects on classroom education that such bills may have around the country, particularly on discussions of the history and legacies of Reconstruction.

While the information in this report is not surprising, it is clear that public schools in Michigan are failing to teach about a critical part of the Black Freedom Struggle. There is value in working to push the public school system in this state to do better on these topics, but we should not miss any opportunities to create other forms of popular education around the Black Freedom Struggle, in order to provide vitally important information on one of the most important social justice movements in US history. 

The Zinn Education Project already provides solid popular education materials, but we can solicit local educators and organizers to create material that is specific to our communities as well. 

DeVos created/connected groups are criticizing the number of public schools that are not going back to in person learning due to the COVID virus

January 19, 2022

The COVID pandemic has been used by political groups and those of various ideological persuasions to pit people against each other or to attack institutions like government and education.

The attacking has been very visible on the matter of public school closings because of the COVID pandemic. On January 7th, the DeVos-funded group, the Michigan Freedom Fund, post a piece entitled, Governor Whitmer’s Silence is Deafening. The post attempts to not only lay the blame at the feet of Gov. Whitmer for some school districts shift to virtual learning, but also blames “union bosses and school bureaucrats.”  There is also a Michigan Freedom Fund created video that just edits together a series of people stating that the best place for kids to be is in schools and that Gov. Whitmer is silent on the issue.

On that same day, January 7th, the right wing think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, posted a piece entitled, School Districts Shut Down Classrooms Again. The Mackinac article provides a more data-driven response than the Michigan Freedom Fund post, but it also uses the opportunity to criticize Gov. Whitmer. The Mackinac article then states:

Many school districts, along with private schools, have found a way to remain open. Admittedly, school systems are struggling with a host of challenges after the prolonged impacts of COVID-19. Those challenges include everything from difficulties finding substitute teachers and bus drivers to shifting requirements for virus testing and quarantine procedures. In some cases, there are enough students absent and quarantined to cancel class.

This paragraphed is certainly more nuanced and it does acknowledge the complications around what has been causing some school districts to close, such as having too many students and staff with COVID. This was certainly the case with a school in Grand Rapids, where COVID and staff shortages led to the decision to go to virtual learning, as reported on by MLive.

The Mackinac article also provides a link to private schools finding ways open safely, but the link that the article provides is from March of 2021, some 10 months ago. If there is anything that we have learned during the pandemic is that nothing stays the same, with COVID cases spiking and new variants emerging all the time. It also happens that the link that was included is from the same Mackinac Center for Public Policy writer Ben DeGrow, who writes exclusively for Mackinac around education issues, where he consistently attacks public education and advocates for privatization.

There is a third DeVos connected entity, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which also attacks Gov. Whitmer in their January 10th post, entitled, Gretchen Whitmer’s War Against Kids. The GLEP article also blames “bureaucrats and union bosses,” but little substance to back up their claims. This is standard operating procedure, since GLEP was created by Betsy DeVos and one of its board members is Greg McNeilly, who not only runs Dick & Betsy DeVos’s Windquest Group, but is the President of the Michigan Freedom Fund. 

Just a few days ago, the Great Lakes Education Project posted an additional attack against Gov. Whitmer and the Democratic Party, this time using the claim that Michigan Democrats don’t think that parents should have a say in what public schools teach. This response from GLEP was based on a meme posted by the Michigan Democratic Party, shown here on the right. There was so much backlash against this, that the Michigan Democratic Party removed the meme from their Facebook page. On Monday, according to the Detroit News, the Michigan Democratic Party made the following statement:

“Parents need to have a say in their children’s education, end of story. The post does not reflect the views of Michigan Democrats and should not be misinterpreted as a statement of support from our elected officials or candidates.”

Getting beyond the often banal partisan politics involved, what seems to be missing in much of the criticism about public schools that are shifting to virtual learning again is the realities of what has been happening with COVID in recent months, particularly with the omicron variant. 

On January 13, MLive reported another record breaking day of new COIVID cases in Michigan, with an average of of 16,000-plus cases a day.

In regards to schools, the data is also fairly alarming. MLive reported on January 11th:

In total, health officials are aware of 225 active school-related outbreaks affecting at least 5,706 students and staff, according to a report published by the state Monday, Jan. 10.

The January 11 MLive article also provides detailed information on reported COVID cases by schools across the state, with a searchable database that is 63 pages long.  

One last component that is also omitted from the larger discussion of public school and COVID polices/closings, is the fact that there is now a growing number of student-led strikes/walkouts across the US that is directly because more and more students don’t feel safe in schools.

One example is from Okemos, Michigan, where students walked out of school over COVID and other issues. The Lansing-based TV station, WLNS 6, also includes a student created flyer that is calling for an addition Sit-Out, as seen here.

It is understandable that parents are upset about how schools are responding during the pandemic. All of our lives are in an upheaval because of the pandemic, but policy makers and partisan politics are generally not making things easier for the public, for parents, and definitely not for students during this crisis. 

GRIID Class – The Function of Policing in the US and how we can work towards a world Without Police: Part I

January 18, 2022

For the first session, we read chapters 2 and 3 from Kristian William’s important book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.

Chapter 2, entitled, The Origins of American Policing, provides readers with a broad overview of policing models that existed in Europe centuries ago. The author presents this information to not only demonstrate how much the idea of policing and public safety has evolved over the centuries, but to make the point that the US has had a fairly distinct model that is rooted in the system of slavery.

Williams talks about the origins of the Slave Codes, which were legislative acts throughout the US in the late 18th Century and 19th Century, as a mechanism of controlling Black people, especially those who were enslaved. After a period of Slave Codes, Slave Patrols were introduced, which the author believes is part of what the current US model of policing was based on.

In Chapter 3, The Genesis of a Policed Society, Williams then shifts his focus to what was happening in the northern cities, like New York and Boston. Slavery was outlawed in the North, even though the North still profited from Chattel Slavery. What was unique about the early formations of policing in Northern cities was what the author refers to as political machines. Williams uses Tammany Hall as an example of the political machine that used police officers to engage in corruption, to intimidate electoral outcomes and to maintain political power.

The author makes the point that during this period there was the development of the notion of “dangerous classes,” a reference to groups of people who were to be demonized, along with the demand for order. The demand for order can be seen in how the political machines used their police forces to control gambling, alcohol and the sex trade, both by profiting from it and using it to extort funds from political opponents. In addition, the policing of vice industries also justified a massive increase in arrests, thus making the argument that cops were necessary to “protect society.” 

As always these class discussion are quite lively and there is never enough time to fully explore all of the aspects and nuances of these topics. 

Next week, we will be reading more from Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, specifically chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 is entitled, Cops and Klan, Hand in Hand, which deals with the historical legacy of policing’s relationship to White Supremacist groups. Chapter 5, The Natural Enemy of the Working Class, deals with how police forces have always been used to not only policy working class people, but have been used by the Capitalist Class to suppress worker demands and worker uprisings.

Is there really any benefit to holding a public forum for the next chief of police, when the public doesn’t get to decide?

January 17, 2022

On Wednesday, there is a community forum from 6:30 – 8:30pm in the Grand Rapids City Commission chambers, a forum designed to allow the public to ask questions of the three finalists for the new Grand Rapids Chief of Police. Even if you are unable to attend the event in person, there are opportunities to ask question online, at this link.

Wednesday’s public forum is presented as a form of community engagement, because it provides the public an opportunity to ask questions. However, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that this will really mean anything, since the process to hire the next Grand Rapids Chief of Police is anything but democratic.

The firm that was hired to find the next Chief of Police, Public Sector Search & Consulting, is a California-based firm that specializes exclusively on “recruiting police executives.” This means that the company that the City of Grand Rapids hired to assist them in finding the next Chief of Police makes their money off of finding police leaders. 

Equally important is how the paid consulting firm is presenting what Grand Rapids is like, based on their own police chief search application. The 14 page document paints Grand Rapids as the ideal city, with great public/private partnerships and a great place to raise a family. The page on the GRPD has no language that is critical of the department nor any reference to recent examples of how the police target Black and Brown communities. Oh, and the document also presents Grand Rapids as a city that is vibrant and rich in culture.

Since Public Sector Search & Consulting was hired by Grand Rapids, they held 4 virtual meetings that were poorly attended, plus they hosted 26 different Grand Rapids stakeholder input sessions. These “stakeholder” session were by invite online, which means that City official chose who to invite, plus none of this has been transparent, meaning the public does not know who was invited to these stakeholder meetings.

The local news media has been promoting Wednesday’s public forum, essentially using the same language that the City’s Press Release included, as we noted in a recent post. Since then, MLive has also written a story about the forum, with no significant improvement in the coverage.

It is important to point out that while we have known for a week about the public forum with the three police chief finalists, only WXMI 17 has produced a story that goes beyond the announcement of the forum. (as of January 16 when I wrote this)  However, the Fox 17 story only provides further information, based upon what City Manager Mark Washington had to say and what each of the police chief candidates had to say. In other words, there was no critical investigation of the three police chief candidates.

The City of Grand Rapids does provide a brief bio for the candidates, but that information also includes no real assessment of their previously held positions, nor does it provide any insight into what community-based groups, from each of the cities they have worked in, think about these men.

So what we are ultimately left with is the following:

  • Very little information about who the three police chief candidates are and their records around civil and human rights violations in the communities that have previously hired them. 
  • No transparency on the 26 different community stakeholder input meetings, both who was in attendance and what feedback was given.
  • Only one public opportunity for people to ask questions of the already selected three candidates who will be making presentations, the fielding questions during the span of a brief 2 hours.
  • No discussion from the City of Grand Rapids, nor the company hired by the City to conduct the police chief search, around the issues of how policing in Grand Rapids targets Black and Brown communities, racial profiling, or the GRPD’s targeting of organized groups who are demanding greater accountability and defunding of the Grand Rapids Police Department. 

In addition, there is no discussion or questioning why City Manager Mark Washington gets to make the final decision about who will be the next chief of police. This means that Washington, who holds an unelected position of power in Grand Rapids, will get to decide on the next police chief, another position of power, which is also an unelected position. For those of us who are in favor of abolishing the GRPD, the move to make it a position where candidates would be elected is not a terribly appealing prospect, but it might provide more public scrutiny for anyone who was running for the position.

A more honest celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16, 2022

As we celebrate one of the great leaders in the Black Freedom Struggle, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the real Dr. King and not the one that is promoted in commercial media or by organizations that have their own agendas.

Like most people, Dr. King was not a static person and was not part of a static movement. He evolved over time and continued to sharpen his own view of the world as he moved beyond a civil rights view to a more global liberationist view. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also matured in his use of tactics and strategies when dealing with systems of oppression.

What follows are resources that we encourage people to investigate, so as to drawn your own conclusions about who Dr. King was, what he preached and practiced before he was assassinated over 50 years ago.

One good sources is The King Center Archive, which can be found online at http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive. The archive contains nearly 1 million documents associated with the life of Dr. King.

Another great source is a collections of King’s writings published in 1963 called, Why We Can’t Wait. This collection of writings includes his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Of course, there is the I have a Dream Speech, which give delivered in Washington, DC in 1963 at one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in US history. Some great sources to accompany that speech are Gary Younge’s book, The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington, by Charles Euchner.

It is also important to know that Dr. King did not limit himself to challenging institutionalized racism, he also spoke out and organized around economic exploitation. Michael Honey’s book, All Labor Has Dignityis a collection of writings and speeches that Dr. King gave that challenged economic injustice and well as demonstrating his relationship to organized labor groups in the US.

In a Single Garment of Destiny: A Global Vision of Justiceedited by Lewis Baldwin, you will find an amazing collection of writings and speeches by Dr. King that not only explored the issue of global poverty, but makes clear the tremendous understanding Dr. King had of US foreign policy and global solidarity. Included in this collection is King’s famous speech, Beyond Vietnam, which contains not only his denunciation of the US as the “Greatest purveyor of Violence in the world today,” it contains Kings naming the Evil Triplets of Racism, Militarism and Capitalism as the greatest threats to humanity.

As King’s vision of liberation became more radical, he began to name systems of oppression and to call out the unjust US war in Vietnam and the violence perpetrated against the black community in the US. In a little know book entitled, The Trumpet of Conscience, there are 5 lectures that King delivered on the Canadian Broadcasting System in 1967. These are some of the most powerful articulations of King’s vision and makes clear why he was such a threat to those in power.

The further radicalization of King is also capture well in another collection of King’s work, edited by Dr. Cornel West, entitled, The Radical King.

One of the last campaigns that Dr. King was involved in was The Poor People’s Campaign, which began in the summer of 1968, months after he was assassinated. This campaign was originally designed to have thousands of people set up a tent city in Washington DC until their demands were met around racial and economic justice, what King called a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged.

During the same time, the Memphis sanitation workers were organizing a strike for better wages and working conditions, Dr. King went to Memphis to support the strike and lend his solidarity to their struggle. The sanitation worker’s strike and King’s visit is well documented in the book, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign, by Michael Honey.

Memphis is where King was assassinated, on April 4 of 1968. King’s assassination is the subject of two important books. One book is Michael Eric Dyson’s book April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr’s Death and How It Changed America. A second book, written by William Pepper, explores who was actually involved in King’s assassination and what role local, state and federal authorities played in the shooting of Dr. King. Pepper’s book is entitled, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King.

It is also important to understand that the FBI had been monitoring Dr. King’s activities for years, making threats against him and wire tapping his phones. One book, which documents the FBI monitoring of King (with actual documents), is the book by Michael Friedly and David Gallen, Martin Luther King Jr: The FBI File.

There are other important scholarly works on the message and person of Dr. King. Three books in particular are worth mentioning. The first is by John Ansbro, entitled, Martin Luther King Jr.: The Making of a Mind. The second scholarly book is by Michael Eric Dyson, entitled, I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. Lastly, no investigation of Dr. King is completed without the great Black Theologian James Cone’s book, Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare.

One additional book that is worth reading, which is about how the Black Freedom Struggle/Civil Rights Movement are often misrepresented, is Jeanne Theoharis’s book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Abuses of Civil Rights History.

In addition to these books, speeches and essays by and about Dr. King, there are some great films about King and this time period. The PBS series Eyes on the Prize, provides wonderful visual documentation of the black liberation movement and Dr. King. However, a film that deals more directly to the message and person of Dr. King is  Citizen King, which deals particularly with the last few years of his life, his vision and the state repression against him and his family. 

A more recent documentary that I highly recommend, is a film that deals with the last three years of Dr. King’s life, particularly after he moved to Chicago and began to critique the US in much more profound ways. The film is called, King in the Wilderness. King in the Wilderness chronicles the final chapters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, revealing a conflicted leader who faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. While the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness, and President Lyndon B. Johnson saw his anti-Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible, Dr. King’s unyielding belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos.

All of these resources are important, especially if we want to resist how government, non-profit or political groups present Dr. King, often hijacking the message and role that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played in the Black Freedom Struggle.

When Press Releases become news stories: City of Grand Rapids sends Press Release on forum about new GRPD Chief, local TV stations regurgitate Press Release as news

January 7, 2022

As we have noted over the years, local news media often regurgitates Press Releases and passes it off as news. This essentially means that news agencies end up being stenographers and not reporters. Such practices is highly problematic, especially when it has to do with Press Releases that come from centers of power.

The most recent example is a City of Grand Rapids Press Release about a forum they are hosting to allow the public an opportunity to hear from a few of the pre-selected candidates to be the next Chief of Police in Grand Rapids. Both WOODTV8 and WXMI Fox 17 “reported” on the police chief forum, but both ended up running a version of the Press Release. Here we provide a side by side example of the City’s Press Release and the WXMI Fox 17 News story.

You can see that the Fox 17 News story is simply a shortened version of what the City of Grand Rapids sent out. This is not journalism, it is simply stenography. If local news agencies chose to actually do real journalism in the case, they might have done some of the following things:

  • Interview other people from the community, particularly organizations or movements that have been challenging the legitimacy of the GRPD.
  • Do their own homework on Public Sector Search & Consulting Inc. and found out that they have been contracted to find a new Chief of Police, which is what we reported on last October.
  • Question why the City of Grand Rapids will only allow the public to have limited access to the Police Chief Candidates that have been pre-selected by Public Sector Search & Consulting Inc.
  • Local news agencies could also hold their own forums, especially broadcasters, since they operate using airwaves that is technically to serve the public interest. Occasionally, local TV stations will host candidate forums, so hosting a forum on policing that is independent of the managed way the City does public engagement, would actually be a more democratic way to get the public involved in making critical decisions in Grand Rapids.

If we don’t demand more of local government or local news agencies, they we will get the same old managed forms of “civic engagement”, which is really just a tactic by those in power to present the illusion that they give a shit about what the public thinks.

PBS documentary on the January 6th Insurrection is worth watch, but they leave out key information about the far right in Michigan

January 6, 2022

If people have not seen it, we would encourage you to watch the documentary film on the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, entitled, American Insurrection.

The documentary provides fairly sound analysis on the far right groups that were involved in the attempted insurrection, but it fails to provide crucial information about key players on the far right when the documentary shifted to talking about far right terrorism in Michigan.

At 40:10 into the film, they begin talking about the threats against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. There was footage of the vacuum cleaner store in Grand Rapids, where far right people involved in the attempted kidnapping of Whitmer had met. Then at 43:07 into the documentary it cuts to a rally in Allendale organized by the American Patriot Council, with a shot of their co-founder Jason Howland. 

What is unfortunate about the PBS documentary is that they never mention the American Patriot Council, nor do they name Jason Howland or mention Ryan Kelley, the other co-founder of the American Patriot Council. This is not a small omission, since Kelley and Howland organized the rally in Allendale that is included in the film. In addition, there is footage and discussion about the anti-lockdown protests at the State Capitol in Lansing, which were also organized by the American Patriot Council, with Ryan Kelley being one of the speakers at each of the anti-lockdown rallies in April and May in Lansing and one in Grand Rapids in mid-May, which we also reported on. 

Circling back to the Allendale rally that the American Patriot Council hosted in late October of 2020, it is unfortunate that the PBS film correspondent who attended the Allendale rally, failed to mention that there was a well attended counter-protest that same day, with an equal, if not greater number of counter-protesters. Why weren’t  those involved in the counter-protest interviewed as well? There were organizers with the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists that had been trying to get a Confederate statue taken down in Allendale, which Ryan Kelley supported.

In addition, Ryan Kelley was part of the so-called Stop the Steal protests after the 2020 Election, specifically going to Detroit and Lansing, a mere two months prior to the January 6th insurrection in Washington, DC. 

Lastly, since the the documentary film American Insurrection was produced in 2021, months after January 6th, the producers of the film should have included the following: 1) that Ryan Kelley, co-founder of the American Patriot Council, which organized the anti-lockdown protests at the Lansing State Capitol, with hundreds of armed White Nationalists – seen by some as a prelude to January 6th; 2) Ryan Kelley and the American Patriot Council were instrumental in organizing Stop the Steal protests in Detroit and Lansing in late 2020; 3) both Kelley and American Patriot Council co-founder Jason Howland participated in the January 6th insurrection; and 4) Ryan Kelley had announced in early February 2021, less than a month after the January 6th insurrection, that he was running for Governor of Michigan.  All of this information would have been extremely valuable for the producers of American Insurrection to include.  

The dominant US Commercial Media and the January 6th insurrection – One Year Later

January 4, 2022

We are on the eve of the one year anniversary when White Nationalists and other Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building in a desperate attempt to claim that the 2020 Election was fraudulent.

It will be interesting to see how the dominant commercial news media in the US reports on the one year anniversary of the insurrection. It will also be interesting to see if the news coverage will provide an update on the charges and sentencing of those who were arrested on January 6th and those charged and arrested since, because of further investigation. 

Will the dominant US news media provide any new information or updates on the US government response to the insurrection and which politicians may have been involved in supporting or promoting the actions of those who stormed the US Capitol? In addition, it would be instructive to provide a much broader assessment of which groups or organizations were part of the insurrection, assisted with planning or supported those arrested. Lastly, it will be interesting to see if the dominant US news media will investigate or discuss the larger significance of the January 6th insurrection and what it means for the broader political culture that exists within this country.

A larger question for all of us to ask is whether or not the federal government’s response to the January 6th insurrection will provide further opportunities to suppress political dissent in the US? This is an important question, for several reasons.

The fact that politicians on both sides are calling for new domestic anti-terrorism laws should concern us all, for several reasons. First, the history of domestic terrorism laws has disproportionately been used against Black, Indigenous, Latin, immigrant, Arab-Americans, Muslims, and other communities that are fighting for a more just world. Second, these kinds of laws are always passed during what are often framed as “periods of a national crisis,” thus taking advantage of moments when the public is vulnerable to swift and harsh state responses. 

Third, whether it is the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard or state and local law enforcement, we need to come to terms with the fact that every one of the groups listed have engaged in state terrorism. When cops murder Black people, that is state terrorism. When the National Guard is brought in to put down an uprising, that is state terrorism. When ICE agents round up members of the undocumented community, that is state terrorism. When the FBI targets Black organizations, that is state terrorism. 

Lastly, when people, who are not normally the targets of state violence, remain neutral or support existing/increases in state repression and state terrorism, that makes it easier for the state to get away with the violence they perpetrate against people every day! 

Local news media and local groups who ideologically align with January 6th

Over the past year, we have tried to pay attention to the responses from groups in West Michigan, specifically those groups which are ideologically aligned with what happen at the US Capitol a year ago.

We wrote several articles in the past year looking at how local groups were responding to the January 6th insurrection. The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and their founder, Fr. Robert Sirico, have addressed the political violence of the January 6th insurrection. In a TV interview nearly a year, we wrote:

The topic of the TV show that Sirico was on, had to do with the action by White Nationalists at the US Capitol on January 6. Also on the show with Rev. Sirico, was Bill Donohue, President of the ultra-Conservative group known as the Catholic League.

The host of the Catholic TV program framed the issue in a very leading way from the get go, by asking the question: “Why are we seeing more frequent, violent political protests here in the U.S., and what needs to be done about this rioting?”

Such a leading question gave both Donohue and Sirico the opportunity to talk more about the Black Lives Matter protests than the White Nationalists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6.

Rev. Sirico stated, “We need to be outraged – morally outraged – by what we saw in D.C.” for “the same reason that we were morally outraged by what we saw in Seattle, and Portland, and Minneapolis.”

While Rev. Sirico and Bill Donohue kept hitting on the “violence of the left,” the host of the TV show did not question or ask both guests about a fundamental difference between the protests and rebellions that took place after a police officer publicly lynched George Floyd, which was led by Black community members and community organizers, who have been fighting racial oppression for decades all across the US, and the White Nationalists who stormed the US Capitol, primarily to object to the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. The context for these two types of actions are worlds apart.

At one point in the discussion, the Acton Institute founder said, “The ringleaders of riots consist of “a smaller group of irresponsible, ideological people who are bent on destruction, bent on violence, and those people need to be isolated and identified. Those thoughts, those principles, those politics need to be identified and [exorcised] from the body politic.” Rev. Sirico doesn’t provide any information or sources to support such a claim. The fact is, that public lynching of George Floyd by a cop was simply a spark that ignited tremendous righteous indignation from Black and Brown communities that have been subject to various forms of state violence, the effects of brutal Neo-liberal Capitalist austerity measures, on top of a highly radicalized COVID crisis that disproportionately have impacted Black, Brown and Indigenous communities  across the US. This was is sharp contrast to the the pathetic grievances of White Nationalists who were primarily motivated by ideology, unlike the lived experiences of those from the Black community.

Another group that was more intimately connected to the January 6th storming of the US Capitol, was the American Patriot Council. In fact, as we reported last year, both of the group’s co-founders (they like to call themselves “founding fathers”) were participants in the January 6th insurrection. One of those men, Ryan Kelley, is also running as a Republican against Governor Whitmer in the 2022 election. 

In February of last year, American Patriot Council founder Ryan Kelley stated the following on their YouTube TV show called Bamboozled:

A few bad actors assaulted police, broke windows, and entered the building before police opened the barrier, letting hundreds more inside. The problem for the FBI, is that they have already alleged that some of the protesters planned an “insurrection” in advance. The FBI has vowed to take a hard stance against anyone involved on the 6th. This new, hard line against protestors has already raised questions because they have largely done nothing as terror groups like Antifa and BLM have been rioting steadily since last May. Now, even more questions arise as many ask: if Trump incited the few bad actors on January 6, how did protesters plan it in advance?

In response to these unsubstantiated claims, we wrote:

White Supremacists and White Nationalists have long been known to be the most threatening to people in the US, particularly towards Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. Hell, even the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have identified these groups as representing domestic terrorism. However, the FBI nor the DHS should be considered credible sources on this matter, since both of the groups have a history of targeting Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. More recently, the FBI has targeted, what they refer to as “Black extremist groups”, and historically Black militants and moderates have been tracked by the US government, from Marcus Garvey to Dr. King. In addition, the FBI created a program named COINTELPRO, which was used to monitor, harass, infiltrate and even assassinated Black Freedom Struggle leaders in the 1960s and 70s. (See The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall.) The Department of Homeland Security, which was created after 9/11, has done a great deal to monitor, suppress and persecute Black, Indigenous and Arab Americans, a practice which was codified after the Patriot Act was adopted in October of 2001. 

The American Patriot Council then goes on to say that law enforcement groups have, “done nothing as terror groups like Antifa and BLM have been rioting steadily since last May.” First of all this is patently false. Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies have engaged in significant repression of Black Lives Matter and antifa groups since last May. Even in Grand Rapids, the level of harassment and intimidation against those who have been protesting since the May 30th rebellion is significant, as we have documented.

In communities like Portland, the level of state repression against groups has been significant, which even included federal agents in unmarked vehicles attacking and arresting people involved in the anti-White Supremacy and anti-police brutality protests. Not only are these claims false, we have noted in previous posts that the American Patriot Council has gone out of their way to denounce Black Lives Matter groups, even referring to them as fascists in a video they posted in November.

It will be interesting to see if the West Michigan-based news media bothers to make these connections during their one year after the January 6th insurrection. Our next post will be an analysis of the local news coverage for the one year anniversary.

The Matrix of Policing in Grand Rapids

January 2, 2022

There has been heightened awareness about the function of policing, since the uprising of 2020, when several million people around the world responded to the police murder of George Floyd. I should clarify, this heightened awareness was within the white community and the news media, since it is well known that BIPOC communities have been well aware of the function of policing in the US ever since policing began.

Having cops around is almost like breathing, you don’t think about it, it just is. Or at least, it has always felt that way. Think about the history of the crime novel, TV shows, Hollywood films and video games, all of which are inundated with cops and cop themes. One thing that is fairly standard in police representation in media, is the fact that while there are some instances where “bad cops” are depicted, it is rare that the institution of policing ever comes into question. In fact, policing is so normalized, that it is hard for us to imagine a world without cops.

In today’s post, I want to look at what I refer to as the Matrix of Policing in Grand Rapids. The Matrix of Policing is essentially an investigation into how policing is so interwoven into our society.

As the graphic shows, there is Department of Homeland Security presence in Grand Rapids, which of course includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There is also offices for the Michigan State Police in this community as well. However, the primary police entities in Grand Rapids are the GRPD and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.

Now, both the GRPD and the Sheriff’s Department are entities that function within the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County. Local governments have the ultimate say in policing, since they not only approve, and to some degree craft policy, they hold the purse strings. In the case of the Kent County Commission, they also have final say in the funding of not just the Sheriff’s Department, but the Kent County Jail.

Quite often people running for local office, also receive funds from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, which is the cop union for the GRPD.

Then there are the programs that the GRPD implements throughout the community, most of which are youth focused, where cops say they are trying to build positive relationship with local youth, but we all know that this is a PR stunt that is really designed to be a recruiting mechanism for the police. Then there are programs like Clergy on Patrol, which attempted to propagandize local clergy and get them to buy into the mission of local policing.

The Grand Rapids Police Foundation certainly plays a major role in the funding of youth-based programs in Grand Rapids, which essentially provides tax deductible funding opportunities for the GRPD, funding that is outside of public scrutiny.

There are some so-called “checks and balances” entities as it relates to the GRPD. First, is the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, an entity that is fairly new, but is not independent of the City Government or the GRPD, where they often have to wait months before being able to access police records.  A second accountability group is the Grand Rapids Police Civilian Appeal Board, which can review cases and hear complaints, but has no real power to hold the GRPD accountable. Lastly, there is the Public Safety Committee, which involves some residents, but it also has very limited ability to call for accountability.

The GRPD also does contractual work with private entities, such as Mercy Health, which has a contract to have GRPD officers in their Emergency Rooms in Grand Rapids.

Neighborhood Associations also have police officers assigned to their area, often having a desk in the Neighborhood Association offices. This is part due to the fact that most neighborhood associations in Grand Rapids rely on federal funding, which is controlled through the city, which requires that neighborhood associations have cops assigned to their neighborhoods.

There are also two pro-cop groups that we are aware of in Grand Rapids, the iCI Nation and Voice for the Badge. iCI Nation prefers to work in the background, whereas Voice for the Badge was created specifically with the intention of responding to the calls for more police accountability and police defunding.

Then there are all of the College and University courses/programs offered in the area, courses that are in the larger “criminal justice” framework. The Grand Rapids Community College even has a Police Academy, which is also provides potentially new recruits for the GRPD.

In talking about the GRPD and policing in Grand Rapids, one has to include the Local News Media. For more than 20 years, GRIID has been documenting how much the local news media relies on the cops as primary news sources. In addition, the local news media has demonstrated that they often act as an unofficial PR agent for the GRPD, rarely questioning Press Releases or the function of policing in this city.

Of course there are more institutions, organizations and the business community, which relies on or promotes local policing, primarily to protect their interests. 

One last group to identify are taxpayers. In Grand Rapids and Kent County, the budgets for the GRPD and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department come directly from taxpayers. Therefore, if you are not actively questions, challenging and resisting the function of policing in Grand Rapids, then you are essentially complicit in the harm they do on a daily basis.

If you want to explore more about the function of policing, there are still spots available in our GRIID 2022 Winter Class, The Function of Policing in the US.