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March in Grand Rapids draws attention to current economic conditions

November 5, 2011

Earlier today, between 250 – 300 people gathered in downtown to march in what was billed as “The Death of the Middle Class.”

The event, organized by We The People, began at Calder Plaza, where led by a New Orleans-style band, people marched in black with coffins and tombstones signaling the death and suffering that working people are currently enduring.

People marched through various streets of downtown Grand Rapids and received honks of support, even though the foot traffic was minimal on this sunny fall day.

The march ended up back at the Calder Plaza where several speakers addressed the audience. Gert Hopson, a member of the UAW and Kent County Democratic Party, was the MC for the event.

The first person to address the crowd was Rev. Jones, a Black minister who was asked to give the “eulogy for the death of the middle class.” Rev. Jones spoke in overtly Christian language and even made the statement that the only way we can be saved from the assault by the rich is to turn to Jesus Christ. Rev. Jones’ comments were followed by a woman singing Amazing Grace.

The next speaker was someone with an unidentified union, who has been unemployed for years and spoke about the need for everyone to fight against all forms of slavery, particularly economic slavery.

Peter Vander Meulen, with the Christian Reformed Church, spoke about how his growing up in the Middle Class was destroyed when his father got cancer and had no insurance to cover the costs. He also mentioned that is was the government safety net which prevented his family from falling into poverty.

Vander Meulen was followed by Eric Foster who said he was with the Grand Rapids branch of the Urban League, the Mayor’s Task Force on Wage Theft and the local Black Caucus. Foster said that the current economic assault “was an attack on the dreams of our children.” Foster and other speakers directed people to the Action Table, where people could sign up for future announcements and register to vote. This lack of concrete action was one aspect of the gathering that was quite disappointing, since voting and getting your name on a listserve has not resulted in a challenge to the power structure that is waging a war against working people.

The last speaker, Azzizi Jasper, said that the crowd needed to figure out a way to harness their anger and direct it towards concrete actions. Azzizi then read a beautiful poem that spoke to the urgency of our collective need to fight for change. He also encouraged people to vote for the Grand Rapids Public School millage this coming Tuesday, November 8.

After the formal program was over, Cole Dorsey, a member of the Grand Rapids branch of the IWW then addressed people with a bullhorn and gave a different message. Dorsey said that there is no middle class in this country, just the ownership class and the working class and that this was something we all needed to acknowledge if we are ever going to make any lasting change. Dorsey berated the reformist approach that the Death of the Middle Class organizers were presenting by suggesting that voting, even if it was the lesser of two evils, would bring about change.

The IWW organizers said that politicians and business unions will never make change and that the only change has to come at the hands of the working class, especially when they organize in their place of work. Dorsey also advocate that working class people organize and implement a General Strike if we are really to put fear into the hearts of the rich and powerful of this country. He invited people to a meeting to learn more about the IWW and radical politics, Sunday night at 8:30pm.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2011 1:57 am

    I miss my fellow workers. Great job everyone!

  2. kswheeler permalink
    November 6, 2011 7:33 pm

    Great report, Jeff. It’s great that there was such a large turnout.

    I’ve been noticing that the ideas of wage slavery and the oppression by the rich is finding its way into pop culture more and more–such as in comics and references in music and TV shows. This, too, is a sign that more people are waking up to our current realiy in the U.S.

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