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Fighting Back in Michigan Part II: A West Michigan Strategy

December 17, 2012

In Part I we proposed several tactics that could be used to develop a more radical mass movement capable of overturning the recent set of repressive laws passed in Lansing.solidarity-350x350

A summary of those tactics are as follows:

  1. We need to claim our roots, which means we need to rediscover and embrace the radical roots of many of the movements (labor, LGBTQ, women’s, immigrant, etc) most impacted by recent legislative policy.
  2. We need to redirect financial resources to organizing where we are. If we were not spending the millions we currently are on failed electoral campaigns, we could be spending it to both do more direct organizing in our workplaces, neighborhoods, etc., and engage in more mutual aid with those who do not have access to decent housing, healthy food, health care, etc.
  3. We need to develop our own independent media. It should be clear that our issues are not honestly or accurately represented in the commercial media, so we need to develop real autonomous and independent media that not only represents our various movements, but also is created by our movements.
  4. We need to engage in intersectional organizing and solidarity. The point here is that we need to have a more holistic and shared analysis of institutional oppression to better respond to root causes of our problems. We also need to find ways to support each other by engaging in acts of solidarity so that we have each others’ backs at all times.
  5. We need to stop thinking about elections as the main strategy. Electoral politics is only one tactic to engage in and it is not the most important in the long run. Most of the gains we have made over the past 200 years in the US have been through social movements, not from voting.
  6. We need to create new and radical ways of living. What we mean here is that in addition to dismantling systems oppression, we need to create new ways of governing ourselves that relies on direct democracy and autonomy.

A West Michigan Strategy

I think it is important to begin by stating that the ideas we just summarized can also be applied to West Michigan. There is not that much that is unique to West Michigan that would warrant an entirely different strategy. However, there are specific tactics and dynamics in West Michigan that we should consider, especially in light of recent legislative attacks coming from Lansing.

First, I think it is important to recognize who makes up the power structure in West Michigan and their role in promoting the recent legislative attacks on various popular sectors.

In September, we posted a story that presented information of what was called A Grand Rapids Power Analysis. We identified individuals and organizations that use their money and political influence to determine government policy. We know that the DeVos family and many others from West Michigan have financed the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which was the main architect of the recent Right to Work legislation that became law. We also know that the local Chamber of Commerce, places like the Right Place Inc. and the West Michigan Policy Forum have all pushed hard for Right to Work policies for years. These groups, individuals and families have also often attacked and funded campaigns attacking reproduction rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights and even anti-democracy groups like the One Kent Coalition.

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Second, once we have identified those individuals, families and organizations pushing for neoliberal and repressive policies, we need to organize to fight them with whatever tactics necessary. We need to out them in part of our larger public education and independent media work.

Third, we need to confront them with various means of direct action to disrupt their ability to continue imposing their will on the LGBTQ community, working class people, women and immigrants. Here we need to be creative and determined if we are to be effective.

One of the most effective ways would be to put economic pressure on them. This could mean taking action that would cost them money, such as boycotts or other actions that would make it costly for them to continue imposing repressive policies on us.

For example, we could be demanding the dismantling of entities like the DDA, which use public tax dollars but make decisions with a non-elected group of people. We could engage in occupation of buildings and public spaces that have been taken over by the private sector.30748_284584848313711_1070255583_n

We should be using financial and other resources to organize workers in the businesses owned by DeVos, Van Andel, Kennedy and the other businesses identified in our local power analysis.

Another way to fight against the local power elite is to not take their money. Too often, even progressive entities in this community, take money from these rich bastards, which not only gives them more legitimacy, it makes it harder for others to confront them. This would include not allowing them to sit on the boards of local non-profits, which allows them to influence the direction grassroots work might take.

Think of it this way. DeVos family members have funded Right to Work legislation, anti-LGBTQ campaigns and efforts to dismantle public education. We know that they contribute lots of money to redirect local policy and culture. For example, why should we continue to support ArtPrize, which is primarily a project funded by Dick & Betsy DeVos. Labor unions and the LGBTQ community should be boycotting ArtPrize and trying to get their friends and allies to do the same. This doesn’t mean we can’t support local art projects. In fact, we can instead support projects like Avenue for the Arts, ArtPeers and lots of other art projects that do not rely on funding from families and companies that attack workers, the LGBTQ community, etc.

Lastly, we need to create local ways of doing things that do not rely on the existing power structure of West Michigan. We need to create more autonomous entities and movements that can challenge the local power elite and engage in mutual aid and solidarity.

Efforts such as The Really, Really Free Market, Food Not Bombs, Mutual Aid GR, the Grand Rapids chapter of the IWW, the worker run collective Bartertown, the recent movement of undocumented immigrants, the local bike coalition, independent food cooperatives, the groups working on food justice and housing collectives are a good start, but they are not enough to challenge the power of the local elites.capitalism-bound

Imagine if more workers were organized and had lots of solidarity to engage in sit-down strikes or wildcat strikes? Imagine if allies of the LGBTQ community would not support any structure that denied that community equal rights and engaged in boycotts or direct action which would not allow them to continue to fund hate? Imagine if people engaged in acts of solidarity with people denied access to basic health rights?

Imagine if we also redirected the money we are no longer spending on supporting systems of oppression and shared it through acts of mutual aid, such as housing, healthy food, health care and education. Imagine if our varying movements and sectors that have been attacked by recent legislation were to building a stronger coalition, not so much to make demands on the rich and powerful, but to dismantle systems of power and create autonomous, self-sustaining communities based on justice and equality?

We cannot hope to move in this direction if we continue to accept, support and allow the current power structure to do what they want. We need a strategy that simultaneously dismantles this power and creates news ways of living with each other and the planet.

Let me end by quoting one of our great spokespersons of liberation, Frederick Douglass:

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong, which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

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