It is impossible to have justice and equity as long as the DeVos family has power
In September we posted an Indy Media Guide to ArtPrize, which looks at the deeper function of the annual spectacle in Grand Rapids. On October 1, we looked at the relationship of Rick DeVos to the same political forces that his parents and grandparents have.
On October 28, we provided a detailed look at how the DeVos family influences state legislation, by grossly outspending everyone to buy politicians that will support their reactionary policies. On January 5, our post critiqued MLive’s weak reporting on DeVos family foundation donations and made it clear that they only contribute with clear political objectives. These are only the most recent posts that look at the political power the DeVos family wields in Grand Rapids and across the state.
The power this one family has is astounding and there is no evidence that this will change anytime soon. If one looks at the most recent campaign finance data from OpenSecrets.org for the 49503 zip code, you can see that the largest donors based on the maximum amount one can donate each time are members of the DeVos family. In fact, of the top 200 donations from the 49503 zip code, 199 of those are from a member of the DeVos family. The only non-DeVos contributor in the top 200 donations was Hank Meijer. This means that the DeVos family has contributed hundreds of thousands for the 2016 election cycle and will likely exceed a million dollars before the November election.
Collectively the DeVos family donates to entities like the Republican Party of Michigan, Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC, the Upper Hand Fund and various state and Congressional candidates. A great deal of these funds are going to key races and candidates that the DeVos family plans to use to continue to push through legislation that meets their agenda. Rumors are already swirling that getting school voucher legislation passed will be a a focus for 2016.
But effecting legislation is just the tip of the iceberg for the DeVos family. They use their tax havens, known as foundations, to influence economic, social and cultural outcomes in West Michigan. In addition, they sit on various boards and are apart of numerous entities (Grand Action, West MI Policy Forum, Right Place Inc.) that also use their power to push for things like the transfer of public money to private projects, with a recent example being the Downtown Market.
Collectively the DeVos family is worth around $10 billion. Ten Billion. Imagine what that amount of money could be used for in Grand Rapids. We could probably eliminate homelessness, hunger and poverty. Everyone could own their own home and not have any debt. Health care expenses could be taken care of and people would not have to agonize over weather or not to pay the heating bill or buy groceries this month. In other words, their wealth could be used to end a great deal of suffering………but that is not what they plan to do with it.
The point to all of this is not to single out the DeVos family, they are merely a local example of how the current economic and political systems function and who they really serve. Living in an economic system of Neoliberal capitalism means that there will be a small percentage of people who have a disgusting amount of wealth, while the masses live on the edge. Families like the DeVos’s didn’t become wealthy by their own efforts, rather through exploitation of workers, the environment and the use of a political system to redirect public money and pass policies that benefit their bottom line.
Which brings us to the title of this posting. Do you really think that there can be justice and equity as long as the economic system of neoliberal capitalism and the neo-fascist political system ( as embodied by families like the DeVos’s) are allowed to exist?
Movements for social justice and revolutionary transformation have always had to come to terms with the function of systems of oppression and power. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Slavery in the US was not ended because plantation owners one day decided to let blacks go free or because someone reasoned with them. Slavery was ended because slaves rose up and won their freedom, often by killing the slave master and burning the plantation.
Workers in the US did not win an 8 hour work day, better wages, benefits, workers compensation, the end of child labor, etc., because bosses gave these things to workers. Workers had to organize, fight, risk arrest, risk being beaten, jailed or even killed in order to win even marginal labor rights.
The revolutionary uprisings by communities of color from the 1950s til today are what brought about any substantive change for those communities. The political and economic system gave them nothing, they had to fight, organize, go to jail, risk being lynched, fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or end up being murdered in order to make the gains they have made. None of it was a gift.
I know there are those who say that we should focus on what we can do for ourselves, what kind of justice we can create for ourselves and not worry about the power and influence of these systems of power and oppression that are embodied by the DeVos family. I agree that we need to always be figuring out what kind of world we want to live and and what it will look like. I agree, that we need to create justice in our homes, our neighborhoods and in our lives. We can do the work of building community gardens, worker run operations and housing collectives. We can make our homes places of hospitality for those with no place to live and spaces where patriarchy, white supremacy, ablism and exploitation are not tolerated.
BUT. We cannot ignore that there are forces who need injustice, inequity and exploitation to maintain their power and privilege over others. Do you really think it is possible to work for a transformative society and not challenge the systems of oppression and power symbolized locally by the DeVos family? We have to do both, because power concedes NOTHING without a demand.