Is Grand Rapids really better off with the likes of DeVos?
Over the years I have observed that when GRIID posts articles critical of the local power structure, particularly about the DeVos family, people give some of the most interesting responses.
The dominate response goes something like this; “Where would Grand Rapids be without the generosity of the DeVos family?” It is an interesting question. Where indeed would Grand Rapids be without the DeVos family or any other members of the local power structure?
So here are our top reasons why we disagree with the idea that Grand Rapids is better off with the likes of DeVos, Seechia, Jandernoa, Kennedy, Meijer, etc.
These families and individuals promote and fund a tremendous amount of hate. For decades, many of the families and individuals that make up the local power structure have promoted and funded hate. Maybe the most obvious has been the anti-LGBT efforts led by the DeVos and Prince families. They have funded hate to support ballot initiatives, to block ballot initiatives and to fund organizations committed to spiritual violence and the social oppression of those who identify as gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Listen to the anti-LGBT message from Richard DeVos.
2. The local power structure does harm locally because they are the primary beneficiaries of neo-liberal economic policies. Let’s be clear, the local elite are primarily interested in their own well being. They have made massive amounts of money through exploitation and have used the legislative process to divert public funds, taxpayer money, for subsidies and for funding their own pet projects. The families and individuals that make up the Grand Rapids power structure has made billions of dollars off the backs of other people. We can stop with the nonsense about them being job creators or wealth creators. Wealth is actually created by those who do the work, not those who collect the profits.
These same families and individuals also manipulate the political system to increase their wealth and to divert more public money to support their interests. This is why they contribute significantly to political campaigns and participate in groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and The Right Place inc.
3. The local power structure was instrumental in making Michigan a Right to Work state. The West Michigan Policy Forum made it a goal from the organization’s inception, to attack unions and workers by making Michigan a Right to Work state. Such an attack on working class individuals and families demonstrates their disregard for people who are not part of the ownership class. The individuals and families who are power of the local power structure have a long history of engaging in anti-worker and anti-union activities, as is evidenced by their funding of neo-liberal capitalist entities such as the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Acton Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
4. Grand Rapids would have a stronger public school system if many of the local elites would stop funding campaigns to undermine public education. Dick and Betsy DeVos have been some of the national leaders behind policies to undermine public education.
Researcher Rachel Tabachnick identifies Betsy DeVos as the Four Star General of the School Privatization Movement, in an article she wrote for the Political Research Associates. The article states:
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described Betsy DeVos as the “four-star general” of the school privatization movement shortly after DeVos announced the formation of the “new” American Federation for Children (AFC) in March 2010. As Boston noted, the American Federation for Children was not new, but a rebranding of an organization called Advocates for School Choice.
The American Federation for Children is now the umbrella organization for two nonprofits that have been at the center of the pro-privatization movement for over a decade. In addition to the renamed Advocates for School Choice, it includes the Alliance for School Choice, formerly known as the Education Reform Council. Both entities received extensive funding from the late John Walton, one of the Wal-Mart heirs. The boards of the two related entities included movement leaders Betsy DeVos–scion of a Christian Right family who married into the Amway home goods fortune–William Oberndorf, Clint Bolick, John Kirtley, Steve Friess (son of Foster Friess), James Leininger, John Walton, and Cory Booker.
These two nonprofits–Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) and Advocates for School Choice a.k.a. American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4)– provided over $17 million in grants to 35 other national and state-level pro-privatization nonprofits from 2006 to 2010. These grants represented a significant portion of the total budgets for many of the state organizations. Today Betsy DeVos and John Kirtley are the chair and vice chair of both boards.
5. Don’t the Grand Rapids political and economic elites donate to local causes? These families and individuals do provide money from their foundations to some local organizations. However, the tend to only fund groups that do not conflict with their politics and it gives the illusion that they are great philanthropists. The reality is much different. Foundations are a tax haven for the rich, it acts as a propaganda tool to divert public attention from focusing on how they acquired the massive amounts of wealth they have and the philanthropic contributions are another way of participating in social management. (see The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.)
In addition, the amount of of money donated by these wealthy individuals and families pales in comparison to the amount of money they give to organizations and candidates. On top of that, the groups and candidates they fund promote policies that actually contribute to the root causes of social problems, like poverty, that some of the non-profits groups who are recipients of their foundation money are claiming to combat.
6. Haven’t these wealthy families been part of reviving downtown Grand Rapids? If one thinks about the building of the arena, the convention center, the downtown market and other major construction projects over the years, rich people often are given credit for their creation. However, in every single project there have been massive amounts of public money, federal, state and local money that has also made these projects a reality, often without public consent. Also, the “revival” of downtown Grand Rapids has also been driven by the fact that the economic elite will also make tremendous profits, since so many of them owned so much property downtown – hotels, office spaces, restaurants, etc. The revival of downtown Grand Rapids and its ongoing gentrification ultimately serves the interests of the local power structure, a reality that can be seen with the spectacle called ArtPrize.
7. Imagine what the combined wealth of the local power structure could do to alleviate poverty in Grand Rapids? According to the Forbes list of wealthiest people on the planet for 2016, Hank & Doug Meijer are worth $8.2 billion and Richard DeVos is worth $4.7 billion. With the combined wealth of these individuals, which is roughly $13 billion, imagine what could happen if that wealth were in the hands of the most vulnerable people in Grand Rapids. With $13 billion, which is only part of the total wealth of the rest of the power structure, no one in Grand Rapids would be homeless, or go hungry, be malnourished or be denied access to health care. With $13 billion dollars there would be affordable housing for everyone, free college tuition and funding for fighting climate change.
Lets us really imagine what this kind of funding could do for Grand Rapids. In fact, if we had an economic system that was not based on making profits for the wealthy few, but one that would radically alter how we lived in this community, imagine what we could do.
These are just some of the reasons why I don’t buy the idea that Grand Rapids is better off with the likes of DeVos.