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AmplifyGR: How to “create opportunities” when you hold all the power

July 10, 2017

During the AmplifyGR town hall meeting that was held on June 29, many of the speakers kept on stating that they wanted to create opportunities for the people in the Southtown area. 

The CEO of Amway, Doug DeVos said he wanted to create opportunities for people in the area. Mike VanGessel, the CEO of Rockford Construction Company said he wanted to create opportunities and every speaker representing AmplifyGR also wanted to create opportunities for people living in the Boston Square area.

I have been thinking about this theme for the past few weeks and what it truly means when the DeVos Family says they want to create opportunities for people. In thinking about this theme, there are three responses that seem worth discussing when thinking about what it truly means when a member of the DeVos Family says they want to create opportunities for people.

First, it is important to acknowledge that when a member of a family that is worth billions says they want to create opportunities, we should be rather skeptical. How did the DeVos Family make its money, but by creating a company built on a pyramid scheme that exploits both the workers they hire and uses the human beings who sell their products.

We are all aware of the model that Amway uses, which is to get people to sell their product and to get those same people to find more people who want to do the same. This process creates a hierarchical structure, wherein those who recruit new sellers make money off of those they recruit. The few that are on top, those referred to as Diamond level distributors, will make a a ton of money just by virtue of the fact that they recruited people, who recruited people to sell Amway products. This dynamic does not create opportunities for people, but instead it creates benefits for the few, while most people do the hard work and end up with little to show for it. This essentially is the economic system of capitalism that we all live under.

Second, when the DeVos Family says they want to create opportunities for people, we need to seriously examine how much political influence they have in this community, in  Michigan and the rest of the country.

The DeVos Family spends millions of dollars on every election cycle, just like they during during the 2015 – 2016 election cycle, as has been well documented by the Lansing-based organization, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

This political spending by DeVos Family is designed to elect officials that are committed to the same ideological framework they embrace; which puts its emphasis on a neoliberal capitalist economic model, a reactionary social model and an exclusionary religious belief system.

The neoliberal economic model the DeVos family embraces supports a deregulated system, where there are no checks and balances by government structures at any level. However, at the same time, that the DeVos Family doesn’t want government to interfere with their ability to make as much money as they want, they also buy elected officials that promote tax policies which provide huge benefits to the wealthy and transfer more public money to the private sector – what we call subsidies.

The reactionary social model that the DeVos Family promotes is one that dismantles any form of a welfare state. This means they do not think that the government should provide any kind of safety net for those who are unemployed, disabled or struggle to meet basic needs like food and health care. This reactionary social model has resulted in policies like making Michigan a Right to Work state, which undermines the ability of labor unions to organize workers; it means dismantling public sector pensions and other benefits, which recently happened to Michigan teachers; it means denying same sex couples from adopting in Michigan and attempting to limit equal access to members of the LGBTQ community; and it means attacking the public education system and redirecting public money to support charter schools and private education systems through voucher programs, like what we have seen happening in Detroit in the past year

Therefore, the kinds of policy the DeVos Family has imposed on the rest of us through their financial support for political candidates, disproportionately takes away opportunities for working class people and communities of color, like the Boston Square neighborhood.

Third, the very fact that the DeVos Family has created AmplifyGR to promote this neighborhood re-development project should gives us all cause for concern. Besides the reasons we have already stated, what the AmplifyGR project does is that it creates an unfair and unjust power dynamic. It is bad enough when people with worth billions of dollars come into your community and say they want to provide you with opportunities, but they also have created a front group that they have been less than transparent about, to solicit input from residents about what they want. On top of that they (Rockford Construction and the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation) have purchased dozens of properties in the area, which makes them the single largest land owner in the Boston Square/Cottage Grove neighborhoods.

So, the DeVos Family/Rockford Construction Company controls a large portion of land in the Boston Square/Cottage Grove area, they have millions more they can invest to “create opportunities” – jobs, housing, etc., they have a track record of causing harm to the very people they claim to want to help and then they want to solicit input from the local residents? This is the kind of power dynamic they have created and bring to the residents of the Boston Square/Cottage Grove area.

What the DeVos Family/Rockford Construction Company has done is to come into a neighborhood that has been de-industrialized, has high rates of poverty and has suffered the consequences of decades of White Supremacy. And yet they have to audacity to say they simply want to help.

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