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We’re Rich and We Do What We Want: A DeVos Family Reader

December 4, 2017

The following post is taken from the Introduction to the DeVos Family Reader, which can be downloaded at this link. The document is 350 pages and in six sections.

In Howard Zinn’s monumental book, A People’s History of the United States, he constantly juxtaposes the amazing things that people did to fight for liberation and the people behind the systems of oppression that social movements were fighting against.

This is exactly why I have spent years monitoring, investigating and critiquing the DeVos Family. They are the most recognizable and powerful manifestation of the systems of power and oppression in West Michigan. Now, I know there are plenty of people who share the belief that without the DeVos Family, Grand Rapids wouldn’t be where it is today. I fully agree with that belief, but for reasons that are the exact opposite of those who hold the most powerful family in West Michigan in high regard.

When Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel founded the Amway corporation, they did so by embracing some of the most deeply entrenched lies about this country. Rich DeVos has written numerous books that promote his values. In his book Believe, DeVos, in talking about freedom, states, “that call of freedom went forth from a rugged wilderness, and Europe and Asia and Africa sent their sons of adventure to hew out a new society in a land of forests and savages.”

This statement from DeVos is essentially an affirmation in his belief of Manifest Destiny. For those who don’t know, the company that DeVos founded with Jay Van Andel, was originally going to be called The American Way, but was changed to Amway so as to abbreviate their take on Manifest Destiny.

In addition to believing in Manifest Destiny, Rich DeVos is also deeply committed to the values of capitalism, or what he likes to refer to as the free enterprise system. In his book Believe, DeVos states, “The free-enterprise system has outperformed, outproduced any other in the world. It is a gift of God to us, and we should understand it, embrace it, and believe in it.” 

The above statement is the perfect encapsulation of what the patriarch of the family, Rich DeVos, believes and is firmly committed to. The DeVos Family is a deeply religious  family, regardless of how one defines religious beliefs. The family comes out of the Calvinist tradition and are members of the Christian Reformed Church. However, the DeVos Family, in many ways embraces a form of Christian Reconstruction. Those who practice Christian Reconstruction theology believe that society should be governed by biblical values, rather than secular values. This is exactly why the family has for decades developed relationships and funded organizations that are deeply committed to homophobia, anti-reproductive rights, patriarchy, white supremacy and free market capitalism.

The DeVos Family not only supports these religiously motivated values by their support of certainly organizations, but by their deep commitment to influencing public policy. The  family has been one of the largest donors to the Republican Party for several decades now, at the federal, state and local level, as is documented in this collection of articles. In addition to supporting the Republican Party and GOP candidates, they also contribute to organizations that are committed to influencing public policy. In West Michigan, the DeVos Family has been involved in the financing, planning and development of groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Acton Institute and the Right Place Inc. These groups all embrace the capitalist economic system and public policy decisions, which benefits and expands the power of those who make up these groups, including the DeVos Family.

What is ironic about the candidates and public policy that the DeVos Family endorses, is that those same policies end up negatively impacting communities of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, those experiencing poverty and immigrants. The irony is that the DeVos Family foundations end up contributing millions to West Michigan non-profits that provide services to the very same people who are negatively impacted by these neoliberal economic policies.

These are the kinds of themes that are explored in the DeVos Family Reader. In addition, we look at how the local news media has reported on the most powerful family in West Michigan, which has played a role in creating public misinformation. We also look at the strategic function of ArtPrize and what impact it has had on West Michigan. We argue that in many ways, ArtPrize functions has a great PR tool for the DeVos Family and its goals. In fact, such a belief was confirmed early on in the evolution of ArtPrize, when Sam Cummings, co-founder of CWD (of which the DeVos Family is part of) said, “Our long-term goal is really to import capital – intellectual capital, and ultimately real capital. And this (ArtPrize) is certainly an extraordinary tool.”

Lastly, we look at Betsy DeVos’ ascent to the White House as Secretary of Education in the section listed as Betsy DeVos Watch.

As I stated at the beginning of the introduction, I have spent years monitoring, investigating and critiquing the DeVos Family. This is an ongoing project and the DeVos Family Reader will continue to be updated. The contributions to the DeVos Family Reader have come from a variety of sources such as the Grand Rapids People’s History Project, an Indy newspaper from the 90s called The FUNdamentalist, Media Mouse and the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy.

Also, as stated before, I believe that in order to promote collective liberation and social justice for those most marginalized, we have to understand and resist the systems of power and oppression in this community. Looking into the history and practices of the DeVos Family, provides us with a clear example of how systems of power and oppression function in this community. I am deeply indebted to those who have been involved in this struggle and it is my hope that the DeVos Family Reader can be a useful tool in the ongoing struggle for justice.

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