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The Best of GRIID 2017: Exposing systems of power and reporting on movements of resistance

December 27, 2017

It is always difficult to try to limit the amount of stories you want to highlight in an end of the year summary of local news.

There have certainly been numerous stories that have developed in the past year, but in many ways these stories are symptomatic of larger, more systemic problems that certain sectors of the West Michigan community has to deal with all the time.

While we can acknowledge that there is maybe a new awareness around deeply entrenched issues like White Supremacy with the Trump administration, these issues are not new.

One thing we try to do here at GRIID, is to expose the systems of power and oppression in West Michigan, while at the same time shed light on the grassroots resistance and social movements that are opposing these systems. So here are some of the main stories/issues we have written about in 2017.

AmplifyGR

While attending a housing meeting in late May, I was made aware of the group AmplifyGR. Within 10 minutes of hearing about this new non-profit, I was able to discover that it was a front group for the DeVos Family. Since the initial Part I and Part II stories, we were able to investigate some larger aspects of the AmplifyGR group, including the amount of money spent in purchasing the land in the southeast part of GR, along with how much money the DeVos Family Foundations have spent in the targeted neighborhood. We also have documented the push back from the community to AmplifyGR in both the June and July meetings.

Movimiento Cosecha GR

One of the amazing developments in the past year has been the creation of the local chapter of the national group known as Movimiento Cosecha. Cosecha GR came on the scene in February, with its first major action in February, drawing attention to US immigration policy, with over a thousand people marching in the streets.

Cosecha GR continued its organizing work with other marches and an action at the local ICE office where three people were arrested to expose the bankrupt immigration policies of this country. 

One focus of Cosecha GR has been to use boycotts to address systemic problems around immigration, by making it clear that without immigrants the US economy would come to a stop. The boycott campaign saw several thousand people marching and refusing to buy anything on May 1st, an action at Walmart that exposed the wages of migrant workers and the current Turkey Boycott Campaign.

White Supremacy in GR

White Supremacy in Grand Rapids may not seem so evident to people with racial privilege, but for communities of color – Native, Black, Latinix and other communities, White Supremacy is the norm.

Part of the problem is how we talk about White Supremacy, often limiting our understanding to just looking at hate groups like the KKK, without looking deeper at how White Supremacy functions in this community.

One can see White Supremacy as part of the current housing crisis and how Grand Rapids has become so gentrified in many neighborhoods. 

The other area where White Supremacy has been getting more and more attention is with the function and practice of the GRPD. There was the incident where the GRPD had stopped several young African American kids at gunpoint in April of 2017. In May, members of the Black community were calling for a State of Emergency, even though city officials were not taking them seriously. Just a few weeks ago, the GRPD once again demonstrated how they deal with communities of color, when they handcuffed at gunpoint an 11 year old black girl

In addition, while we have been writing about ArtPrize since its beginning, we wrote a story this year making the point that what ArtPrize ultimately promotes is Whiteness.

Airport protests

Earlier in the year, we saw millions of people participate in protests against the so-called Muslim ban, where the Trump administration was attempting to implement a travel ban for people from several Muslim dominated countries. People in Grand Rapids quickly organized similar protests at the Kent County Airport, with an initial action in late January, followed by another one in early February.

Betsy DeVos Watch and Resistance

This year saw the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education and because of that we created a new section on our blog, the Betsy DeVos Watch section. We regularly critique what policies the Secretary of Education has been promoting, along with documenting the number of actions against Betsy DeVos no matter what state she travels in.

The protests that have greeted Betsy DeVos have also happened in Grand Rapids, with at least three separate actions taking place when she has visited GRCC in August, the MSU ribbon cutting ceremony in September and her keynote address at the Acton Institute’s annual gathering in October.

ATU/Cosecha GR Solidarity

Another inspiring story from 2017, has been the ongoing relationship between members of the Grand Rapids Bus Driver’s Union (ATU) and Cosecha GR. This ongoing relationship has led to numerous solidarity actions, like the effort to collaborate on the campaign to support ATU workers during contract negotiations and an effort to change Grand Rapids city policy, which would prevent city workers from asking the immigration status of people.

While both campaigns were unsuccessful, it has been clear that the victory is in the mutual solidarity that has developed in the past year, which made clear the point that immigration issues are labor issues and labor issues are immigration issues.

The Most Powerful Family in West Michigan

Lastly, since we have been monitoring the activity of the various members of the DeVos Family, we finally decided it was important to put together a collection of articles and archives covering several decades that investigates the power and influence of the DeVos Family. This collection looks at some of the history of the family, their role in West Michigan politics, the various family foundations, how the DeVos Family uses their wealth to influence elections and legislation, local news coverage of the family, ArtPrize and articles on Betsy DeVos since she became the Secretary of Education. You can download the 350-page DeVos Family Reader by going to this link.

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