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A Grand Rapids Power Analysis revisited

May 14, 2018

Six years ago, we posted an article that provided a power analysis of Grand Rapids, looking at economic power, political power, state power, media power and NGO/social service power – as seen in the graphic below. 

While much of the analysis for 2012 remains the same, there have been many changes in Grand Rapids, with a noticeable increase in the gap between those with power and those without. Another way of looking at this growing power gap is that there is greater concentration of power from the capitalist class.

This concentration of power can be seen in the significant levels of gentrification in Grand Rapids, with the skyrocketing cost of housing, both in the price of buying a home and the cost of rent.

Another area of concentrated power can be seen by looking at Grand Rapids through a racial lens. The wealth gap has been increasing between the white community and the black and latino communities. This is evident in the growing income gap, the further marginalization of communities of color in housing, growth of unemployment and underemployment, educational opportunities and who runs the city. When I say runs the city, I don’t mean the city commission, I mean the concentrated private power which wields are deal deal more power that local government.

What we plan to do over the next several weeks is to provide an analysis of the power structure in Grand Rapids, investigating individuals/families with tremendous economic power, the organizations that have tremendous influence over the electoral and policy outcomes, how local government tends to be beholden to these private sectors of power, the role that commercial news media plays in shaping the opinions and perspectives of so many in Grand Rapids and the function of the NGO/social service sector, which more often than not acts as a buffer for those in power, redirecting a critique of systems of power and oppression to a focus on individual behavior and individual problems. As a friend once said to me, Grand Rapids does charity real well, we just don’t do justice for shit!

Grand Rapids loves to present itself as this deeply progressive community, yet all the major indicators around concentration of wealth, growing levels of poverty, racial disparities, environmental racism, food insecurity, gentrification, religious oppression, police violence and the push towards greater privatization all makes it clear that Grand Rapids is anything but progressive. The fact is that, the people who think that Grand Rapids is progressive are those with the most privilege – people who are white, economically privileged, the business community, those who are cis-gendered, those that benefit from rape culture and those who benefit from settler colonialism.

Such an analysis is no small task, but if we are to achieve equity, if we are to fight for justice and if we want to build strong social movements, then we need to have a robust analysis of who has power in Grand Rapids. Once we have a clear sense of who has power in this community, we can then develop tactics and strategies to defeat that power.

Our next piece will look at members of the most powerful family in Grand Rapids, the DeVos Family. We will look at their economic power, their political power and influence over policy, the role of their foundations in influencing the non-profit sector, how commercial media will not challenge their power and a look at how many organizations they influence by being of boards of directors and committees.

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