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Now that the elections over in Grand Rapids, maybe we can focus on trying to make structural changes for collective liberation in this community

November 7, 2019

It is the day after election results have come in and for Grand Rapids, one could argue that those who voted, voted for progressive candidates. Mayor Bliss was re-elected in a race that included an anti-abortion, christian minister, who practices misogyny and believes that women don’t get to control their own bodies.

In the 2nd ward race, voters chose Milinda Ysasi over Wendy Falb. Ysasi is the first Latina to be elected as a city commissioner in Grand Rapids. Falb had the backing of the GR Police Union to the tune of $10,000.

In the 1st ward race incumbent commissioner Jon O’Connor barely edged Allison Lutz. Lutz ran on a more progressive platform around challenging gentrification, advocating for housing justice and supporting immigrant justice. O’Connor was also backed by the GR Police union ($5,000) and the Realtors PAC MI ($2,000).

Of course, we know that in order to get truly progressive policies, or what I would prefer to call radical policies, there needs to be substantive social movements to push a more radical agenda. It’s great that an anti-abortionist minister didn’t become the mayor of Grand Rapids, but we always run the risk of not pressing those who did win to introduce and push a radical agenda. We cannot be content with just getting progressive candidates, if it doesn’t translate into radical policies, which are really policies that benefit those who outside of the existing power structures in Grand Rapids – communities of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, working class people, immigrants, religious minorities, etc.

You can believe that those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure know the outcome of the recent elections and are poised to push their agenda, which will not benefit the majority of people in this community. For instance, yesterday, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce posted the following message on Facebook: 

Congrats to Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Commissioners Jon O’Connor and Moody, and Commissioner-elect Ysasi for their victories yesterday! We look forward to working with you to support a thriving and prosperous Grand Rapids for all.

Now this sentiment from the Chamber is just a straight up lie. They don’t want prosperity for all, since they have a long history of opposing an increase in minimum wage policies or a real living wage policy. The Chamber of Commerce also has a history of denying climate change, opposing any regulation of the economy and spending millions on lobbying elected officials and buying candidates at all levels of government. 

Those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure are not resting after the outcome of the recent election, rather they are already planning on how to strategically use Grand Rapids politicians to support their agenda. This is why we need robust social movements to push radical policies that promote collective liberation. I have been part of numerous social movements over the past four decades and what follows is a proposed agenda that I have learned from over the years from those involved in community organizing and social movement work.

What Do We Want?

Racial Justice

  • A massive investment in black communities, with the investment being determined by the black community and not outside interests.
  • An educational system that serves the real needs of black, Latino/a, indigenous and all other communities of color.
  • Policies that do not punish the immigrant communities, but make them full members of this community at all levels – politically, economically, socially and culturally.
  • Reparations for decades of structural racism against the black community, which has resulted in massive profits for White capitalists.
  • End mass incarceration in this community, which has disproportionately impacted black and brown communities.
  • A recognition that the land where Grand Rapids sits was indigenous and that Grand Rapids is based upon Settler Colonialism.

Public Safety

  • The massive budget for the GRPD needs to be significantly reduced and reallocated to neighborhoods to allow them to determine how they want to practice community/public safety.
  • End police targeting of black and brown communities, which includes monitoring, patrolling, arrests and detention.
  • End all city collaboration with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Economic Justice

  • The city should practice participatory budgeting, so that all people who live in the city have a real say in how their tax money will be used. Having the city put forth a budget and then allow the public to weigh in during a small window of time is unacceptable. 
  • End massive subsidies for development corporations and their development proposals and redirect those funds for people to buy homes or to subsidize rent.
  • End the gentrification of Grand Rapids. No development if it results in displacement or pricing people out of a neighborhood.
  • A massive housing justice campaign, where there is truly affordable housing for families and individuals, plus the creation of a community land trust.
  • Limit the amount of properties that landlords and property management companies control.
  • Promote worker run cooperatives and housing cooperatives.
  • Make it a goal to end poverty and hunger in Grand Rapids, with a radical redistribution of wealth

If we believe that everyone has a basic right to a place to live, healthy food, education, health care and to earn a livable wage, then we have to stop saying that we just need to create more opportunities for people who are struggling. This strategy has never worked and it will not work now, especially since those with economic and political power do NOT want everyone to have all their basic needs met. We have to fight and struggle and engage in direct action if we want collective liberation.

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