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GRIID End of the Year in Review: Part II – Monitoring the Powerful in Grand Rapids

December 30, 2019

In their book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify the essential principles and practices of journalism. One of those principles is to monitor power.

Kovach and Rosensteil write:

Journalism has an unusual capacity to serve as watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens. It may also offer voice to the voiceless. Being an independent monitor of power means watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.

Being a watchdog of those with power is something that GRIID was founded on and continues to do. Here is an overview of the ways we monitored power in Grand Rapids in 2019.

As we wrote in Part I of this series, there were several local social movements that confronted and held power accountable, specifically local governments, private entities collaborating with ICE and the Grand Rapids School Board, in the case of Grand Rapids for Education Justice. 

In January of 2019, we posted a story about former Michigan Representative Daniela Garcia, being hired to work for the Department of Education. In that post we noted that Garcia was a longtime recipient of DeVos money while working in Lansing, so her transition to the Department of Education was fairly seamless, now working for Betsy DeVos.  In fact, one of our regular posts was to monitor, critique and provide analysis of what Betsy DeVos was doing with education policy, specifically in our series entitled, Betsy DeVos Watch

There are several organizations that make up that Grand Rapids Power Structure and GRIID continued to monitor their activities. One of those groups is the Acton Institute. In February, we posted a story about a presentation that the Acton Institute hosted, which featured a speaker from AmplifyGR, talking about the neo-liberal education model. 

The Acton Institute used the Trump visit to Grand Rapids to say that cities like Flint and Detroit need to be more like Grand Rapids. During Pride month, the Acton Institute demonstrated their organization’s homophobia and we wrote another piece on Acton in June making the claim that they are more dangerous than neo-nazis. 

The far right think tank, the Acton Institute, also used their website to dismiss the 1619 Project and later referred to climate activist Greta Thunberg as pathological.

We also reported on another prominent group within the Grand Rapids Power Structure, the West Michigan Policy Forum. In February, we posted a critique of their push to eliminate public sector pension for government employees in Michigan, calling them unfunded liabilities. In April the West Michigan Policy Forum teamed up with the Mackinac Center to push for continued work requirements for those receiving Medicaid in Michigan  and beginning in July the WMPF was proposing that the state borrow money from the Michigan Teacher’s pension and put it towards road construction

GRIID also did a series of articles on several of the West Michigan-based foundations, specifically the foundations run by the most powerful families in the area. We reported on the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation contributions, the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Van Andel family Foundations, the Cheri DeVos Foundation, the Peter Cook Foundation and the Jandernoa Foundation.

In addition, we continued our monitoring of the most powerful family in Grand Rapids, the DeVos family. We posted numerous stories on their funding of candidates at the state level, their influence in local politics, the wealth expansion and their role in the religious right. All of these articles, along with every article we have ever written about the DeVos family, can be found at the ever growing DeVos Family Reader publication at this link

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