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Why we can’t go back to the way things were in Grand Rapids: Part I

April 28, 2020

There are numerous things that we have all learned about ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic and there are lots of things we have learned about our community.

One thing that seems to be overwhelmingly clear, is that we cannot go back to the way things were before this crisis. In fact, the current crisis has revealed to us that the existing systems of power and oppression in Grand Rapids have not only exacerbated the crisis, but they created the long standing conditions that have led to so much suffering in this community.

The conditions I am referring to are the profound levels of poverty that so many families live in, especially black, latinx and native families. Add to the fact that thousands more in Grand Rapids are now unemployed and you have a major economic crisis. The government “stimulus” checks are not getting to people fast enough, plus there are lots of other families, namely immigrant families, who are not even eligible to receive them.

However, at the same time that thousands of people are struggling to survive in Grand Rapids, those who have economic and political power and using the crisis to push and expand their own agenda. We have been reporting on what groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum are doing to not only get back to normal, but to use this crisis to push for further policy changes that will benefit the business class. In addition, many of the same people who serve as part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, those who are billionaires and millionaires, are benefiting from this crisis, because of tax breaks that were built into the Cares Act. This small group of people are profiting off the crisis, while thousands in Grand Rapids are left wondering if they can pay rent, pay their utilities or feed their families.

Then there is the issue of what the system is referring to as “essential workers” during this crisis. Essential workers are generally the people on the front lines of the health care industry, like nurses, doctors, direct care staff, hospital kitchen staff, hospice workers, etc. But essential workers also includes those who are part of the food system, migrant workers, fast food workers and grocery store workers, all of which do not make a livable wage in this system. The current crisis also reveals that these workers were always essential, but the system of capitalism doesn’t value the work they do.

Other conditions we could identify are the housing crisis in Grand Rapids, police violence and the prison industrial complex and the homophobic/transphobic systems that exists in Grand Rapids.

These systems of power and oppression in Grand Rapids are nothing new, but if we are interested in not just surviving the COVID-19 crisis, but thriving afterwards, then we need to collectively organize for the things we want. Already there are powerful examples of grassroots responses to the COVID-19 crisis, like the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, the La Lucha Fund, No Rent Michigan. Together We Are Safe and Movimiento Cosecha GR. Hundreds of volunteers and practicing Mutual Aid to make sure that the families who are the most vulnerable right now are getting some of their needs met.

However, unless we dismantle the systems of power and oppression that have created the conditions for the current crisis, then there will always be a crisis. People living in poverty is a crisis. People living with pain or dying from preventable diseases or conditions is a crisis. People living on the streets is a crisis. People suffering under white supremacy and settler colonialism is a crisis. People living under patriarchy and heterosexism is a crisis. Climate change is a crisis.

The Grand Rapids Power Structure is not sitting around during this crisis, just waiting for things to get back to normal. They are strategizing and planning to figure out ways to benefit from this crisis and to shore up the power they have. We need to strategize, to plan, to organize and radically imagine that another world is possible.

In the coming weeks, we will post pieces that look at what is possible. We will look at ways to get to a just food system, a just housing system, how to get to climate justice, workers justice and a just health care system. Another World is Possible!!!!

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