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A Primary Election Day reflection for Kent County

August 4, 2020

By the time that most of you have read this post, you will have already voted in the August 4 Primary Election. In the midst of a pandemic, I am guessing that many of you have voted absentee and sent in your voting choices weeks ago, which is fine as this post is not meant to persuade you how to vote. This post is intended to raise questions about the state of electoral politics in Kent County and its relationship to social movements and some of the critical issues our community is faced with.

We have learned a great deal about ourselves over the past few months, beginning with the reality that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. The pandemic has further exposed the vast inequities in our society and the lack of radical imagination of our elected officials. At the same time, the pandemic has caused more people to question fundamental aspects of our society, leading many to reject the idea that they want things to get back to “normal.” Going back to normal means that we still have a community that is built on White Supremacy, a massive wealth gap, structural violence, mass incarceration, gentrification, food insecurity and a health care system based on profits.

As the primary election grew closer, most of these issues I named have become even more prominent, especially since the May 30th uprising that began in Grand Rapids. White Supremacy and policing in Kent County has been put under the microscope, resulting in a great deal of organizing and resistance and White Supremacy and all of its manifestations in this area.

At the same time, people running for office, whether as incumbents or challengers, have been very silent on these critical issues, whether they are running for Congress, state seats or county commissioner. I have looked at candidate websites and Facebook pages and have rarely found public positions from candidates on the issues White Supremacy/systemic racism, mass incarceration, the current health care crisis, the massive wealth gap in Kent County, unemployment or the housing crisis and the thousands of area residents who are facing possible eviction. These are not marginal issues, but they are the issues that thousands of families in Kent County are facing every day.

One would think that candidates for political office would be sensitive to this reality, yet I have found very little public information about where candidates stand on these critical issues. Most of those running for office have been silent on the issues I have identified above.

At the same time there has been a great deal of social media endorsing numerous candidates running for office in this community. People have used all sorts of platitudes to describe these candidates and their commitment to this community, yet I can help but wonder what they hell this really means. Virtually all the candidates that are on the Primary ballot or will be on the November ballot, do NOT have a position on issues like White Supremacy, policing, mass incarceration, immigration justice, eviction, unemployment or the massive wealth gap in Kent County. Some might say that these are not issues that elected officials would be dealing with or would have little influence on. Such a response in my experience has taught me that this is bullshit.

For example, two years ago, most people in Kent County were completely unaware of the fact that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department had a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a contract that County Officials voted on. When Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE had 200 people show up to a Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the ICE contract, they were met with contempt and a whole range of excuses. 

All of the Republican members of the Kent County Commission left the meeting and said that those protesting were disrespectful. Democrats on the County Commission, most of which stayed, did nothing to assist the campaign to End the Contract. In fact, Democrats on the commission either remained silent on the matter, engaged in gaslighting of immigrant organizers or offered the excuse that they had no power to End the Contract with ICE.

Those involved in demanding the end to the ICE contract were not deterred and continued to press their demands, with disruptions at more Kent County Commission meetings, protesting at the Commission Chair’s home, doing lots of education of the issue, holding marches, creating online petitions and actions at the Kent County Jail. In fact, after a little more than a year of direct action to End the ICE Contract, ICE officials decided to terminate the contract they had with Kent County in late August of 2019. What this all means is that elected county officials did nothing to end the contract with ICE. What ended the contract with ICE, was direct action and the involvement of thousands of people demanding immigrant justice.

Elected officials can claim that they have no power to affect change, but that does not absolve them from taking a public stance in support of social movements that are demanding structural changes.

So, regardless of who you voted for in the primary election, ask yourself this……..Will these candidates really do anything to further the vision of Black Lives Matter? Will these candidates make it so that thousands of families who are facing eviction in Kent County lift a finger to stop the evictions? Will these candidates publicly support Medicare for All? Will these candidates endorse and fight for the demand from Movimiento Cosecha GR to win Driver’s Licenses for All in Michigan? Will these candidates in Kent County call for a Defunding of the GRPD? Will these candidates fight to end the massive wealth gap in this community? The answer to these questions are right in front of us.

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