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If we don’t want the DeVos family to own our community, then we need to take away their political an economic power

September 9, 2020

Over the past several weeks we have written a 5 Part series on the contributions of the DeVos family foundations based on 2018 data from the online resource GuideStar. 

We talked a great deal about how their foundation contributions are strategically aligned with their political contributions, in order to further their ideological interests and to wage class warfare on the masses.

Today, we want to take a more systems approach to looking at the five DeVos family foundations, by looking at how these foundations are financially beneficial to the DeVos family.

First, it is important to note that the DeVos family foundations have millions in assets, while only contributing a small percentage of their assets on an annual basis. For instance, in 2018, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation had $71.5 million in that foundation, but only contributed just under $9 million that year. We nee to understand that one of the reasons that members of the Capitalist Class put their money in foundations is to avoid having to pay taxes on that wealth.

Tax policy since the 1950s has increasingly benefited members of the Capitalist Class, and the funding that Congress has provided since the pandemic began, has primarily benefited the wealthiest. In April, we reported on how the super rich, because of tax policy loop holes, would benefit massively from the Cares Act. 

We wrote:

More than 80 percent of the benefits of a tax change tucked into the coronavirus relief package Congress passed last month will go to those who earn more than $1 million annually, according to a report by a nonpartisan congressional body expected to be released Tuesday. This information is based on the research done by group known as the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), a nonpartisan Congressional body. Forbes reported that the 43,000 millionaires and billionaires in the US will get on average $1.7 million because of the Cares Act. 

Of course, the DeVos family is the wealthiest in Grand Rapids, so they would benefit the most from this policy decision.

Now, lets be clear, the DeVos family and their billionaire friends have a ridiculous amount of money. In May of this year,  we wrote about the wealth of the DeVos and Meijer families an what that could mean for Kent County:

The DeVos and Meijer families are not the only billionaires in Grand Rapids, but they are the wealthiest and the families that have tremendous political influence.

According to the 2017 Forbes 400 list, the combined wealth of these two families was $12.6 Billion – Doug & Hank Meijer were worth $7.2 Billion in 2018 and Richard DeVos was worth $5.4 Billion in 2018, the same year he died. Now, this doesn’t include the wealth of the other DeVos family members, which would easily put the total over $15 Billion between these two families.

What the combined wealth of the Meijer and DeVos family could translate into, is that NO ONE in Grand Rapids would have to worry about not working during the COVID-19 crisis, EVERYONE would have access to testing, proper health care, food, housing and any other basic needs. The JW Marriott just announced that they were closing, which means there are hundreds of empty bed that could be used by individuals and families who are facing a housing crisis right now. The wealth of the Meijer and DeVos families could translate into our ability in Kent County to truly flatten the curve and minimize the number of deaths from COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we know that the Meijer and DeVos families will not give up significant amounts of their combined $15 Billion in order to save lives in Kent County. These two families have demonstrated for decades that they are more interested in maintaining and expanding their wealth than they are in the well being of all residents of Kent County.

It is important that we see the wealth of families, like the DeVos family, not just about money, but about power. I was on a panel a few years back, at a national non-profit conference that was being hosted in Grand Rapids. The panel session was entitled, Grassroots Responses to Big Philanthropy: Grand Rapids Activism in the Shadow of Amway, ArtPrize and DeVos

The basic premise of what I discussed in this panel session was that the DeVos family uses their wealth in an extremely strategic fashion, with some of the main goals being:

Contribute funding to organizations that share their ideological worldview.

Use the contributions to non-profits as PR leverage, despite the fact that none of those non-profits are challenging the root causes of the injustice they have organized around.

Use the contributions to religious groups, centers of education and non-profits in order to manage content and practices in such a way as to discourage these entities from being involved in fighting systems of power and oppression.

One of the reasons why I chose to monitor and investigate the power of families, like the DeVos family, is because it is important that we understand how systems of power and privilege function, and I can’t think of a better example in West Michigan than the example of the DeVos family.

Any social movement that is ultimately a threat to the power structure has to do two things. First, they have to do a power analysis, preferably in their own community, and that would require us to look closely at the DeVos family. The other thing that social movement need to do, in order to make those in power very nervous, is to work towards taking that power away, both economic and political power.

This would mean lots of education, political resistance work, exposing the DeVos family, AND it would mean redistributing the wealth they acquired over the last 50 years. How we redistribute their wealth, is best left to discussions/planning sessions for people who really want to make this happen.

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