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Bankrolling hate and harm: On the Death of Peter Secchia

October 22, 2020

A few days have passed since the announcement that Peter Secchia has died. The local news media has done what one would expect, they have presented him as someone who loved Grand Rapids and has contributed to this community generously.

Just look at some of the headlines. From MLive, the headline reads, Philanthropist, former U.S. Ambassador Peter Secchia has died. In fact, virtually all of the coverage in MLive, WOOD TV8, WZZM 13, WXMI 17 and the Grand Rapids Business Journal, all use terms like philanthropist, former Ambassador, businessman and community advocate. 

The rest of the local news coverage includes a brief history of Secchia, how he came from “humble beginnings”, his ascent in Universal Forest Products, his community involvement and his commitment to the Republican Party.

The local news coverage also included condolences from various organizations that Secchia was involved in, such as the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the Right Place Inc and the West Michigan Policy Forum. WXMI 17 even included statements from the DeVos family, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and the Bishop from the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese.

In many ways I am not surprised by the way these news media has presented Secchia, yet I still find it astounding the level of obedience that local news agencies give to anyone who is a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. There is not one bit of critical or controversial information presented in any of the coverage of Secchia’s death. People might say that now is not the time to critically examine who Peter Secchia was and that it would be insensitive to offer any criticisms while his family is in morning. Bullshit. When someone is a public figure, who not only used their wealth to influence power dynamics in Grand Rapids, but used their position with the GOP to push policies that negatively impacted millions, then this is the exact time to sound off.

It is true that Peter Secchia had a foundation and contributed money to numerous projects, particularly to MSU. However, like all philanthropists, we need to ask ourselves how Secchia became a multi-millionaire. Was it simply because he worked hard or does it have anything to do with how he was able to exploit resources and workers during his time at Universal Forest Products? What about the property investment company (SIBSSCO) that Secchia and his sons started in the 1980s? There is no mention of how much property Peter Secchia and his family own in any of the news coverage.

In terms of some of the community projects he has been behind, lets look at the Community Legends Project. The statues that have been erected all over the downtown area were selected by a group of people working with Secchia. The public had no say in any of these, even though they are in public spaces. In addition, many of the statues are of people who have done significant harm in this community, such as Bishop Baraga, Jay Van Andel, and Arthur Vandenberg.

However, the more important critique we can offer about Peter Secchia was is long standing commitment to the Republican Party. Secchia was deeply involve in the GOP for decades, especially in West Michigan, and is sometimes credited with growing the GOP in Kent County. 

This means that since the late 1970s, Peter Secchia has been intimately involved in the political party that gave us Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush and now Donald Trump. These Republican administrations have all contributed to the following: (Editors note: the Democratic Party has also been responsible for some of these same issues listed below, but since we are talking about Secchia, we will just focus on the GOP.)

  • Increasing the wealth gap
  • Lowering taxes for the wealthy
  • Waging war on working class people
  • Criminalizing Black people through the War on Drugs
  • Mass Incarceration
  • Environmental degradation
  • Climate denial and Climate change
  • Environmental Racism
  • Criminalizing immigrants
  • Trade Policies which have caused people to flee their own countries
  • Trade Policies that have undermined organized labor
  • Waging a war against public sector unions
  • Blaming and shaming women for sexual assault
  • Perpetuating gender inequality
  • Promoting a rape culture
  • Violence against the Queer and Trans communities
  • Undermining public education
  • Expanding US Imperialism
  • The so-called War on Terrorism

Of course this is only a partial list, but the point is, Peter Secchia has been intimately involved with the organized efforts through the Republican Party, to do tremendous harm to millions of human beings and the environment.

Here are just two examples. First, Peter Secchia was a huge supporter of the George W. Bush administration and was instrumental in bringing Bush and Dick Cheney to Grand Rapids on several occasions. Secchia had a hand in Bush choosing to come to Grand Rapids just prior to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, despite the fact that some 2,000 protesters greeted Bush as he drove down Michigan Ave.

A few years later, Secchia invited Dick Cheney to speak about the US occupation of Iraq at the Ford Museum, to a invite-only crowd. You can  see Secchia and Cheney in the picture here, walking to the Ford Museum before Cheney would address the invitation-only audience.

Then in 2006, Secchia again invite Dick Cheney to speak about the Iraq war. Anti-war organizers found out that Secchia was hosting an gathering at his home in East Grand Rapids. About 25 protesters showed up near Secchia’s home to send a message to Cheney that he and the Bush administration had committed war crimes in Iraq – indiscriminate bombing of civilians, destruction of public infrastructure, torture and looting of Iraqi resources. The indy media group Media Mouse reported on that action in September of 2006.

The second example, is from four years ago, just prior to the 2016 Presidential Election. Peter Secchia spoke at a rally for Donald Trump and was quoted as saying:

“I have a message for the Bushes and Mitt Romney, If you don’t want to support Donald Trump: Shut up! If you don’t know where you are today, you’re a loser.”

For more than 5 decades, Peter Secchia contributed money to the Republican Party, which means that he funded the hateful rhetoric and the harmful policies of the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan all the way through the neo-fascist Trump Administration.

This is why the local news coverage of Secchia’s death is dishonest, because it fails to talk about and assess the vicious and harmful stuff the GOP has done to so many people across the world, in the United States and in this community. Therefore, I will not morn the death of Peter Secchia. 

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