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Re-Thinking the Life of Lena Meijer and her Billionaire family: On why we need to develop a real Class Consciousness

January 23, 2022

It has been just over a week now that Lena Meijer, the wife of Fred Meijer, passed away. 

Once again, the local news media had nothing but positive and glowing commentary about someone who was part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. The local news media did the same thing about Fred Meijer, when he passed away in 2011.

A WOODTV8 story uses the headline, Fred and Lena Meijer remembered for ‘belief in community’. GVSU also released a statement that wants us all to believe that Lena Meijer made an impact on the lives of students.

An MLive headline read, Lena Meijer remembered as caring, community advocate with ‘a wonderful heart.’  In that article there are comments from the Meijer family attorney, the CEO of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, the vice president of university relations at GVSU, and the following statement from the DeVos Family:

“Lena Meijer was a quiet force of nature in our community. She had a warm and giving spirit, that was evident from the moment she walked in any room. She was a friend and partner to our parents / grandparents, as she was to us, and a steadfast supporter of her husband, her family and all of West Michigan. We smile as we think of Lena’s love of flowers and how the Meijer Gardens shares that passion with so many others. Lena lived generously and her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched.”

The comments from the DeVos Family are completely expected, since this is one family within the Grand Rapids Power Structure speaking well of another member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. People who have economic and political power will almost always look out for other people who have economic and political power. They do this because they do not want the public to think about how they became so rich and powerful.

Let’s take the Meijer Family. This is a family business that made their wealth by exploiting the workers in their stores, by benefiting from the exploitation of the workers in an unjust food system – farmworkers, for example – and by not having to pay for the consequences of benefitting from an unsustainable and exploitative retail system. Many of the items that are sold in the Meijer stores rely on workers who pick food or manufacture clothing, etc., workers who make poverty-level wages. On top of that, most of the items that are sold in Meijer stores travel thousands of miles, thus relying heavily on the burning of fossil fuels, which have contributed significantly to Climate Change. 

Lena Meijer is fondly remembered for the monetary contributions she and her family have made over the years, but there is no honest discussion or investigation into how the Meijer family became billionaires. People don’t get rich because they are hard workers, they get rich by exploiting people and resources. But this is the con. Lena Meijer is remembered for making contributions to things like the Civic Theater, the Frederick Meijer Gardens, local colleges, etc., all of which do nothing to disturb the oppressive and exploitative economic systems that exist in West Michigan. This is why Meijer and DeVos, and the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, get their names on buildings, because we as a society do not have sufficient class consciousness. We see the Lena Meijers of the world as being generous, when in fact we should be seeing their philanthropy as a PR scam, a diversion from having to actually look hard at how they made their wealth.

The MLive article quote the Meijer family attorney who stated that lena Meijer preferred to remain in the background, and to council members of her family. Do you think for a moment that Lena Meijer was counseling her sons Hank & Doug Meijer to pay the workers at Meijer stores a livable wage? No, she chose to not question how her son’s wealth went from $10.2 Billion at the beginning of the pandemic, to $16.9 Billion after the first 18 months of the pandemic. This means that the Meijer family business increased their wealth by $6.7 Billion, while Meijer workers couldn’t afford health care or pay their rent, and while thousands of families in West Michigan were suffering during the COVID 19 pandemic.

If we don’t stop worshipping members of the Capitalist Class, like Lena Meijer, not much will change. The wealth from the Meijer family alone could eliminate poverty in West Michigan and provide sufficient funds for housing and health care for all. Instead of celebrating the bullshit charity of the billionaire class, let’s organize to redistribute the wealth of members of the Capitalist Class, like the Meijer family. 

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