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We say NO to the criminalization of the unhoused protest confronts GR Chamber of Commerce staff with demands

December 13, 2022

Last night, roughly 25 activists gathered in front of 250 Monroe NW, the building that is home to the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The gathering was from a call by the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, working with a coalition of autonomous groups, to protest the GR Chamber’s proposed ordinance that would criminalize those who are unhoused, those who are subjected to poverty, and those who are struggling with mental health issues.

After a brief gathering outside, the group decided to go inside the building and directly confront members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. This is the first time this writer had been in the new office space, which is way more upscale than their office was when it was housed on Pearl St. in downtown Grand Rapids.

Upon entering the glass doors of the GR Chamber office, one staff member pleaded with the group to leave, since the office was “private property.” While we understand that the GR Chamber and other members of the Capitalist Class view private property as sacrosanct, those who came to communicate their anger over the proposed ordinance were in no way intimidated by the hollow plea to vacate the Chamber’s office.

A clear demand was presented by someone, which included that the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce rescind their letter proposing the criminalization of the unhoused and make a public apology for doing so. From that point on, several other activists verbalized their rage over the proposed ordinance, with some asking the Chamber staff directly if they “hated” those who were unhoused. By this time a second GR Chamber staff member had appeared and was clearly on the phone to the GRPD. The other GR Chamber staff member tried to speak softly to the person who made the demands, asking them if they would get people to leave. Clearly, the GR Chamber staff isn’t familiar with the fact that groups like this organize horizontally, therefore individuals are not “in charge” and everyone participating is allowed to make up their own damn minds.

Eventually, the group left GR Chamber office, only to gather just outside the door, where they continued to chant and direct comments towards the staff still inside. The confrontation seemed to energize people, and their chants echoed throughout the building, so much so that people from other offices poked their heads out to see what all the ruckus was.

By this time, there were four separate GRPD cruisers that had arrived, so most members of the group exited out the Ottawa-side of the building, with a few people going out to see what the GRPD were up to. The cops saw that some people were exiting out the Monroe-side of the building, so they waited until people came out. The cops said nothing to the activists who came out, and immediately went inside the building to assure the GR Chamber staff that their “private property” was safe.

It is rather instructive that the GR Chamber of Commerce staff called the GRPD on those who were there to make demands that the organization rescind the letter and make a public apology. The irony is that if the GR Chamber proposed ordinance is adopted by the City of Grand Rapids, it will result in the Chamber, or any of their business members, casually calling the GRPD to remove or arrest those who are unhoused, those who are subjected to poverty, and those who are struggling with mental health issues. The fact that the GRPD were called, fully demonstrates that members of the Business Class will always resort to using state-sponsored intimidation and violence, especially when their financial interests are being threatened.

The group eventually went back outside and marched around downtown Grand Rapids for about 30 minutes, letting other businesses and residents know that some people will not tolerate the actions of organizations like the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, especially when they prioritize profits over people.

Below are other actions that people can take if they object to the criminalization of the unhoused.

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