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The GRPD unknowingly gave us a tactical gift during their presentation to the Public Safety Committee

March 31, 2023

As we noted in yesterday’s post, the Grand Rapids Police Department took over the Public Safety Committee meeting on March 28th, in order to present their case on why the GRPD should have funding to purchase and deploy drones in Grand Rapids.

What the GRPD did not know, was that they provided movement organizers with a small gift.

Social movement organizers are always thinking about tactics and strategies that can be developed and use to further movement goals. One larger strategy that movement organizers have utilized for centuries is the idea of disrupting business as usual, whether that is government operations, business operations, or other systems of oppression.

For example, according to a report put out by the Indigenous Environmental Network in 2021, Indigenous-led resistance campaigns against pipelines in the US and Canada have reduced greenhouse gas pollution by at least 25% annually since these campaigns began. By disrupting the construction of oil and gas pipelines, the indigenous resistance not only reduced the amount of greenhouse gases produced, they cost oil and gas companies money. In other words, the profits that oil and gas companies make was disrupted by the various campaigns to resist the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.

Any social movement campaign that seeks to disrupt business as usual will be effective, precisely because it will have a real cost to the systems of power that they are confronting. When workers go on strike, they effectively shut down production, which costs the company they work for. When there is a well organized boycott, it can cost a specific company, a group of companies or even a country that is reliant on the profits generated from production and consumption. The South African Anti-Apartheid Movement was effective because of the divestment campaigns they waged, which impacted the profit-making entities that were being targeted.

Likewise, when large numbers of people take to the streets and shut down main intersections or highways, they disrupt business as usual, meaning they are disrupting commerce in a very big way. This is why one of the slides that the GRPD presented at Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting was a real gift to social movement organizers. In that slide – shown above – it says, “the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) estimates that an urban freeway closure to have a $6,800 per minute cost to commerce.” This means that is people shut down an urban freeway for 30 minutes, it could cost the world of commerce $204,000. If a social movement action shut down an urban freeway for an hour, it would cost commerce $408,000.

Such numbers are not only significant, but they underscore exactly why police departments do not want social movements to disrupt business as usual. Therefore, I want to thank the GRPD for providing that bit of information, which could be beneficial for future social movement work in Grand Rapids.

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