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Cosecha GR kicks off its Driver License Campaign with an action at the Rogers Plaza Secretary of State office

April 30, 2018

A major contributor for immigrants to end up in detention from ICE agents, is driving without a license. This is because those without a documentation cannot obtain a driver license. Therefore, when they are pulled over for something as minor as a burned out tail light, the local police department will take them to the Kent County Jail. The Kent County Jail has a contract with ICE, to notify ICE when undocumented immigrants are in their custody.

You can see why immigrants would want to organize a campaign to get driver licenses for all to be adopted by the state of Michigan.

Movimiento Cosecha GR kicked off their driver license for all campaign earlier today, with an action at the Secretary of State office in Wyoming, inside of Rogers Plaza.

Just over 50 people participated in the Cosecha GR action, by going inside the Rogers Plaza and having a presence in front of the Secretary of State office. Part of the action was to have people dance to music, as a means to disrupt business as usual and to draw attention to the campaign for those inside the mall and/or the Secretary of State office, as you can see from the pictures.

Eventually, some of those involved in the action decided to enter the Secretary of State office, to engage it what Cosecha GR calls a disruption, as you can see from the video below.

The manager of the mall, along with several of his associates made people leave or he “would be forced to call the police.” Those participating in the action left the Secretary of State office and shortly after that left the inside of the mall, only to stand in front of the mall so that some of the organizers could speak to the crowd.

One of the more creative aspects of the Cosecha GR action, was their creation of a large driver license that had a large opening where your picture would normally go. People were invited to put the head in the open space and then have their picture taken, as a way of communicating the message of diver licenses for all.

The Cosecha GR action then concluded in the Roger’s Plaza parking lot adjacent to 28th street. There, Cosecha GR organizers spoke to the crowd, talking with them about the campaign and the May Day march the next day. People had lots of good energy, dancing, singing and participating in chants led by Cosecha GR organizers.

Lastly, it is important to message how the local police departments responded to the Cosecha GR action. First, while organizers were at their community space, a GRPD cruiser was parked outside while the organizers were preparing for the action. Secondly, the Wyoming Police Department had cops at the Roger’s Plaza the whole time that the Cosecha GR action took place, ever while people were arriving. Third, the GRPD then showed up at Roger’s Plaza and several people said that both the GRPD and the Wyoming PD were asking people about the route of the May 1st march who the leaders were that they could talk to. This attempt to glean information from people showed that the police are worried about the march and even more worried that they will not be in complete control of what those marching will do.

 

 

Grand Rapids ranks as one of the worst cities for Inclusive Recovery

April 30, 2018

Last week, the online site Colorlines, post a story about a new study looking at how US cities with populations of 100,000 or more has dealt with the recovery since the 2007-2008 economic recession. 

Colorlines writes:

The Great Recession of 2008 forced many cities to rebuild their economies. But in many places, the recovery has been uneven, with some cities enacting policies that increase equity across racial and ethnic groups, while others widened the gaps between the haves and the have nots. A new study from nonprofit research organization Urban Institute explores which cities prioritized inclusion in their struggle for economic growth.

The study done by the Urban Institute, Inclusive Recovery in US Cities, was released just weeks ago. Their research looks at both economic inclusion and racial inclusion: 

Our overall inclusion index combines the economic inclusion and racial inclusion indices for a composite view of inclusion in a city, but the two are also analyzed separately. We distinguish between economic inclusion and racial inclusion because it is common for cities to experience economic growth while leaving certain groups behind: this is especially true for communities of color, given the longstanding history of race-based discrimination and segregation in this country (Greene, Austin Turner, and Gourevitch 2017; Kijakazi et al. 2016). We pay special attention to those cases in which economic inclusion and racial inclusion diverge, as these examples may offer important insights into whether achieving inclusion is contingent on the deliberate use of targeted policy actions that address group-based discrimination or structural barriers.

This last sentence is important, since it acknowledges targeted policy actions and group-based discrimination or structural barriers.

Grand Rapids, based on the study conducted by the Urban Institute, shows that:

In 2013, Grand Rapids ranked 267 out of 274 cities on overall inclusion, 220 on economic inclusion, and 268 on racial inclusion. From 2000 to 2013, Grand Rapids’s economic health rank decreased from 149 to 211. The city also became less inclusive, falling from 222 to 267 in the overall inclusion rankings.

Here are some graphs from the study, which looks at home Grand Rapids compares to the national trend.

At this point, some might argue that this data is based on 2013, and that since then Grand Rapids has significantly changed. I would agree that GR has changed during the past 5 years, but we have to ask ourselves who has been benefitting from that change.

As we have reported in the past, the wealth gap is larger in Grand Rapids than in any other city in Michigan. In addition, the economic development has been concentrated in certain areas of the city and has primarily benefitted those who already have economic and racial privilege. One only need to look at what is happening in downtown Grand Rapids, the near westside, especially on Bridge St, plus other areas like the Wealthy St. corridor to see who the primary beneficiaries are. Many of the same development companies have been the beneficiaries, the same wealthy families and a disproportionate number of white, urban professionals are benefitting.

I would suggest that given the trend, Grand Rapids might even been worse on the economic and racial inclusion front than it was in 2013.

Lastly, it is worth noting that when Grand Rapids ends up being on the top lists for things that are “feel good,” local entities like the Chamber of Commerce, The Right Place Inc or Experience GR are quick to use these lists to market the city. None of these organizations mention this new study and are not likely to, since it ultimately exposes the realities of neoliberal economic policies and the ongoing embrace of white supremacy.

 

It’s not the KKK invading Grand Rapids this weekend, it’s a group more dangerous: The American Legislative Exchange Council

April 26, 2018

The American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, will be having their 2018 Spring Task Force Summit in Grand Rapids all day long, this Friday, April 27.

The ALEC event will be held at the Amway Grand Plaza and is a private event for members only. This is not surprising, as ALEC does not want journalists or any one else to expose what new policies they are crafting that will promote their neo-liberal economic agenda.

ALEC, of course, is the creation of the Koch Brothers, and is designed to implement policies that promote privatization, greater corporate control, plus undermine unions and attack public education. 

The Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) has done more to expose the efforts of ALEC over the years and they are the ones who discovered that ALEC will be in Grand Rapids this weekend

In an article by David Armiak and Mary Bottari, the co-author’s write:

There is no word yet on whether Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a Michigander married to Amway heir Richard DeVos, will be joining the gathering at the swank four-star hotel as ALEC legislators and corporate lobbyists vote on cookie-cutter bills behind closed doors. ALEC has long embraced DeVos and her school privatization agenda, even though the failure of the charter school system she helped create in Michigan has been the topic of devastating reports in the New York Times and 60 Minutes. Further education privatization is on the agenda in Grand Rapids along with measures to please fossil fuel companies, marijuana companies, and more.

The agenda for the ALEC gathering in Grand Rapids can be found at this link, which includes discussion and the crafting of policy relates to economic development, pension reform, education and workforce development, energy and the environment, to name just a few. 

ALEC operates across the nation and has state policy chair persons who work for the state legislature. In Michigan, the state chairs are Rep. Mike Webber and Senator Michael Green. Green has been the recipient of large sums of DeVos money and Webber has been the recipient of another member of the West Michigan power elite, John Kennedy

Michigan organizations, such as the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, are part of the network of ALEC supported right-wing think tanks. In 2015, Grand Rapids was host to the State Policy Network’s (SPN) annual gathering, but the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center were effectively the hosts for that SPN function. I had planned to attend that gathering in 2015 and was even registered, but when I checked in they denied me entrance to the conference

On Friday, in Grand Rapids, a national right-wing organization will meet to create proposals that will give more power to corporations, attack public education, promote greater privatization of government and craft energy policy that will continue to benefit the oil and gas industry as we all suffer the consequences of climate change. How can we allow this kind of gathering to take place in this city, especially knowing that they seek to use wealth to influence public policy that gives private power greater control over our lives?

ICE is kidnapping members of our community: ICE Out Now Press Conference in Grand Rapids

April 25, 2018

Just after noon today, about 25 people gathered in front of the Grand Rapids office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Press Conference was called by Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE project, since there has been an increase in ICE activity, including arrests and intimidation.

When I arrived for the press conference, there were two ICE agents wearing bullet proof vests and standing next to white Homeland Security vehicles. One of the ICE agents told us that “they were there to make sure that everyone was safe.” This is what those who critique law enforcement strategy as the management strategy, where cops try to manage what community groups do, always presenting a “we are here to help” posture.

After most people had arrived for the Press Conference, there also appeared members of the GRPD, although they just circled the block a few times to see what was happening.

Part of the reason that this press conference was organized, was due to the fact that ICE activity has increased, but also because the immigrant community has been communicating with Cosecha GR about the concerns they have and wanting to feel safe at ICE event. Gema Lowe, with Cosecha GR, made it clear that the reality is that it is safer for immigrants to participate in Cosecha GR activities, because together they are stronger than any attempt to repress people. She also used language that is usually heard outside of the US, with terms like kidnapping, forced disappearance, along with the idea that those in detention have to pay a ransom in order to get out. Here is a brief video with Gema Lowe speaking to those who came to the press conference.

In addition, Martin, an immigrant who spoke, told those in attendance that he and his family left their country because they believed that they could leave fear behind them, only to then find out that they are also living in fear in the US because the government has failed to adopt just immigration policies. Martin, also encouraged people to come to the May 1st march being hosted by Cosecha GR.

The next speaker was Amy Carpenter, with the GR Rapid Response to ICE project. Amy read a statement in support of immigrants and a pledge from allies that they would do whatever they could to stop ICE from separating families and to support those who have been impacted from ICE arrests. Amy also let people know that the GR Rapid Response to ICE group has a network they can mobilize to try to stop ICE from taking immigrants and to offer a variety of other kinds of support. She stated that if ICE comes to your door, call 211 in Kent County and we will respond as quickly as possible to ICE oppression.

Al Heystek, a pastor with the UCC spoke about the physical and emotional pain that ICE causes when they arrest people and “make children have to witness a parent or another family member be taken away.” Heystek also spoke about the importance of the need for the faith community stand with immigrants and to offer support however they can.

Lastly, Richard Kessler, an immigration attorney spoke about how the current administration might be the worst administration in regards to immigration policy. Kessler said that the current policy is both racist and xenophobic, plus that many of the arrests that ICE make are in violation of the rights of immigrants, regardless if they are documented or not. The immigration lawyer also encouraged people to come to the May 1st march, which would send a loud message that people will fight these unjust policies and that we can win justice for all immigrants.

 

Fighting for Immigrant Justice, Four Days of Action: An Interview with Cosecha GR

April 25, 2018

Movimiento Cosecha GR is an immigrant-led movement, which has been organizing in Grand Rapids for more than a year.

Cosecha GR is fighting for Dignity, Respect and Permanent Protection for all immigrants. This immigrant-led movement has been using direct action strategies, such as boycotts, marches, civil disobedience and strikes.

They have four days of action coming up, between April 28th and May 1st.

  • April 28: 11am-2pm Join us at DÍA DEL NIÑO at Cesar Chavez School, 1205 Grandville Ave SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
  • April 29: 2pm-5pm Come and share a COMMUNITY MEAL potluck style at San Juan Diego Academy 1650 Godfrey Ave. SW, Wyoming, Mi 49509 
  • April 30: 11am-1pm We will conduct an action for our DRIVING LICENSE FOR ALL campaign at Rogers Plaza, 972 28th Street SW, Wyoming, MI.
  • May 1: 12 pm A huge march for International Workers Day that will start from Roosevelt Park at Chicago Drive & Clyde Park to Downtown Grand Rapids.

Cosecha GR is calling for a 4-day strike, for people to not send their children to school and to not purchase anything during these four days. If you have to purchase anything, Cosecha GR is encouraging people to makes purchases at minority owned businesses. For more details on the four days of action, please go to their Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/606122836408011/.

In addition, these four days of action will also be part of movement’s kickoff of their campaign  to get driver’s license for all. “Immigrant workers need to drive to their workplaces without the risk of being arrested because of no license or expired license. That is why, as part of our movement, to win respect and dignity, we are launching a statewide campaign to win DRIVERS LICENSES FOR ALL as we continue fighting for permanent protection.”

Lastly, we also interviewed Karla Barberi, one of the Cosecha GR organizers about these upcoming actions.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Adding another anti-civil rights lawyer to the Dept. of Education

April 24, 2018

Last Wednesday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced the confirmation of Carlos G. Muñiz as the Education Department’s General Counsel. In a statement that DeVos released, she said: 

We are pleased to finally have Carlos on the team. After a protracted confirmation process, Carlos can at last get to work on behalf of our nation’s students. He has dedicated his career to upholding the law, and his insight and expertise will be invaluable as we work to advance educational opportunities for all students.

As a lawyer, Muniz is currently a partner with McGuireWoods LLP and a senior vice president in the National & Multistate Strategies group of McGuireWoods Consulting LLC. Muniz previously worked as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s chief of staff for three years, between 2011 and 2014. During his time in that capacity, Muniz represented Florida State University in a lawsuit brought by a student who accused the former quarterback Jameis Winston of raping her in 2012. That case was settled with the accuser for $950,000, but the Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation after it was discovered that the university barely investigated the rape case.

In addition, Carlos Muniz helped to defend the Florida Attorney General’s decision to sit out legal action against Trump University, a controversial real estate seminar owned by Donald Trump.

As General Council to the Department of Education, Muniz will decide which school legal battles to pursue. The Department of Education has already come under fire, because Secretary Betsy DeVos has already said that she will limit the amount of civil rights cases her department will hear. DeVos has also made it clear that Title IX cases will be treated differently, since she has chosen to bring in several Men’s Rights groups who claim that there are plenty of cases on college campuses where women are falsely accusing men of rape. 

Betsy DeVos has also diminished the Department of Education’s role in defending the rights of LGBT students, students with disabilities and students of color. Bringing in Muniz, is just one more confirmation of the Department of Education’s lack of commitment to civil rights issues within education.

Lastly, Muniz is part of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a conservative Libertarian group, which receives funding from numerous large right wing foundations, supports the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and is a member of the State Policy Network. Both ALEC and the State Policy Network work at the state level to push a right wing agenda, which includes the privatization of education, which Betsy DeVos supports.

MLive, Experts and what would be good for Michigan

April 23, 2018

On Saturday, MLive ran a story about the economic outlook in Michigan, with the usual framing around job growth, unemployment rates and wages. 

The article relies on what they refer to as experts for their analysis and then proceed to list 8 moves that would mean significant economic and job growth for the state.

As we stated in a previous post, “States don’t have an economy, just like countries and cities don’t have an economy. What we have is Capitalism, which is an economic system that doesn’t recognize borders, is based on constant growth, exploitation of natural resources & human labor, along with increased profits for those who already have tremendous wealth.” 

However, since MLive continues to talk about the economy of Michigan, it’s still important to look at the 8 ideas, based on expert input, that would be good for Michigan.

Michigan needs more people with four-year college degrees. This idea presents the notion that with a 4 year degree, you have more people with talent and that will attract businesses. The MLive report then cites Gov. Snyder’s Marshall Plan, which is nothing more than a business-centric proposal to bring more people from the professional class to the state. This Marshall Plan is really rather frightening and it seems to have received very little news coverage and what coverage there has been is uncritical of said plan.

What major omission in the idea that Michigan needs more people with a 4 year degree, is the issue of student debt. We have a whole generation of students that have tens of thousands of dollars of debt. When people are living with large amounts of debt, society will suffer.

The state needs good-paying jobs, not just jobs. While we would agree with this second point in principle, the MLive article never defines what good-paying jobs would be. There is a national $15 an hour minimum wage movement, but even that movement is also not just calling for better wages, but the need to have good benefits and a just pension. Benefits and pensions are not even discussed in the “good-paying jobs” idea. Moreover, the MLive writer takes at face value that these “good-paying” jobs would be for new professional talent and not for people in the service sector. This means that people who clean the rooms at the Amway Grand, bus tables at restaurants, pick the food at area farms, are not included in this “good-paying jobs” mantra.

Michigan needs to increase school funding. While more funds for public education are critical, the MLive writer never uses the term “public” when referring to education. The MLive article does state that Michigan schools are not performing well, but doesn’t offer any analysis of why this is the case. There is no discussion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s role in public education funding, plus the article continues to talk about education in terms of job training instead of education that would create critical thinking students.

Upskilling Michigan workers needs to be an ongoing effort. This idea again refer’s to Gov. Snyder’s Marshall Plan. In this instance, it is about training, “the state’s residents for the high-skill, high-demand jobs the workplace needs.” In other words, businesses want to dictate what people should be trained in, as opposed to people having a say in what they want to do and how the economic system should function.

The state’s best urban environments need to grow and thrive. The argument here is that companies need concentrated talent and apparently they can’t find that in small communities. Therefore, cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids need to grow. This idea is not based on fact and it even comes with a certain level of contempt for those who live in small communities and rural areas. This idea also fails to acknowledge that if people with talent move to cities, it will mean the decline of small communities and rural areas, which suffer high rates of poverty.

Michigan should look at policy to improve jobs. While having sound policy to improve jobs might make sense, it has not be a reality for decades in Michigan. We could talk about the negative impact that NAFTA had on the manufacturing sector, but more recently we can look at the state policy that made Michigan a Right to Work state, the attacks on public sector unions, forcing people who previously had good pensions to now rely on the stock market for retirement and the elimination of business taxes in the state. These policy decisions in the past couple of decades are exactly what groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum are advocating for

Altering the sales tax structure would boost revenue. Working people are already over taxed. Instead, why not advocate for bringing the business tax back and re-structuring the tax system to put a larger burden on those with tremendous wealth to pay more in taxes. This is not likely to happen, since those with tremendous wealth are the ones who essentially buy public policy. 

Michigan could better leverage its universities and innovation. Again, there is no assessment of the fact that public universities have continued to receive less public money in recent decades, relying instead on wealthy donors who push their own agendas.

Essentially, this MLive article, like most articles on the economy, fail to discuss the wealth gap and how the capitalist class often dictates public policy on matters related to the economy and education.

These eight ideas are not new, not are they going to challenge systems of power in Michigan. Until civil society becomes more organized in mass movements and until workers decide to take back their power, the future of Michigan will not change, no matter who makes up the state legislature in Lansing.