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Opposition grows at second AmplifyGR meeting, but even if the majority of the people opposed the project AmplifyGR director says they would still move forward

July 28, 2017

There were two things that were incredible about tonight’s community meeting hosted by AmplifyGR.

First, almost everyone of the the people who spoke during the roughly 80-minute public comment time, were critical of what AmplifyGR was doing, skeptical of the process or outright opposed to what AmplifyGR has in mind to do.

From the very get go, people were not mincing words about what they felt about AmplifyGR, Rockford Construction and the DeVos family. Community Activist LaDonna Norman told the AmplifyGR people sitting up front, “stop making our community look stupid.” Norman was referring to what AmplifyGR was doing and acting like they had nothing but good intentions. LaDonna then went on to name what was happening and that the whole thing was essentially, “DeVos owned. Everyone involved is bought and paid for by the DeVos Family.

The facilitator then asked the audience how many people agreed with this sentiment. Lots of people clapped or shouted out. When the facilitator asked how many people did not share Norman’s perspective, there were only a few who spoke up. However, what was interesting is that the facilitator then said, that the response was evenly split. This kind of denial or attempt to control the narrative was thick throughout the night.

Another African American woman says she is currently homeless. She used to pay $500 a month for a 3 bedroom place to rent. Now she can’t find the same thing for less than $1,000 and actually is is 3 times the cost for what she used to find. She wants to stay in this community, in this neighborhood. She asks AmplifyGR if they are going to have real affordable housing that does not have all these restrictions.

Then there was a question about supporting existing black owned businesses in the neighborhood and how people did not want to see another Starbucks come in. AmplifyGR’s response was to focus on providing entrepreneurial support through Start Garden, which is yet another DeVos run entity.

Tempest Warfield, an afro-Latina,  just made it plain when she given the chance to speak. She spoke passionately and called out who is running this process. She said that a lot of what this boils down to is race and class. “People want to just stay in their homes, but people are feeling bullied by the wealthiest family in the area. People want to keep their homes and leave a legacy for their kids. We do have purpose here, even if it doesn’t look like it to the DeVos family.” John Ippel, from AmplifyGR, responded by saying he gets it. Tempest came right back and said, “be careful about practicing white savior politics.”

Other people were asking about AmplifyGR’s commitment to elevating civil rights or asking would the new development cause zoning changes or property taxes to rise. The AmplifyGR folks didn’t directly answer those concerns, but the community made sure they answered, after several people shouted, “you didn’t answer the question.”

Allison Colberg, with the Micah Center, said there is a huge fundamental problem with the story that is being told. AmplifyGR is framing thing whole effort as “the AmplifyGR area,” when in fact it is not there area. Alllison provides a sharp analysis of what is going on through a White Supremacy lens – that the making of policy and other forms of systemic racism took wealth from black people. “The community should be in charge. We broke and it is based on a history. So put some duct tape on it and just listen.”

There were several other critical and challenging comments made by people throughout the rest of the evening, some from using the microphone, while others just shouted it out from their seats. Then Ken Miguel-Cipriano made an interesting statement that was also in the form of a question. He asked if the majority of people in the community were opposed to what AmplifyGR wanted to do, would they honor that is close up shop? Ken then said, “how about if 70% of the people opposed it?”

This brings us to the second incredible thing that was said during the meeting. The Executive Director of AmplifyGR, John Ippel responded by saying, “even if 70% of the community opposed this, we would just have to get back up and move forward and do it better.” You could heard several people in the audience gasp in horror and the level of arrogance they heard coming from the AmplifyGR person.

This sentiment from AmplifyGR, was affirmed at the end, when the facilitator ask the three men seated on stage what their take-aways were from tonight. Each of them responded by saying that they were looking forward to more community engagement and working with neighbors. It is as if they didn’t care that there was significant opposition at this second community forum.

Afterwards, there were lots of small conversations taking place and the ones this writer overheard reflected both the level of community opposition to the AmplifyGR project, as well as being shocked by the level of arrogance displayed.

This is far from being a done deal. The next meeting is September 7. We’ll keep you posted.

 

 

City of Grand Rapids hires PR firm with a long history of involvement with GOP politics

July 27, 2017

Yesterday, in an article on MLive, it was announced that the City of Grand Rapids has hired the PR firm of Truscott Rossman to assist them with developing a better communications strategy. 

The City will spend $60,000 of taxpayer money for a 1-year contract with the largest PR firm in the state, Truscott Rossman. One of the reasons for bringing in the PR firm, according to the Mayor, was to help them develop a more comprehensive communications plan.

The MLive article gives an additional reason for bringing in Truscott Rossman:

“The city still has a $5,000 outstanding bill with Truscott Rossman from April, when the city hired them for emergency communications assistance. Guitar, the city’s spokesman, was on vacation when a video was released of police stopping five unarmed black youths at gunpoint as they were investigating the report of a gun, Guitar said.

The video and incident garnered national attention, and the city reached out to the public relations firm for help.”

In the PR world, this is a way of saying the PR firm was brought in to do damage control, especially since the video was a political embarrassment to the city.

The PR firm was started by John Truscott in 2001. Before that, Truscott was the Communications Director and Press Secretary for Governor John Engler. After the John Truscott Group was formed, they began working closely with numerous GOP campaigns in Michigan, most notably former Rep. Pete Hoekstra and the failed gubernatorial campaign of Dick DeVos in 2006.

The Truscott Group continued to be involved in various political campaigns. John Truscott was George W. Bush’s spokesperson in Michigan during the 2000 election and he was also part of the recount team in Florida. In addition, Truscott is the former chair of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In 2011, the John Truscott Group and Kelly Rossman-McKinney were the number 1 & 2 PR firms in the state. The decision was made that same year to create one powerhouse PR firm, now known as Truscott Rossman. Truscott Rossman now claims to be a bi-partisan PR firm, since Rossman used to work closely with Democrats. However, in 2013, the political consulting resource, Campaigns & Elections, named Truscott a top Republican Party influencer in Michigan.

One of the services that the PR firm offers is their annual Michigan Legislators’ Guide to Lobbyists and Reporters. The Truscott Rossman Guide is highly valued by politicians, reporters and lobbyists alike.

The Lobbying Guide has definitely had an impact. The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reported that it was a record year for lobbyist spending in Michigan for 2016, with $39.9 million being spent by corporations and other associations working to influence state legislators.

People would do well to be skeptical of the City’s contract with Truscott Rossman. One important book the takes a critical look at the PR industry is, Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry. The authors of this book assert, that the PR industry “poisons the American democratic process by the nation’s professional spin doctors and exposes the bare-knuckled, invisible hand guiding and shaping public opinions.”

Edward Bernays, seen as the Grandfather of PR, was fond of saying this:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

We all should be wary of any part of the Public Relations industry, particularly one with a long history of working on behalf of some of the most powerful people in Michigan.

MI Senator Gary Peters is one of the co-sponsors of the bi-partisan bill to criminalize the BDS movement in the US

July 26, 2017

Since 2005, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement has been growing and making significant progress in the effort to end the Israeli occupation

The BDS movement, which is modeled on the South African Anti-Apartheid movement, has been under attack since it began. However, there have been an increase in the number of tactics that governments are using to suppress this movement, particularly governments that support the Israeli occupation. 

The British government has attacked the BDS movement and now the US government wants to criminalize the movement.

According to a recent article by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald

a group of 43 senators — 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats — wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.”

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720) was introduced a few months ago and was drafted with input from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

The ACLU last week sent a letter to the Senators who co-sponsored this legislation stating, “We urge  you  to refrain  from co-sponsoring the legislation because it would  punish  individuals  for no reason other than  their political  beliefs.” 

One of the Senators that the ACLU sent the letter to was Michigan Senator Gary Peters.  This comes as no surprise considering that Senator Peters is following the same level of allegiance that his predecessor, Senator Carl Levin, had towards Israel. Senator Peters has been a top 20 recipient of Israeli Lobby money since taking over for Senator Levin.

The House version of the bill, H.R. 167, has nine cosponsors from Michigan alone, including Rep. Bill Huizenga from Holland. 

This piece of legislation represents the most recent example of the complete, bipartisan support of Israel and the demonization of any challenge to that support.

Grand Rapids Bus Driver’s Union disrupts The Rapid event at 6th Street Bridge Park

July 25, 2017

Yesterday, the City of Grand Rapids, along with other elected officials, hosted an event to show off some of the newest buses that are powered from natural gas.

The event to celebrate the new natural gas powered buses was held at the 6th Street Bridge Park and was meant to highlight the so-called sustainable efforts of the ITP bus system. Local elected officials spoke and ice cream was served.

However, there was one thing that the elected officials and those in attendance didn’t anticipate. They didn’t anticipate that members of the local ATU bus driver’s union would be there to disrupt their celebration.

When a fourth elected official began speaking, several people with a banner walk in front of him, standing between the podium and the crowd. Using a bullhorn they made statements, which you can see in the video below.

The rest of the formal ITP event was cut short, since it was clear that the bus driver’s union and their supporters were not going to let up on disrupting the event.

Afterwards, we interviewed several members of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, sharing their thoughts on the failure of The Rapid board to sign a contract and how this was impacting union members.

J20 Week of Solidarity: Trump Inauguration Resisters, including 3 from Grand Rapids, could face 75-year prison sentences

July 24, 2017

Many people are familiar with the large march that took place in Washington, DC on the weekend of President Trump’s inauguration. Hundreds of people from Grand Rapids made that trek to collectively protest the 45th president.

There was also a protest on the day of the actual inauguration, January 20th, where over 200 people were arrested for attempting to disrupt the swearing in of Donald Trump. What people are less familiar with is the fact that most of those arrested during the January 20th protest are now facing up to 75 years in prison……..for protesting.

The online resource Defend J20 Resistance, provides some useful information on how such repression can happen: 

The prosecution’s case rests on a broad interpretation of the Federal Riot Statute, which could make a participant in a political rally guilty for any property damage that takes place during that time. A superceding indictment added additional charges of urging to riot, conspiracy to riot, individualized property damage, and for over half the group, assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. These additional charges were given with no new group evidence or individual particulars.

The DC Attorney’s Office is trying to set a repressive precedent for political expression under the administration of Donald Trump with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It is incumbent upon anyone who values dissent to stand in solidarity with the defendents in this case. This case in many way ressembles the 800 water protectors in the midst of Grand Jury processes in North Dakota, and other individual resisters arrested throughout the country.

Week of Solidarity

Those who were arrested, their supporters and hundreds of grassroots organizations are calling for July 20 – 27 as a week of solidarity. People are encouraged to investigate what type of state-sponsored repression we all could face, by reading some of the following articles:

The New State Repression

Tilted Scales: The Criminal Legal System for Radicals

Repress This!: Way to Be Your Own Anti-Repression Committee

The Other Side of COIN: Counter-Insurgency and Community Policing

Join the Resistance: Ideas for Fighting Trump and Becoming Ungovernable

In addition, people are encouraged to distribute and use some of the following posters for wheatpasting:

Week of Action‘ Posters

Solidarity With J-20 Arrestees‘ Poster

Uncompromising Solidarity with Rebels Facing Repression‘ Poster

In addition, people could organize their own events to raise funds for those facing state repression from the January 20 action in DC. There are also lots of places that people can send money right now to support those facing up to 75 years in prison. Just click on this link, but a great way to show solidarity would be to support the folks from Grand Rapids who were arrested at the J20 protests. Just go to the West Michigan J20 Support Fund.

Lastly, check out this great video from sub media at the link below, which provides excellent analysis and context for responding to state repression.

https://sub.media/video/trouble-4-no-justice-just-us/

Betsy DeVos Watch: One DeVos delivers speech at ALEC conference, while other DeVos family members make ALEC endorsed policies a reality in Michigan

July 23, 2017

Last Thursday, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual meeting in Denver. MLive, like many other media sources chose to focus on how DeVos responded to those who were protesting the ALEC conference, with the MLive headline reading as, DeVos calls out protesters as ‘defenders of status quo’ at conservative political conference

The MLive article primarily cites DeVos, but does give a few sentences to State Superintendent from Michigan. There is no one who was part of the protests who were quoted in the article, despite the fact that they were the subject of the headline.

You can watch the entire speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a video that was taken by a TV station in Denver.

The MLive reporter did not verify any of the claims made by Secretary DeVos or provide any information about the mission and work of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC is one of the largest corporate lobbying forces in the US, representing the interests of hundreds of companies, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. ALEC lobbies at the federal and state level to push for policies that will be beneficial to its members. 

ALEC also consists of numerous think tank and non-profit organizations, like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The group that has done more to expose ALEC in recent years is the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD), a group which hosts the important resource known as SourceWatch. The CMD’s data-base on ALEC is extensive and is updated on a regular basis.

One of more intriguing things that DeVos said in her speech, was to give praise to ALEC for the work they do, particularly at the state level.

“You have led the way in helping states across the nation craft innovative solutions to today’s problems: in healthcare, taxes, regulations, entitlements, and importantly, education.”

This statement by DeVos is true, but the MLive reporter doesn’t bother to verify it or provide examples of what the Secretary of Education means by help states craft solutions, which is code for crafting policy.

A recent example in Michigan where ALEC-connected organization collaborated to get policy adopted into law, was the attack on teacher pensions. This would be easy to verify, since ALEC has branches in all 50 states and separate websites for those states, such as the Michigan site, which has as its most recent posting a piece praising the attack on teacher pensions. 

Another important aspect of the Michigan attack on teacher pensions, was the fact that one of the major groups lobbying for the new law on teacher pensions is the West Michigan Policy Forum. The West Michigan Policy Forum, which includes several members of the DeVos Family, is made up of members from the West MI power structure that also has provided substantial political contributions to the Michigan legislators that pushed the new teacher pension laws

A recent Facebook post by the West Michigan Policy Forum underscores the excitement they feel over getting the policy they paid for.

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) sent out a statewide letter today applauding Governor Rick Snyder and lawmakers for their success in making critical changes needed to address the drastically underfunded teacher pension fund. The letter followed the Governor’s signing SB 401 into law today.

The law will:

–Place all new school staff hired after Feb. 1, 2018, into a 401 (k)-style retirement savings account – empowering new teachers by giving portability to their benefits and ensuring their retirement is pre-funded;
–Offer a newly designed hybrid plan for teachers who prefer this alternative;
–Help stabilize $29 billion in previously unfunded retirement promises, which has been draining money away from classroom funding;
–Limit risk and increases stability for school districts and kids in the future.

“The state’s lawmakers collaborated on addressing Michigan’s unfunded liabilities in a way that reduces tax payers’ risks well into the future,” says John Kennedy, chairman, West Michigan Policy Forum. “This allows school districts to keep recruiting great teachers and ensure that the state keeps its promises to current teachers and retirees.”

The WMPF letter says the innovative leadership that the team of elected officials displayed shows a true commitment to a long-term vision for our state.

In the letter sent to more than 1,500 business and community leaders throughout Michigan, the WMPF specifically called out the leadership of Senator Phil Pavlov R- St. Clair; Representative Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt.

Reforming Michigan’s unfunded liabilities will continue to be a top priority for WMPF as other public pensions and retiree healthcare benefits will be addressed. During the 2016 WMPF bi-annual conference, a report and full review of the dangers of unfunded retirement promises and the looming problems in MI’s local governments were presented.

Kennedy says WMPF members believe Michigan will be a model for the nation as it continues the hard work of addressing these crucial issues. He says, “By enacting these changes into law, Michigan legislators have offered more certainty today that Michigan will remain a good place to create jobs and raise their families.”

The MLive article completed missed the boat on being able to connect the Betsy DeVos speech at the ALEC conference in Denver last week, to how ALEC works at the state level, to how other members of the DeVos Family play a role in helping to craft state policy.

AmplifyGR to host second community meeting on July 27

July 21, 2017

The DeVos-funded, Rockford Construction partnered group, AmplifyGR, announced yesterday that they will be hosting a second “community listening meeting” on Thursday, July 27 at the same location as the first meeting. The doors open at 5:30pm, with the meeting beginning at 6pm,

We reported on the first meeting, a meeting that received a fair amount of push-back from the community. We were all told at that meeting that they would find a larger venue to host the second meeting and that they would be adding new information to the AmplifyGR site. Instead, the meeting is being held at the same location and the only thing that AmplifyGR has added to their website was the maps of the two locations in which they are targeting.

These maps, unfortunately do not provide very clear details on the actual properties that have been purchased by Rockford Construction, unlike the maps we have provided in pervious postings (shown below) and the MLive article, which provides pictures of the properties they have purchased.

Since the first meeting, we have also written two additional articles based on comments that Doug DeVos made at the first meeting. The first article was a response to the notion that what AmplifyGR wants to do is to provide opportunities to people in the Boston Square area. We challenge that notion by making the point that since DeVos has so much political and economic power, it makes it extremely difficult for people to be treated as equals at the table.

The second article was a response to the claim that DeVos gave when he said that they have already invested a great deal into the southeast part of Grand Rapids, where AmplifyGR is operating. Upon investigating that claim we discovered that there were numerous non-profits that have received financial support from one of the many DeVos family foundations. We ask those groups if they had a position on AmpligyGR’s plans and what kind of influence the DeVos family had in the work they do, since they have received funding from them.