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We Don’t Need a Permit to Resist: 2nd Week of Protests at the Kent County Airport in Solidarity with Muslims, Immigrants and Refugees

February 6, 2017

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For the second week in a row, a good-sized crowd turned out to say no the President’s Executive Order that would restrict and ban certain refugees, immigrants and Muslims from coming into the US.

An estimated 300 people showed up at the Kent County Airport yesterday to resist the Federal government’s policy. This was about half as many people who came out last Sunday

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-09-38-amThe amount of people wasn’t the only difference at yesterday’s protest. The police presence was significantly larger that what was there last week, especially early on. There were nearly 20 police vehicles patrolling throughout the 2 hours the protest lasted, with law enforcement from the airport security, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the Grand Rapids Police Department and the Michigan State Police.

The same designated protest area was created, like last week, but most people refused to go to that space, instead, people initially gathered near the entrance to the airport. After about 30 minutes, the crowd began marching pasted the designated protest area and marched down one road that eventually led to the terminal. The police kept scrambling to keep up, since they were unaware of where the protest was going.screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-12-15-am

Once people arrived at the airport terminal, it became evident that the airport security and other law enforcement agencies were going to manage those marching, especially if they decided to block all four lanes in front of the terminal, like what had been done the week before. The airport had wooden barricades lined up along the sidewalk, just in case they needed to contain people. The police were also preventing people from blocking all roads in front of the terminal and from entering the terminal itself.

Permits and the Policing of Dissent

Part of the reason why there was such a large police presence at the airport before and during the protest, had to do with the fact that people with the local Democratic Party had once again contacted the airport asking for permission to protest. Those with Michigan’s Third Democratic Congressional District had created their own protest, which they then cancelled, but not before attempting to pressure the autonomous protest organizers to comply with the wishes of the airport authority.

In a message sent to those who organized the autonomous protest, here is what Traci Kornak wrote:

  • See the attached permit.screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-1-39-37-am
  • See the rules and liability for damage or breaking the rules.
  • Someone from the group will need to sign.
  • We have obtained a permit but will not go forward until the groups that are online who want to interfere and disrupt the airport operations are in agreement. Last weekend there was no damage but the disruption at the terminal delayed flights.
  • This is private property and there is no right to assemble anywhere but the easement at the front of the property on Patterson.
  • We do not want to distract attention from the cause.

There were other messages sent attempting to pressure people to comply with the permit agreement. In one message, the people associated with the local Democrats said, This permit needs to be signed if the protest is going to go forward.

If people want to get permission to protest, they certainly can do that, but those who chose to should never tell other people that they need permission to resist or dissent.

Muslim, Refugee and Immigrant Voices16473948_10154080362111205_829990733251163319_n

One positive thing that this writer witnessed was that there was a larger contingent of those from the refugee, immigrant and Muslim communities present during yesterday’s march. People from Latin America, African and the Middle East were visible and vocal during the protest that began in front of the airport entrance, all the way to the terminal.

This writer spoke with several people who identified as Muslim and who were from countries like Somalia that came out to voice their opposition to the Executive Order that would ban or limit people coming from certain countries. One young woman said to me, “It is important to be here to voice our opposition to this injustice, to this policy. We all need to take a stand. We are grateful that other people are willing to be here and to stand in support of our rights.”

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Start Garden adds Ethnic Diversity, but offers same old Capitalist opportunities for the few

February 2, 2017

Last Thursday, the DeVos-owned project known as Start Garden, headed by Betsy DeVos’ son Rick DeVos, announced they would be hiring two new people in order to promote more minority business opportunities in Grand Rapids.screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-5-29-32-am

Start Garden hired Darel Ross, former co-executive director of Linc and Jorge Gonzalez  who has been executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since March 2015.

The Start Garden Press Release, in part stated: 

The vitality and future of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, however, requires local leaders in economic development with deep knowledge of the disparities and challenges faced in diverse entrepreneur communities. This helps ensure that the economic benefits of entrepreneurship can be realized by people of all backgrounds and experience.

On Monday, MLive reported on this new announcement from Start Garden, wherein Ross and Gonzalez said, “they are looking forward to having the additional resources to remove barriers to entrepreneurship across the board.”

The MLive article also mentions the 2015 Forbes ranking that put Grand Rapids the worst city in the US in terms of Blacks economic well being. The above comments from Ross and Gonzalez suggest their addition to the Start Garden staff will somehow be able improve minority businesses opportunities in Grand Rapids.

We don’t doubt that Start Garden will be able to increase the number of minority owned businesses in Grand Rapids, but the Forbes article from 2015 wasn’t just talking about minority owned businesses, it was talking about the average income of Black households. The Forbes article stated that Black median household income was only 59% of what White median household income is.9781608465118

Hiring two economic development leaders from minority communities was certainly a smart move by Start Garden. It adds lots of PR value to the organization. However, Black Capitalism, like White Capitalism, will only benefit a small percentage of people in the black community and will NOT do much of anything to alleviate the deep poverty that thousands of black families find themselves experiencing in Grand Rapids. An important historical analysis of how capitalism will not benefit the mass of black working class families can be found in Manning Marable’s book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.

Hiring Gonzalez makes sense considering his leadership in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but Ross’s hiring may not seem quite as clear. However, when one considers that the largest funders to Linc have been members of the DeVos family.

According to the most recent 990s from the Doug and Pamela DeVos Foundation, between 2012 and 2014, that foundation provided roughly $3.2 million dollars to Linc. This is because the organization’s primary function is economic development.

Public money for Private gain

The MLive article also states:

The new focus by Start Garden comes as the organization is completing a year-long restructuring to take over managing Grand Rapids SmartZone. Overseeing SmartZone gives Start Garden an opportunity to take advantage of state and federal economic develop dollars to work with more businesses.

As we reported in September https://griid.org/2016/09/20/who-knew-the-city-of-grand-rapids-is-giving-taxpayers-money-to-a-devos-owned-business/, Start Garden (by March of 2017) will receive $725,000 of taxpayer funds from the City of Grand Rapids to run the SmartZones program.

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Movements, Moments and Co-optation: Autonomous Resistance to Government Policies

February 1, 2017

We are beginning to see the repressive policies that the new administration is beginning to implement. From the push to further militarize the US border with Mexico to the ban on Muslims coming from select countries.

In writing about the Kent County Airport Action in support of Immigrants, Refugees and Muslims this past Sunday, I mentioned that someone with the Democratic Party attempted to co-op the action by; 1) meeting with airport authorities to create a protest zone on their own and ; 2) by attempting to police the behavior of those marching in the road. 9781608461929-f_medium-d2b547b6d952e9f23660f36014c376c6

This type of cooptation is not new, but it is something that those of us who seek justice should be aware of and work to counter its affects.

Radical and autonomous social movements have always been impacted by elements attempting to coop their agenda and goals. In Lance Selfa’s important book, The Democrats: A Critical History, he devotes a whole chapter (chapter 4) on how the Democratic Party has coopted social movements in the 20th century.

Other writers, such as John Stauber, have focused on partisan front groups like MoveOn, which have played a major role in coopting social movements since early 2003. One example that Stauber has documented was during the US occupation of Iraq and how MoveOn was really not calling for an end of the war/occupation.

One last example worth mentioning is what the Democrats did during the Occupy Wall Street movement, by coopting the language and vision of what that movement was attempting to accomplish in cities all across the country. 

Let’s face it, political parties are interested in gaining power through elections. When political parties have power, they want to maintain it, when they don’t have power, they want to regain it.

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A current effort to co-opt the growing forces against the Trump administration policies has shown up in West Michigan in recent weeks. The Facebook group calls themselves Indivisible West Michigan.

Indivisible West Michigan is one of many chapters across the US that is using a guide called, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda. This guide is essentially a mechanism to try to engage elected officials by crafting messages, meeting with members of Congress, co-ordinating phone call campaigns and setting up Town Hall meetings. While these things aren’t necessary bad, what the Invisible guide is suggesting is that we just need to be better organized so we can convince members of Congress to do the right thing. This comes as no surprise, since the entire guide was written by former Congressional staffers. 

This is not to say that the tactic of attempting to move elected officials on social policy is completely useless, but if we really want to look at tactics and strategies that will actually resist the policies of the US government, attempting to lobby Congress is an extremely weak tactic.

Looking at the former Congressional staffers who actually put together the Indivisible Guide should also tell us something about what it is they want for the future.

Ezra Levin – Ezra works for the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) as an Associate Director of Government Affairs. The CFED’s mission states in part, “We scale innovative practical solutions that empower low- and moderate-income people to build wealth.” Their Institutional Funders reads like a who’s who of corporate America, with companies like Chase Bank, Cargill, Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo. 

Leah Greenberg – Leah is an investments manager with Humanity United. Humanity United’s vision page has lots of nice words and uses images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, but it was founded by one of the wealthiest men on the planet, the founder of ebay, Pierre Omidyar. 

Angel Padilla – Angel works with the National Immigration Law Center, specifically as a Health Policy Analyst.

Sarah Dohl – Sarah is currently the Vice President of Communications for Junior Achievement.

Matthew Traldi – Matthew is the Research Team Director for the SEIU – the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU has a long history of allegiance to the Democratic Party.

The profiles of these individuals don’t exactly inspire the kind of movements we need to resist the current government agenda.

The Need for Autonomous and Independent Movementssolidaritywithstandingrockdefendtheland

Throughout US history, grassroots social justice movements that have been effective, have primarily remained autonomous from partisan politics. Think of the Abolitionist movement, the radical labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Black Freedom movement and movements like the American Indian Movement or the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. These movements were effective, in large part, because of their autonomy from partisan politics and their use of strategies that relied on direct action and pre-figurative politics

We are in a moment right now that needs independent and autonomous movements, movements that are not swayed by partisan politics or the influences of money. These independent and autonomous movements should be centered around the screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-3-47-56-pmstruggles of people who are the most vulnerable in this society. We need to look to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Idol No More movement, the immigrant rights movement, the various movements for economic justice and anti-capitalist movements, the BDS movement, the new Sanctuary movement and the climate justice movement.

With these existing movements and whatever new ones will be created we can build power from below that does not rely on existing systems of power and oppression and actually resist the current government agenda.

Standing for Refugees, Immigrants and Muslims: Protest Defies Airport by not complying with designated “Free Speech” area

January 30, 2017

On Sunday, hundreds of people from West Michigan converged on the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to protest the recent Executive Order from the Trump administration which attacks the travel rights of individuals from more than a half-dozen Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

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This latest Executive Order has resulted in protests at airports all across the country and in some cases, shutting down business as usual, in places like JFK and O’Hare. 

The call was put out on Facebook on Saturday afternoon and people quickly responded that they would attend. However, there was some push back from a few people around the question of whether or not this would be a permitted action or not. Without checking in with the organizers of the action, someone who has strong ties to the local Democratic Party decided to contact the airport themselves and “work out an agreement about where to protest.”

This person sent the following to the main organizer, who shared it with us:

We will be protesting OUTSIDE on the north east corner of the airport entrance off of Patterson and 44th St. It is the airport exit lane. We can park in the economy lot or in the empty business lots across the street. We will be able to protest in the area as cars are exiting. We will also be able to extend a march from the protest area to the economy lot. This is a pretty good distance. We need to remind people that the focus is bringing attention to the cause, We are not there to disrupt or in impede those traveling  in our community who are at the airport for travel. There will be security that will assist us in this process. In addition to that folks should be cautioned that should they try to enter the terminal area it is not only counterproductive but they will be reminded that we agreed upon to these terms. WE WILL NOT BE ENTERING THE TERMINAL BUILDING. Anybody who is doing any action in violation of federal law which includes encounters with TSA check points will be arrested and subject to federal prosecution. This is extremely serious.

You can see from the picture above where this designed protest area was set up, which would have made it difficult for people to interact with those coming and going from the airport. In addition, this designated protest area would have undermined people’s ability to stop business as usual, which is exactly what was happening at airport protests across the country.dsc00217

Undeterred by the effort to undermine the action, several people began to let folks know that there would be a march, but not in the limited space that the airport authorities were allowing. After most people had arrived for the demonstration, the march began, but then crossed the road and took over one of the entrance lanes into the airport. Most of the several hundred people who came out joined the march and people began to walk and chant towards the airport. There were several attempts by the few police officer that were present, to get people off the road and to turn around. The crowd was not having it.

Then, the same person who on their own contacted the airport to set up the “designated protest area,” took the bullhorn and attempted to tell people to get out of the road, doing the very same thing that the cops had asked the crowd to do. Again, people were not having it.

Eventually the crowd made it to the main terminal and again refused to get out of the road, taking over both lanes, chanting and holding signs.

In addition to the chant from this video, other prominent chants were, No Ban, No Ban, no Ban on Stolen Land; and Fuck White Supremacy.

After about 30 minutes, the crowd then extended the protest the other two lanes, closest to the parking area with the intention of trying to stop business as usual. By this time more cops had showed up and were forming a line to prevent both lanes by the parking ramp from being shut down.dsc00226

There was also an attempt to enter the terminal itself, but the airport security had locked most of the doors and were only allowing those traveling to come and go.

However, most of the airport workers that this writer talked to were very supportive of the action that was being taken. In fact, there was virtually no opposition from those who were at the airport. The only opposition was from the police, which was outnumbered the entire time the action took place.

What the action signaled in many ways was that enough people were not going to make nice and follow the rules established by those in power. It was very encouraging to see people defy the pleas from cops to stay off the street or away from the terminal. What this kind of defiance can result in, is to give people a sense that they have power by participating in direct action and that in the future they might be willing to take bolder actions against policies that brutalize people, particularly those who are already vulnerable in this society.

Eventually, people marched back to down the road they had taken to the terminal. The protest lasted just shy of three hours.

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Grand Rapids Protests Trump’s New Immigration Policy

January 27, 2017

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Yesterday, several hundred people gathered in downtown Grand Rapids to express their opposition to the newly signed Executive Order from President Trump on immigration policy.

The protest in Grand Rapids was one of dozens that have taken place across the country in the last fe days, since President Trump signed the Executive Order.

The executive order would essentially do the following:

  • Securing the southern U.S. border “through immediate construction of a physical wall” to stop immigrants that are undocumented, the flow of drugs, human trafficking and acts of terrorism
  • Detaining “individuals apprehended on suspicions of” law breaking and expedition of claims of their eligibility to stay in the U.S.
  • Swift deportation of “individuals whose legal claims to remain in the United States have been lawfully rejected”
  • DHS Secretary John Kelly to “take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design and construct” the wall
  • Projections for “long-term funding requirements,” including the preparation of congressional budget requests for current and future fiscal years
  • Completion of a “comprehensive study” of the southern border’s security to completed within the next 180 days
  • Construction and operation of detention facilities at or near the border
  • Termination of the catch-and-release border policy, a directive to Border Patrol agents not to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants
  • Repatriation of immigrants who have been deported
  • The hiring of 5,000 Border Patrol officers and the tripling of the number of ICE officers
  • A report of “Federal aid or assistance” to the Mexican government over the past five years to be completed within 30 days
  • Termination of “the abuse of parole and asylum provisions currently used to prevent the lawful removal of removable aliens”
  • A public monthly report “on aliens apprehended at or near the southern border”
  • Crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, locales that don’t prosecute immigrants for living in the country without documentation
  • Denial of federal funds to “jurisdictions that fail to comply with” federal law, unless deemed necessary
  • “Prompt removal” of immigrants who have been ordered to leave the country
  • A DHS office whose aim is to support “victims of crime committed by removable aliens and the family members of such victims”

The protest on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids was organized by the Office for Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church. Organizers welcomed people and made to following statement.

Now more than ever, the Grand Rapids community must demonstrate its support for Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. We must loudly oppose all changes to our refugee resettlement system that ban Syrians, reduce the number of refugees we welcome, halt the resettlement of Muslims, and pause the processing of refugees for any period of time. As we witness the largest displacement of people in modern history, we must continue to extend welcome, not turn our backs. Grand Rapids stands in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and will not support Donald Trump’s policies to hurt them and divide us.

Several other speakers were given an opportunity to address the crowd. One speaker was a young woman who is a refugee and came to the US thirteen years ago.

Another speaker was Fr. Steve Cron, who is the pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, a congregation made up most of immigrants from Latin America. Fr. Cron spoke just after the crowd engaged in a chant of, Bridges, Not Walls!

Other speakers included someone from the Micah Worker Center, Bethany Christian Services and a representative from Senator Gary Peters office. The Senator has a mixed history when it comes to voting for immigration policies that reflected the sentiment of the crowd on the Blue Bridge, a record you can look up here. There is also no formal statement from Senator Peters on his website about the President Trump’s Executive Order. https://www.peters.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases

Towards the end of the short protest, people were encouraged to send a text that would allow them to then easily send messages to Senator Peters, Senator Stabenow, Representative Amash and Representative Huizenga. View the voting record on immigration policy these elected officials by clicking on their name.

Senator Stabenow 

Rep. Amash 

Rep. Huizenga 

While holding politicians accountable for their stance on immigration is one tactic, another tactic is for people to defy the current Executive Orders and engage in acts of solidarity with refugees and immigrants. One effort that is underway in West Michigan is a growing coalition of individuals and organizations who would offer sanctuary to those targeted under the new Executive Order.

Grand Rapids has a history with the Sanctuary Movement and there seems to be lots of positive energy around offering sanctuary for those most vulnerable under the current immigration policies.

At the end of the protest, people walked hand in hand across the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids, chanting and making a statement about how they will stand with refugee and immigrants.

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Rich People Applauding Billionaires at Grand Rapids Econ Club event: Betsy and Dick DeVos share a moment

January 24, 2017

Yesterday, MLive ran the following headline, Shinola leader’s comments about Detroit education draws applause for Betsy DeVos.copy-econgr_logo

The article was based upon a talk given by billionaire businessman Jacques Panis, founder of Shinola, a manufacturer based in Detroit.

After his lecture, Panis was joined on stage by Dick DeVos, since this was an Econ Club of Grand Rapids event. However, MLive doesn’t bother to mention it was an Econ Club event until about half way through the article.

Panis was critical of the Detroit Public School system, which is why he got such an applause. The very same people who support the privatization of public education and the Great Lakes Education Project are the same people who have endorsed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. So, of course the people who make up the capitalist class in Grand Rapids (those who are members of the Econ Club) applauded the Detroit businessman for making critical comments about Detroit’s Public Education system.

The MLive reporter did fail to mention that Betsy DeVos through her Great Lakes Education Project was the leader behind the campaign to get the Michigan Legislature to further influence public education in Detroit, based on solid reporting by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network

However, the MLive story goes on to quote Dick DeVos:

“I dare say you have a partner in your quest for a better education for all Americans right here in the room with us,” he said in a nod to his wife, Betsy DeVos, who was sitting in audience.

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Ok, so you have an event that is hosted by the Econ Club, which is made up of the Grand Rapids capitalist class, who invites a speaker that trashes Detroit Public Schools and then is joined on stage by Dick DeVos, who, along with Betsy are two of the biggest proponents of privatizing public education in the country. The audience of local elites applauds the Detroit billionaire and the West Michigan billionaire and that is what is called journalism in this town.

The Wealth and Deception of Betsy DeVos

January 23, 2017

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One good thing about Betsy DeVos being chosen as Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, is that we are now getting some glimpses of the vast amount of wealth she and her husband Dick have.

On Friday, MLive reported that Betsy DeVos, “in a letter to ethics officials at the U.S. Department of Education, said she would divest from 102 entities within 90 days of her confirmation.” 

This is one of the first times we have seen this level of disclosure from any member of the DeVos family. MLive even posted the letter that Betsy DeVos send to ethics officials at the Department of Education, which included the list of entities she claims she would divest from. This disclosure is required by the federal government, but it is worth reading. 

MLive, however, did not provide any additional information on the companies that Betsy DeVos currently has investment in, nor of the entities that she is either a trustee of or a director of. MLive also failed to mention what seemed obvious in the Senate confirmation hearings, where she said that the 990 form that listed her as on the board of her mother’s foundation (Elsa Prince) was a “clerical error.” Jeremy Scahill, author of the book on Betsy’s brother’s former mercenary group, Blackwater, made it clear that Betsy lied during the confirmation hearing. 

In the most recent 990 (2015) provided on Guidestar, Betsy (Elizabeth) DeVos is clearly listed as a Vice President of her mother’s foundation, as you can see below.

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In addition to the letter that Betsy DeVos sent to the ethics officials at the Department of Education, we were able to find another document, which also lists entities that she has either investments in, is the director of or a trustee of. This list is much more detailed and actually provides (in some instances) the value of the entity and the income that Besty DeVos gets from her association with said entity. You can find that document here, which we encourage our readers to share. 

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