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We don’t have to have a City Manager form of government in Grand Rapids, we didn’t before

February 1, 2018

On Tuesday, we posted an article that provided an alternative view of the 8 years that Greg Sundstrom has served as City Manager of Grand Rapids. At the end of that article, we wrote:

we are not asking the question of why we even need a City Manager. The City Manager position in Grand Rapids is a non-elected position, yet this person has more power than anyone else in the City. If the City really wanted community engagement, they would really look at other forms of governance, where all residents had a say, where neighborhoods had more autonomy and where the city budget was determined by the public and not the City Managers office.

One thing that we did not mention in the Tuesday article, is that Grand Rapids used to have a different form of government. In the early part of the 20th century, Grand Rapids did not have a City Manager, instead the city was led by a strong Mayor, with a 12 ward system.

What this 12 ward system provided, was greater representation from both the working class residents of Grand Rapids and more ethnic diversity, at least diversity in terms of the various Euro-Americans that lived in the City – German, Polish, Dutch, Italian and Lithuanian.

This 12 ward system changed in 1916, when a new City Charter was proposed to reduced the 12 ward system with a 3 ward system and a strong Mayor form of government to a City Manager form of government.

This charter change was an effort put forth by the business community as a direct response to the 1911 furniture workers strike. The furniture workers strike demonstrated to the business community that working people had too much say in local electoral politics.

In August of 1916, voters went to the polls to determine the future political structure of Grand Rapids. The new Charter won by a small margin of 7,693 votes in favor to 6,012 votes in opposition. According to Jeffrey Kleiman’s book, Strike: How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids, the wards that voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Charter change were made up of the city’s elite.

The Second, Third and Tenth wards provided enthusiastic support for the proposed changes. Here lived the industrialists, lawyers, and bankers who formed the leadership of the Furniture Manufacturers Association, and the Association of Commerce. These men shared social and business connections through Kent Country Club and the Peninsular Club, and many were members of Fountain Street Baptist Church.

During another period of turmoil in Grand Rapids, there were attempts to change the City Charter back to a larger ward system and eliminate the City Manager for of government. In the later 1960s, just after the July 1967 race riot in Grand Rapids, there were both internal and external efforts to change the form of government.

In October, 1967, just a little over two months after the riot, there was a call for an investigation by Mayor Sonneveldt to look into the possibility of eliminating the City Manager form of government.

The question of shifting to a new form of government, by eliminating the City Manager position, was again debated in the Grand Rapids Press in November of 1967 and again in 1969, with the research commission that Sonneveldt requested 2 years earlier, but this time they were calling for a return to a 12 ward system and limiting the powers of the City Manager.

There have been other times in Grand Rapids history where efforts were put forth to restructure the number of wards the city would have or to eliminate the City Manager form of government.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to consider such a change right now, especially considering how much power the City Manager has in a non-elected position. And, like in 1967, Grand Rapids is again faced with serious racial and economic disparities. A new form of governance, especially one that truly gave all residents a say what form of government or governance they want. We can certainly learn from the past about what to do in the present that might effect our collective futures.

To view the GR Press articles on the various local governance proposals between 1967 – 1970, click here

GR Press Editorial on the GRPD and community relations is the same old establishment mantra

January 31, 2018

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board posted an editorial entitled, City leaders should expedite healing police, minority relations.

The editorial is a well intentioned piece, with lots of the usual calls for improving the relationship between the communities of color and the GRPD. However, the editorial ultimately falls into the same trap and all well intentioned proposals.

The editorial is both naive and it fails to acknowledge how power functions. The editorial  is naive, because it believes that the GRPD can rebuild trust with communities of color, but more importantly, the editorial staff fail to understand that the very function of the GRPD is not to protect communities of color. The GRPD’s function is to actually police neighborhoods of color, which is to say they are there to manage the activities in communities of color, which ultimately protects the centers of power, which benefit from White Supremacy.

In the very first sentence, the editorial staff shows its bias by using the term citizens of color. One would think that with all the recent attention around immigration policy, ICE raids and the fear that many in the immigrant community have towards cops, that the editorial board would know better than to use the term citizen.

Legally, those who are undocumented in this community, are not seen as residents. Instead, those who are undocumented are seen, especially by law enforcement agencies, as criminals who just happen to reside here.

However, the editorial primarily focuses on what the cops have done that impacts the black community, citing the incident with the 11 year old girl who was handcuffed at gunpoint and the 4 black boys who were profiled by the cops last March.

The editorial then states, “In both circumstances, the officers followed policy and procedure, and the children were innocent.” This statement is true. The GRPD was following procedure. This is how they treat suspects, regardless of the age of said suspects.

Then the editorial demonstrates a major fallacy about police, when it states:

And the police should be able to do their jobs — protecting the public — without feeling like they are the enemy because of the misconduct of some bad actors.

This statement contradicts the earlier statement about following procedure. There are not a few bad apples or bad actors in the police department, the police conduct within communities of color is a matter of policy. Why do you think that the GRPD spends more time actually patrolling neighborhoods of color, particularly low income neighborhoods of color, than they do in more affluence, white neighborhoods? In the first two chapters of Alex Vitale’s new book, The End of Policing, he makes clear that the police primarily do not exist to protect the public, particularly residents of color.

Vitale states in his book, Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.

The GRPD disproportionately spends more time in neighborhoods of color because it is by design.

The rest of the editorial talks about how the GRPD needs to spend more money to rebuild trust in neighborhoods of color, add more higher ranking officers and promote cultural competency amongst the rank and file cops. Again, as the research of Vitale and others has shown, these tactics are ineffective and are merely designed to make us believe that the police department really wants to be our friend.

The editorial ends by saying, This simmering trust issue requires deliberate and consistent attention from city commissioners to prevent this situation from escalating into a full-blown crisis.

For people who are members of communities of color, it is already a full-blown crisis. In fact, back in May, leaders in the black community were demanding that the Grand Rapids City Commission call for a State of Emergency. That demand was not taken seriously.

I agree that there is a state of emergency for the black community, in regards to police violence and harassment. Add to that the levels of poverty, discrimination and the effects of gentrification has had on the black community, one can see why they are calling for a state of emergency.

In early July of 1967, just two weeks before the riot in Grand Rapids, the head of the Grand Rapids Urban League, Paul I Phillips, communicated to Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police that according to the national Urban League office, Grand Rapids was on a “dangerous list” of cities with racial tensions. Despite the comments from the Urban League, Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Chief of Police “positively denied that riots were possible in the city.

The City of Grand Rapids needs to learn from history or it is doomed to repeat it.

An Alternative view of what has happened in Grand Rapids during the 8 years that Greg Sundstrom has been City Manager

January 30, 2018

Last week, MLive ran a story that sort of summarized the 8 and a half years that Greg Sundstrom served as the City Manager of Grand Rapids. 

The article, in many ways is an overview of his tenure as City Manager, but it’s also sort of a puff piece, considering the accolades that Sundstrom is given from other city officials. In fact, city officials are the only sources cited in the article, meaning that no one from the community was asked what they thought about Sundstrom’s tenure as City Manager.

The article does acknowledge some “difficulties” that Sundstrom has faced, including the budget, race relations and police violence, but those issues are glossed over.

In many ways, the headline sets the tone for the story, From millions in deficit to cash in the bank: Greg Sundstrom’s Grand Rapids turnaround. This headline, is misleading, since it doesn’t acknowledge what the city had to do in order to be “fiscally sound.” The MLive piece does state about half way through the article that some 500 city employees were laid off and that contracts with the police, fire and other city staff were re-negotiated to cut benefits and restructure retirement plans. In other words, Sundstrom was responsible for applying deep austerity measures to the City of Grand Rapids, as part of the larger Neoliberal economic measures imposed by local and state governments that has been happening for several decades now. However, how would this article have read had their been comments from some of the 500 city employees that were laid off?

Part of the reason why Grand Rapids, like many municipalities, was facing a deficit, was the unjust way in which the State of Michigan dealt with revenue sharing. Grand Rapids was not getting back from the state what it should have received in revenue sharing. Instead, when Rick Snyder became Governor, there was a further shift to adopting austerity measures and Snyder made it a point to come to Grand Rapids in March of 2011, to use the City as a model for how to downsize local government. 

Towards the entire of the MLive article, Sundstrom acknowledges the issue of poverty in Grand Rapids, but then quickly is quoted as saying that Grand Rapids is, “exploding’ with prosperity.” At the very end the of the article, Sundstrom then says, “I just think 10 years from now whoever’s going to be sitting in this chair is going to be sitting as the city manager of the coolest city in the country.”

As a counter to the MLive puff piece, we’d like to list some of the major shifts that have occurred in the past 8 and a half years, while Greg Sundstrom has been the City Manager of Grand Rapids.

  • Sundstrom oversaw the massive Neoliberal Economic plan for Grand Rapids, with the layoffs of hundreds of City employees, cuts to health benefits and retirement plans.
  • Sundstrom was City Manager during a period where the number of people living in poverty grew in Grand Rapids, with roughly one quarter of the population living in poverty and more than 30% of the Black and Latinix communities living in poverty.
  • During Sundstrom’t tenure as City Manager, the city has undergone gentrification in many neighborhoods, displacing hundreds of families, while giving developers millions in tax breaks
  • Sundstrom ignored the struggles of union workers who lost wages and benefits over the past eight years, including the Rapid Bus Drivers Union, the local ATU.
  • Activists supporting the bus drivers union were harassed and intimidated by the GRPD because they stood in solidarity with the ATU. 
  • With Sundstrom’s approval, the City of Grand Rapids has given at least $725,000 of taxpayers money to a DeVos entity to manage Smart Zones in the city.
  • Sundstrom would not support Grand Rapids becoming a Sanctuary City and was silent when City Commissioners voted to NOT include the GRPD in the City’s policy of never asking residents about their immigration status.
  • After the Ferguson uprising, the City of Grand Rapids adopted mild reformist policies for the GRPD, but has continued to defend the police abuse of and the targeting of communities of color in Grand Rapids – including the treatment of African American youth.
  • Sundstrom has continued to maintain a full third of the City’s budget to be allocated for the GRPD, despite calls from the community for greater transparency, more accountability and a shift to other forms of community safety practices.
  • Another traffic study was conducted in Grand Rapids, a study which concluded that black residents are disproportionately targeted and profile by the GRPD – even though the black community had been saying for years that this was their lived experience.

City Manager and the Future of Grand Rapids Politics

Next week, there will be a community forum held at the Wealthy Theater to allow residents to give input on who will be the next City Manager. The event is billed as a community engagement effort.

I’m all in favor of community engagement, but the problem with how it is often done in Grand Rapids, is that the public is often only asked to give input on decisions that those in power have already made or public input is limited to a framework that is too narrow.

For example, we are not asking the question of why we even need a City Manager. The City Manager position in Grand Rapids is a non-elected position, yet this person has more power than anyone else in the City. If the City really wanted community engagement, they would really look at other forms of governance, where all residents had a say, where neighborhoods had more autonomy and where the city budget was determined by the public and not the City Managers office.

There are all kinds of possibilities for the future of how City politics could happen in Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, city leaders seemed to be content for maintaining a business as usual approach that leaves decision-making power in the hands of a small group of people.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Fake Sympathy from DeVos on MSU victims, while undermining the existing Title IX protections against sexual assault

January 28, 2018

After dozens of testimonies and a trial that lasted several weeks, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar was finally sentenced and will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

However, there is growing scrutiny of what MSU officials and anyone in a position of power at MSU, who could have done something, and didn’t. Those who did nothing or worse, enabled the abuse, include campus police, MSU officials and possibly the MSU football and basketball programs.

According to a recent investigation by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, it seems pretty clear that the complicity in allowing abusers to either get away with violence or to be let off the hook with minor consequences.

According to the ESPN report:

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

This ESPN report makes it clear, that while Nassar’s crimes have been uncovered, the football and basketball programs have not been properly investigated and held accountable. This, no doubt, is in part due to the fact that MSU football and basketball bring a lot of money to the campus and to East Lansing. Anytime big money is involved, those who stand to gain from the profitable football and basketball programs will do whatever is necessary to silence any criticism, even if it means silencing the victims of sexual assault.

Betsy DeVos and Fake Sympathies

On Friday, January 26, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, released the following statement in light of the verdict against Nassar. 

“My heart breaks for the survivors of Larry Nassar’s disgusting crimes. What happened at Michigan State is abhorrent. It cannot ever happen again — there or anywhere. Students must be safe and protected on our nation’s campuses. The Department is investigating this matter and will hold MSU accountable for any violations of federal law.”

Now, I can’t claim to know if Betsy DeVos actually feels sorry for the victims of Larry Nassar or not. What I do know, is that she has spent a great deal of time during her first year in the Trump administration to weaken and attack Title IX protections around sexual assault. Therefore, it is hard for me to take seriously the sincerity of Betsy DeVos’ claim that she thinks that what happened at MSU should not happen on any campus ever again. It is what we might name as, good old fashioned hypocrisy.

Last July, we reported on the groups working with Secretary DeVos to weaken Title IX.  We noted that groups like National Coalition for Men, an anti-feminist organization, was working with DeVos to undermine Title IX.

Another group invited by Secretary DeVos to the Title IX listening session was Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (Save). SAVE is another anti-feminist organization that believes that campuses are experiencing “rape culture hysteria.”

According to a recent article on Slate.com, “The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified SAVE, which opposes rules that prevent defense attorneys from entering evidence of a survivor’s sexual history in a rape trial, as a planet in the “manosphere” of misogynist online forums. SAVE lobbies against domestic violence protections, claims that the “leading reason” for abuse is “female initiation of partner violence,” and calls falsely accused perpetrators the “true victims of abuse.” 

Now, having Title IX protections in place, doesn’t mean that a campus will comply with those regulations. Again, the ESPN article is important as is states:

On Thursday, Outside the Lines reported that MSU officials in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar underway, even though federal investigators were on campus that year scrutinizing how MSU dealt with sexual assault allegations. The Outside the Lines report also found that MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.

The interesting thing about Secretary DeVos’ actions against Title IX and the MSU revelations, is that just two days after DeVos was in Grand Rapids to be part of the celebration of the new MSU building in downtown – a celebration that involved DeVos having informal conversation with MSU President Lou Anna Simon – is when DeVos weakened Title IX protections for sexual assault, as was reported by Diana Moskovitz.

In addition, there was a protest organized by MSU students and faculty the day she visited Grand Rapids for the MSU ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 20th. You can see from the signs above that much of the focus of the protest was related to her undermining of Title IX protections.

Two weeks after Betsy DeVos and Lou Anna Simon met in Grand Rapids, MSU asked to have Title IX federal monitoring come to an end. In this instance, both the President of MSU and Betsy DeVos are complicit in the sexual assault crimes committed on MSU’s campus. How many more victims of sexual assault must come forth before we take their pain seriously?

Acton Institute, Capitalism and MLK: The Uses and Abuses of Dr. King Part II

January 25, 2018

Earlier this month we posted a story about the Grand Rapids Urban League celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, by hosting a corporate breakfast. Since this year is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, we plan to write numerous stories looking at Dr. King, his message and how his message is used by people and organizations to justify their own goals and values.

Last week, the Neoliberal religious entity, known as the Acton Institute, posted an article entitled, The 3 reasons Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Communism. The article was written by Rev. Ben Johnson, an Acton Institute editor and a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Johnson begins his remarks about King to say, “And 50 years after his death, his moral crusade for equal treatment under the law continues to inspire idealists across the globe.” While it is true that Dr. King has inspired idealists across the globe, his message was ultimately about being treated equally under the law. King certain focused much of his organizing, education and action in the early part of the Civil Rights/Black Freedom Movement on on an anti-segregation strategy, but by the 1963 March on Washington, King was no longer content with merely being treated  equal under the law. Dr. King had evolved and began to demand to much more by challenging the US war in Vietnam, calling out the system of White Supremacy and challenging the exploitative nature of capitalism.

The Acton Institute editor makes his claim that King denounced Communism, based on King’s writings from the 1950s. Again, this completely ignores the evolution that King went through and why the US government’s referred to King as the most dangerous Black man in the America.

It is true that King never identified with the philosophy of Communism, but this had more to do with the anti-religious aspect of Communism. However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t thousands of African Americans who were attracted to Communism or Socialism during the peak of the Civil Rights/Freedom Movement. In fact, even in Grand Rapids, NAACP member William Glen, was also a member of the Communist Party. (see African Americans in the Furniture City, Jelks) Dr. King worked with people who were members of the Communist Party and acknowledged that they shared a great deal of common ground in the struggle for liberation.

The fact that the Acton Institute writer makes the claim that Dr. King rejected communism, is just a mechanism to then say that since King rejected Communism, he also embraced the values of capitalism. Rev. Johnson does even really make much of an argument that Dr. King rejected Communism, since that was not the point of his article. What Rev. Johnson and the Acton Institute was attempting to do, was to use a very narrow aspect of who Dr. King was, in order to convince their readership that, “We too can celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, because like us, Dr. King rejected Communism.

This misuse and misrepresentation of the message and person of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is morally reprehensible. If one spends anytime looking at the totality of who Dr. King was, one could easily draw the conclusion that Dr. King would reject the very mission of the Acton Institute. Here are 3 reasons why.

First, Dr. King began to make a stronger link between institutionalized racism and economic exploitation after the 1963 March on Washington. During the early 1960’s Civil Rights tactic of lunch counter sit ins, Dr. King (and many others) would soon begin to say things like:

“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?”

A Second reason why Dr. King would reject the values and mission of the Acton Institute, was his growing relationship with organized labor. In Michael Honey’s book, All Labor Has Dignity, the author provides detailed information on the growing partnership between organized labor and the civil rights/Black Freedom movement. In fact the book primarily consists of speeches that Dr. King gave at Labor Halls, Labor meetings and Labor conferences beginning as early as 1957.

In March of 1968, King spoke at Local 1199 in New York and stated:

“By the millions, people in the other America find themselves perishing on the lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it’s called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression. With the black man it’s welfare, with the white man it’s subsidies. This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

And one need only remember that Dr. King was assassinated while he was in Memphis, Tennessee to support the striking sanitation workers.

A Third reason why Dr. King would reject the values of the Acton Institute, is because in his later years he began to question and reject the system of capitalism. In his Beyond Vietnam speech in 1967, Dr. King calls out the structural problem of capitalism.

“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

After 1965, when Dr. King moved his operations to the north (particularly Chicago) he began to sharpen his critique of Capitalism. In 1966, Dr. King made this observation about housing injustice and landlords:

Lastly, the whole Poor People’s Campaign that King had been working on in the last few months of his life, was a campaign not asking for charity, rather it was a campaign to demand that the federal government pay massive reparations to blacks, King stated as early as 1964 (Why We Can’t Wait):

A great deal more could be said about why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would reject the mission and values of the Acton Institute, but we believe that this analysis is enough to demonstrate why the Acton Institute is guilty of misusing the message and person of Dr. King.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Billionaires and Populist Rhetoric

January 24, 2018

As of this writing, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has posted 26 speeches on the Department of Education website. Of those 26 speeches, some of them have been given during college or university commencements, while others have been with other state or national education conferences.

However, there are a disproportionally high number of speeches that Betsy DeVos has delivered that specifically addresses organizations and associations that are far right politically and embrace education privatization.

Here is a list of the speeches she has delivered to these far right and other groups representing the current Neoliberal establishment:

2/23/2017 Conservative Political Action Conference

3/29/2017 Brookings Institute

5/22/2017 American Federation of Children

6/13/2017 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

7/20/2017 American Legislative Exchange Council

10/13/2017 Washington Policy Center

10/27/2017 Future Farmers of America

11/30/2017 Foundation for Excellence in Eduction

1/16/2018 American Enterprise Institute

(Editor’s Note: This list of speeches by Betsy DeVos, does not include the speech she gave at the Acton Institute’s annual dinner in Grand Rapids on 10/18/2017)

As you can see, of the 26 speeches that Betsy DeVos has given (as listed on the Dept. of Ed site), nine of those speeches have been given to far right and current Neoliberal establishment groups.

We have reported on two of these speeches, including her comments at the ALEC conference and the Foundation for Excellence in Education Summit. Now, we would like to provide some analysis of the speech she gave last week to the American Enterprise Institute

Early on in the Secretary of Education’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), she acknowledges how AEI has, “influenced and shaped the way Americans think about so many issues in the public square.” 

Betsy DeVos also says she is honored to call the CEO of the Brookings Institute, Arthur Brooks, a friend.

DeVos then goes on to say:

The vast majority of learning environments have remained the same since the industrial revolution, because they were made in its image. Think of your own experience: sit down; don’t talk; eyes front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class. Repeat. Students were trained for the assembly line then, and they still are today.

I actually agree with this statement from Secretary DeVos. However, we disagree entirely on in what direction public education should go.

Betsy DeVos then offers criticism of both the No Child Left Behind policies of the Bush administration and the Race to the Top policies of the Obama administration. DeVos then uses language as if she wants to come across as a populist by saying, “Washington bureaucrats and self-styled education “experts” are about as far removed from students as you can get.

About half way through her speech, Betsy DeVos finally gets to her solution, which is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Here is what the Secretary of Education thinks ESSA is a step in the right direction:

The Every Student Succeeds Act charted a path in a new direction. ESSA takes important steps to return power where it belongs by recognizing states – not Washington — should shape education policy around their own people. But state lawmakers should also resist the urge to centrally plan education. “Leave it to the states” may be a compelling campaign-season slogan, but state capitols aren’t exactly close to every family either. That’s why states should empower teachers and parents and provide the same flexibility ESSA allows states.

Essentially, DeVos is promoting the long-standing far right mantra of States Rights. However, as you read in the above comment, she is not just advocating turning power over to states, she is suggesting that even take legislatures can be a barrier to education. This is what Betsy DeVos has been working on for decades, whether it is with the American Federal for Children, the Great Lakes Education Project or the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-privatization agenda is exactly what the Secretary of Education is promoting. The only difference is, she wants to present her approach as looking out for poor, urban school districts. DeVos states, “So let’s face it: the opponents of parents could repeal every voucher law, close every charter school, and defund every choice program across the country.

But school choice still wouldn’t go away. There would still be school choices… for the affluent and the powerful.

How ironic that someone who comes from a millionaire family and marries into a billionaire family, now claims to be for poor, working class parents and students. However, this is exactly the same language that Donald Trump used during his campaign, presenting himself as being empathetic to the working class factory workers who have lost jobs to bad trade policies like NAFTA and then turning around and passing tax policies that benefits the billionaire class that he and Betsy DeVos are part of. Indeed, we live in Orwellian times.

Immigrants vs Homeless Veterans: A False Narrative on the Government Shut down and how those in power pit one vulnerable population against another

January 23, 2018

On Friday, young immigrants, who have been the beneficiaries of the DACA program, held a rally/action in downtown Grand Rapids. Before the action began, some local TV news people interviewed one of the organizers and asked him, if the government shuts down, how will you respond to claims that the Dream Act could take funding away from other vulnerable groups. Here is the response from Danny Caracheo, as reported by WZZM 13.

I spoke with Danny Caracheo on Thursday, while he was in Washington DC to pressure Michigan members of Congress to pass a clean Dream Act. Caracheo told me that when speaking with Senator Debbie Stabenow, he was asked by her how he would feel of passing a clean Dream Act would result in federal funding cuts for other social service programs.

Such questions, by the news media or by members of Congress creates a false narrative and ends up pitting one group of vulnerable people against another. It is a false narrative because it makes people think that Congressional funding for social services in limited and can’t adequately support all the programs asking for money. This is simply not true. In fact, there is more than enough money to provide both DACA recipients and homeless veterans with what they need. Ultimately, it comes to to priorities.

I can think of three easy ways to make it so that all social programs could be funded, by changing the priorities of the federal budget.

  1. The current Tax plan aside, the US has not adequately taxed the wealthiest individuals for decades. if the wealthiest individuals and families were taxed now like they were in the middle of the 20th century, there would be enough money to fund all social programs for the most vulnerable populations in the US.
  2. Corporate Welfare. In a 2014 article in Forbes magazine, they estimated that corporate welfare for the top 500 companies cost the public $63 Billion. $63 billion ought to cover the costs of most of the major social service programs that Congress claims would be cut if the Dream Act was passed.
  3. Of course, the largest amount of money that could be used for social programs could come from the current Department of Defense budget, which is roughly $640 Billion for 2018. You can see by the pie chart below, that the US military budget uses more than 50% of all federal spending.

One can look at the ongoing spending for the US War in Afghanistan, or Iraq or US military spending since 2001, by checking out the counters from the National Priorities Project. Watch the millions of dollars being spent every minutes is staggering.

The reality is that the US could fund the DACA program, services for homeless veterans, refugees, people with disabilities, provide free education and free health care for the entire nation, if Congress did not chose to spend most of public tax dollars on militarism and war.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during his Beyond Vietnam speech in 1967:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”