We Don’t Need a Permit to Resist: 2nd Week of Protests at the Kent County Airport in Solidarity with Muslims, Immigrants and Refugees
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.
The 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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 struggles 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.
Rich People Applauding Billionaires at Grand Rapids Econ Club event: Betsy and Dick DeVos share a moment
Yesterday, MLive ran the following headline, Shinola leader’s comments about Detroit education draws applause for Betsy DeVos.
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.
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.
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.
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.