The news media has already done tremendous harm in how they are framing the issue. It’s either about guns, the identity of the shooter or it is about the outpouring support that is being demonstrated all across the country and the world.
What the news media is not doing is offering much substantive analysis of why this happened, and more importantly, the historical context for this kind of repression against a marginalized population. One of the best things I have seen so far is this amazing video, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, which gives critical voice to queer and trans people of color. The video is also powerful, because it properly frames the Orlando shooting in an historical context.
Creating a homophobic, transphobic climate
As the voices in the Trans and Queer Liberation Movement make clear, this violence has been going on for centuries and is properly named in the video as White Supremacy. White Supremacy is too often ignored, downplayed or denied as a major factor in the current level of violence and repression that communities of color face.
White Supremacy takes on many forms, such as an economic, legislative, religious and cultural form. All of these dynamics play a role in creating, maintaining and normalizing the violence and repression that so many people of color face. Add to this, queer and trans people of color and the level of systemic and structural violence increases exponentially.
For instance, many people in the case of the Orlando shooting, are grateful for the role that law enforcement plays. However, what communities of color and what queer and trans people of color have understood for a long time, is that the use of state violence is a false solution.
This brings us to some of the larger context of what has been happening in Orlando and throughout the state of Florida, in terms of creating a climate of hate against those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer.
Let’s be clear that this kind of hate is happening everywhere, but for the purposes of the article, let’s just focus on Florida.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map, identifies three main anti-LGBTQ groups operating in Florida; the American College of Pediatricians, Liberty Counsel and Dr. James Kennedy Ministries.
The American College of Pediatricians has only been around since 2002 and is essentially a hate group that targets transgender youth.
The Liberty Counsel, which is based in Orlando, has been around since 1989 and plays a more integral part of the religious rights ongoing war against the LGBTQ community. The founder of Liberty Counsel, Matthew Staver, came from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The organization works closely with other religious right groups, such as Dr. James Dobson’s group, Focus on the Family, committed to blocking the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Liberty Counsel is also the former home of Matt Barber, the viciously anti-gay pundit who now runs a right-wing propaganda site, BarbWire. Matthew Staver, the organization’s founder, once compared pro-equality Republicans and those who don’t share social conservatives’ priorities to cockroaches.
Recently, Staver’s wife, Anita, announced that she would start carrying her Glock .45 into the bathroom in response to Target saying it would not discriminate against transgender customers.
Liberty Counsel is an aggressively anti-gay organization, praising repressive anti-gay legislation in other countries and arguing that it is immoral for the U.S. government to encourage other countries to decriminalize homosexuality. Liberty Counsel also represents the rabidly anti-gay activist Scott Lively, who has campaigned against legal equality for LGBT people in the U.S. and around the globe.
The other major anti-LGBTQ entity in Florida, is Dr. James Kennedy Ministries, formerly known as Truth in Action and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Kennedy has been dead since 2007, but he has been one of the most anti-LGBTQ pastors for decades. Kennedy had organized a national conference for the religious rights for years called, “Reclaiming America for Christ.”
One newsletter from D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries featured a photograph of very young children under the headline “SEX WITH CHILDREN? HOMOSEXUALS SAY YES!” The newsletter asserts “Adult sex with children has been a crucial component of the homosexual movement all along, and officially since the 1993 March on Washington when it was included as a demand (#55) in their famous manifesto.”
Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry. He recommended as “essential” the virulent work of R.J. Rushdoony, who believed practicing gays should be executed.
The West Michigan Connection
Considering the strong religious right presence in West Michigan, it should come as no surprise that people like Richard DeVos have been a major donors to anti-LGBTQ groups in Florida.
In 2008, the DeVos family was the largest contributor to the Florida4Marriage group, which put Amendment 2 on the ballot calling for marriage between only a man and a woman. The Amendment passed in 2008 and outlawed same sex marriages in Florida until that decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court decision last year.
In addition, the DeVos family owns the Orlando Magic basketball team, which has allowed the arena to be used for Evangelical Christian Faith Nights. These Christian rallies have also provided a platform for anti-LGBTQ organizing in Orlando. (See Bad Sports, by Dave Zirin)
Fore more than three decades, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kennedy’s ministry on an annual basis. Although the DeVos family no longer contributes to Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, the millions of dollars they have donates over the years to anti-LGBTQ groups in Florida played a significant role in creating a climate that legitimized and normalized violence and hate directed at the LGBTQ community.
Over the years I have observed that when GRIID posts articles critical of the local power structure, particularly about the DeVos family, people give some of the most interesting responses.
The dominate response goes something like this; “Where would Grand Rapids be without the generosity of the DeVos family?” It is an interesting question. Where indeed would Grand Rapids be without the DeVos family or any other members of the local power structure?
So here are our top reasons why we disagree with the idea that Grand Rapids is better off with the likes of DeVos, Seechia, Jandernoa, Kennedy, Meijer, etc.
These families and individuals promote and fund a tremendous amount of hate. For decades, many of the families and individuals that make up the local power structure have promoted and funded hate. Maybe the most obvious has been the anti-LGBT efforts led by the DeVos and Prince families. They have funded hate to support ballot initiatives, to block ballot initiatives and to fund organizations committed to spiritual violence and the social oppression of those who identify as gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Listen to the anti-LGBT message from Richard DeVos.
2. The local power structure does harm locally because they are the primary beneficiaries of neo-liberal economic policies. Let’s be clear, the local elite are primarily interested in their own well being. They have made massive amounts of money through exploitation and have used the legislative process to divert public funds, taxpayer money, for subsidies and for funding their own pet projects. The families and individuals that make up the Grand Rapids power structure has made billions of dollars off the backs of other people. We can stop with the nonsense about them being job creators or wealth creators. Wealth is actually created by those who do the work, not those who collect the profits.
These same families and individuals also manipulate the political system to increase their wealth and to divert more public money to support their interests. This is why they contribute significantly to political campaigns and participate in groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and The Right Place inc.
3. The local power structure was instrumental in making Michigan a Right to Work state. The West Michigan Policy Forum made it a goal from the organization’s inception, to attack unions and workers by making Michigan a Right to Work state. Such an attack on working class individuals and families demonstrates their disregard for people who are not part of the ownership class. The individuals and families who are power of the local power structure have a long history of engaging in anti-worker and anti-union activities, as is evidenced by their funding of neo-liberal capitalist entities such as the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Acton Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
4. Grand Rapids would have a stronger public school system if many of the local elites would stop funding campaigns to undermine public education. Dick and Betsy DeVos have been some of the national leaders behind policies to undermine public education.
Researcher Rachel Tabachnick identifies Betsy DeVos as the Four Star General of the School Privatization Movement, in an article she wrote for the Political Research Associates. The article states:
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described Betsy DeVos as the “four-star general” of the school privatization movement shortly after DeVos announced the formation of the “new” American Federation for Children (AFC) in March 2010. As Boston noted, the American Federation for Children was not new, but a rebranding of an organization called Advocates for School Choice.
The American Federation for Children is now the umbrella organization for two nonprofits that have been at the center of the pro-privatization movement for over a decade. In addition to the renamed Advocates for School Choice, it includes the Alliance for School Choice, formerly known as the Education Reform Council. Both entities received extensive funding from the late John Walton, one of the Wal-Mart heirs. The boards of the two related entities included movement leaders Betsy DeVos–scion of a Christian Right family who married into the Amway home goods fortune–William Oberndorf, Clint Bolick, John Kirtley, Steve Friess (son of Foster Friess), James Leininger, John Walton, and Cory Booker.
These two nonprofits–Alliance for School Choice, a 501(c)(3) and Advocates for School Choice a.k.a. American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4)– provided over $17 million in grants to 35 other national and state-level pro-privatization nonprofits from 2006 to 2010. These grants represented a significant portion of the total budgets for many of the state organizations. Today Betsy DeVos and John Kirtley are the chair and vice chair of both boards.
5. Don’t the Grand Rapids political and economic elites donate to local causes? These families and individuals do provide money from their foundations to some local organizations. However, the tend to only fund groups that do not conflict with their politics and it gives the illusion that they are great philanthropists. The reality is much different. Foundations are a tax haven for the rich, it acts as a propaganda tool to divert public attention from focusing on how they acquired the massive amounts of wealth they have and the philanthropic contributions are another way of participating in social management. (see The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.)
In addition, the amount of of money donated by these wealthy individuals and families pales in comparison to the amount of money they give to organizations and candidates. On top of that, the groups and candidates they fund promote policies that actually contribute to the root causes of social problems, like poverty, that some of the non-profits groups who are recipients of their foundation money are claiming to combat.
6. Haven’t these wealthy families been part of reviving downtown Grand Rapids? If one thinks about the building of the arena, the convention center, the downtown market and other major construction projects over the years, rich people often are given credit for their creation. However, in every single project there have been massive amounts of public money, federal, state and local money that has also made these projects a reality, often without public consent. Also, the “revival” of downtown Grand Rapids has also been driven by the fact that the economic elite will also make tremendous profits, since so many of them owned so much property downtown – hotels, office spaces, restaurants, etc. The revival of downtown Grand Rapids and its ongoing gentrification ultimately serves the interests of the local power structure, a reality that can be seen with the spectacle called ArtPrize.
7. Imagine what the combined wealth of the local power structure could do to alleviate poverty in Grand Rapids? According to the Forbes list of wealthiest people on the planet for 2016, Hank & Doug Meijer are worth $8.2 billion and Richard DeVos is worth $4.7 billion. With the combined wealth of these individuals, which is roughly $13 billion, imagine what could happen if that wealth were in the hands of the most vulnerable people in Grand Rapids. With $13 billion, which is only part of the total wealth of the rest of the power structure, no one in Grand Rapids would be homeless, or go hungry, be malnourished or be denied access to health care. With $13 billion dollars there would be affordable housing for everyone, free college tuition and funding for fighting climate change.
Lets us really imagine what this kind of funding could do for Grand Rapids. In fact, if we had an economic system that was not based on making profits for the wealthy few, but one that would radically alter how we lived in this community, imagine what we could do.
These are just some of the reasons why I don’t buy the idea that Grand Rapids is better off with the likes of DeVos.
For several years now, MLive has been including in their news feed, what they called Sponsored Content. These are actually stories that are written by corporations or corporate associations, but often pass as news articles.
Last month, MLive posted one of these Sponsored Content stories written by the Michigan-based corporation, Kellogg’s. The article’s headline read, Better Foods for Your Family and the Earth. Such a claim is presented as fact, since there is no fact checking or investigation from MLive. Kellogg’s in effect, gets to say whatever it wants to and make whatever claims it wants to, with no accountability.
The Sponsored Content in question does not include much text, rather some well crafted info graphics, which are meant to dazzle the eye with their bright colors and fun images.
We have written about the Green Capitalism claims that Kellogg has been making for many years. In 2011, the Battle Creek corporation was making the claim that the company is certified for its sustainable practices, through groups like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
Author Heather Rogers (Green Gone Wrong) also has a critical take on the RSPO practices in a chapter on the ecological and social consequences of bio-fuels and palm oil. Rogers, who spent a great deal of time in Borneo doing research says that companies that are members of the RSPO have not only displaced local communities in order to plant palm tree plantations they have also cut down old growth forests in the process.
The company also has claimed for years that their business practices are actually fighting climate change. In an article we wrote in September of 2011, Kellogg’s claimed that the Carbon Disclosure Project has also given them high marks for fighting climate change.
This is the strongest message in the most recent Sponsored Content on MLive, where Kellogg’s is claiming to make commitments to reducing greenhouses gases. One example is an interview that the CEO of Kellogg’s did last year during the Paris Climate Summit. You can watch this interview by going to the Kellogg’s Sponsored Content linked page, Open for Breakfast.
In this interview, the CEO of Kellogg’s talks about how their customers care about products like Pop Tarts and Pringles. The head of Kellogg’s also talks about their commitment to getting farmers around the world to grow in a sustainable manner. However, we should ask ourselves how it is possible for a company like Kellogg’s, which relies on so much grain production to make its processed foods, to actually practice climate justice. Wouldn’t it be better for the earth, as Kellogg’s claims, for people to not only eat locally, but to eat whole grains that did not end up being the products that Kellogg’s makes? What if the corn, rice and wheat that farmers grew for companies like Kellogg’s was grown for local consumption and eaten in a less processed form? Imagine the amount of energy and resources (like packaging) that would not be used if people we re allowed to eat unprocessed foods that were not controlled by the likes of Kellogg’s?
These are basic and obvious questions that need to be asked. They need to be asked because it would expose the false solutions to climate change that companies like Kellogg’s claims to fight.
MLive article promotes Trans Pacific Partnership and corporate voices like Wolverine World Wide Inc.
On Friday, MLive ran a story entitled, How Obama’s trade deal could save Michigan footwear giant $20M a year.
The article focuses on how the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement would specifically benefit Wolverine Worldwide, the West Michigan footwear giant.
More specifically, Ambassador Robert Holleyman, Deputy United States Trade Representative, was in Big Rapids at the Wolverine manufacturing plant as part of a tour in several states to promote the Obama administration’s push for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
In addition to the Holleyman, the only other sources cited in the article were Michael Jeppesen, president of the Wolverine’s global operations group, and Matt Priest, president of Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a Washington D.C. trade group. Jeppesen is also the Treasurer for the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a point the MLive article failed to mention.
The article doesn’t provide a critical view of the TPP or voices to counter the claims made by the corporate and government spokespersons. The only thing in the article that can even be remotely considered as oppositional are the following statements:
Critics claim trade agreements cost jobs by making it easier for foreign products to compete with locally made versions.
In response to critics who say the deal will cost 500,000 U.S. jobs, he points to a U.S. International Trade Commission report concluding TPP will maintain and potentially create new jobs.
In both cases, there are no sources of who these “critics” are and why they oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The MLive story does say that Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee is a “vocal critic.” However, the criticism of Kildee is only referenced by a hyperlink to a 2015 MLive article. There is no mention of the massive opposition from labor groups, environmental groups, health organizations, food safety groups and public interest groups that are concerned about the future of internet freedom.
In addition, the MLive reporter doesn’t event bother to look at how previous trade agreements have impacted Wolverine Worldwide. According to statistics from the Department of Labor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), resulted in at least 173 jobs lost at Wolverine World Wide Inc.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will primarily benefit corporations and hurt workers, the environment and public health. You wouldn’t know this by reading the MLive article, which essentially acts as a promotional piece for the Trans Pacific Partnership.
The State Senator from Escanaba has been outspoken on this issue for some time now. Since March of this year, he has been threatening to introduce legislation, after a Department of Education Draft Guidance document, entitled “Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students” went public.
On March 29, Casperson wrote, “It is hard to believe that a state board, which is clearly out of touch with Michigan residents, got assistance from equally out of touch unelected bureaucrats to develop such a document to fundamentally change Michigan’s public education system without the public’s prior knowledge or consent. In the pursuit of social justice, this so-called draft guidance document creates numerous problems, from the elimination of parental authority and notification to threatening student safety and beyond. My bill would stop this policy dead in its tracks.”
More DeVos Funding
Campaign Finance records show that in 2014, the DeVos family contributed $9,000 to Senator Casperson. In addition, the DeVos family between 2013/2014 was the largest contributor to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in Michigan, contributing in that 2-year span $520,000. The next closest contributor was was Blue Cross/Blue Shield at $60,000.
Petition Against Legislation
There is an online petition attempting to stop Senator Casperson’s anti-Trans legislation, organized by Equality Michigan. To sign the petition, click here.
Editor’s note: I was asked to participate in a series of video presentations that ACCESS of West Michigan is hosting around food justice and food sovereignty in Grand Rapids. The following is what I shared for the video as part of their Good Food curriculum.
My task today is to talk about how we can use community organizing as a way to change the current food system. This is no easy task, since the current food systems has been evolving over the past 100 years, and like any system of oppression, the current food system will resist change.
Before I talk about specific strategies and tactics we can use to change the current food system, I think it is important to talk about some important processes for organizing around food.
First, it is important that we have an intersectional view of the current food system. What I mean by that is that it is essential to look at the issue of food and the food system through a variety of analytical lenses. We can not separate how economics, race, gender, the environment, etc. impact how we understand the current food system and how we want to respond to it. To do so might mean we end up doing either more harm than we wanted to and our actions might be woefully inadequate.
Secondly, it is important that we simultaneously work to create a new food system while working to dismantle the existing one. The current food system will not go away on its own. What we have learned from previous social movements is that we need to not only fight against the current system of oppression, in this case the food system, while simultaneously work to create the kind of food system we want. This two sides of the coin approach is not only necessary, it also provides important entry points for people to become engaged in the work. This idea of creating new models while dismantling the old ones comes from Stephen D’Arcy’s important essay, Environmentalism as if Winning Mattered: A Self-Organization Strategy.
Ok, so now that we have a little bit of a framework about how to organize to change the food system, lets look at actual strategies that will help us to accomplish the goal of changing the current food system. These are not in any particular order, but they do need to be implemented simultaneously if we are to be truly effective in our efforts.
I. Community Skill Building Strategy – In this strategy it is crucial that we create opportunities that would allow as many people as possible to learn skills that are centered around food growing, food preservation and healthy nutrition. With this strategy we can employ a number of tactics to help people learn important food-centered skills. Tactic #1 – Food growing. It is important to create opportunities for people to grow some of their own food. This will not only give them some critical skills, it will them with new ways of seeing how the current food system is unhealthy and unsustainable. People can grow food in containers, raised beds, in the ground directly, through community gardens and be part of Community Supported Agriculture, which often allows those involved to be part of the food growing and harvesting process. Tactic #2 – Food preparation. The more we all have the skills to prepare food from scratch, the more likely it is for us to be dependent on the current food system. Food preparation is an important skill, but in the current economic system it is difficult for many people to eat well based on what they can afford and what they have time for. Therefore, one way to think about food preparation is to view it as a communal activity. If we had community kitchens that were neighborhood based, we could make food collectively to save money and time. Community kitchens could be located in people’s homes, in churches or other community spaces that would allow people to prepare food collectively, share recipes and make enough food for multiple meals. Community kitchens would allow people who work long hours and those who make poverty-level wages an opportunity to eat better, save money, save time and building community. Tactic #3 – Food Preservation – Food preservation skills would help us to become less dependent on the current food system. Food preservation skills would consist of canning, freezing and drying of foods. These skills could also be practiced in community kitchen spaces and would also contribute to community building. We should also think about including seed saving as a form of food preservation, since seeds are increasingly becoming genetically modified as to not allow them to be self-reproducing. Additionally, if more of us practiced seed saving we could create a local seed bank, which would not only preserve biological diversity, it would allow more people access to the opportunity to grow more of their own food. Local organizations that promote skill building around food are: Baxter Community Center, United Church Outreach Ministry, Our Kitchen Table and Gardens for Grand Rapids.
II. Food Worker Strategy – This strategy is important because it exposes how the current Foodie Movement is highly privileged. A food worker strategy would force the larger society to look more closely at the current food system, but it would also create possibilities for grassroots food worker organizing. Tactic #1 – Organizing farm workers – Organizing farm workers is not a new thing, but there is little attention given to one of the few jobs that doesn’t guarantee any minimum wage requirements. Farm worker organizing is an important tactic, because it not only exposes the exploitative nature of this labor force, it would provide an opportunity for the larger society to see how unjust, how racist and unsustainable the current food system is. (See Michigan Civil Rights Commission report on Migrant Workers in Michigan.) Tactic #2 – Restaurant worker organizing – Increasingly, many of us ask if the food served at restaurants is grown locally, but we rarely ask whether or not restaurant workers make a living wage and are allowed to organize as workers. Restaurant workers, like farm workers, make poverty-level wages and work in exploitative conditions. Creating greater opportunities for restaurant workers to organize would not only challenge the chain restaurants power within the current food system, it could lead to more collective forms of organizing around food.
III. Just Food Policy Strategy – The current food system is able to survive, in part, by federal and state policies. These policies, which provide massive subsidies, means that we all pay for an unhealthy, unjust and unsustainable food system. Instead, we need policies and practices that are based on food justice and food sovereignty. Tactic #1 – Direct Action for Just Food Policies – Considering how unjust the current democratic process is in the US and how money largely influences electoral politics, it would be more effective to have a mass movement to force federal and state policy to adopt food policies that are bioregional, that supports small community-based agriculture and redirects tax subsidies for food justice work. If the current Farm Bill funding, which is billions of dollars, were redirected to local food production where everyone made a livable wage, imagine how much new local food could be produced that was just and sustainable. (See Farm Bill subsidies for Michigan.) Tactic #2 – Practicing Food Sovereignty – If taxpayer funds were redirected toward local food sovereignty initiatives, we would not only have more financial resources to make sure everyone eats well, but to recreate a food system where everyone would be allowed to actively participate in decided what kind of food system we want. This is what food sovereignty is, to practice collective decision-making about food, that is local and sustainable. Tactic #3 – Just Land Use – Just land use would mean that the way we use land for food production would be radically altered away from mono-crop food production that is based upon expanding food markets. Just land use would mean food would be grown in both rural and urban settings that produced fresh food that could be more directly consumed, instead of using the bulk of land in the country for mass production of cash crops. Just land use would also mean that food would not have to travel over a thousands miles before it is eaten, since food would stay within the bioregions that it is grown.
IV. Civil Society Food Strategy – A civil society food strategy would mean that more people take an active roll in both creating a new food system and resisting the current food system. Tactic #1 – Creating Food Councils and hold Food Assemblies – As a new food system is created and in the development process, there needs to be localized efforts to create food councils and host food assemblies, which can guarantee greater public participation. These food councils and food assemblies would develop policies and practices to ensure that food justice and food sovereignty principles were enacted. Tactic #2 – Direct Action for Resisting the current food system – Direct action against the current food system could take the form of boycotts, educational campaigns, preventing the misuse of land, community occupation of agribusiness land, shutting down the transportation ability of major food corporations ship food abroad, ending the advertisement of unhealthy/processed foods and any other means of making it difficult for the current food system to continue to exploit workers, create unhealthy food and destroy the environment.
Lastly, it is important to say that we need to continue to provide food assistance programs, such as food pantries and meal sites. But we also need to ensure that these programs make room for equity and food system justice work. Such work facilitates conversations with those experiencing food insecurity. The strategies and tactics just discussed can be implemented at food pantries or food assistance sites and its important to recognize and support both.
We need safety nets to make sure that people are not experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition as we work toward creating new food systems. The kind of food system we create should be a food system that is based on justice, ecological sustainability, good health and compassion for all.