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.
Last week, Northwood University dedicated a new school of management. Not surprising, it was named after Amway co-founder, Richard DeVos.
Richard DeVos has donated millions to Northwood University over the years through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. In fact, the private school, which is dedicated to “developing the future leaders of a global, free-enterprise society,” also has other DeVos connections.
Dan DeVos graduated from Northwood with a BA in 1980 and since 1997 is on the Northwood Board of Trustees. The university gives out an Outstanding Business Leader award every year, since Northwood, “firmly believes that American business leaders deserve the highest forms of personal recognition for their contributions to this great nation and the world.” Richard DeVos won the award in 1983, Dan DeVos in 2007 and Dick DeVos won it in 2014.
The second generation of DeVos family members have also contributed to Northwood through their family foundations. According to the most recent 990s that are available on Guidestar, the Dan and Marie DeVos Foundation gave $1,312,500 in both 2013 and 2012. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation contributed $200,000 in both 2013 and 2012.
The DeVos Family’s commitment to Northwood University comes as no surprise, especially when considering what the university claims as its core values. The school’s website proudly displays the values as follows:
We believe in:
- the advantages of an entrepreneurial, free-enterprise society.
- individual freedom and individual responsibility.
- functioning from a foundation of ethics and integrity.
- promoting and leveraging the global, diverse and multi-cultural nature of enterprise.
Translated, what these values mean is that Northwood University, like the DeVos family, believes that capitalism should dictate how society functions, that government should get out of the way of “the market” (except when they need tax breaks, subsidies or want to privatize more of the public sector) and that freedom and responsibility really means our class has freedom and everyone else but us needs to be responsible. The notion that the DeVos family is ethical would make most reasonable people fall out of their chairs laughing, and “promoting and leveraging the global, diverse and multi-cultural nature of enterprise” just means that they welcome all cultures and races to be part of the capitalist system.
The dedication to the school named after Richard DeVos was reported on MLive last week, where the commercial media entity played their normal role of being nothing more than a cheerleader for the DeVos family.
However, local politics also has has a tendency to allow people with greater privilege to gain access to decision-making, whether this is through elected office or board appointments. In Grand Rapids, the amount of money spent on running for city commission seats has grown exponentially and board appoints often are determined insiders and those connected within certain political circles.
Take for example the Grand Rapids Planning Commission Board. This board is made up of 9 members, who, like most boards in Grand Rapids, are appointed, not elected. Being appointed often translates into those who have greater access, greater privilege and disproportionately higher class status.
The current make up of the Grand Rapids Planning Commission Board is disproportionately made up of professionals or those who own businesses. Here are the 9 Planning Commission Board members and what status they hold within the community.
- Kyle Van Strien – Co-Owner of Long Road Distillery
- Thomas H Koetsier – Koetsier Realty LLC
- Stephen Ruis – Co-Owner of Art of the Table
- Paul Rozeboom – Professional Engineer and principal shareholder of C2AE, a consulting engineering and architecture firm
- Rick Treur – Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement at Calvin College, Leadership Grand Rapids graduate
- Erica Curry Van Ee – Urban Curry Consulting, LLC
- Reginald Smith – Calvin Theological Seminary
- Mary Angelo – former Director of Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association
- Walter M Brame – Insurance Sales Representative at Bankers Life and Casualty Company & former Director of the Grand Rapids Urban League.
Given the current make up of the Planning Commission Board, it doesn’t come as a major surprise that the majority of them have been approving many of the development projects that have come before them over the past few years. Many of them would benefit in some ways to have new developments approved, because it would bring more upscale consumers and residents to the city and in some cases near the businesses they own and operate. These new development projects and the upwardly mobile class status of those the develop projects have attracted, are one of the major factors in the ongoing gentrification of Grand Rapids.
This is even reflected in a recent exchange between someone with Grand Rapids Homes for All and members of the Planning Commission Board/Staff in a document dated April 28, 2016.
Mr. Bartley related receipt of an email from Chuck Skala, Grand Rapids Home for All, regarding the GVSU Medical Education facility expansion, Coit Square condo project and the Rise project on Benson, and other proposed developments involving the demolition of existing rental homes and the displacement of families residing in those homes. He asked that as these projects come before the Planning Commission for review that they consider the impact on displaced families, especially with the current crisis in lack of availability of replacement housing for these families. He asked that the Planning Commission ask staff to include displacement impact as part of their analysis of proposed projects. He asked that the Planning Commission ask developers how they plan to accommodate families they are displacing. It has been their experience that displaced renters aren’t likely to attend public hearings regarding projects affecting them. In such cases decision makers sometimes rely on the opinion of neighborhood associations that may be disproportionately weighted in favor of home owners that stand to benefit from new development contrasted with renters who will be displaced. They request that the Planning Commission make a concerted effort to determine the impact on displaced families and provisions to accommodate them.
Mr. Bartley explained that he shared the communication because it is public comment, they were asked to share it, and it is certainly something to think about. Mr. Bartley advised that staff doesn’t believe the Planning Commission can include that as a Standard of review however; it isn’t a land use Standard. Staff intends to craft a response to explain their position.
Ms. Curry Van Ee asked if there is anything included in the Great Housing Strategies report regarding displacement that could be referenced in staff’s response.
Mr. Bartley replied that depending how you look at it the entire report affects that. There are no mechanisms to control rent and none of the strategies or recommendations from the report includes rent control.
Ms. Angelo asked if staff has any knowledge about how many people are being displaced with these projects. When visiting proposed project sites that include proposed demolition it seems that the homes are largely vacant. Mr. Van Strien asked the vacancy rate in the city.
Mr. Koetsier advised that the vacancy rate of active rentals is 1%; the lowest in the country. Not only is development removing homes but rental homes that go on the market are being purchased by owner-occupants and tenants are being displaced. He noted that development is part of the solution. When tearing down 11 houses and replacing them with 60+ apartments gradually the situation will improve.
Ms. Turkelson related that staff continues to have meetings on Great Housing Strategies and ways to implement it. She advised that staff is working on an analysis for the City Commission regarding how many units are being lost to development and how many units are replacing them. With the vast majority of the projects more units are being created by the new development.
Mr. Rozeboom asked if the City Commission can deny a rezoning request based on affordability.
Mr. Forshee advised that he would discourage that. The City Commission should be using similar Standards that the Planning Commission considers. His opinion is that because zoning flows from the Zoning Enabling Act that it limits that power. Ms. Turkelson added that they are also bound by the Master Plan.
What is instructive is the perspective. Mr. Koetsier, with Koetsier Realty LLC, states:
“Not only is development removing homes but rental homes that go on the market are being purchased by owner-occupants and tenants are being displaced. He noted that development is part of the solution. When tearing down 11 houses and replacing them with 60+ apartments gradually the situation will improve.”
First, many of the homes that Mr. Koetseir says are being purchased by by owner-occupants isn’t consistent with what has been happening in many of the recent development projects. For example, in the Belknap area, houses have been demolished, and the newly approved RISE Real Estate project on Michigan will demolish roughly a dozen homes and several commercial buildings.
Mr. Koetsier also states, “development is part of the solution.” This has not been the case when it come to affordable housing. Virtually everything that is being proposed is either “market-rate” or very high end. Ms. Turkelson also states, “With the vast majority of the projects more units are being created by the new development.” While it is acknowledged that there are more new units being created, a very small percentage of them are not affordable for working class individuals or families.
One can see from the graphic above when the term for each of the Planning Commission board members will end. What would it take to have new board members come from the ranks of those most impacted by gentrification? Is this even possible? Should those most impacted from ongoing development projects engage in movement building instead? Should both be done? Important questions for those who care about housing justice.
On Monday, MLive ran yet another story about new housing development projects in Grand Rapids, entitled, High-end, micro apartment projects up for tax breaks.
The brief article looks at four proposed housing development projects seeks approval from the city of Grand Rapids, along with the possibility of tax breaks for each project. The four projects are: a 616 Lofts project on Quimby NE; Maplegrove Development LLC project on Market Avenue; Green Cane Property ( in conjunction with Orion Construction) project on Wealthy in Uptown, and; a Third Coast Development project in the Firestone building on Jefferson SE, near Fulton.
However, the brief MLive article focuses mostly on the Green Cane Property project at the site of the old McDonald’s on Wealthy SE and their micro apartments. The only source cited is a representative with Green Cane Property. In addition, the article does mention that the Grand Rapids City Commission would be deciding on all four of these projects at their May 10 meeting and whether or not to offer tax breaks for each of the projects.
According to the City Commission Agenda Packet for their May 10 meeting, the Green Cane Property project will be getting significant tax breaks. There was no additional information from said City Commission packet on tax breaks for the other three housing development projects.
The MLive article states at one point, “Grand Rapids commissioners have been exploring ways to encourage development of more “affordable” housing, with rents below market rate. Recent ordinance changes include the addition of parking incentives for construction of “micro-units” that are 475 square-feet or smaller.”
The question should be asked, what exactly is it that the City Commissioners are doing to explore and implement ways to make affordable housing a reality in Grand Rapids? The same sentiments were shared during an April 12 City Commission meeting, a meeting where they unanimously approved a $300,000 per condo development project. At that April 12 meeting every commissioner commenting on the need to increase affordable housing, but none of them offered up a plan on how to make affordable housing a reality.
Everyone of the four housing development projects mentioned in the MLive article will not be offering truly affordable housing options for individuals or families, like almost all of the new housing development announcements in recent months. Almost all of the housing options with these four development projects are listed as market rate, with the 616 Lofts project on Plainfield listing rental rates between $850 to $1,500 per month; the Maplegrove Development project on Market Ave. listing rental rates between $935 to $1,795 per month; the Third Coast Development project on Jefferson SE listing rental rates between $1,250 to $2,000; and the Green Care Property/Orion Construction project on Wealthy SE listing rental rates between $700 to $1,400 per month.
Someone making $10 an hour, which is the reality for thousands of people in the Grand Rapids area, equals $22,400 a year. The rate of the lowest rental cost of the four new projects is $700 per month for a micro apartment. Rent at such a location for one year is $8,400, over one-third of the income of someone making $10 an hour. A single person might be able to survive on that income, but not someone with children or those supporting other family members. Grand Rapids is quickly becoming a city that is unaffordable for thousands of working class individuals and families.