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More on the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget: Unelected groups use millions of public funds for development projects in Grand Rapids

May 11, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes. In this installment we look at the proposed 2022 budgets for numerous committee that operate in Grand Rapids, all of which have development as a primary focus.

There has been a great deal of interest generated around the overall 2022 City Budget, primarily because of how much the GRPD continues to receive, but also because of how undemocratic the process for public involvement is in determining how public tax dollars are spent.

The same could be said for all of the upcoming votes on 2022 Budgets for committees that all have Board of Directors, but no elections. The entities we wish to take a look at are the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Brownfield Development Authority, the SmartZone Local Finance Development Authority, the Economic Development Corporation, Southtown CIA, Westside CIA, Uptown CIA, Uptown BID, Michigan Street CIA, South Division/Grandville CIA and North Quarter CIA.

Yesterday, during the Committee of the Whole meeting, City officials were discussing the various budgets for the entities listed above, as reflected in the Agenda Packet linked here.

What is clear to this writer is the fact that the bulk of the public money that these committees are using is 1) for development projects, generally to subsidize a private contractor/developer; 2) that all of those who sit on the board of directors of these committees are appointed and not elected; and 3) the overwhelming representation on these boards of directors are from the business sector, often business owners in the city that will likely benefit from the improvement/development projects they will be making decisions on.

Below is the list of the various entities that will be receiving funding from the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget. Collectively, these groups are asking for $42,826,282 of mostly public money to be used primarily for development projects that many residents are unaware of. Now, there are plenty of people who say that this is how things get done, which is true on one level, but an alternative way of looking at this is how else might nearly $43 million be spent, especially if the public was allowed to have a say crafting these decisions? What would be fundamentally different if the budgeting process was participatory and democratic? How could the public radically imagine that $43 million would be spent in this community? How would participatory budgeting transform not only the process by which decisions are made in this city, think of how differently the funding priorities might be.

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is $21,724,900

DDA Board of Directors

Richard Winn – AHC Hospitality (DeVos-owned)

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

Luis Avila – Varnum Law

Kayem Dunn – Consultant

Jermale Eddie – Malamiah Juice Bar

Greg McNeilly – Windquest Group (DeVos-owned)

Jim Talen – former Kent County Commissioner

Diana Sieger – Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Jen Schottke – ABC Western Michigan

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Brownfield Development Authority is $15,722,514

BDA Board of Directors

Guillermo Cisneros – West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Lynn Rabaut – retired

Kristine Bersche – Natura Architectural Consulting LLC

Troy Butler – Thacker Sleight

Nathaniel Moody – City Commissioner

Kim McLaughlin – Wolverine Building Group

Micah Perkins – Retirement Services Officer US Army

John VanFossen – Meijer

Joshua Verhulst – Tech Defenders

Stanley Wisniski – 

The proposed 2022 Budget for the SmartZone Local Finance Development Authority is $3,317,800

SmartZone LFDA Board of Directors

Wayman Britt – Kent County Administrator

Keith Brophy – Emergent Holdings Inc.

Gerald Callahan – Van Andel Institute

Lisa Freiburger – GRCC

Kristian Grant – GRPS

John Helmholt – GRPS

Joe Jones – City Commissioner

Jerry Kooiman – MSU

Mark Holzbach – Tiny World Tours

Therese Thill – The Right Place Inc

Dante Villarreal – GR Chamber of Commerce

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Economic Development Corporation is $122,956.

Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors is the same as the Brownfield Development Authority

Guillermo Cisneros – West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Lynn Rabaut – retired

Kristine Bersche – Natura Architectural Consulting LLC

Troy Butler – Thacker Sleight

Nathaniel Moody – City Commissioner

Kim McLaughlin – Wolverine Building Group

Micah Perkins – Retirement Services Officer US Army

John VanFossen – Meijer

Joshua Verhulst – Tech Defenders

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority is $717.008.

Southtown CIA Board of Directors

Bill DeJonge – PNC Mortgage

Johnathan Farman – JF Consulting

Kristian Grant – GRPS

Helen Harp – Owner Joy Radio

Senita Lenear – City Commissioner

Isaac Norris – Isaac V. Norris & Associates, P.C.

Ruben Ramos – R&R Mechanical Services LLC

Darel Ross – Start Garden and Owner Forty Acres Soul Kitchen

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Westside Corridor Improvement Authority is $282,000.

Westside CIA Board of Directors

Peter Brand – CEO Mindscape

Johnny Brann Jr. – Brann’s Restaurant

Daniel Grinwis – Oasis of Hope Center

Lisa Haynes – GVSU

Michael Lamonaco – HealthBar

Paola Mendivil – Ferris State University

Jon O’Connor – City Commissioner/Owner of Long Road Distillers

Dave Shaffer – CEO Interphase Interiors

Andrew Sisson – Mel Trotter Ministries

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Uptown Corridor Improvement Authority is $329,600

Uptown CIA Board of Directors

Lynn Happel – owner of Veterinary Clinic

Stephanie Johnson – Urban Exchange LLC

Nathaniel Moody – City Commissioner

Matthew Smith – Open Systems Technologies Inc

Mark Stoddard

Tamara Sytsma – System Wealth Strategies

Peter Vanderwier

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Uptown Business Improvement District is $134,004.

Uptown BID Board of Directors

Stephanie Johnson – Urban Exchange LLC

Nathaniel Moody – City Commissioner

Matthew Smith – Open Systems Technologies Inc

Tamara Sytsma – System Wealth Strategies

Peter Vanderwier

Ted Lott – Lott3Metz Architecture 

Jaye Van Lenten – Co-owner of Spirit Dreams

The proposed 2022 Budget for the Michigan Street Corridor Improvement Authority is $285,000

Michigan Street CIA Board of Directors

Max Benedict – Third Coast Development

Kevin Brant – Developer

Thomas Dann – Real Estate Agent

Joe Jones – City Commissioner

Alexander Lamkin

Jeff Lobdell – Restaurant Partners Inc.

Christopher Swank – GVSU

Joseph Vugteveen – GVSU

The proposed 2022 Budget for the South Division/Grandville Corridor Improvement Authority is $116,500.

South Division/Grandville CIA Board of Directors

Amy Brower – Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association

Fran Dalton – Garfield Park Neighborhood Association

Mary Dengerink – Green Leaf Consulting

Synia Jordan – Real Estate Agent

Ana Jose – Transformando West Michigan

Henry Pena

Kurt Reppart – City Commissioner

Leonard Van Drunen – Calvin University

Angelica Velasquez – owner of La Casa de la Cobija

The proposed 2022 Budget for the North Quarter Corridor Improvement Authority is $75,000.

North Quarter CIA Board of Directors

Hannah Berry – Lions and Rabbits Center for the Arts

Duane Culver – Culver CPA Group

Brianna Forbes – Urban Massage

Cassandra Oracz – Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids

Rachel Posthumus – Switchback Gear Exchange

Milinda Ysasi – City Commissioner

The Devil is in the Details 5/11/2021: More Recreational Cannabis businesses approved by Grand Rapids, even though they are not local and not doing a damn thing to undo the harm of the War on Drugs

May 10, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes. In this installment we look at recent recreational cannabis operations likely to be approved by the Grand Rapids Planning Commission during their May 13 meeting. 

As we have noted in several previous postings, the majority of cannabis businesses in Grand Rapids continue to be owned by companies that are not local, companies that have multiple locations now in the city and companies that are doing little or nothing to address the long-standing harm that has been done during the War on Drugs, particularly against the Black community.

There are three new recreational cannabis operations up for approval by the City Planning Commission, one by Green Skies – Healing Tree LLC (which is known as 3Fifteen) and two by Oak Flint LLC.

Green Skies – Healing Tree LLC, which has 17 dispensary applications submitted, is owned by Leafly and has dispensaries all over Michigan, as well as other states in the US. Leafly is a subsidiary of a much larger company, Privateer Holdings, which owns numerous other businesses within its portfolio.

Oak Flint LLC, which has 3 dispensary applications submitted, also has applications submitted in Lansing. Oak Flint LLC was founded by John McCloed, who used to be a Real Estate Agent and was a special Operations in the Detroit Police Department for 11 years. 

Both Green Skies – Healing Tree LLC and Oak Flint LLC are not local, they both already operate cannabis operations in Grand Rapids, and we could find no evidence that either of these business are investing in the work of undoing the harm created by the War on Drugs. In fact, just the opposite is happening.

For example, when people were selling cannabis on the street, before states been legalizing the drug, a disproportionately high number of African Americans were being arrested and sentenced for selling cannabis. Now, white entrepreneurs are doing the exact same thing and making millions, with no legal consequences.

Another reality is that it is very difficult for Black people wanting to get into the Cannabis business, as was reflected in a recent article entitled, Black-Owned Pot Businesses Remain Rare Despite Diversity Efforts. One Black aspiring cannabis business owner states, “A lot of times we’re people who grew up basically on the streets. A lot of us don’t have college educations. We’re not contract-savvy, we don’t have a team of lawyers.” 

In an excellent article entitled, The legal cannabis industry must reckon with systemic racism, the writer states:

The legal and medical cannabis industry has long been complicit in the systemic oppression of Black people. As Black Lives Matter protests continue around the country, activists, doctors, and entrepreneurs are calling for those in cannabis to dismantle the systemic racism the industry is built on.

In the wake of the protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, all facets of American culture are forced to rethink its approach to race. The cannabis industry, which has a projected economic impact of $77 billion by 2020, is steadily growing. But the effects of the generations-long war on drugs are still prevalent in marginalized communities, particularly Black ones.

The assessments presented in these articles is a reflection of what is happening in Grand Rapids. When the cannabis businesses that are opening are not local, when they own multiple locations in the city, and when they do virtually nothing to create racial equity or undo the harm of the War on Drugs, then they perpetuate the same kind of long-standing structural racism that has plagued Grand Rapids since the city was founded. 

The GRPD arrest of a Black man going to a family wake was not because of flawed training, it was the result of a system of policing that is designed to do exactly what they did

May 9, 2021

On Friday, MLive ran an article entitled, GRPD training being questioned after Black man forcibly arrested despite police stopping the wrong vehicle

The article details a recent arrest by the GRPD of a Black man who was on the way to his his mother-in-law’s wake. Several GRPD officers forced the man to the ground, put a knee on him and then cuffed him while he was face down in a parking lot.

However, the man the GRPD physically assaulted and arrested was the wrong person. The GRPD was looking for a Black man in a silver pick up truck and the man they ended up arresting also had a silver truck, but it was the wrong person. 

Now, the Black man who was arrested was charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer, because “he was tensing his muscles in his arms.” Apparently, if the police force you on the ground and put their knees in your back, you should just relax, regardless of whether you committed a crime or not. Here is just another instance where the law supports police action, even if those actions seem to any reasonable person to be abusive, violent and just plain bullshit.

The Black man who missed his mother in-law’s wake, because he was arrested and taken to the Kent County Jail has every moral right to fight the GRPD for their wrongful arrest. However, the GRPD has the full force of the law behind them, since most laws are crafted from a pro-police framework and because the police will always be able to argue that they were justified in their actions, especially since the Black man they stopped fit the description of someone they were looking for.

The GRPD’s Internal Affairs is looking at the case, but will most likely side with the officers who falsely arrested this particular Black man, especially since he was tensing his muscles when they were trying to cuff him. The police were just doing their job and this particular Black happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or at least this is what the GRPD would have us believe.

Besides, the GRPD was quoted in the same MLive article, stating:

“The GRPD continues to be dedicated to transparency and accountability regarding police operations, particularly when it comes to using force. When it is appropriate, and allowable under law, we are committed to providing full context to our encounters and answering the community’s questions and concerns.”

This rhetoric sounds nice, but the important point here is to understand what is allowable under law. The GRPD can keep as much information as they want in house and can decide what to share or not share with the news media, with the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability or anyone else for that matter, because the law works in favor of protecting the state and the police are just an enforcement unit for the the state, meaning the government.

Therefore, the Black man who was assaulted by the GRPD, arrested and taken to jail, doesn’t have the force of law behind him. The GRPD charged him with resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, which by their definition is true. So, do you see how the system works here. Even if you did nothing that was illegal, as defined by the government, you can still get arrested for looking like a suspect. Plus, in the process of being arrested, if you resist, even though you did nothing illegal, you can be charged with a crime because your muscles tightened up while 3 cops forced you face down, on the ground and put their knees on your back.

Now, Kent County Commission Robert Womack is questioning how officers in the GRPD and being trained. What Commissioner Womack fails to understand is that this is exactly how the cops in the GRPD were trained and that the over policing in Black and Brown neighbors is the norm. Alex Vitale, author of the important book, The End of Policing, writes: 

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 us how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstanding of officers. 

This is how the system of policing is designed to function. For the GRPD, it doesn’t matter that they stopped the wrong Black man, what matters is that they were doing their job and the wrong Black man still arrest arrested because he tightened his muscles while 3 cops were forcing him to the ground and putting their knees in his back.

Of course, the lesson we should learn from this case is that the system of policing is inherently oppressive, which is exactly why people are calling for defunding and the abolition of the system of policing, because it is a system of oppression. The GRPD and City officials can say that they are committed to re-imagining policing in Grand Rapids, but that is only because they are committed to maintaining the existing systems of power and oppression in this community, despite their well-meaning intentions. If you think that getting the right people elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission will fix this, then you don’t understand how power functions in this city. Only a popular, grassroots social movement that is calling for the defunding of the GRPD, a deep commitment to invest in Black neighborhoods and the abolition of policing will put an end to the GRPD assaulting and arresting more Black people.

Papers not crumbs: Interview with Movimiento Cosecha GR after their action in Washington DC

May 6, 2021

Last weekend, Movimiento Cosecha GR took two bus loads of people to Washington, DC to make the same demands of the Biden Administration as they did for the Trump Administration.

Movimiento Cosecha is demanding Dignity, Respect and Permanent Protection for all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US.

The motivation to go to DC was to make clear that like the previous US Administrations, after the first 100 days in office, the Biden Administration has not looked much different from what immigrants were experiencing under Trump.

We sat down with two of the Cosecha GR organizers, Gema and Idalia, both of who went to DC last weekend. We asked them four questions: 1) What was the main focus of going to Washington DC, since during the past 4 May Days, the actions have been local; 2) What kind of actions did you organize and take part in during the two days in Washington, DC; 3) There has been a clear drop in attention and support by the ally community since the November Election, what message do you have for allies about why it is important to continue supporting the immigrant justice movement; and 4) Those who went to DC were very energized, so how do you maintain that kind of energy and how do you get more people involved for the fight ahead?

During the interview, Gema responded in English and Idalia responded in Spanish, however both of these courageous organizers had powerful things to say. The interview is just under 16 minutes.

Is it possible to get the local news media to really question the GRPD?

May 6, 2021

Yesterday, the grassroots groups Defund the GRPD and Justice for Black Lives, held a Press Conference at noon, inviting dozens of Grand Rapids-based news agencies.

The Press Conference by two of the groups that came out of the aftermath of the May 30th uprising in Grand Rapids, focused on the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget proposal, how much the GRPD would receive and the undemocratic budget proposal process.

Unlike previous Press Conferences that Defund the GRPD has organized, both in person and online, yesterday’s Press Conference only had representatives from the Grand Rapids Press, WZZM 13 and WOOD TV 8. It’s always hard to know what drives local news coverage, but one would think that with the second largest city’s 2022 budget being decided upon in a few weeks and a well organized movement calling for defunding of the GRPD, the Press Conference would definitely be news worthy.

A representative with Justice for Black Lives spoke first, followed by someone with Defund the GRPD. Both speakers addressed the violent practices of the GRPD and Defund the GRPD laid out some clear demands (linked here) regarding funding for the GRPD and the City’s budget process.

After the comments made by organizers, there were only three questions asked by the reporters who took part in the Press Conference. The first two question came from a reporter with the Grand Rapids Press, which was followed by a question from WZZM 13. All three questions that were asked were basic questions or questions that still reflected the idea that the GRPD is becoming “more community minded.” For example, the first question asked by the GR Press was, “Does the GRPD Strategic Plan sufficiently re-imagine policing?

The responses from organizers were solid, but the point here is that the question implies that the GRPD is on the right track. We have seen this over and over again over the years, but especially since the May 30th uprising, where the local news acts either as a PR agent for the GRPD or they act as stenographers, just reporting back what the police said, without questioning or verifying the claims made by the GRPD. 

The lack of critical thinking was reflected in the three news stories about the Press Conference that each of the news agency that attended the Press Conference posted yesterday. 

In each of the three news stories the stories still utilize City official comments, like the WZZM 13 story, which includes a comment from Mark Washington, recycles previous related story content – as did MLive, or reflects that the news agencies have internalized the values of the systems of power that they report on, like how WOOD TV 8 framed their story. In other words, the dominant commercial media demonstrates a lack of imagination about how reducing the GRPD budget might actually be a huge benefit to the community. 

In fact, the dominant commercial media is pretty much incapable of critically examining systems of power and oppression in this community, mostly because they are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, as we noted in our ten-part series from 2018. In that article we made the following observation about police and the dominant commercial media:

Another example is how the news media reports on police abuse, or more accurately, mistakes made by a few officers in the police department. The GRPD or any other local law enforcement agency is general presented as serving the public good and when there are issues that arise, it is usually just some aberration, since they are essential to public safety. In other words, the very nature and function of the GRPD is never questioned or investigated, despite the significant levels of mistrust and cynicism that exists in this community about police behavior and how policing impacted particularly Black and Brown residents. 

Sitting through yesterday’s press conference only affirms my view that the local dominant commercial news media is incapable of reflecting the aspirations of those working towards dismantling systems of power in this community, particularly since these news agencies are part of that power structure. 

The Deadline for Enbridge to Stop using Line 5 is next week: Important Actions against the Enbridge Line 5 on May 12 & 13

May 4, 2021

In the coming days, there will be actions against the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline in both Lansing and in northern Michigan. 

Indigenous Water Protectors sent out a media release recently, that states:

Great Lakes Water Protectors are organizing peaceful gatherings at the Line 5 transfer sites of McGulpin Point Lighthouse at 500 Headlands Rd in Mackinaw City and at Point Labarbe at W706 Boulevard Dr. St. Ignace. Line 5 runs under the Straits of Mackinac, just west of the iconic Mackinaw Bridge.

In November of 2020, Governor Whitmer and DNR Director Eichinger, on behalf of the people of Michigan, revoked and terminated the 1953 Easement Permit allowing only 180 days of oil and natural gas liquids to flow thru pipeline 5 in the Straits of Mackinac. That date falls on May 12th, 2021. Times Up!

Water Protectors, Tribal Citizens and Grassroot Organizations are mobilizing to demonstrate support for Governor Whitmer and DNR Director Eichinger’s termination of the 1953 easement permit. Great Lakes Water Protector’s would like to invite the ALL Sovereign Tribes of the Great Lakes region and  ALL State Officials from the Executive Office, Governor’s Office, EGLE, State and Federal Congressional and Senate Delegations. Tell the citizens of this State how OUR REPRESENTATIVES plan to proceed with Enbridge’s unwillingness to uphold the decision of the State.

This peaceful call-to-action will begin early morning of May 12 at McGulpin Park near the south side transfer station, 1pm there will be a time to “Speak for the Water” and the day-long observance will conclude with a potluck feast at 4pm in the park.

If you are unable to join this gathering on May 12, there is another opportunity on May 13th in both Lansing and Mackinaw City. The group Oil & Water Don’t Mix is inviting people. May 13th is the official deadline for the Enbridge Corporation to stop using their Line 5 pipeline. 

The actions in Lansing and Mackinaw City are in essence an eviction notice for Enbridge, who will be illegally operating Line on May 13th. Enbridge has spent millions on advertising against Gov. Whitmer’s attempt to shut down Line 5, they have spent millions more on lobbyists and they are not attempting to get the government of Canada to defend their interests. Oii & Water Don’t Mix writes, “regular people are always required to obey the law or face consequences, but Enbridge thinks that their money buys special privileges, including the ability to violate state law with impunity. Well, we aren’t just going to sit by quietly while Enbridge keeps our Great Lakes at risk.”

If you are unable to join the action in Mackinaw City or Lansing on May 12 & 13, at least sign the petition that is demanding that President Biden support Gov. Whitmer’s call to decommission Line 5.

In addition, the Indigenous Water Protectors are asking for financial support for food while they camp out in Mackinaw City for a few days. If you are able to donate, send money here

A 1 hour virtual town hall meeting for the public to weigh in on the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget is a cruel joke

May 3, 2021

Last Thursday, MLive post an article with the headline, Grand Rapids mayor, manager hosting virtual town hall to talk 2021-2022 spending plan.

The proposed Grand Rapids City Budget for 2022 is a document that is 428 pages long and is not an easy read. (Linked here) The public will have to read the 428 page 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget before this Thursday, May 6th, if they want to make an informed comment about the 2022 Budget during the 1 hour virtual town hall meeting that the City is hosting. However, if you read the MLive article, it’s as if the City is doing us a favor by hosting this town hall.

The MLive article does state that there will be other opportunities to weigh in on the City’s budget”

Community members can give public comment and feedback at two of the city’s budget work sessions: one at 9 a.m. on May 4 and the other at 1 p.m. on May 11.

There are also opportunities to comment at the commission’s regular 7 p.m. meeting on May 11, as well as the public hearing on the budget at the commission’s 7 p.m. meeting on May 18

A last opportunity for comment will be at the commission’s special meeting 9 a.m. May 20, when elected leaders are slated to approve the finalized plan.

While some might think that these other opportunities are important, they are marginal at best. Three of the 5 additional opportunities happen during the day, when most people are at work. Calling in to comment during the regular City Commission meeting is better, but still limited, since we don’t yet know if the public comment will be at the beginning of the meeting or at the end. If public comment is at the end, then people might not be able to weigh in on the 2022 City Budget until 8 or 9pm. For those who work during the day and need to get up early and for those who have children, staying up that late on a week night can be difficult, especially since people are only given 3 minutes in which to speak.  

The public hearing on May 18 is the next best opportunity besides the town hall on May 6, but again, people will only have 3 minutes to speak on how they want their tax dollars to be spent by City Officials.

Even if people were able to attend and participate in all 6 meetings between now and May 20th, when City Officials will vote on the 2022 City Budget, that still only give people 18 minutes to be able to articulate their concerns and provide input on the already created 428 page 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget. 

If people really believe in a democratic process and really want the public to be central to the policies that are voted on by elected officials, then this process is nothing more than a cruel joke. It is particularly cruel right now, especially since there have literally been thousands of people weighing in on the amount of money that the GRPD receives each year, along with how we are faced with a series housing crisis in this city. You could also add that there are thousands of families still deeply impacted by the COVID pandemic, the structural racism that permeates this city and the climate crisis that threatens all of life. So yes, giving people just a few minutes to weigh in on how their tax dollars are spent is a cruel joke.

The City’s budget will determine where public tax dollars go and how they will be used, so shouldn’t the public have more time and have just as much say as City Officials? This is why we so desperately need to adopt a participatory budgeting process in Grand Rapids, a process that is more democratic and involves as many people who want to participate. In addition, people would be making these decisions and providing input over a year long process, instead of being invite to weigh in at the last minute on a budget that was already crafted. Check out the resources at the Participatory Budgeting site and let’s get organized to demand that the City of Grand Rapids adopt such a process or we will disrupt business as usual with all kinds of Direct Action!

For right now, I would encourage people to check out the information and actions that Defund the GRPD has going on over the next 2 weeks, which challenges the status quo are funding priorities for the City of Grand Rapids.

How does the CEO of a Charter School conglomerate not know what BIPOC means: And other tales of White Supremacy from the Grand Rapids Power Structure

May 2, 2021

A few days ago, there was a video of a late April meeting of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Promise, which you can watch here.

The Grand Rapids Promise was created in 2019, just as Teresa Weatherall Neal was stepping down as the Superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  

What grabbed people’s attention about this board meeting, was a question asked by board member JC Huizenga, then the response by Teresa Weatherall Neal. (around the 45 minute mark)

JC Huizenga asks the questions, “what does BIPOC stand for?

Teresa Weatherall Neal says, “It’s just another name for non-sense, JC.”

JC Huizenga then asks, “I’m wondering, does this discriminate against Asian people,  Jews who aren’t wealthy or Syrian Refugees?” All the while Weatherall Neal is shaking her head in affirmation of Huizenga’s comment.

Weatherall Neal talks about how she had to deal with the term BIPOC while she was GRPS Superintendent. “Black signifies all people from Africa. So everyone is lumped together.” 

Now, these comments are offensive on so many levels, which people have been pointing out on social media. The comments from Huizenga and Neal are racist, anti-semitic and they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the use of the term BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. 

However, in addition to the racist comments that were part of the Grand Rapids Promise board meeting in late April, there is other important contextual information we think is important to share.

First, JC Huizenga is the CEO of the Charter School company known as National Heritage Academies, a Grand Rapids-based company that runs Charter Schools in 9 different states across the US. So how is it that the CEO of company that education focused not know what BIPOC means?

In addition, JC Huizenga is a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Huizenga is a major contributor to the Republican Party, both at the state and federal level. The National Heritage Academies CEO also sits on the Board of Directors of the West Michigan Policy Forum, which seeks to influence public policy at the state level; plus Huizenga sits on the Board of Directors of the two major far right Think Tanks in Michigan, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Second, it is important for this community to know that during her tenure as the Superintendent of the Grand Rapid Public Schools, Teresa Weatherall Neal not only pushed the school district to adopt a more business-friendly approach to education, plus under her leadership the structure of the GRPS created a two-tiered system of education where certain schools committed to students with promise, while other schools essentially were designed to cater to students who would not go on to college. Most importantly, Teresa Weatherall Neal did all of this under the tutelage of Betsy DeVos. In fact, Neal was the only school superintendent that went to Washington DC to be part of the swearing in ceremony for DeVos, when she became Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration.

Lastly, it is important to point out that while JC Huizenga was asking what BIPOC meant, and after Teresa Weatherall Neal repeatedly referred to the term as “nonsense”, none of the other board members of the Grand Rapids Promise spoke up or objected to the White Supremacist language that was being used during the board meeting. Grand Rapids Mayor Bliss said nothing, the head of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Diana Sieger said nothing, the head of the Grand Rapids Catholic Schools – David Faber said nothing, GRPS Board member Kristian Grant said nothing, and Kate Pew Walters said nothing!

As Dr. King once said, “Silence is the voice of complicity.”

Acton Institute is so threatened by anything that doesn’t promote Capitalism, so they attacked the Really Really Free Market in Grand Rapids

April 29, 2021

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is a far right think tank dedicated to defending free market Capitalism, engaged in some extremely petty commentary recently.

On April 21st, Dan Hugger, who is a research associate with the Acton Institute, posted an article on the Acton blog entitled, The free market vs the Really Really Free Market.

Early on in the article, the Acton writer states:

“I am the last person in the world to critique people’s impulses for generosity and acts of charity. But the characterization of this as a “market” strikes me as a bit odd. Markets are traditionally understood as places where individuals, in the words of Adam Smith, “truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Free markets are not free not from prices but from constraints, regulations, and other hindrances to human action … rather than free in the sense of, say, “free beer.” Markets are the hubs of networks of specialization and trade where people voluntarily exchange their own unique time, talents, knowledge, and services with others for their own gifts, creating value for themselves and their communities. They serve a coordinating function to generate both individual and social well-being.”

Hugger saw the poorly written article on MLive, about the Really Really Free Market, which is what he was basing his response on. Despite the Acton Institute’s condescending tone about what markets are, he fails to completely miss the point about what the Really Really Free Market is all about. His lack of understanding about the RRFM is compounded by the use of a Salvation Army image for the article, which confirms his belief that the RRFM is nothing more than charity.

The Really Really Free Market (RRFM) has its origins during the early years of the anti-globalization movement and is part of the DIY & anarchist growth of the period that began in the 1990s. The RRFM is inherently an anti-Capitalist activity where people bring items that they no longer want/need to a designated location, where anyone who comes may take what people have brought. The idea is that we can share resources with each other to get some of the things we need, without having to participate in the larger consumption-driven Capitalist Culture. Sprout Distro has a really good zine that explains what the Really Really Free Market is all about.

The Acton writer thinks that the Really Really Free market is charity, which is not the case at all. The RRFM is one way that people can support each other, but it is also a way of expanding people’s radical imagination to say, “maybe there are other ways we can take care of ourselves that don’t rely on this thing called the free market,” which is certainly not free. 

The Capitalist free market is harsh, with all sorts of negative consequences, like labor exploitation, environmental degradation, and the growth of the wealth gap. Millions of people are in debt under the free market system and millions more have died at an early age because of a lack of regulation, over work, exposure to toxins, etc. This is exactly why it’s called the Really Really Free Market, because it’s free. There is no monetary cost to participate and the external costs are minimal – people driving to the location. 

However, the far right think tank known as the Acton Institute, which holds international conferences and has access to power – state, private and religious power, felt it necessary to reject and criticize one of the few activities that DOES NOT rely on free market Capitalism. Was the Acton Institute writer threatened by the RRFM or did they just not have a clue as to what it is? It’s hard to say for sure, but we do know that the Acton Institute has been a staunch defender of Capitalism since its founding in the early 1990s and they will do anything to suppress any alternatives to the free market, especially in Grand Rapids where the members of the Capitalist Class are praised constantly. 

West Michigan Foundation Watch: The Peter & Joan Secchia Family Foundation’s deceptive charity

April 28, 2021

When Peter Secchia, a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, died last fall, we wrote a story that was completely counter to what the dominant commercial news agencies reported.

We pointed out that Secchia used his wealth and his role in the Republican Party to engage in a great deal of harm – harm against workers, harm against women, harm against immigrants, harm agains Black people and harm against the LGBTQ community. 

We also pointed out that Secchia was an early supporter of Donald Trump in his bid to win the presidency in 2016. In fact, Secchia pressured other high profiled Republicans in the country and in West Michigan to get behind the candidacy of Donald Trump.

It is in this context that we write about the Peter & Joan Secchia Family Foundation. 

Compared to the DeVos Foundation the Secchia Foundation is smaller, with $11 million in assets. The Secchia Foundation also doesn’t fund the far right in the same way as the DeVos and Prince families do, although they do contribute annually to groups like the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute

Their larger foundation contributions mostly go to higher ed, like Michigan State University, Davenport, GVSU, or entities like the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and the Grand Rapids Community Legends project, which put in most of the statues in the downtown area in recent years. 

Then there are the numerous small Secchia Foundation contributions that go to little projects like Mel Trotter Ministries, the Community Food Club, Blandford Nature Center and First Steps. The benefit in giving to these local non-profit endeavors is that its great PR for the Secchia Foundation. It also means that these non-profits will not be critical of the larger funding impact of the Secchia family, particularly their political funding of the Republican Party. 

We can’t afford to be fooled by the so-called charity work that the Secchia Foundation contributes to, when the political work they fund supports public policy that creates the types of inequality that often result in people having to utilize the services of places like Mel Trotter or the Community Food Club, which is for Heartside residents. We have to resist the temptation to give local foundations are free pass, and instead see the larger picture about how wealth is used to manipulate, control and pacify people in this community.