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Media Bites: Nestle commercial about donating water to Flint is an insulting example of White Saviorism

December 13, 2018

We have not produced a Media Bites segment in several years, so it seems appropriate to renew our commitment to providing some deconstructions of media, no matter what form it takes. Today, we take on a fairly new commercial by the global corporation known as Nestle.

This 30 second commercial from Nestle is nothing short of propaganda. The spot starts out with a scene in Flint, Michigan, then cuts to a Nestle truck driving from Stanwood, Michigan.

Then a voice begins to narrate stating early on that, “some people forgot about Flint, but Nestle Waters never did.” The narrator continues by telling people that Nestle has been delivering 100,000 bottles a week to Flint for free.

The spot then ends with the narrator saying, “In Flint, we haven’t given up, because we have friends like Nestle Waters.” The commercial ends with an ariel shot of Flint, with the Nestle logo and the tag line that says, “Water is our life’s work.”

The Youtube version of the commercial has a link for more information, which essentially takes you to a page where Nestle just praises themselves for all their humanitarian efforts, specifically in Flint

On another page, Nestle makes a statement that I found very interesting and infuriating at the same time:

At Nestlé Waters, we believe that access to safe, clean drinking water is a fundamental human right. Across North America, we care for and protect the water sources on which we rely, as well as the land around them. We are dedicated to making healthy, made-in-Michigan products while supporting our communities and caring for the state’s most precious natural resource for years to come.

The first sentence alone is an outright lie. If Nestle thought that access to safe, clean drinking water was a fundamental human right, then they would not extract it for profit.

We wrote about Nestle in April of 2018, when the State of Michigan essentially gave the global corporation complete access to the extraction of water in Michigan for the purpose of profiting off of something that people should not have to pay for. 

Getting back to the commercial, about Nestle and the residents of Flint, Michigan. This commercial and Nestle’s attempt to win public support for “donating” bottled water to residents in Flint is a concrete example of White Savior Politics. Here is a global corporation that is run by white people, going out of their way to let the public know that their donations to Flint, Michigan is part of their deep commitment to caring for people. The reality is that Nestle, which profits from water extraction on public land, doesn’t give a shit about people’s fundamental human rights. Nestle cares about Nestle and its shareholders……period.

Attacking Public Sector Pensions: What the West MI Policy Forum wants next

December 13, 2018

Last year, the West Michigan Policy Forum worked with state legislators and helped get legislation passed to undermine pensions for teachers in the public sector. Members of the West Michigan Policy Forum were able to do this by lobbying with their access to state lawmakers, since they have contributed significant amounts of money to their campaigns. 

Just as a refresher, the members of the West Michigan Policy Forum who have the most power to influence state policy are John Kennedy (Autocam Medical), Doug DeVos (Amway), Jim Dunlap (Huntington Bank), Matthew Haworth (Haworth Inc.), Jeff Connolly )Blue Cross/Blue Shield), Rick Baker (GR Chamber of Commerce), J.C. Huizenga ( National Heritage Academies), Mike VanGessel (Rockford Construction), Peter Secchia (SIBSCO) and Michael Jandernoa (42 North Patners). These are the guys who make up the Grand Rapids Power Structure, who have their names all over buildings, sit on the board of directors for several other influential entities and some of them have major foundation that fund all manner of far right stuff.

One of the policies they are focused on now and in the coming year, is to attack and undermine public sector worker pensions, specifically government workers.

At the September 2018 West Michigan Policy Forum Conference, the issue of targeting public sector employee pensions was discussed. Heading up this effort from the West Michigan Policy Forum is Michael Jandernoa, CEO of 42 North Partners, located in downtown Grand Rapids. Jandernoa knows a few things about buying access to politicians. In the past three elections cycles, Jandernoa has ranked in the top 15 individuals/families in Michigan to contribute to political committees. In the 2013-2014 election cycle, Jandernoa contributed $649,996, in the 2015-2016 cycle he contributed $827,500 and in the 2017-2018 cycle Jandernoa gave $592,000 (as of August 22).

Jandernoa was interviewed by Comcast about the West Michigan Policy Forum’s goal to undermine government employee pensions, an interview you can watch at this link.

This 5 minute interview is friendly and non-substantive, but Jandernoa says a few things that are worth noting, particularly how he framed the issue of government employee pensions. Jandernoa and the West Michigan Policy Forum want us all to believe that government employee pensions are “an unfunded mandate.” This is the language that Jandernoa uses in the brief interview. It is also instructive that Jandernoa keeps saying in the interview that he believes that government employees are entitled to their pensions, but that those pensions should not be paid by taxpayers.

Here is the thing. Government employee unions fought to get pensions and other benefits for government employees decades ago. Now the far right wants to implement more austerity measures against the public sector and one way is to not have government employee pensions paid for by the government. Instead, as Jandernoa states in the interview, the West Michigan Policy Forum now has a formula for how to get this done. What Jandernoa is referring to was the way they got Public Schools to no longer pay teacher pensions, which meant that pensions would now be part of a 401k policy that put it within the realm of speculative capital and subjected to the whims of the so-called free market.

We will continue to follow this issue closely by monitoring any state legislation that is proposed in Michigan to undermine the pensions of government employees. We will continue to monitor the West Michigan Policy Forum as well, since their members, like Michael Jandernoa, are part of the capitalist class, which ultimately benefits from such policies.

Michigan Student Power Network statement: Lame duck, Ballot Measures, and Michigan Democracy

December 12, 2018

Below in italics is a statement from the Michigan Student Power Network. The statement is important on numerous fronts, especially with their conclusion that we should rely on the changes we seek through the ballot box.

There has been plenty of national and local coverage on Michigan’s Lame Duck session and how the GOP is attempting to undo some of the recent gains made. The Bridge has an interesting article about how many members of the Democratic Party base are not happy with the lack of action from the party’s leadership. The GOP did the same thing at the end of 2012, where they shoved a Right to Work policy on the public, even though there was massive opposition with 10,000 people protesting. Unfortunately, the labor unions decided to play nice and allow lawmakers to operate in a business as usual climate, much like what we are seeing today. The Michigan Student Power Network provides some interesting analysis here.

This past month, Michigan Republicans launched confidently into the Lame Duck Session proposing a slew of legislation. Among this torrent of bills, conservative legislators have aimed primarily at gutting progressive policies and subverting the outcomes of the 2018 election. They have targeted issues that are particularly important to Michigan students and working people: The two ballot measures: for paid sick time and the $12 minimum wage, as well as removing Line 5 from popular control, and attacking the rights of teachers unions. Being able to earn a higher wage, not being forced to choose between our health and a day’s pay, the end of a dangerous oil pipeline, and the rights of our teachers, all of  these things would be clear tangible improvements or impacts on our lives.

Given the history of the Lame duck period, we expected this attack on Michigan’s people. Unilaterally passing legislation during lame duck has been at the core of the conservative strategy for at least the past decade.. In previous lame duck sessions they passed right to work and the emergency financial manager law, both critical attacks on the ability of working class communities of color to organize. They’ve even made a practice of overturning ballot measures having in the past defeated a popular attempt to end Emergency Financial Management by repealing the law and then re-passing a nearly identical law after the election during Lame Duck.

When viewed alongside long standing support for gerrymandering, voter id laws, and emergency management, it seems that ignoring and subverting the democratic process is critical to the conservative strategy. Sadly the response of progressive forces is plead for decency, and ask supporters to call legislators that are unlikely to listen (given that they will many will never again face the voters), and ask us all to go vote again in two years. This approach seems all the more ridiculous as we watch French protesters bringing their government to heel via direct confrontations in the streets, while reading daily of the latest abhorrent policy making its way through Michigan’s legislature.This back and forth cycle between conservative policies, elections, voter suppression, and ineffective opposition leads us to question whether our state is infact a democracy. We seem to increasingly live in an open oligarchy, our futures decided from above, and our our democratic aspirations subverted by the system that claims to represent us.

The Michigan Student Power Network, has long held that young people must engage in the electoral process, while maintaining a strong focus on long term organization, radicalization, and power building. This latest attack only underlines what we have known all along: that this process and this system was not built for us, and will not work for us; that we must use what little power we have at the ballot box to strike back against conservative policies; and that we must also seek more direct means to fight for a state that serves its people- not wealthy predominantly white political donors.

We will use the coming days to organize and publicize what is happening during this lame duck session, while laying the groundwork both locally and that the statewide level to demand the radical change our state needs through more direct means. Our futures depends on the redistribution of wealth and power through progressive taxation, historic reparations, free education and healthcare, and a restructuring of our democracy beyond the reach of the rich- we shouldn’t expect these things to just come from a ballot box.

GRIID Winter 2019 Class: US Immigration Policy, History and an End to Border Imperialism

December 11, 2018

Immigration policy has been front and center with the current administration as it has been for many others over the past 150 years. One can hardly go a week without hearing about asylum seekers, ICE violence against immigrant families, private detention centers or the targeting of immigration justice activists by police.

Considering how much attention immigration policy is getting, we are offering an 8-week GRIID class, which will include the following themes; 1) a history of US immigration policy; 2) Facts vs Propaganda on US immigration and immigrants; 3) How US Foreign Policy is often the cause of immigration; and 4) Immigration Reform vs Immigrant Justice.

The class will use chapters from a variety of books, online resources and documentaries. GRIID will provide PDFs of all the book chapters we will use.

The class format includes readings for each week along with open and informal discussion during the 2 hour classes, which are facilitated by GRIID.

The class is designed for people who want to expand and challenge their understanding of US immigration policy and practice. The class is also designed for people who want to participate in immigrant justice and practice solidarity with the immigrant community.

GRIID is asking a suggested $25 for the 8 week class per person. However, the cost is negotiable and no one will be turned away based on contribution. Class size is limited to 15 people.

The class will be held on Monday evenings from 7pm – 9pm, beginning on Monday, January 28 and running through March 18. The class will be held at 940 Clancy Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

For more information about the class or to sign up, please contact Jeff Smith

The Fight against Enbridge’s Line 5 and the Future of Climate Justice in Michigan Part II

December 10, 2018

Last week, in Part I, we looked at what the State of Michigan is doing to support the Enbridge Corporation’s Line 5 project, with the recent decision to provide $4.5 million of taxpayer money to construct a tunnel under the lake to connected the lower peninsula with the upper peninsula.

We discussed the Enbridge Line 5 project within the context of recent reports on global Climate Change, which states that current fossil fuel consumption needs to be reduced by at least 50% within the next 12 years or humanity will not be able to reverse the global warming trend. 

There are two additional reports that are also rather alarming as it relates to Climate Change. One report, published in the journal Nature, shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet hasn’t melted this fast for more than 7,000 years.

The second recent report comes from the US Global Change Research Program, which published its Fourth  National Climate Assessment. The summary of findings in this report are rather sobering, which includes this statement:

Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.

With all of this new information and analysis, the logical conclusion that one could draw , especially as it relates to Michigan, is that Line 5 cannot continue to operate and must be shut down.

Climate Justice and Resistance to Line 5

Many of the mainstream environmental organizations don’t seem to have the urgency around Climate Justice, particularly when it comes to resisting Enbridge’s Line 5. The Michigan Environmental Council in their Energy and Climate Change section, has some information about Line 5 and its risks, but there is no clear call for it to be shut down and no clear steps and actions that need to be taken for it to be shut down. 

The Michigan Sierra Club has great information about Enbridge’s Line 5 on their main page and even more educational material on the pipelines section. However, the only actions that the Sierra Club is encouraging people to take to Shut Down Line 5 is to contact the Governor’s office, the State’s Attorney General and to sign a petition.

Closer to home, there is the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), which does not have any information about Line 5 easily accessible on their website. The only thing related to Climate Change that you can find quickly is a report about Grand Rapids and Climate Resiliency

The group FLOW (For the Love of Water), which is based out of Traverse City, also has a lot of great information on Line 5, like the graphic below, and a clear demand for the pipeline to be shut down. However, when it comes to taking action, they suggest signing a petition, writing Michigan lawmakers, getting your group to endorse shutting down Line 5, or putting a Shut Down Line 5 yard sign in front of where you live. 

The only group that we have come across that advocates anything other than signing petitions or pressuring state lawmakers is the group known as Anishinaabek Camp – Shut Down Line 5. This is an indigenous-led effort that is made up of Anishinaabek people, many of whom were involved with the indigenous resistance at Standing Rock. They are advocating for direct action to shut down Line 5 and have set up a base camp in Levering, Michigan, just south of Mackinac City.

The group is engaging in rallies, educational work, but more importantly they are using direct action as the larger tactic, with plans to actively shut down Line 5 and not wait for lawmakers to make that happen. You can support them by contributing to their resistance work at this link. They also welcome visitors to the camp, but have made it very clear that this is an indigenous-led movement to shut down Line 5, like to many of the other campaigns that are taking place, which are also led by indigenous people. This seems to be the most important work that those of us who are allies can support, with our money, resources and solidarity. You can contact the group by going to their Facebook page

A critical examination of how WOOD TV 8 reported on Grand Rapids protest connecting violence against asylum seekers at the border and family separation in Kent County

December 7, 2018

Last night Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE hosted a protest/vigil to make the connection to the tear gassing of asylum seekers at the US/Mexican border and the violence of family separation being perpetrated by ICE agents in Kent County.

After a brief informational gathering, the group walked to three different ICE offices located in the downtown area, offices that ICE operates out of, offices that ICE rents from local property management companies that we previously reported on.

However, before the protest/vigil began one member of Movimiento Cosecha GR was interviewed by WOOD TV 8. We recoded the entire interview, which lasted 8:55 and is posted here below.

We think it is important to contrast the interview that we did, with the interview that WOOD TV 8 conducted, which you can view at this link.

There are several differences between the full interview that we video taped with Movimiento Cosecha GR member Karla Barberi and what WOOD TV 8 aired on their channel and posted on their website.

First, WOOD TV 8 felt it was necessary to early on in their story and at the very end to use language from the US Border Patrol to frame their actions against asylum seekers at the US/Mexican border, language that places the blame on those who were coming to the US seeking asylum.

Second, in the WOOD TV 8 interview we never hear Karla talk about what the purpose of the action last night was and why Movimiento Cosecha GR organized the event, along with GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Third, WOOD TV 8 chose to focus on the more emotional comments from Barberi. And while there is nothing wrong with using emotional comments, those comments were taken out of context, thus making it difficult for viewers of the channel 8 story to fully understand what was happening and what the focus of the protest/vigil.

Fourth, in the video tape of Karla Barberi, she clearly discusses what local ICE violence is doing to immigrant families and why it is important for Kent County to end their contract with ICE. Those points, unfortunately are not very clear in the WOOD TV 8 story.

Lastly, since WOOD TV 8 did not accompany the march/vigil to the three ICE locations, they also missed the important information and analysis that was provided at each location by members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. At the last ICE office that the protestors visited, in the old Waters Building, they were met by members of the GRPD, which escorted them out of the building, stating that if they stayed in the building, they would be arrested.

Movimiento Cosecha GR was live streaming the entire action, which you can watch at this link.

Kent County Administrative Staff and Commissioners establish Immigration Focus Group

December 6, 2018

During the November 29th Kent County Board of Commissioners meeting, it was announced near the end that the County administration and the Commissioners have now formed a Immigration Focus Group

Kent County Commissioner Bolter made the announcement, when she said:

I also wanted to make mention that if anyone happened to miss our Executive Team meeting this morning, staff is focusing on an immigration focus group that they have started…….and staff has met with the Sheriff and a few others, but they are putting together an action plan and planning to meet with community leaders and any other commissioners who want to be involved…..and that should be kicking off in January.

(You can watch the video from the 11/29/2018 meeting, with the comments beginning at 55:20 in the video.)

This decision by Kent County is the result of members of the immigrant community and allies pressuring them to end the Sheriff Department’s contract it has with ICE, a contract that has been in place since 2012 and is set to be renewed in September of 2019

I want to make several points in response to this announcement.

First, Commissioner Bolter states that this is an immigration focus group, which is different than what we had been hearing for months. We were told that the County would establish a Task Force.

Second, when they say they are planning to meet with community leaders, what exactly does that mean? There are no defined community leaders in the immigrant community. What this usually means is people who have name recognition or those who work in the non-profit sector. However, community leaders can mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people, especially to those most affected by the contract that Kent County has with ICE. Who do you think that those most impacted by the ICE contract view are the “community leaders?”

Lastly, while some might see the immigration focus group as a positive, those who have been confronting the County to End the Contract with ICE view this announcement with skepticism and frustration. People are skeptical that it will not put the focus on the ICE Contract and they are frustrated that this announcement seems to minimize the actual harm that has been done, and is being done to the immigrant community by ICE in Kent County, including the Sheriff Department’s contract.