The presentation began with the premise that in order for institutional or systemic change to take place in any community, people must have a clear understanding of who has power, both economic and political power.
The first slide shared was on understanding the Hierarchy of Power, which is included here (entire slideshow is available below).
The hierarchy of power believes that private economic power is the strongest form of power and that this sector of power uses political power to control state power. What is meant by political power is the idea to influence state policy through money and political leverage, which is often manifested in the relationships that private power has, the amount of assets and the associations and boards that it occupies.
Once the idea of a hierarchy of power was established, there was a discussion of who represented private power in Grand Rapids. There certainly are large, global corporations that have a presence in Grand Rapids, such as JP Morgan Chase Bank, AT&T, Coca Cola, Veolia and General Motors. These companies have power in that they can demand tax breaks and subsidies for setting up shop in the area, but they rarely influence local policy on a more regular basis.
The families, individuals and associations that were identified as having the real power in this community includes (but is not limited to) the following: DeVos, Meijer, Van Andel, Cook, Seechia, Michael Jandernoa, John Kennedy, David Frey, Sam Cummings, Huntington, the GR Chamber of Commerce, The Right Place Inc., The Econ Club of Grand Rapids, the West Michigan Policy Forum, Grand Action and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
These are the families and entities that through individual wealth or collaboration too often dictate the outcome of policies, economic development and major cultural dynamics that impact the entire community.
The easiest example is the DeVos Family. Their collective wealth and assets is astounding. You can see here how much they own and can get a more detailed listing at this link.
In addition to the wealth & assets that the DeVos Family holds, they influence policy through direct contributions to political parties/candidates or campaigns. According to data provided by the Center for Responsible Politics, we determined that the DeVos family had collective given over half a million dollars in the 2012 election cycle by July.
Other examples of members of the DeVos family influencing policy are the recent donation of $250,000 by Richard DeVos to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his bid to defeat a recall campaignand a $500,000 donation by Doug DeVos to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a lead organization that fights marriage equality across the country. On a more local level, the DeVos family has given money to influence the politics of local universities and colleges, religious institutions, hospitals and non-profits.
In addition to the power that individual families have because of their vast amount of wealth, they also have power through formal associations. If one were to look at who sits on the boards of entities like theGrand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Action, the Econ Club of Grand Rapids, theWest Michigan Policy Forum and the Right Place Inc., one can see the wealthiest and most powerful people occupying those boards. One can also begin to see that certain names appear over and over again, thus creating what could be called interlocking systems of power. Here is a graph to illustrate these interlocking systems in Grand Rapids.
These are the organizations and associations that the wealthiest families use to dictate policy in this community. We have seen this historically with the development of downtown Grand Rapids over the past 20 years, whether it was the construction of the arena, the convention center and now the so-called “urban market.”
Understanding that private economic and political power is greater than state power, we can then see how the state more often than not operates to maintain the social stratification created by the local elites. Through police, the courts and the jail, the state will deal with disproportionately poor and minority communities by putting them in the Prison Industrial Complex. This is not to say that the state does no “good,” such as libraries and public transportation, but the good/bad binary that has been created by the power structure doesn’t allow us to see how power functions. Of course, the state does some “good,” but the point here is that its primary function is to act on behalf of private power and not allow the masses to really have a say in social and economic policies.
The media also plays the same role, since the media is part of the power structure, based on who owns them. However, even most reporters will not question the power structure, since they have either internalized the values of the system or engage in self-censorship in order to protect their job. Very little local media is owned locally and when they do report on those with power, the news is often bias, framed in the good/bad binary and sometimes the news media acts as sort of a PR outlet for power.
This brings us to the last level in the hierarchy of power, the NGO, Social Services sector. More often than not what one sees with non-profit organizations and social services, entities that are dealing with the consequences of private power’s quest for more power – poverty, various forms of discrimination, poor health, destruction of the environment – is that these NGOs will not question the reasons why people are poor, are suffering from bad health or are the victims of discrimination and oppression.
One of the reasons for this failure to get to the root of problems within the NGO sector is because most often non-profits think that the current system is more or less fine and only needs some minor reforms. This is why many people will say that in Grand Rapids, “we do charity real well, but not justice.” There are social service agencies and charitable services all over this community, but they are not a threat to the existing power structure. This is exactly why the wealthy elites in this community often donate large sums of money to these non-profits, because they not only will not have their power threatened, it actually creates the illusion that they are doing “good.”
Radical sociologists identify the social service and non-profit sector as the first line of defense against social uprisings. If your organization or agency can provide charitable assistance to people, then they are less likely to direct their rage towards systems of power. In a sense, much of the social service and non-profit world acts as a buffer between the disenfranchised masses and the power elite or as the Occupy Movement would call them, the 1%.
This is exactly why virtually all those individuals and families who make up the 1% in Grand Rapids have their own foundations. Foundations are first and foremost a way to put one’s wealth into a non-taxable status, but it also serves as a way to create an illusion of concern, redirect attention away from social inequality and to engage in population management.
The power structure often gives money to programs that serve the “needy” as a way to guarantee that those most disenfranchised not only will not rise up against the power structure, but will actually come to see them as people they admire. We can see this all throughout West Michigan, where the DeVos, Prince, Meijer and Van Andel families are viewed with great admiration. The fact that working class people will speak highly of the local power structure is an amazing feat of propaganda that would make Joseph Goebbels blush.
The discussion at the Bloom Collective ended with looking at the function of ArtPrize within a local power analysis. People were able to deconstruct the role this art event played within that hierarchy of power and who the real beneficiaries were of the annual event.
We encourage anyone interested to come to our follow up event on Sept. 20th (at 7pm) where we’ll screen The Koch Bros. Exposed and relate this to the power system locally in Grand Rapids (http://www.facebook.com/events/215572158569125/). This will be more than just a film screening, as the film will be intermixed with other media, resources, and research which will better enable us to capture the true nature of power, thus empowering us to take that power back.
In addition, we’ll screen the trailer for Untouchable Waters, a film being produced locally about Plaster Creek (a Grand River tributary) and how it has become so toxic people cannot touch it without being harmed. More on that project can be found on their facebook page.
We’ll be asking for a $3 donation at the event. Please also consider updating your membership or otherwise contributing to the Bloom either by stopping by the space during open hours or visiting our contribute page.
Love & Rage,
The following materials have recently been donated to our collection and are available for members to check out at The Bloom Collective. We’re working on putting our entire catalog online, but in the meantime many of our materials in the library are viewable here (and by coming by the shop, of course!).
All commentary provided by GRIID.
The Nazis, Capitalism, and the Working Class, by Donny Gluckstein – This new book by Donny Gluckstein will challenge your perceptions about what were the primary ideological factors that drove the Nazi Party in Germany. Gluckstein’s thesis is that in addition to their hatred for Jews, the Nazi Party was motivated by their hatred of socialism, Marxism and organized labor. Hitler and the Nazi Party saw the German defeat in WWI, the Russian Revolution and the weakening of the country the fault of working class revolutionaries. The author tracks this ideological dynamic from WWI through the end of WWII, using numerous source materials, historical records, the German Press, Nazi Propaganda and other investigations to make a convincing argument that the Nazi belief in Capitalism was equal to their belief in anti-Semitism. An important contribution for the ongoing deconstruction of Nazi ideology and the growing collection of new anti-capitalist literature.
The Meaning of Freedom: And Other Difficult Dialogues, by Angela Davis – Few activist/scholars have the ability to bring an intersectional analysis to current freedom struggles the way Angela Davis can. This new collection of speeches from 1994 – 2009 offers a powerful display of intersectional analysis and a passionate plea for people to engage in the most pressing freedom struggles of our day. Davis addresses war, imperialism, neoliberal capitalism, the prison industrial complex, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and heterosexism through this collection of essays. Whether she is talking about the US prison population, sexual assault, racial discrimination or poverty, Davis never hesitates to challenge our tendencies to look at issues through a single lens. Each speech is a weapon against privilege and together this collection of truth telling can help us dismantle power however it has manifest.
Partisanas: Women in the Armed Resistance to Fascism and German Occupation (1936 – 1945), by Ingrid Strobl – Common stereotypes of women during wartime relegate them to the sidelines of history—to supporting roles like dutiful munitions factory workers or devoted wives waiting for their men to return home. The truth is that much of the armed resistance to fascism, before and during World War II, can be chalked up to women about whom official accounts have little or nothing to say. Through years of intrepid research and numerous interviews with the participants themselves, Ingrid Strobl excavates the history of the women who shouldered guns, planned assassinations, planted bombs, and were among the era’s most active antifascist fighters. Strobl’s commitment to and respect for her subjects has resulted in a work of both scholarly rigor and emotional depth. Weaving moving personal narratives into the broader history of the European resistance,Partisanas is both a detailed historical account and an investigation into what compelled women to reject their traditional roles to take up arms in a fight for a better world.
A Burning Question: Propaganda & the Denial of Climate Change (DVD) – This fascinating and clarifying look at the debate surrounding global warming explores the striking disconnect between the relatively clear-cut concerns of the world’s most prominent scientists and the maze of speculation, rhetorical posturing, and outright misinformation that attaches to this issue whenever it’s taken up by politicians, PR specialists, and political pundits. Mixing a localized focus on Ireland with insights from scientists and leaders from around the world, the film serves as both a primer on climate science and a penetrating analysis of media framing and the science of perception management.
All reviews written by GRIID.
Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture,edited by Carrie McLaren – The reality of living in a hyper-marketing and advertiser driven culture is not an epiphany for most of us. This book does in the first section provide us with a useful overview of how advertising impacts us as individuals and as a society. However, the beauty of Ad Nauseam is the collection of stories and reflections on consumer culture and what many people have done in response. Edited by Carrie McLaren, with the anti-consumption blog Stay Free, this anthology is sure to inspire, entertain, inform and even arm readers with some tactics on how to deal with the madness of living in a consumer culture. This book is not only useful for media specialists, but for anyone disgusted with being a target market by advertisers and their lackeys.
Occupying Privilege: Conversations on Love, Race & Liberation,edited by JLove Calderon – This anthology of essays, interviews, letters and poems is one of the best resources on anti-racism/anti-white supremacy I have read in years. The collection of authors is amazing, the stories are fabulous and the lessons learned are invaluable. JLove Calderon has put together an amazing resource that should be used by those who want to: first – come to terms with their own privilege; second – be exposed to an analysis of white supremacy and institutional racism, and: third – have the courage to engage in anti-racist action that is truly liberating. This book is worth every penny and is highly recommended.
Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel – We are all bombarded with information sources on TV & radio, in print and particularly online. How does one separate fact from opinion, especially as journalism invests more in hits than telling the truth? This recent book by two writers with the Project for Excellence in Journalism, provide us with an invaluable resource. Kovach and Rosenstiel look at online sourcing, context and the importance of verification in journalism, where journalist look to second and third sources to verify claims made by news sources, particularly people in power. The authors also argue we need to expand our notion of journalism in the digital age so that relevance, urgency, accountability and transparency can become the fabric of how journalism is conducted in the 21st century. A useful tool for educators, journalists and those who care about the future of news.
Vocabulary of Change: In Conversation with Angela Davis & Tim Wise (DVD) – This 78 minute DVD brings together for the first time two of the most prolific and dedicate anti-racist organizers and educators in the US. Angela Davis and Tim Wise both share powerful insights into their own evolution as activists and thinkers, the state of the US, institutional racism, the Prison Industrial Complex and the importance of intersectional thinking and strategizing. In addition, both Davis and Wise spend a significant amount of time looking at issues through a class-based lens and both make it clear that in order to create communities without racism, sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, Transphobia and any other kind of social system of oppression, we must dismantle capitalism. Vocabulary of Change is a great tool for group discussion and should be shared widely.
On Thursday, July 26th, we held a screening of Just Do It – A tale of modern day outlaws at the DAAC. Beforehand we presented an informational slide show about climate change and the associated direct action happening around the world. That slide show can be viewed here.
As a way for people to get involved locally, we’re recommending folks attend the Action Meeting on August 8th, organized by Mutual Aid GR and the peeps who brought you A People’s Assembly for Radical Sustainability. We’re told dinner will be provided and people can RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bloom itself will be taking a break from hosting events in August, however we will be hosting a Grand Rapids Power Analysis on September 8th (more on that to come). As always, if you’d like to get involved you can contact us by email (email@example.com) or stop by and speak to a core member during open hours (which are currently expanding, the website will remain updated) or even donate.
Love & Rage,
Chomsky On Anarchism - We all know what Noam Chomsky is against. His scathing analysis of everything that’s wrong with our society reaches more and more people every day. His brilliant critiques of—among other things—capitalism, imperialism, domestic repression, and government propaganda, have become mini-publishing industries unto themselves. But, in this flood of publishing and republishing, very little ever gets said about what exactly Chomsky stands for, his own personal politics, his vision of the future. Not, that is, until Chomsky on Anarchism, a groundbreaking new book that shows a different side of this best-selling author: the anarchist principles that have guided him since he was a teenager.
This collection of Chomsky’s essays and interviews includes numerous pieces that have never been published before, as well as rare material that first saw the light of day in hard-to-find pamphlets and anarchist periodicals. Taken together, they paint a fresh picture of Chomsky, showing his life-long involvement with the anarchist community, his constant commitment to nonhierarchical models of political organization, and his hopes for a future world without rulers.
For anyone who’s been touched by Chomsky’s trenchant analysis of our current situation, as well as anyone looking for an intelligent and coherent discussion of anarchism itself, Chomsky on Anarchism will be one of this season’s most exciting, and surprising, reads.
Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe, by Javier Sethness-Castro – This is the most recent book in a collaboration between AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Aside from the climate denial sector, we all know that global warming and climate change is one of the most pressing issues of the day. Indeed, if there is not significant reduction in carbon emissions in the coming decades, there may not be a future for humanity and many other species. The urgency of this issue is what makes Javier Sethness-Castro’s book so important. Imperiled Lifeprovides readers with sharp analysis on how humanity has come to the brink of climate catastrophe, relying heavily on political theorists such as Arendt, Schell, Hardt, Negri and Chomsky. This analysis provides a framework for not only understanding how we got in this mess, it gives us an opportunity to advocate for something entirely new in terms of human organization, what the author refers to as an “ecological anarcho-communism.” In this model the author says that solidarity would be the basis for all inter-relating and “The prospect of an exit from the social and environmental barbarism depends critically on the autonomous action of the subordinated.” This autonomous action must be global in order to truly bring about revolutionary change. Highly recommended.
The Book of Obama: From Hope & Change to the Age of Revolt, by Ted Rall – Cartoonist, writer and activist Ted Rall has given us another thoughtful and passionate book, in a sequel to his The Anti-American Manifesto. In this book Rall is speaking to potentially two audiences, those who voted for Obama in 2008 and are now disappointed and those who are already calling for revolution. The bulk of the book is an analysis of the first three years of the Obama administration, with stories woven in about people losing jobs, having homes foreclosed, about those impacted by the BP oil spill, families who lost loved ones in one of the many US wars and people who are suffering because of the loathsome health care system in the US. Rall shows no love for Obama or the Democrats, but he’s not calling for reform or a third party. The cartoonist is calling for revolution and believes that the fair spontaneous uprising that became the Occupy movement is an indication that more and more people are tired of business as usual in this country. The text is accompanied by lots of Rall’s political cartoons, which provide graphic humor along with is commentary on the state of politics in the US. A delightful read, especially for those who don’t put stock in the electoral process.
Be realistic: Demand the impossible, by Mike Davis (pamphlet) –This short pamphlet by former SDS member Mike Davis is both a fabulous gauge for the state of things and an inspiring reflection on what is possible. Writing in the midst of the Occupy movement, Davis provides us with part activist memoir, part dissection of the current state of the world and part reflection of the possible. Davis refers to the revolutionary ethic of the Occupy movement as “cultivating the generosity of the we.” The author gives plenty of examples of what this revolutionary generosity looks like on the west coast, where he has lived most of his adult life. Like his other books, Be realistic, agitates, infuriates and inspires. A wonderful treat.
Dirty Business: “Clean Coal” and the Battle for Our Energy Future (DVD) – This film is a 90-minute documentary produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting that investigates the true cost of our dependence on coal for electricity in the age of climate change. Politicians and corporate interests have mounted a formidable public relations campaign promoting “clean coal” as a solution to our energy/climate problem. America burns more than a billion tons of coal a year—and coal-fired power plants are the single greatest source of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Many of us are not aware that even now, in a world globally connected by the Internet, half our electricity still comes from this dirty, nineteenth century technology. DIRTY BUSINESS investigates the coal lobby’s $40 million dollar campaign to convince us that the technology to make coal “clean” already exists.
Despite the heat (and the occupied pavilion at Garfield Park), the Food Justice Workshop went off without a hitch. Attendees had an excellent discussion about the current food system, possible alternatives, and strategies to resist. Here’s the worksheet that was handed out (with active hyperlinks) for your reading pleasure. And don’t forget that we’re screening Just Do It at the DAAC on July 26th. Get more info here.
Understanding the Food System
The current food system we have in the US is both the result of a century of policies and food functioning as a commodity within the capitalist economy. This food system is extremely unsustainable, relies on massive government subsidies, fossil fuels, pesticides and migrant labor. Many Americans are unaware of where their food comes from and what entities are involved along the way.
- Agribusiness – While there has been a resurgence of small farmers in recent years, most of the food grown/raised in the US s done so on a large scale by operators within Agribusiness. These growers and factory farm owners rely on huge taxpayer subsidies. For instance, in Michigan the amount of subsidies for growers between 1995 – 2011 was $4.61 Billion. Agribusiness also operates in such a way that makes it dependent on the use of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Agribusiness usually engages in mono-cropping and often relies on migrant labor, which is highly exploitative.
- Food Brokers – another player in the current food system are companies that buy and see food. They have nothing to do with growing or raising food, but they often determine what price farmers will receive and see food as a commodity that is trading on Wall Street. Food Brokers determine the value of crops based on speculative capital, not on the amount of labor that went into it or the nutritional value of individual food items.
- Food Processors – These companies turn the bulk of food available in grocery stores into processed foods that are often food-like products with artificial flavoring, preservatives and other additives, which allow them to have a significant shelf life. Sometimes these companies have their own brand names such as Green Giant or operate purely in the processing realm and have nothing to do with the marketing or branding of food.
- Food Distributors – Food distributors sometimes are just involved in transporting foods. The average food item travels over 1,000 from where it is grown/raised to where it is consumed, since it relies on relatively cheap fossil fuels and the public road system. However, food distributors can also be companies like Gordon Foods, which distribute food to institutions such as schools. Companies like Gordon Foods do not generally have anything to do with growing food, but they often determine the kind of food that is provided in schools, hospitals, jails, nursing homes and other institutional settings.
- Food Policy – Food is highly regulated in the US and has been determined by the agribusiness sector. One example of this was the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into the US food system in the 1970s by Archer Daniels Midland. Since then the corn by product has infested a great deal of processed foods and contributed to a tremendous amount of poor health in the US. This was a decision made by the Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, who was part of the Nixon administration. Butz, like most Ag secretaries came from agribusiness or went to work for them after working for the government. However, most food policy is determined by what is referred to as the Farm Bill. For a solid analysis of the US Farm Bill go to Food & Water Watch.
- Grocers – Most people buy their food from grocery stores, which are dominated by large chain companies like Wal-Mart, Kroger and Meijer. These grocer chains deal in high volume, which allows them to offer lower prices. However, their operations rely heavily on government subsidies, access to lots of land and tax breaks, which is why they are in suburban areas near highways or main roads. These grocery chains spend a tremendous amount on advertising and have resulted in small, family owned food stores going out of business.
- Fast Food – The fast food industry has also been a beneficiary of food policy, food subsidies, public roads and massive amounts of advertising. The fast food industry has radically altered how Americans eat, contributing to poor health and environmental destruction as is well documented in the film McLibel. The fast food industry also relies heavily on advertising. According to the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, the fast food industry spends $3 billion a year on advertising that targets children.
- Animal Cruelty – The factory farm system in the US is based on massive cruelty done to animals. Animals are essentially seen as nothing more than a commodity and are tortured, injected with growth hormones & anti-biotics to keep them alive long enough before they are slaughtered. The factory farm system is also environmentally destructive.
- Advertising, branding and Product Placement – The fast food and the thousands of processed food items consumed daily rely heavily on advertising, which costs billions of dollars annually. Fast food and processed food ads are highly deceptive and tends to target younger audiences in order to develop brand loyalty. These companies also engage in product placement in films and video games and use viral advertising as a technique. In addition, these companies engage in a great deal of sponsorship of community and sporting events that not only normalizes their products, it gives them leverage in public policy.
- Global Warming – It is also important to note that the way food is grown and distributed contributes significantly to global warming. The agribusiness system, along with the burning of fossil fuels, heavy industry, cars and the military, is one of the main causes of climate change in the last 100 years.
- GMO’s and genetic diversity – The agribusiness model isn’t interested in food diversity and would rather produce fewer types of food than the generically rich diversity that nature has given us. Agribusiness genetically modifies foods without having to label foods that are GMO and they create seeds called terminator seeds, which means that the seeds in more and more fruits and vegetables can’t be used for growing.
Come join us at the Farmers’ Market to discuss eating in a way that treats the earth, animals, and ourselves in a healthy and just way. Then you can go get some fresh, local eats! More details coming soon.
We will have informational handouts that analyze the current food system and present ideas on how we can create more food justice.
Feel free to bring a dish to pass or some refreshments. This event is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored with the local group Our Kitchen Table.
Saturday, July 14
1 – 3:00PM
Garfield Park near the South east Farmers Market
334 Burton SE, Grand Rapids
For updates https://www.facebook.com/events/345045438902519/
We at the Bloom have fallen on hard times. No, we haven’t been broken into, raided, or infiltrated by the feds (to the best of our knowledge). We’re not closing our doors. No, but our financial health is not well. In fact, it’s in critical condition. Our only major expense in monthly rent (the vast majority of our materials are donated and all the work we do is volunteered), and our only income is from memberships and donations. Lately, these things haven’t been balancing out so well.
As a result we’re asking that you, our members, followers, readers, and fellow radical community members, give us a hand. Here’s what you can do:
- If you have a Bloom book or DVD checked out that’s past due, return it. We’ve just updated our summer hours (they’re hopefully a bit more convenient) and if those don’t work for you, some core members have volunteered to meet you at a designated time and place that does work (now that’s dedication!).
- If you got a membership more than a year ago or you don’t have a membership, and you dig what we’re doing, consider renewing your membership. We ask $5-$25 a year based on a sliding scale, and you decide where you fall on that scale. Maybe you’re flush with capital gains, in which case:
- Donate what you can. Obviously money is tight for everyone (well, most of us), but maybe you’re attending one of our workshops, films, or potlucks and you haven’t donated before, or you just want that tingly feeling you get when you give and share freely. We’d appreciate that as well.
The core membership at the Bloom is currently considering more ways we can stay afloat financially. We welcome your creative input here, as we’re doing everything we can to not contribute to capitalist exploitation whilst making rent every month. We’re considering t-shirts. Maybe a fundraiser. Time will tell.
Love & Rage,
The Bloom Collective