Wasting Our Money

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (March 1998)

Since the Cold War ended, there has been a misconception that government spending on the military has decreased. The truth is, funding is still at Cold War levels and is going up starting this year. In 1998 265 billion dollars is to be spent on the military. Over the next six years the amount of money we spend on defense will be a total of 1.65 trillion dollars.

All of this money is being used to improve a military that is already the strongest and largest in the world. Most of our military mite was assembled under the fear of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union is gone, as is the Warsaw pact. There are no other countries in the world that are as powerful as the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact countries were, or the United States. The only real job for our military is little peacekeeping missions throughout the world, which can be done without any sort of new weapons. You don’t need a nuclear arsenal or the newest fighter jet to keep the peace in Bosnia or Somalia.

Yet despite the fact there are no serious threats our country is still spending money on all sorts of new technologies all designed to kill people. We are already spending money to develop plans for fighter jets to replace the “next generation” fighters in 2030. We haven’t even started to use the “next generation” fighters, and won’t until 2015, but we are already thinking of replacing them? It doesn’t make any sense. Even crazier is the idea that we need to be prepared to fight two wars at once in different halves of the world, with each country being nearly as strong as the United States. The fact is there aren’t even two combined countries that could equal the power of the United States military.

This may seem fine to most people; we need to protect our country. I can see spending money on defense, but preparing for multiple wars when there aren’t any real threats is just stupid. It’s nice that the government is supposedly looking out for our needs by defending the country, but there are a number of other things they could spend the money on. With even a small portion of the defense budget we could get people off the streets and educate them with the skills they need for a decent job. I am pretty sure that no unemployed people care if we can fight a war in Iraq and Korea at the same time, they have bigger problems to worry about, as does the government.

To put this all in perspective, the federal government only gives 43 billion dollars in aid to states for education. It seems we would rather prepare for a war than prepare for an increasingly global economy where other countries will hold an advantage over us. What are we going to do, bomb them?

In A Prison?

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (March 1998)

As my high school years draw to a close it is time to look for a job. I put this task off long enough. Now is the time to face the reality of needing to get a job. So today I went to an interview at a local department store. I was given this lengthy survey where I had to respond to a bunch of different questions. Things like, “the world would be better if everyone told the truth – true or false”, “you think less of people who always lie – true or false”, and others like that. I was going along OK until I got to a question that said, “we need more police to control the crime rate – true or false.” I answered “false” and moved on, even though answering “true” probably would have been better for getting the job.

I made it through the interview without any other difficulties, I think I did pretty well. On the way home I was thinking about things I could have done better and that question about police kept working it’s way into my head. It got me thinking about my own views on the police, something I had never really thought about before.

Like most people, the last thing I want to see when I am driving is a cop. Even the sight of a cop a few cars ahead or behind me makes me immediately slow down, even if I am going the speed limit. Which is weird, since I am doing nothing wrong. The same thing happens if I am walking. I avoid the police like the bubonic plague. I might as well admit it; I am scared of the police.

The police are basically a standing army, supposedly put there to protect the needs of the people. They have guns, nightsticks, bulletproof vests, and armored cars. The police force is armed with enough firepower to annihilate several countries’ armies. They certainly don’t look friendly. I can remember when I was a little kid; the two things I was most scared of were clowns and cops. Cops used to walk around handing out baseball cards to kids who would come up and ask them for cards. I never got the cards because I was always too intimidated by their guns and handcuffs.

Now that I am older I realize that there is a lot more for me to fear than just their weapons. I fear the fact that cops have a habit of stopping people merely because they are a teenager. It isn’t uncommon for police to pull you over and make up a stupid reason to search your car. It is their only way of keeping tabs on the population they are supposed to be protecting. I also am scared that the people that are supposed to be protecting all people have a habit of suspecting minorities first in crimes. Racial bias extends to the courts where minorities are given longer sentences than whites for the same crime. I fear the notion that the upper class somehow deserves better treatment than those of average to below average income do. But mostly, I fear an institution that occasionally abuses the people they are supposed to be protecting. That should NEVER happen. There is no excuse for it.

Politicians in Washington are always discussing crime and how it could be solved with more police. One of Bill Clinton’s “claims to fame” is that he added 100,000 cops to America’s police force since he became president in 1992. On CNN I heard a member of the house of representatives say that he would like to see a cop on every street corner. Do you know what I thought of when I heard that? A prison. There is no way in hell we need that many cops. Armed officers would be watching over and controlling the people, not protecting them. I feel that we are leaning towards that right now, but that would be insane.

I think something is seriously wrong with the police system in the United States. Something needs to be done to end the problems within the police department. It is time to stop letting cops off the hook for beating people, time to end racial biases, and discriminating against everyone except the white upper class. Until they do something about these problems I will continue to fear them. Most importantly, I hope they don’t add any more police. I’m a person, not a prisoner. I have done nothing wrong, but I still fear police. There is something very wrong with that situation.

The GRPS Bond Issue

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (March 1998)

The biggest news of the past month was the failure of the school bond issue. It was voted down by around 16,000 votes to 10,000 votes. While it isn’t that much of a surprise, students should still be mad that it failed to pass.

A person has to be stupid in order to say that our schools didn’t need the 396 million dollars the bond would have given us. Take a look at the schools around Grand Rapids. Forrest Hills, East Grand Rapids, Grandville, Caledonia, and many others are at least twice as nice as the Grand Rapids district. Many of our schools are falling apart, due to the lack of new books and equipment, or at some schools, literally falling apart. People who can afford it run to the suburbs once their kids are old enough to go to school. Where does it leave the children of parents who can’t afford to move? Screwed. They are forced to go to schools that are inferior.

Why did the bond issue get voted down? The main reason is the fact that the majority of people who voted were elderly. They figure at that their children have already graduated and that they don’t want to have to more taxes. Mary Milanowski and her “group” of people opposed to the bond issue also played an important role in getting the issue defeated. She got people to vote “no” because she was on the school board in the past. When she said that the schools didn’t need the money, people believed her. Never mind the fact that when she was on the school board she voted no on almost everything, what a help she was. I wonder if she is ignorant or just plain dumb? I’m guessing it is the latter.

Another popular argument was “we should have never let the schools deteriorate into this state.” Well, I don’t think anyone besides YOU, the people who consistently voted no, had anything to do with that. There have been many millages in the past that you must have voted no on. So blame it on yourself, it’s your fault. None of the people working for the GRPS, on the school board (except Mary Milanowski), or the students wanted the schools to fall apart. As for those old people that voted no. If you took the time to go INTO a school you would notice that they basically the same as when your children graduated, or in some cases, when YOU graduated. Nobody can say there isn’t something wrong with that situation.

If people in the 18-25 age group actually voted, it would probably have made a big difference. Those people would know that the schools need help, and would probably have voted “yes”. So next time, get out and vote. Also, not enough adults who have children in school voted. Whether it was due to laziness or some other reason, they really screwed their children by not taking the minute required to vote. Thanks so much.

Those Stupid Registration Cards

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (March 1998)

I never knew how many interesting things you get when you turn 18. Shortly after I reached this milestone I got to register to vote, received a “gift” from Gillette (a free razor and shaving cream, how the heck did they know it was my birthday? just another example of big corporations keeping tabs on us), multiple credit card offers, and a special message from the government. What was in the special message? An SSS notice, of course.

An SSS notice? What the heck is that? I opened it after the exciting packaging, “young men, important information about your future” triggered my curiosity; I wondered what branch of the armed forces they wanted me to join now. Unfortunately, it was just a disguised note reminding me to register in case they ever need to draft people. But to be honest, it was more like a threat. After requesting a bunch of information that they must already have (like my birth date, how else would they know I just turned 18?) you flip the card over to see a bunch of warnings about how you are required to register. “Failure to register is a crime”, “Register NOW for your future”, “Failure to register is punishable by a $250,000 fine and 5 years in prison”, “If you don’t register you will be denied federal assistance (financial aid, social security)”, and many other threats.

While I am not to hip to the idea of America ever having to draft people to fight some dumb war. I have always felt that when you need to draft people, it should be a sign that you aren’t fighting for anything worthwhile otherwise people would join on their own. I decided that the government was pretty serious in their threats. After all they (probably) played a part in killing Kennedy, beat Rodney King, fed nuclear cereal to US citizens, and a host of other things, so the consequences would probably be much worse than the threats they wrote on the envelope. Like I was expecting to get social security anyway. So I mailed the card in, which incidentally required a stamp. The least they could do is pay for the stamp if they ever expect me to die for them.

I’ll say it right now, if the draft is ever put into effect, I’m going to be a draft dodger. Bill Clinton, you were right about one thing! Spending some time in a jail sounds much better than dying within a few months in a war. I am sure I would die, I am a wimp. I would be of no help to them. I can barely lift 50 pounds, my main form of exercise is in-line skating, and I refuse to have anything to do with guns (the country would be much safer if there weren’t guns on the streets). They think that would help them win a war? I don’t think so. The sign-up officer would probably be so pissed at me that he would yell at me, “you fucking piece of shit, can’t you do anything right?” and escort me to wherever the military takes their wimps. It would be like gym class all over, in which I was frequently told what a piece of shit I was.

I don’t think the government should be mailing these cards out, they should focus on PEACE. How about requiring people to fill out cards to be drafted into helping to feed disaster victims in their area should the need arise? I would be all for that. But all their card did was remind me my life is probably a quarter of the way over, or should they get into a serious war, an indefinite stay in prison.

Don’t Tell Me What To Say

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (February 1998)

Recently a rule was drafted at a Milwaukee, WI high school that could have a tremendous amount of influence on school policy throughout the United States. Shorewood High School officials decided that the language of students was making the school look bad and disrupted the process of educating students. The rule is reprinted here:

??”6. It is expected that students will use appropriate language. A student will not use such highly offensive words such as fuck, motherfucker, bitch, ho, asshole, and cock sucker. This is not an inclusive list. Penalty-1st time=OSS1 (out of school suspension), 2nd and successive times police referral for disorderly conduct. A staff member will penalize other inappropriate language at his/her discretion.”??

Many of you probably don’t see this having any effect on schools outside of Milwaukee or Wisconsin but it could. The reason why is the recent push by conservative politicians to improve schools and institute “values” (Christian ideas on how we should act) in school. Several politicians across the United States have mentioned they would like to see this added in as many schools as possible. Michigan seems like an ideal place for a rule such as this. Michigan is already debating a law would require students to take an ethics/values class to improve morals. Our governor has stated his support for this proposed class, as well teaching the Bible. Looking at the conservative make up of our area, a rule regulating these words would likely have a lot of support. A recent survey suggested that 85% of American adults support the Milwaukee high school’s decision. In West Michigan the percentage of adults supporting a rule likely be much higher.

To comment on this whole mess, I would have to say that students should be allowed to swear as much as they want. It is an issue of freedom of speech, and if those are the words they want to use, let them-they can deal with the consequences. However, I do believe there are times when it is inappropriate. A student should never swear at a teacher or on an assignment, that is more of an issue of respect than freedom of speech. But if the kid wants to say, “fuck you” to someone he or she doesn’t like, let him or her. A school has no place to regulate the communication between students.

Look, I Think

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (February 1998)

I’ll admit it, I’m not your favorite guy on the planet. But come on, can you make such a blatant, and stupid accusation? In the past few weeks, I have come across a great number of people that seem to disregard what I, and others like me have to say, on the basis of “it’s not right”. What does that mean? “It’s not right?” What the fuck is that? To me what it says, is your so scared to hear something different, you just blow it off, run away, and hide from THINKING. Hey, let’s not waste our time doing such a strenuous activity.

Yeah, our brains. What more are they good for then letting us pop open that bottle of vodka or getting that bong to our face. Hey, this is the last call for regrets, anyone who wants in on INTELLIGENCE, please speak up now. Nobody? Okay, the bar’s closed, and so are your minds. Let’s face it, in the past 50 years, there hasn’t been much more than scandal in this country. There has been good, now you can logon to your favorite Yahoo chocolate drink web page (and even see a commercial with their neato Frito page on it), and that didn’t happen 5 years ago, let alone 50. So technology has come a ways, (of course there are 2 faces to that monster, as with everything).

But if you think about it there’s not much more than a rise in stupid, pointless, and the scariest part of all, ACCEPTED hate out there. It seems there has been a big rash (trendy? oh god.. don’t tell me this is “trendy”) of a bunch of white trash skinhead racist sexist homophobes. Basically saying “see, we’re white, male, and straight! How much closer to GOD can you get!?” Well you certainly aren’t *my* god, and if you have any decency at all, then sometime in the rest of your narrow-minded, pitiful life, you’ll find a way to regress these sins. (Wait, sins? that wasn’t the term I wanted, uh, maybe misconceptions? well yeah, to put it lightly anyway) and realize that, well let’s start from the top.


So yeah, if you are some big buff white guy, with no hair, and a shirt saying, “Aryan American” I guess you could re-arrange my face and I probably wouldn’t have much to say about it. Rearrange my mind? Not in the least. If you fuckers go out beating up a bunch of people because they’re black, oriental, Mexican, anything other than your “I’m so clean” palette, you think that’s going to get you anywhere? There’s a very primitive, natural instinct that is in every animate, living thing, from lizards to humans, and it’s if you fuck with someone for a) no reason, and b) too often, it’ll come back to bite you in the ass (karma? I think mom & pop were right for once eh?).

This point is described well in a movie I recently rented; it was the Jurassic Park sequel, Lost World. This team of “scientists” comes in to capture a bunch of dinosaurs for financial gain. There is one species that are really small and basically harmless alone. Well, one comes up to a guy with a big electric tazer, and the guy says “look, its like he isn’t even scared of me” (like that’s just *such* a surprise. 65 billion years ago? god, must of been near-heaven), the scientist type-guy says “he has no reason to be, humans have never harmed them.” So the fuck face bonehead decides to apply the red-hot tazer to it for no reason.


Later in the movie, 30 of them gnaw this guy to death. Probably a slow and painful death. Anyway, moving to the point. If you haven’t been doing your homework (apparently black flag did, as they wrote a song about it) The white Caucasian is becoming a *minority*. So keep beating the fuck out of other people because of their color, and in 20-30 years, when you are on the ground bleeding after about 10 black guys kick your ass, don’t expect sympathy from as much as the hill of ants 5 feet from your immobile face. Being paralyzed is very FRUSTRATING.

Social Cliques

Reprinted from Chumps on Parade (February 1998)

In the society that we live in today there are many different kinds of cliques. Each has their “claim to fame” but a common factor that is present in most of them is that they love to claim their independence from everybody else…in other words they want to be individuals. Don’t get me wrong though I think that everyone needs to be individual. If we weren’t the world would just be one big blob of sameness. But I really think that the word individuality is misused.

The main problem that I have with these certain “cliques” of people is that they try so hard to be “anti-society” and to be individuals that they fit our society’s stereotype of them absolutely perfectly, which they obviously don’t realize. Now I am really a hypocrite for writing this because from time to time I am sure that people have thought the exact same thing about me. This is just an outsiders view on the subject.

Let’s talk about the Hippies/Flower children, and the Goth population of society. The Hippies have their everlasting and ever present search for oneness with themselves. This constant self exploration and self expression is merely a way to draw attention to themselves as a minority. I mean they talk a certain way, act a certain way, dress a certain way all to be what? Free from the normal life of society? Free from the normal stereotypes that are associated with teenagers? Well they have really accomplished what they have set out to do haven’t they? They really are not any different from you and me. They still fall under the same prejudices that teenagers are faced with. They are still discriminated against. They are no different.

Then there is the Goth people who just try to…well they just try to scare the shit out of people by painting their faces white, putting rings underneath their eyes while acting very submissively. What does that scream out to me? It screams out “HEY LOOK AT ME I AM GOTH AND I NEED MORE ATTENTION THEN A 5-YEAR-OLD KID!” What respect does this really give them? None and they know it, at least not from their peers and adult figures.

Society is such a touchy thing today that we will never fit into it or be able to get away from it. Maybe my biggest problem that I have with these groups of people is that they simply try too hard. they pledge and preach self-righteousness so much that they come off to the majority of people as just a dumb teenager. And that is the whole problem that they are trying to overcome by forming these cliques! People think about society, they end up forming groups of people who are almost identical to them. They are laughed at. They laugh back at the people that are laughing at them and try harder to break away from them. They end up not changing at all and don’t realize it until someone or something slams it in their face. It is a vicious circle that will never be resolved.

Good people, greed, and the corporate cult(ure): An insider’s view of Amway

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (February 1998)

FUN co-editor Richa interviewed former Amway employee Amy Schatner. Amy’s sibling, Sharon Schatner, who was there listening to Amy’s complaints during Amy’s years at Amway, also contributed. The interview was reviewed by Amy and edited. The book reference is to Stephen Butterfield’s 1985 book, “Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise.”

Amy: My aunt worked there and told me about a job opening. I went in and interviewed for this job — I was right out of college — they told me they had something more in line with my career. I got all excited. It turned out to be something where the distributors call in to get their items replaced when they’re defective.

So, I got in that way. I stayed there for six months, moved to another department for six months, then another department for about five years, then another. I was there a total of about seven and a half years.

Richa: Did you know anything about Amway when you went to apply there?

Amy: I knew it was a big company out there in the country where my aunt worked, and my brother. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about “corporate America,” I just wanted to get a job.

For the most part I pretty much did the same kind of work. I worked directly with the distributors on the phone. I moved up and I moved on. Each promotion gave me more responsibility and was more challenging.

I’ll tell about the good things first. They gave me opportunities to learn computer skills that I didn’t have before… [long pause] I can’t think of anything else!

Sharon: Well, the thing about Amway is, you get in there, they pay so well, they give good benefits, you have such security. I worked there for just a short time, but what I’m saying, once you’re in there, it’s kind of like a little trap.

Amy: The golden handcuffs. That’s a good point, because that is part of why I stayed there. The important thing to note is that I realized, probably in year two, that I wasn’t happy, this wasn’t where I wanted to be, I didn’t see it as my career, I didn’t identify myself with my work, and I always knew… I’m out of here any minute now, just any minute now. I never bought into it like all the other people I worked with, I never had the loyalty, the enthusiasm for the company. But, yet, I stayed there seven and a half years.

There were a lot of personal things that kept me there. Fear of failure, fear of success, not really knowing what I wanted to do. I decided at one point I wanted to go to graduate school and get a degree in psychology. So I went through that process, tried hard, and thought I had a strong application. I did not get in. A that point I was miserable enough, backed in a corner enough, so that I was just going to do whatever I had to do to get out of there.

That’s how I finally was able to get out of there, and became more blessed than I ever deserved, because I got a job that I love with all my heart. I mean, it’s very emotionally taxing and a very hard job, but I love this job.

But anyway, at Amway, there are things that would happen that I would talk about with my coworkers, and they would say, “Just don’t think about it.” For some people it is the only opportunity they have. People that live way out, they haven’t had educational opportunities…

Richa: Did Amway do things to cultivate or reinforce that attitude, that things should just be accepted without question?

Amy: Yes. Amway does an excellent job of building company loyalty. This is going to sound cynical, but I honestly believe it is not because they really, truly want their people to be happy, but because they know the value – the monetary value – of having a workforce that loves the company they work for.

I always felt like I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. That’s kind of how I felt; that that wasn’t “the way to be” – so blindly loyal and blindly accepting of everything.

Just to give you kind of a funny story, they have these monthly employee meetings where virtually every employee of the entire corporation is invited…

Sharon: It’s mandatory.

Amy: No, it’s not.

Sharon: Oh? I was never told I had an option.

Amy: Anyway, the president of the company, or the vice-president, addresses everyone on how business is, and people can ask questions. Most often I’d go to these meetings – most people in my division did — because it was an opportunity to get away from the drone of work. It was near the holidays, and I came in and all the chairs had this blue sheet. It was a poem about Amway: “I go in every day, this is the way I like to earn my pay…” You know, just the hokiest, “Rich and Jay, hooray! Hooray!” I mean, just like that. I wish I could remember the lyrics. I thought, “What is this?”

Well, it was a song. And they got a piano out, and everybody was asked to sing this song. And I’ll be damned if everybody didn’t sing this song. I mean, everybody sang it! And they were happy to sing it, and they enjoyed singing it, and I just wanted to disappear! It was just the most bizarre thing. I felt like it was the Third Reich.

Sharon: The crowd behavior thing.

Amy: Yeah. It just didn’t seem like there was one person that thought, “This is weird,” or even, “This is silly,” or something.

Richa: I would think it would have been hard to tell.

Amy: Yeah. But I’m too rebellious, or maybe I’m stupid, but I didn’t sing it, and I looked around and it was like, these people are like sheep.

But I worked with some wonderful people, and some friends that I will always have. I just feel at the time they were all mindless, even though I know that’s not the case.

I could ramble on for hours, but the bottom line for me, my leaving Amway, feeling it was not a place where I belong, was greed. I worked on the phones with Amway distributors every day, all day. That was the bulk of my work for many years. Near the end of my tenure there, maybe the last two or three years — every once in a while we’d get to travel on these weekend “expos” where distributors would get together and rent this hall and they’d have speakers and they’d have expos of products. Quite a lot of contact with distributors. Greed, and all the ugliness that greed brings. That’s what I saw a lot of. That’s really what kicked my butt out the door.

Richa: Can you describe specific ways that the greed came through?

Amy: Boy, every subtle and not-so-subtle way. Distributors on the phone would be willing to be just a little dishonest, or just cheat a little bit in order to get more money. Lie to you to try to get from you, as if you had the secret of how to get more money. The distributor functions were… a lot of gold and diamonds. I mean, huge diamonds. In the Amway hierarchy they reach different levels of achievement, and they’re all represented by different gems. The highest one is diamond. “Go diamond!” is the battle call. “Go diamond!” everywhere you hear. And diamonds is one of the things people spend their money on.

There’s a monthly magazine they have called “The Amagram,” and they would always feature a “star” couple. They would be depicted in rolling his with their mansions. The pervading message was “You gotta have more! You gotta have more!”

I’ve go to say, the two founding fathers, Rich and Jay, I truly believe that they were, and they are, good men with the best of intentions and the highest integrity. The second generation, the very kids, I don’t feel that way about. And I don’t know if it’s because it’s just so big now that they can’t keep their hands on everything…

Another story: Remember, during the elections, when Amway purchased TV time for the Republican convention for the sole purpose of being able to air the convention? You know, they’re a privately held company; they can do that. That’s the way our system works in this country; they have that power. But what bothered me was I went to one of those employee meetings, and Dick DeVos stood up there and said they did that — a private donation that they never planned on being publicized — for the sole purpose of wanting to expose more Americans to the democratic process. And I though, “Why can’t you just say you’re Republicans and you want Republicans to win?” That just really bothered me. And I thought, this guy, he spins things so much as he goes along, that I don’t know if he really believes that, or if you spin things for so long you lose any objective perspective.

Sharon: Remember you told me about the meeting where they talked about something with capitalism, where they were trying to win everybody over to their way of thinking?

Amy: Rich wrote this book called “Compassionate Capitalism,” which had these different points, and they would do this thing during those meetings where they would show Rich talking about each point, a different one each time. He would talk about what each meant.

Richa: Did people pretty much buy that?

Amy: Oh, yeah, because there’s a certain ring of truth in that. I mean, there has to be, otherwise nobody would buy it at all. There’s nothing wrong with personal responsibility; it depends on the spin you put on it.

Sharon: It sucks people in with beliefs they’ve been taught all their lives, and it makes it seem like you’re just confirming what everyone knows.

Richa: I remember some of that from the book. It came very much out of a Cold War type of thinking from the 1950s, even though the Soviet Union no longer existed by the time it was published. But did those talks focus more on the personal?

Amy: No, it’s definitely economic theory, financial theory.

They are into making money, and they make no bones about that.

This is something that started happening just before I left. You’d hear a lot about “corporate culture”; how very important that was, the corporate culture you were working with, and how we should all “be on the same page.”

They have this little thing called “Culture Seminar” where you spend half a day eating doughnuts and drinking coffee and watching videos and doing exercises, about trying to identify with an Amway distributor and who would like to be an Amway distributor. Part of that is watching the video that shows a typical distributor: They’re trying to work a full-time job, and take care of kids, and build their business in their spare time. So all their evenings and all their weekends are spent at Amway functions. That’s no kidding: I mean all of them. And their kids — I couldn’t believe this: The video would show, “Mom, dad, come and toss the ball with me.” And mom and dad would sit down and explain that they’re building their future, blah, blah, and the son was just kind of, “Whatever.” And the weekend comes and they drag him out of town again for this distributor function yet again, and there’s the whole problem of the babysitter. The kids are tired, the parents are tired, the babysitter goes home. The kid never did get to toss that ball, but “you’ve reached a different level, and I understand how great that is, and I’m so proud of you” and we’re all just a great big happy family. Then they turn the video off, and I’m thinking to myself, did anybody see how sick and wrong this is? That these kids have no parents? Then I though, okay, maybe I’m the only one that sees it that way; maybe I’m nuts. But somebody did say something; somebody did say, “Boy, I don’t know about those kids?”

Richa: I should think it would be hard in that corporate culture to say anything at all critical or questioning.

Amy: Right. It is.

One more story. My department purchased a type of technology that cost almost a million dollars. I don’t want to say just what it is or what department because there are still people there that I really care about, and I don’t want to see them be hurt. Real expensive technology; state of the art. We were the only ones in the company to have this technology at the time. Well, they wanted to be sure the employees were really going to use it and buy into it. It was a way to help them do their jobs more efficiently and easier. You know, people who have been doing the same job for a few years – it’s hard for them to change the way they do things, so it was rather hard to get people to use it.

So they had a meeting to explain this new technology. And during this meeting my boss said, “You have to use this system [X] times a day.” Somebody raised their hand and said, “I don’t need it. I know this stuff.” And she said, “I don’t care, do it anyway. Just use it.” And I said “Why?” (You learn not to ask “why?” because you get slapped in the face; nevertheless I asked, “why?”) And she said, “We have to show that we’re using the system. We have to show the person — you’d know who it was if I said it — we have to prove to them that this is a good investment. We have to show a return on the investment, and we have to do it fast.” And I said, “You want me to lie about how often I use this, and how often I need this?” And the answer was “Yes.” And by that time I had been pushing it, so the answer was, “YES, and PLEASE shut up!”

I’m sure that happens everywhere across America; it’s not unique to Amway.

Richa: That’s the only time such a thing happened?

Amy: That was the only time I was blatantly asked to lie, other than my old supervisor saying, “Tell ‘em I’m not here” kind of thing. And this is from a woman who I respect. She’s a neat lady. I mean, I like her. And I think that it was just another case of, she didn’t just sit down and say, “You know, I’m asking people to lie for me.” She was so intimidated by her manager, and so afraid, that she just did what she though she had to do. And she probably wouldn’t even remember it.

That incident, more than anything else…that was near the end…I though, I can’t do it, I just can’t play the game any more. And there was no way that I could play the game, and sort of melt into the background. They would see it, because the numbers would show that I was not using the system.

Richa: Getting back to the distributors, Butterfield wrote that only 1-2% of distributors ever make, or ever can make, the way Amway’s system is set up, enough money to comfortably support a family. In talking with distributors every day, did they ever indicate that they had an idea of the odds against them? Did they have a sense of the frustration in trying to do that, or the structure that makes it so hard to do that?

Amy: Absolutely. I remember probably four years ago hearing that the average direct distributor earned $30,000 a year. You have to have reached a certain level, and you have to have so many people under you who have reached a certain level, to become a direct distributor. The vast majority of the people I talked to were not direct distributors; were nowhere near being direct distributors. I mean the vast majority.

Every so often you talk to a high roller, but that was unusual.

I always attributed that to the nature of my job. People who need my help may be somebody who is not as experienced.

But I think there are a lot of people out there who get into the business because they think that they’re going to get rich, and they’re going to have a nice annual income with moderate effort. And that’s just not the case. That’s not going to happen. You won’t make real money unless you are like, one of those people who are in the video, who puts that much into it.

The whole nature of that, the whole lifestyle, you have to buy into. They want to make their employees more and more thinking like the way their distributors think. You have to think Amway, and breathe Amway, have Am-friends, and Am-products. It scares me! That kind of lack of creativity. It just makes me very uncomfortable. It brings out the worst in people, and that’s where you see the greed.

Richa: Did you see that being true for the employees as well; the people you worked with?

Amy: No. The people I worked with were pretty much normal people.

I love the paycheck, but you have to sell your soul for that time and a half because you’re smiling and you’re acting like, “This new product is just the living end!”

There’s always this mystery to me about why people are so willing to throw out their feelings about things and just buy into this. It’s not people who just don’t have any other opportunities, or people who aren’t terribly bright.

Sometimes, they’d send us to meetings, and you’d get to fly, and stay in nice hotels. You’d be there with all distributors representing the corporation, and you’d smile and wave, and they would all want to know about what it’s like to work for Amway. On one hand, they think it’s so great, but on the other hand, they just can’t believe, “Boy, I can’t believe, why aren’t you an Amway distributor? We know what this business can do!” These are doctors, a construction worker, an accountant, or something like that… It kind of reminds me of the games with fraternities or sororities, “I’ve got to belong” or something; be part of the group.

Richa: What about these meetings for distributors you mentioned. What would they be telling people?

Amy: People who work at the corporation in a certain department that distributors work with a lot would come on stage, and the distributors would get very excited about these corporate people. If you were a family member — anybody named DeVos or VanAndel — tears would come to their eyes. They were very moved even to be in the same room. They could say or do anything, and [the distributors] were just very thrilled.

I just want to say that all these great and noble reasons for me not working there are not it. I mean, that’s not completely why I am not there. I have to say that the very personal nature of my work was very difficult for me. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like it when people aren’t fair, and aren’t nice and kind. People aren’t going to be fair, whether it had anything to do with me or not. And just by the nature of my work I had to deal with that and I just didn’t like it. I used to be good at it, but I just didn’t like it.

So maybe, if I had a job that was creative, where nobody asked me to lie, where I did work that I could say I was proud of, and that kind of enriched me, after all I just said, I might still be there.

I took a pay cut to leave that job, and I would take a pay cut to do anything that was better than that; better for me, for my soul.

Richa: When you first applied, did you have any knowledge at all of the fraud, forged documents, dummy corporations in Hawaii to cheat on taxes, that sort of thing that had gone on and gotten a lot of publicity in the corporate media? Or did you learn about some of those things while you worked at Amway?

Amy: That all happened before I came there. When I first came there I wasn’t paying attention to that kind of thing. It just kind of had to slap me in the fact before I woke up. I would hear references to it and people would make jokes about it, but I never really got into that whole story.

There was a sense of people around me that we should be grateful to have a job. We should be grateful we were given the opportunity to work.

Sharon: And to have such a good job, because the company is so good to you. And they do things that make you feel you are very lucky to have a job because you’re sitting at a phone or whatever, you’re making nine or ten dollars an hour..

Amy: When I left I was making $15 an hour. Now that’s a lot of money.

Sharon: And all the benefits and bonuses.

Amy: And some people made more money than that, who didn’t have a degree. For them, darn right, they were very grateful.

For me, little things too. Like, I am a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat or fish or poultry. To people I worked with, that was a freaky thing! I mean totally freaky, crazy. They’d tease me constantly. Not in a mean way. Just, they’d never let go of the fact that they really felt that was bizarre.

Richa: Did it seem to you, as Butterfield wrote, that Amway had characteristics of a cult?

Amy: You know, a lot of people refer to Amway as a cult. I don’t think they are a cult in the sense that most cults are, but the distributors (“distributor organization”) use a lot of tactics that are very similar to cults. It is very much a pure world and if you diverge… Anybody who isn’t “with” that is either a “negative person,” or at their most generous, somebody who “just isn’t quite ready yet.

Privileged People Get Together to Talk about Racism

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1998)

From October through December, the Grand Rapids Magazine provided us with a look at how arrogant and candid rich white people can be. Not that this was the intention of the local glossy mag, rather it was the outcome of their organized chat group of privileged people from the area who came to discuss racism in Grand Rapids.

The “dialogue” took place in June and consisted of 5 white folks, 2 black people, 6 men, and one woman. All seven people represent significantly privileged economic sectors of the community: Peter Cook – Chairman of Mazda Great lakes; Stephen Drew – partner with Drew, Cooper & Anding; Tom Regis – Regis Reality; Diana Sieger – President of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation; Dan West – GRPS Board of Education; Casey Wondergem – Amway Senior Public Affairs Counsel; and Bob Woodrick – Chairman of D&W.

It would be relevant to the discussion here to note some of the other connections that members of this dialogue group have in the area. Casey Wondergem is a member of the Downtown Development Authority, the non-elected body of rich, white men, that use tax payers money for “development” projects in downtown Grand Rapids. Peter Cook, according to Russ Bellant’s book The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, is very active in religious right activities. He is part director of Gospel Films Inc. in Muskegon, a media forum that promotes religious intolerance and political theocracy. Cook also is a major donor to TEACH Michigan, an anti-public schools organization, Campus Crusade, Focus on the Family, the right-wing Media Research Center, Michigan Family Forum, and the Acton Institute.

Having said all that it is not my intention to dissect the text of the “racism dialogue,” instead I only wanted to mention some of the things said and encourage our readers to get a copy of the October, November, and December issues of the Grand Rapids Magazine.

All of the white members of the panel, except Bob Woodrick, either down-played racism in Grand Rapids or simply denied that it existed at all. Peter Cook said, “I hate to say this, but most of the racist comments I hear come from the black community against the white community.” Tom Regis scapegoated Sidney Rhoads Jr. (who does a show on GRTV) for creating negativism in the community. Sidney apparently said that blacks feel cheated because they created the wealth in this country that the whites have. It would seem that Mr. Regis doesn’t think that history has anything to do with our present situation.

Casey Wondergem probably topped them all in ridiculousness with a comment that I thought was no longer tolerable in most common sense circles. He said “some of my best friends are African Americans.” After picking myself up off the floor from laughter, I came to my senses and saw that what the whole discussion was revolving around was not really racism, but classism.

While both West and Drew contributed the more intelligible comments, neither of them questioned the economic inequity that exists in our community, nor that most people of color are disproportionately poor in this community. Tom Regis’s idea of the community coming along way was the example of Casey Wondergem arranging a party at the University Club with Dutch and non-Dutch people. Radical indeed.

Reading this discussion made me realize even more how out of touch with reality people in power are. Their words were self-indicting as to their ignorance, indifference, and complicity in creating and maintaining structures that exploit and exclude people in this community.

Everyone needs to read this series of articles. Make copies and pass them on to friends. Let’s start our own discussion groups and submit the results to Grand Rapids Magazine or suggest real people in the trenches to be part of another discussion group for their mag. Maybe FUN will organize one for the next issue. Who do you think should take part.

Press Censors Some Citizen Input on New Police Chief

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1998)

Only 20 people showed up for a public forum on input for what kind of police chief the City should hire. These 20, however, were not short on ideas. The Press, instead, chose to report on the less significant aspects that were presented by the public.

Only 2 of the twenty were mentioned by name or quoted in the article. In fact, City manager Kurt Kimball got more print than all the citizens present combined. The ideas reported were the need to hire from within the department, an honest chief, dealing with rogue cops, and some mention of sensitivity to “racial and economic diversity.”

What a disservice to the Grand Rapids public. People had some great ideas, ideas that came from a real community/neighborhood perspective. Dave Bulkowski who is with the Peoples Transportation Forum and the Center for Independent Living urged the new chief to be sensitive to people with disabilities. Frank Lynn, with Catherine’s Care Center and a long time neighborhood activist, came whole list of ideas, none of which were mentioned in the Press article of Nov. 12.

Frank suggested that the police chief work closely with neighborhood groups, that the police work should be rooted in the neighborhoods in a collaborative effort. The chief should also be about economic reinvestment into the core city neighborhoods as a preventative measure against crime. This could be done by supporting the re-directing of seized drug assets back to neighborhoods most effected by drug related crime. Frank also suggested that more alternatives to crime should be employed to take some offenders out of the cycle of crime.

Other comments suggested that the chief take a strong stand against police brutality, which was a much different statement than what the Press ran. The issue of sensitivity to the diversity in the community was actually stated as sensitivity to racial, cultural, gender, and class diversity in the community. I found it interesting that class was changed to economic.

In addition was the concern about the process of public input. Before the public was invited to participate the City Commission voted to give a $27,500 contract to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to conduct a search for the next chief. If the city will consider hiring within the department why hire a DC base firm? It seems to me that the public input process is a bit of a token or a wish to put on the appearance of following a democratic process.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that someone raised the issue of the chief of police being more accountable to the public. As it now stands the chief is accountable to a non-elected official, the City Manager…Kurt Kimball. This was conveniently omitted from the Press article, maybe because it went more directly to the point of a real democratic process with the next police chief.