Michigan to Receive about $7 Billion from Stimulus Bill, Numerous Projects Ready for Funds in Grand Rapids

$7 Billion to go to Michigan under Stimulus Bill, Projects in Grand Rapids Ready for Funding According to the Michigan Municipal League

With the passage of the stimulus over the weekend and the release of the text of the bill, a picture of how much money Michigan will receive is beginning to emerge.

According to an Associated Press article, Michigan will receive around $7 billion in stimulus funds. This includes $2.27 billion to Medicare, $2 billion to schools, $501 million for community services grants, $293 million for general state government, and $280 million for weatherization.

Michigan Infrastructure Projects Ready to Go

The Michigan Municipal League has released a list of infrastructure projects in Michigan that are ready for stimulus funds. According to the League, the projects “will create thousands of jobs, encourage business investments, reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency in communities with aging infrastructures.”

In Grand Rapids, these projects include:

  • $7.5 million to develop solar and wind energy projects at government buildings, employing 115 people.
  • A variety of road construction projects including $1.285 million to rebuild the Wealthy Street bridge over the Grand River, $2.2 million to redo Ionia between. Fulton and Fountain, and $850,000 to redo Sheldon from Highland to Delaware.
  • A $30 million amphitheatre at Millennium Park.
  • A number of projects aimed at improving the city’s water system.

In the Michigan Municipal League’s list, all of the projects include a cost and the number of jobs they will create.

For another list of projects that are ready for stimulus funds, see our previous coverage of the Stimulus Watch project.

$254 Million in “Shovel Ready” Projects in Grand Rapids

Stimulus Watch Reports $254 Million in 'Shovel Ready' Projects in Grand Rapids for Stimulus Funding

A new website–Stimulus Watch–says that Grand Rapids has approximately $254 million in “shovel ready” projects that could be funded as part of the economic stimulus bill being debated in the federal legislature.

The website arrives at its totals by analyzing data prepared by the US Conference of Mayors. That organization had compiled a list of projects that could be immediately funded by the federal government and even took the step of publishing the list online. However, Stimulus Watch expands on that model by adding interactive features–a wiki for information about the projects and a ranking tool–to further increase transparency.

Possible Projects for Grand Rapids

The site documents $254.4 million in projects for Grand Rapids. These include things like:

  • $22.5 million for resurfacing streets
  • $15 million for increasing the size of Millennium Park
  • $14.7 million to renovate City-High Middle School
  • $13.5 million to renovate Congress elementary school
  • $12 million for parking lot construction
  • $11.8 million for street reconstruction

Along with the dollar estimates, there also estimates as too how many jobs could be created by funding these projects

A Word of Caution

As we have pointed out before, the stimulus package is far from perfect, but it does offer the possibility of funding some worthwhile projects. However, you have to question the wisdom of spending $12 million on parking lots when “green jobs” and “green” everything are being touted by the officials at the federal, state, and local levels.

Olympic Resistance Network Exposes Negative Consequences of the Olympics

Organizing against the 2010 Olympics

Since the 2010 Olympic bid in Vancouver began in 1998, organizing against the games has been strong. Activists are resisting for a variety of reasons, such as the long history of colonialism/racism associated with the Olympics, or the fact that the 2010 Games are set to take place on stolen land (unceded Indigenous territories). The Games will virtually destroy this land by cutting down tens of thousands of trees and blasting mountaintops in order to build Olympic facilities and infrastructure. As a result, Vancouver has already lost over 850 units of low-income housing and homelessness has increased exponentially, from 1,000 to 2,500 since 2003, and is estimated to rise to 6,000 by 2010.

With the Olympics come a Host of Negative–and Often Overlooked–Consequences

It is common for host cities to criminalize the poor – in Vancouver, as part of Project Civil City, new laws have passed to make begging for money and sleeping outdoors criminal acts, new garbage cans make it difficult to dig through, and new outside benches make it impossible to lie down. In 2010, Vancouver will become a virtual police state, with about 12,500 police, military and security personnel to be deployed.

The Games will also increase public debt in the area – although officials claim the cost of the 2010 Olympic Games will be $2 million, this figure does not include the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion, the Canada Line Skytrain to the airport, the Vancouver Convention Center, or the lower mainland Gateway Project, which were all necessary to win the Olympic bid. In reality, the 2010 Olympics will cost Vancouver about $6 million, paid for through public debt (money that could have been used on social services, housing, health care and other programs to build community.)

The Olympics also have a negative impact on women in Vancouver – the event will draw thousands of spectators and cause large increases in prostitution and trafficking of women. There are already 68 women in the area who are murdered or missing – most of them were reportedly involved in the sex trade. This violence against women will only increase in 2010.

The Olympic Games are also used as a means of increasing corporate investment. The government in BC has offered incentives such as tax cuts to increase industries such as mining, oil and gas drilling, and ski resorts. This will not only cause further destruction to the local environment, but also result in greater corporate power and influence over the area.

Varied Resistance to the 2010 Olympics

Resistance to the 2010 Olympics has taken on a variety of tactics. In April 2006, environmentalists began a blockade of construction work for the Sea-to-Sky Highway – 24 protestors were arrested after blocking construction for one month. In fall 2006, the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) occupied a number of vacant buildings and hotels to highlight the issue of homelessness in the area. Over 25 Committee members were arrested. On February 12, 2007, Anti-Olympic protestors disrupted the 2010 Countdown Event. When a large countdown clock was unveiled, a masked Native stormed stage and seized the microphone, yelling “Fuck 2010! Fuck your corporate circus!” A member of the APC also got on stage, yelling “Homes Not Games!” Some 80 protesters scuffled with police; altogether seven persons are arrested. The event was on live television. The following month, the Olympic flag at City Hall was stolen. In December 2007, the windows of several Royal Bank of Canada branches in Vancouver were smashed (RBC is one of the main sponsors of the 2010 Olympics).

Ongoing Organizing

The No 2010 Network was established in December 2007 to organize anti-Olympic resistance. A Native Anti-2010 Network was established to coordinate indigenous resistance. These organizers are preparing for a convergence during the games, “calling anti-colonial and anti-capitalist forces in Vancouver, Feb. 10-15, 2010, to confront and disrupt the 2010 Olympic Games.”

On the web site www.no2010.com, one can find regular updates from Vancouver, a calendar of various events taking place in resistance during the next year, as well as links and resources for more information about the 2010 Olympic Games.

Green Economy Plan would Benefit Michigan, Nation

A new reported released by a coalition of environmental and labor groups suggests that a comprehensive $100 billion green economic recovery plan would stimulate the United States’ economy and fight global warming.

A new report titled “Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy” prepared by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and released by a coalition of environmental and labor groups is arguing that a $100 billion “green economic recovery package” would stimulate and grow the United States’–and Michigan’s–economy. The $100 billion–a mix of investment and tax credits–would provide an immediate boost to the economy and help fight global warming according to the report’s authors. The plan specifically focuses on retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems, wind power, solar power, and next-generation biofuels.

The report’s authors say the plan would:

* Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.

* Create roughly triple the number of good jobs — paying at least $16 dollars an hour — as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

* Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

* Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.

According to the report, Michigan would benefit from such a plan in the following ways:

* Michigan’s share of national green economic recovery program: $3.1 billion, based on combining state’s population and gross domestic product.

* Michigan’s net job creation through green economic recovery program: 61,394 jobs, based on Michigan unemployment figures in June 2008.

* Impact on Michigan’s labor market: a net increase of 61,394 jobs would reduce Michigan’s unemployment rate to 7.5 percent in two years from 8.7 percent in June 2008.

Video Explores Gentrification and Resistance in Detroit

A new music video and documentary by Detroit rapper Ilana Invincible has been released. The video, available for view below, provides an excellent overview of gentrification in Michigan’s largest city and the organizing that people are doing to combat it. Moreover, the video is a great example of the infinite ways in which folks can produce independent media.

Watch it below:

Is Grand Rapids becoming Green?

Writers like Michael Eric Dyson and bell hooks have noted that as a response to the gains of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the entrenched white power structures made adjustments to hide institutional racism more effectively. Corporate boardrooms began including minorities in a token status and CEOs and their staff began attending multi-cultural sensitivity trainings. These tactics not only give the appearance of diversity, but it also benefits white power structures by limiting the public discussion about the very nature of what these structures do.

The current fad and strategy of power structures is to give the appearance that they care about the environment. Red flags should go up anytime we see of companies or other power structures saying that they have gone “green.” This trend towards labeling corporate or government practices as “green” can certainly be seen in Grand Rapids.

In recent years, the City of Grand Rapids has made some policy decisions that promote what are labeled as “green,” such as purchasing policies and construction of new buildings. The City’s website highlights the following: “Grand Rapids has more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings than any city in the United States other than Seattle and the State’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has designated 8 Grand Rapids companies as Clean Corporate Citizens.” The City of Grand Rapids is also planning to produce 20% of its own energy with renewable resources by 2010.

So what’s the problem you ask? Well, there are several problems with the assumption that if something is labeled green that it should be uncritically embraced. First, we need to critically examine what is meant by “green.” On February 26, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story on the front page of the business section entitled “Lumber outlet becomes eco-connection for builders.” The story focuses on local builders and lumber companies that are committed to “green building.” There is that label again. The article says that the wood sold by the area lumber company, called eco-connection products, have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Unfortunately, nowhere in the story does the reporter provide any information on who the FSC is.

According to the World Rainforest Movement, FSC has a history of certifying companies that either take land from indigenous/local communities or grow trees on plantations of mono-crop species. Tree plantations are designed to raise fast growing trees in the same way that agribusiness might grow corn. Mono-crop tree farms are not forests, since a forest by definition is biologically diverse with multiple species of trees, plant and animal life. Just because a company designates their product as “green” doesn’t mean that it is environmentally sustainable…

A second problem with embracing anything that is labeled as a “green” product or policy is that it creates a narrow filter for which to view these products. Let’s imagine that a nuclear weapons manufacturer built a new building that was LEED certified and used 40% less energy to run the factory than its old one. Next, the company decides that it will only use recycled paper for its office use, will not allow Styrofoam cups in the break-room, and even purchases Fair Trade coffee for staff consumption. Sounds pretty wonderful and sustainable. Oh yeah, they make NUCLEAR BOMBS! If one follows this uncritical labeling of things “green” one could technically have “green” concentration camps. Now, I know this is an exaggeration, but I use it to get us to not simply accept the idea that if something is labeled “green” that it is good. This is the point that I was making at the beginning of the article about institutional racism. You can dress it up all you want, but institutional racism is still racism.

Several years ago, I remember a news story where a Texaco executive was reprimanded for calling an African American, who was a fellow executive, a “black jelly bean.” There was a tremendous media uproar about this comment, but no reporter stopped to think that Texaco’s oil extraction practices were not only bad for poor people of color around the globe, it was bad for the environment. The lesson of this story is, your company can engage in racist and environmentally destructive practices around the world all it wants, just don’t use derogatory words.

The problem of labeling practices “green” becomes even more complicated when environmental organizations get behind it. There is a coalition of business and environmental groups in the area known as the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. The forum states, “Our goal is to encourage the adoption and implementation of sustainable development business practices aimed at improving corporate profitability while simultaneously enhancing the long-term health of the environment.” Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that that the interest of corporate profitability comes before the idea of environmental health. This is a debate that hasn’t received enough attention…can for-profit driven entities co-exist with a vibrant, health ecology?

The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum is a program of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. One of the resources online is a “Concise Self-Assessment Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Commerce.” Some of the participating companies in this document are Amway, Crystal Flash, General Motors of Grand Rapids, Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company, and Wolverine Worldwide just to name a few. I don’t think I need to point out what is problematic about Amway, so I won’t. Crystal Flash traffics in petroleum and that is just not environmentally friendly. GM in a sense does the same as Crystal Flash, not to mention that the methods used in mining the resources necessary to make cars has a tendency to mess with the planet. Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Company? Visit one of their scrap metal yards off Wealthy Street just west of the Grand River and tell me if what you see seems like sustainable commerce. Lastly, Wolverine Worldwide has huge contracts to make footwear for the US military. Does that mean that since the US military uses “green” products we should designate them an eco-friendly entity?

For the most part, I am just trying to get us all to think critically about this “green” phenomenon. In addition, I think we need to question these practices when we encounter them. We cannot assume that governments, corporations, and even non-profit organizations are acting in the best interests of the people or the planet. Every April 22nd we celebrate what is designated as Earth Day. Let’s use this year’s celebration as an opportunity to be eco-warriors and eco-activists. We have all have an opportunity to not only challenge so-called “green” practices, but an obligation to do so if we want to resist the current ecological destruction that is happening right now, right in front of us…even if that destruction has a “green” label on it.

Jeff Smith is with the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy. He can be reached at jsmith AT mediamouse.org.

Report Ranks State Government’s on Online Disclosure

A new report by Good Jobs First–a “policy resource center” promoting government and corporate accountability–has evaluated the quantity and quality of state government’s online disclosure of economic development subsidies, procurement contracts, and lobbying. The report–titled “The State of State Disclosure“–concludes that while state governments are improving transparency via the Internet, they are still not taking advantage of the full capacity of the Internet. Specifically, reporting for lobbying and procurement contracts is typically above disclosure of corporate tax breaks and other economic developments.

This is certainly true here in Michigan according to the report’s evaluation of Michigan’s reporting. Michigan’s lobbying disclosure is given an 89% rating (out of a maximum of 100%), the highest ranking received. The report states that Michigan has “a comprehensive and easy-to-use database” with the only weakness being its inability to search by year. In the area of contracting, Michigan was ranked 67% for its contracting disclosure through the Michigan Department of Management and Budget. The disclosure received good ratings for providing exact dollar amounts, being prominently linked, and disclosing all sectors. The state lost points for only allowing users to search by name and not making copies of the full contract available. Michigan received its worst ranking for disclosing subsidies, receiving a 0% rating because it “does not systematically disclose company-specific subsidy information to the public.”

“For the Children”: Class, Race, Place, and Late Capitalist Eco-Enclosure in Benton Harbor

“One of the great gifts we can give our children is to make sure they connect with the amazing natural resources we have in Michigan. Whether we take them fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain-biking or simply let them discover the beauty of nature, helping our children connect with the outdoors is essential to making sure our natural resources are protected and respected in the future.”

– Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, March 2007 (Niles Daily Star, 2007)

“Here is another case of the rich taking from the poor, while those we have elected to protect our best interests, including our governor, tout what a great thing it will be for the community….The rich will get richer, while the working class and poor lose a little more of what they already have little access to: the lake. Soon, if developers have their way, there will be no such thing as public parks or scenic lake views in Michigan for the masses to enjoy.”

– Michigan resident Mary Smith, August 10, 2007 (Smith 2007)

“We’re using economic development to change people’s lives.”

– David Whitwam, former CEO of Whirlpool, July 2007


Beneath the violence and related social and ecological crises that are so endemic in the age of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” (Klein 2007), diligent investigators can always discover the hidden machinations of “the business community.” The headlines on Iraq focus on the twists and turns of Washington’s game and the gory events on the ground. Behind those terrible stories and off dominant media’s radar screen, however, the United States’ occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan generate a steady flow of capitalist return to strategically placed corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton, Blackwater USA, and General Dynamics. Meanwhile giant western oil companies scheme to extract future super-profits from the petroleum fields of Mesopotamia. They have acted behind the scenes to shape a draft Iraqi Petroleum Law they hope someday will favor such an outcome.

Hurricane Katrina provides another terrible example. When most Americans think of Katrina, their minds flash to shocking images of bloated bodies and scenes of desperation at the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome. But there was and is a deeper Katrina story hidden from public view. As Greg Palast notes:

“The corpses floating through the Ninth Ward attracted vultures. There was ChoicePoint. They picked up a contract to identify the bodies using their War on Terror DNA database. In the face of tragedy, America’s business community pulled together, lobbying hard to remove the ‘Davis-Bacon’ regulation that guarantees emergency workers receive a minimum prevailing wage. Within the week, the Navy penned a half-billion contract for construction work with Halliburton. More would come.”

“Our President, as he does in any emergency situation, announced additional tax cuts. He ordered immediate write-offs for new equipment used in rebuilding. That will likely provide a relief for Halliburton, but the deductions were useless to small New Orleans businesses which had no incomes to write off. The oil majors, the trillion dollar babies, won a $700 million tax break.”

“Don’t think of hurricanes as horrors, “Palast writes, “but as [business] opportunities” (Palast 2007, p. 321).


A smaller example can be found in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a desperately poor and 92 percent black town directly adjacent to Lake Michigan. Containing 11,000 people and located 100 miles east of Chicago, Benton Harbor is an especially graphic reminder that concentrated racial oppression lives beyond the metropolitan core. The town was designated “the worst place to live in the nation” by Money Magazine in 1989. Even at the end of the long 1990s “Clinton Boom,” more than half of Benton Harbor’s children and 40 percent of its families lived in official poverty. The city’s poverty rate was three and a half times that of the U.S. as a whole. Median family income in Benton Harbor was $19, 250, just more than two-thirds of the minimum basic family budget (the real cost of being poor, as meticulously calculated by The Economic Policy Institute) for one single parent and two children living there: $28, 422. According to one Benton Harbor minister, less than one in three adult Benton Harbor males was employed in the spring of 2003 (Koltowitz 1998; U.S. Census 2000; Boushey et al. 2001).

The concentrated misery in Benton Harbor stands in sharply incongruous contrast to the picturesque lakefront properties, beaches and rustic terrain that surround the town in scenic Berrien County. That 80 percent white county’s family poverty rate (9 percent) and median family income ($47,000) are roughly proximate to those of the nation as a whole (U.S. Census 2000).

The last time that Benton Harbor received national media attention came in the second week of June 2003. That’s when it hosted the second significant racial disturbance to occur in the United States since the September 2001 terror attacks supposedly united all Americans in opposition to terrorist enemies (the first occurred in Cincinnati late in the same month as the jetliner attacks, in response to the acquittal of a policeman who killed an unarmed black youth (Walsh 2001). For two nights following the death of a young black motorcyclist, Terrence Shurn, in a police chase, hundreds of Benton Harbor residents roamed an eight-block area, some setting fires and attacking passers-by (Wilgoren 2003, Mastony and Quintilla 2003, Christoff and Hackney 2003, Guerrero 2003; Street 2003). As the New York Times reported in a front page story, “rioters were chanting, ‘no justice, no peace,’ as they overturned vehicles, tossed small firebombs into houses, and shattered windows with bottles and rocks, injuring 12 people” (Wilgoren 2003). The rioting “was so intense,” the Chicago Tribune reported, “that fire trucks and squad cars were peppered by several shotgun blasts, and were pelted with bricks before they retreated. Benton Harbor Township police said they fired several shots into the crowd, but no one was struck” (Mastony and Quintilla 2003).

Within two days, Benton Harbor was under governor-ordered military occupation. A large police force including hundreds of officers from the Michigan State Police and other local jurisdictions stormed the town in full riot gear, with armored vehicles, tactical units, assault rifles, and a helicopter with a sweep light that continually circled the riot zone. According to the Chicago Tribune, the scene “was reminiscent” of the 1960s, “when major cities such as Chicago saw some neighborhoods burn in a wave of urban violence.” On Chicago television screens and newspapers, pictures of the confrontation between the forces of order and angry mobs in occupied Benton Harbor were juxtaposed with similar images from occupied Iraq, suggesting dark connections between the war (on poor people) at home and the war (for empire) abroad. Just miles away, the waves of the great inland sea Lake Michigan lapped up onto a beautiful shore. Vacationers there struggled a bit more usual with trying to continue ignoring the tragedies of daily existence in abandoned communities like Benton Harbor.

“There have been these forgotten places of America since the 1960s – towns that are left out because they were created for reasons that no longer exist,” Pepperdine University researcher Joel Kotkin told the London Financial Times. “Then something like Benton Harbor happens and people are suddenly reminded of their existence” (Grant 2003).

“Years of Frustration”

In the simple-minded story provided by Chicago television news, the riot erupted as an immediate, Pavlovian response to Shurn’s death. The reality is far more complex. Despite the New York Times’ misleading page-one headline – “Fatal Police Chase Ignites a Rampage in Michigan Town” (Wilgoren 2003) – print media accounts suggest that the violence really emerged only after Benton Harbor police moved to disperse a peaceful crowd of candle-holding mourners, gathered for prayer at the site of Shurn’s death. As Latonya Doss told the Detroit Free Press, tempers escalated when the police threatened to arrest a group of 50 people holding a prayer vigil. “We weren’t loud,” says Doss. “We were singing church songs” (Christoff and Hackney 2003).

The Chicago Tribune’s main article on the events in Benton Harbor claimed that “the rioting erupted in reaction” to Shurn’s death. Deeper in the article, however, the paper noted that that “later Monday, a crowd of mourners gathered at the crash site, which was still being investigated. Additional police cars were summoned to the scene, mostly to disperse the crowds that had gathered with candles. Some prayed at the site and then became angry when authorities told them to go home. That’s when the fires began, officials said” (Mastony and Qunitilla 2003). Disperse mourners! By interrupting this peaceful demonstration, police needlessly exacerbated a tense situation, turning candles of prayer into firebombs of rage.

At the same time, nobody familiar with the racially disparate facts of life in and around Benton Harbor was exactly shocked to hear that significant violence had broken out there. As Ashley Black, Shurn’s cousin, told the Chicago Sun Times, “this isn’t just because of what happened Monday. This is because of everything that has been happening in Benton Harbor for years…you are talking about years of frustration” (Guerrero 2003).

Benton Harbor had been in dire straits for more than a generation. Prior to the Vietnam era, it was a thriving community, host to what Alex Kolotowitz called (in his widely read 1998 book The Other Side of the River) “a flurry of manufacturing activity, most of it centered on the automobile – foundries and parts plants primarily” There were enough decent blue-collar jobs in and around Benton Harbor to attract a modest local black working-class, which accounted for a quarter of the town’s population in 1960 (Koltowitz 1998)

In the Sixties and Seventies, however, Benton Harbor lost its downtown department stores to a newly constructed mall outside town. Corporate globalization and domestic de- industrialization eliminated many of its foundries and part plants. As one local historian puts it, “in the late 1960s and 1970s, Benton Harbor began to lose its longstanding manufacturing base to cheaper labor states” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a) The city’s biracial working class lost its economic lifeblood to capital’s quest to boost profit rates by finding more readily exploitable workers and lower taxes in other places.

At the same time, “urban renewal” scattered Benton Harbor’s black population, previously concentrated in a low-lying area next to the St. Joseph River. “Whites, uneasy with their new neighbors, fled,” notes Koltowitz, “many of them simply skipping over the river to St. Joseph. Institutions followed, including the newspaper, the YMCA, the hospital, even the local FBI offices. Each had its own reason, which at the time made sense, but in the end, after they’d drifted off, like geese going south, the reasons sounded more like excuses” (Koltowitz 1998, p. 31).

It’s a familiar story for those who study race, class, and industrial relations in post-WWII America: the burden of corporate disinvestment’s negative social consequences falling with racially disparate weight on blacks, who lack the same resources and freedom as whites to move up and out of communities and occupations rendered obsolete by the supposedly benevolent workings of the “free market,” sold to us as the solution to all problems social, political, and personal by the architects of American policy and opinion (Massey 1993, Wilson 1987, Wilson 1996, Street 2007).


Business decisions contributed significantly to the latent racial and socioeconomic frustrations that exploded in Benton Harbor four summers ago. More than merely creating critical background for the riots, however, key private-sector decision-makers have been busy since seeking to turn the 2003 disturbances into a business and leisure-class opportunity for the privileged white few. Their effort takes special aim at natural and recreational resources that hold special value for many among the town’s predominantly black populace. It is spearheaded by the multinational appliance corporation Whirlpool, which maintains its global headquarters in Benton Harbor and is a specially prized asset in the eyes of Michigan state officials starting with Governor Jennifer Granholm – a relevant fact to which we shall return.

“A Gift for the Children”

If there has ever been any significant and distinctive local compensation for the difficulty of black life in racially Benton Harbor, many residents report, it is Jean Klock Park (JKP). In 1917, John Nellis Klock and his wife Carrie purchased and then deeded a pristine 90-acre parcel of Lake Michigan frontage property to the City of Benton Harbor. The terms of the deed require that the property be used exclusively and forever as a public park and bathing beach. The splendid stretch of land was dedicated “For the Children.” It was named “Jean Klock Park” in memory of the Klocks’ deceased daughter, who died in infancy (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007). As the local organization “Friends of Jean Klock Park” (FOJKP) notes in a carefully researched history of the unique lakefront park, “it was never intended to be a profit center” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a). The Klocks’ intent is remarkably well-know and kept in community memory. Everyone knows the story.

While it is located at some distance from the city’s highly segregated black residential area, the park has long been used by black Benton Harborites for family reunions, church picnics, and baptisms (Friends of Jean Klock Park to Governor Granholm 2006). It is considered a special place where residents of the city’s hard-pressed neighborhoods – as poor as almost any in the nation – can “get away” and commune with nature. When I visited JKP in late August of 2007, I met and spoke briefly with a 60-year-old African-American gentleman who visited regularly to look across the lake with a pair of binoculars and to close his eyes and “feel the wind and the breeze.” Thirty yards away a young black mother listened to her car radio while her two young children frolicked in the sand. A thirty-something black man read the newspaper and gazed across the lake at the barely visible silhouette of Chicago’s skyscrapers. As local resident Emma Kinnard recently told Michigan Radio, the park “was a beautiful gift that was given to us…..Some things you can see the beauty of what God has created” (Duffy 2007).

JKP also holds precious value for environmentalists and human ecology. The park’s boundaries contain a half mile of stellar Lake Michigan shoreline and include three threatened ecological communities: Great Lakes Open Dunes, Great Lakes Marsh, and Interdunal Wetlands. Marshes and wetlands hold special importance because of their vital role in filtering and purifying groundwater, containing erosion and preventing floods. A threatened plant species, rose pink, thrives there, as it did during the Klocks’ time.

Another JKP stakeholder is the public sector. Soon after the park was established, the State proposed to the community that JKP be used as a state park, but Benton Harbor, then a very progressive, mostly white community, refused and reiterated the donors’ intent and the community commitment to maintaining it as a city park in perpetuity. By the early 1990s, the state and federal government together poured $1.7 million in grant funds to develop park amenities and conserve the park’s natural resources. The public monies invested in JKP have always come with restrictions stipulating “public ownership and use of public lands” (FOJKP 2007, FOJKP 2007a).

“A Site for Dogfights and Drug Deals”

Reflecting the broader pattern of racial separatism that infects Southwest Michigan as well as most of the rest of the U.S., JKP has developed over time into the area’s one and only “black beach.” Revered as a special recreational, therapeutic and spiritual haven by numerous long-time black residents, it has been demonized by local whites as an “underclass” menace. A recent issue of Midwest Real Estate News summarizes conventional Caucasian wisdom in Benton Township when it refers to JKP as “an underutilized Lake Michigan beachfront gem. The property,” this developer organ says, “is fairly isolated and when it developed a reputation as a site for dogfights and drug deals, most of Benton Harbor’s residents stayed away.” (Brody 2007).

Business, City, and Media Machinations

But one person’s place of beauty and serenity is another person’s (or corporation’s) commercial prospect. And one environmentalist’s concern for sound and beautiful ecology is another person’s barrier to “development.” Given its potential as a profit center for real estate interests and its strategic position between two stretches of favored, upper-end real estate inhabited by Benton Township’s and City of St. Joseph’s staunchly Republican and heavily white business elite, the all-too black, poor, and public JKP has long been targeted for Caucasian enclosure. A number of key local business players, aided by compliant city managers and elected officials, began planning during the middle and late 1980s to convert a large section of the park into some version of a massive, commercial development, changing through the years to the current plan – three holes of a privately owned golf course that would primarily serve affluent white residents and visitors. The leading agents of this endeavor in recent years include former Whirlpool CEO and onetime corporate globalization guru David Whitwam (see Maruca 1994) current Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig and the “Cornerstone Alliance” – an inter-municipal Southwest Michigan chamber of commerce founded by Whirlpool to “generate economic growth and promote civic development” (Cornerstone Alliance 2007).

The Cornerstone Alliance (hereafter “Cornerstone”) describes itself as “an investor-driven organization committed to improving the economic wealth of our community” and “supporting the preparation of local business leaders to sustain positive change” (Cornerstone Alliance 2007As far as local activists affiliated with Friends of Jean Klock Park (FOJKP) are concerned, Cornerstone is “Whirlpool, Junior” and its mission statement has a useful translation: “an investor-driven organization dedicated to creating a veneer of community concern to cloak corporate assault on public property, the environment and non-affluent peoples’ right to enjoy nature.”

FOJKP was formed in 2003, when Benton Harbor’s officials tried to remedy the city’s chronic post-industrial budgetary shortfalls by selling a nine-acre parcel of the lakefront to a local group for residential development under the name “Grand Boulevard, Inc.” FOJKP filed a lawsuit to stop the deal, leading to a mediated Settlement Agreement and subsequent Consent Decree permitting the city to sell four acres for luxury homes but ordering that the remainder of the park would be protected from “further sales or development for purposes other than park purposes” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a).

During this litigation, FOJKP members worried that Whirlpool and Cornerstone were behind “Grand Boulevard.” The activists’ suspicions deepened when an activist found an “Edgewater Development Plan” presentation board that had been left behind from a Cornerstone meeting in a local art gallery. Dating from the late 1990s, the planning document laid out a future “Grand Boulevard Development” and ominously marked out a large section of the park for so-called “recreational improvements.” The bottom of the board read:




Local concerns with developer plots intensified when “Grand Boulevard, Inc.” conversion, approved by the State and the National Park Service, allowed the City to replace the lost parkland with parcels along the nearby Paw Paw River and with abandoned post-industrial fields in the city’s unappealing downtown. Some of these nowhere zones were contaminated with lead and off limits to children (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007b).

Things got weirder still just before Christmas in 2004. That’s when the local business-dominated newspaper, The Herald Palladium, ran a front-page story announcing plans for a massive (500 acre) lakefront development called “River Run.” The project’s leaders were identified as Whirlpool and Cornerstone. Titled “Road Map to the Future?,” the article was accompanied by a map that did not include JKP in its boundaries (Herald-Palladium 2004).

Five months later, The Herald-Palladium made the same deletion from a map inserted within a laudatory story titled “River Run Project Aims for Balance.” The story included a quote from Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel, who claimed that “River Run” planning contained “no preconceived notions as to boundaries” (Swidwa 2005). Shortly after the first Herald-Palladium article, however, local activists learned that Whirlpool and Cornerstone were planning to build part of a golf course on the park. And in the spring of 2005, FOJKP members obtained a “brownfield development” plan including a map displaying two golf course holes on JKP property.

As the word got out about the hidden private threat to the public park, local residents and activists flooded the paper with letters demanding truthful reporting about the planned assault on citizen property deeded for permanent public use. Activists went to the paper with copies of the “brownfield development” map, but Herald-Palladium dismissed their letters, claiming they were based on nothing more than “rumor” (FOJKP 2007b)

The “Power to Attract People”

Early in July of 2005, however, the paper printed a story titled “Fight for Klock” and showing a map of JKP containing sections of a golf course (Swidwa 2005a). Six days before this belated bow to the principle of journalistic accuracy regarding plans long in the making, the city’s bribed and bullied commissioners approved the “River Run” – subsequently re-named “Harbor Shores” – “development” plan (FOJKP 2007b). And last January, city “leaders” signed a final lease agreement with Harbor Shores that abrogated the founding Klock deed (FOJKP 2007) and the Consent Judgment. The contract would essentially enclose three-fourths of the public park’s remaining 73 acres so that three holes of a “Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course” can entice affluent clients with sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Leading PGA Republican Jack “Golden Bear” Nicklaus, who recently visited Benton Harbor to see the beautiful park for himself, claimed that it would be impossible to attract golfers to his new Harbor Shores course without the spectacular lake vistas afforded by invasion of the JKP commons. “If you took Pebble Beach’s ocean holes away,” Nicklaus explained, “it would be just another golf course. The whole idea is to create a mousetrap that the mice are enticed into. To not use the lake or some of that area [JKP that is] you would lose 90 percent of your power to attract people” (Arend 2007).

“To Change the Image from an Industrial Kind of City”

According to Benton Harbor City Manager Dwight Mitchell, the dismemberment and privatization of Jean Klock Park is “the key to changing the city’s future. We want,” Mitchell recently told Michigan Radio, “to change the image from an industrial kind of city to a tourist kind of location that people want to visit and stop because of the amenities that we have here so that’s going to change the whole complexion of the community” (Duffy 2007). Never mind that cutting-edge corporate globalizer Whirlpool – which markets in 140 countries, maintains 13 manufacturing facilities throughout the world (see Martin et al. 2000) and retains only one factory (employing 300) in Benton Harbor (where its large-scale manufacturing operations were concentrated through most of the 20th century) – long ago helped change the town from “an industrial kind of city” to a center of extreme poverty and joblessness. “Complexion” was an interesting word choice on the part of the technically black Mitchell, who is “working with Whirlpool, developers and some non-profits not to promote the park, but to build a resort on and around it. Harbor Shores,” Michigan Radio notes, “will be a $500 million golf course, hotel, marina, and luxury home development….a lakeshore resort just 90 miles from Chicago, perfect for a second home [emphasis added], and with a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course” (Duffy 2007). The design plan is an essentially gated community (FOJKP 2007c), setting up forbidding barriers of race and class to keep the city’s disproportionately black and poor residents away from the privileged white visitors and home-buyers that Whirlpool and Cornerstone (whose treasurer is Whitwam’s son) wish to bring to the city’s charming western shore, which contrasts so poignantly with the vacant lots, boarded-up buildings, and dilapidated first (and only) homes in the downtown and the adjacent hyper-segregated neighborhoods of inner Benton Harbor.

“The golf course,” Michigan Radio adds, “has been the dream of Whirlpool Executives and developers for more than decade, but getting all the necessary permits and approvals to build on the park land was difficult” (Duffy 2007). Fittingly enough, former Whirlpool CEO Whitwam (who enjoys a sumptuous mansion close to JKP) is the head of Harbor Shores, which is candidly described as “the pet project of Whirlpool Corp” by Midwest Real Estate News (Brody 2007). Also fittingly enough, Nicklaus is something of a globalizer himself. He is the head of Nicklaus Design, which operates 316 courses in 30 countries as well as 38 U.S. states (Arend 2007).

“Put those Gorillas Back in the Woods”: Whirlpool’s “Pipe Dream” Gets “a Golden Touch From the Golden Bear”

According to a glowing article that appeared in the South Bend Tribune last August, the park where generations of Benton Harborites have communed with nature and each other “could be sacred ground to area golfers” by “the summer of 2009.” By the paper’s account (Wozniak 2007):

“Huge pieces of machinery are lined up around Jean Klock Park, ready to move heaven closer to earth with a gem of a golf course in the Harbor Shores development project. Sunday, what was once a pipe dream got a golden touch from a Golden Bear. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus arrived in Benton Harbor for the first time to tour what will ultimately become one his signature golf course designs. Sitting in front of a weed-strewn field that eventually become the driving range of Southwest Michigan’s future golf gem, Nicklaus offered his vision of what golfers can expect: ‘This site will absolutely change overnight,’ said Nicklaus…Nicklaus, who will be a frequent visitor during the construction period, is planning for the course to play about 7,100 yards from the back tees, but he prefers to keep the blue tees in the 6,300-6,600 yard range for the average golfers. ‘These days, you’re designing the courses for Tiger Woods or guys that play like him. These kids today hit the ball nine miles,’ he said. ‘The game is to make sure the average golfer has the ability to play your golf course, enjoy it and have fun. Then you put those gorillas back in the woods and let them hit is as hard as they want.'”

According to South Bend Tribune reporter Steve Wozniak, “a steep ravine leading up to the dunes above the beach at Jean Klock Park will provide golfers with a panoramic view of the Lake Michigan from the No. 7 green” (Wozniak 2007) – an amenity that Nicklaus insisted is necessary for his project to attract players. A call to Nicklaus Design about the “signature” designation revealed no such requirement.


“No One Uses the Park”

Whirlpool and its allies seek to justify this notable act of racialized commons enclosure with four basic arguments. The first rationalization claims that “no one uses the park,” as Cornerstone and (just for the JKP heist) City attorney Geoff Fields, told the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board (MNRTFB) while seeking that agency’s approval (granted in the October 2006) for the assault on JKP. Fields tried to “prove” this claim by showing the MNRTFB an enlarged photograph of a momentarily empty portion of the park (FOJKP to Granholm 2006).

As a group of residents told Governor Granholm in September of 2006, “this blatant lie is a disgrace. We use Jean Klock Park for recreational activities of all kinds, for church suppers, family reunions, picnics, senior citizen outings, weddings, baptisms, school field trips, festivals, concerts, and of course general public use of the beach. The dunes are an important part of the park, providing a peaceful setting for these activities and an environment for our children to explore nature” (FOJKP to Granholm 2006)

What Fields really meant to say was that “no one who matters in profit-focused white America uses the park.” JKP might hold critical cultural, social and ecological use value for the mainly black residents of Benton Harbor and the natural environment we all share. But for Whirlpool and allied regional business interests, it is an idle “brownfield” loaded with untapped exchange and leisure value and excessive blackness – a dysfunctionally “undeveloped” piece of illegitimate commons that needs to be “saved” for profitable use by great white men of capital

Mendacious “Mitigation”

The second justification claims that only 25 percent of the park would actually be enclosed for the golf course, leaving the rest for public use. The problem here is that all the rest of JKP except the sandy beach would be circled by golf holes and therefore unusable.

The third justification is that Harbor Shores would replace parkland taken from JKP with replacement parkland for an “expanded” JPK. The project would donate eight such allotments with a total of 47 acres (Because state and federal money was used to develop the park in the past, the city is required to donate land to the city to replace lost parkland.) One difficulty here is that the “mitigation parcels” are scattered and non-contiguous. Many of them are landlocked within the broader golf course (15 holes of which are beyond JKP’s original boundaries) and some of the “mitigation” parkland” is located in St. Joseph and consists, the Detroit Free Press reports, “of walkways through the middle of a proposed marina-townhouse development. All but one of the parcels,” reporter Tina Lam adds, “are contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals (Lam 2007). Some parcels are already owned by the city, being sold to Harbor Shores only to be donated back to the city in a transparent scam. The residents would lose valuable parkland and get nothing in return. The “mitigation math” behind the process is based on an appraisal that severely underestimates the value of the park, which is priceless to begin with.

And of course no amount of superficially green “mitigation” can make up for the lost ecological benefits of destroyed marshes and wetlands or for the considerable ecological damage that will be inflicted by the construction and maintenance of a large, heavily fertilized golf course, which can be counted on to pour a large and steady stream of noxious, nitrogen – intensive run-off into local water supplies. In addition, an eighteen-hole “state of the art” golf course can be counted on to require and wastefully use tens of millions of gallons of water each year (see Burke, Luecke, and Young 2003).

The park’s proposed “conversion” (theft and privatization) is still under consideration by the National Park Service – the one federal agency that has a major say in the park’s fate.

“To Benefit the Community”

The fourth and most important justification is that Harbor Shores would provide jobs and development that would alleviate the misery and oppression that gave rise to violence in the spring of 2003. “After riots in 2003 garnered international attention,” Midwest Real Estate News reporter Megan Brody claimed last July, “it was obvious to local leaders that the Lake Michigan community was in dire need of change. The town has remained popular as a traditional summer destination, but many year-round residents never repeated the benefits of the seasonal dollars.” Harbor Shores and its golf course are “designed,” Brody wrote, “to jump start the economy in a struggling Michigan town” (Brody 2007).

Brody deepened her service to Benton Harbor’s business-based powers that be by uncritically quoting Harbor Shores chief Whitwam on Whirlpool’s supposedly benevolent intentions in the following passage: ” ‘We’re using economic development to change people’s lives,’ says David Whitwam, trustee and chairman of Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc. [HSCRI], the project’s nonprofit developer. The hope is it will bring temporary construction jobs, permanent jobs and an increased tax base to the community…’We’ve been thinking about this to benefit the community'” (Brody 2007). According to the Herald-Palladium, in an admiring story honoring Nicklaus’ visit to Benton Harbor in the summer of 2007, Harbor Shores – whose full success is supposedly contingent on the invasion of JKP – will create 4,000 jobs over five years of construction and 2,000 permanent positions thereafter (Arend 2007).

HSCRI started with a $12 million loan from Whirlpool. The “nonprofit” has recently received a $9.2 million tax break from Governor Granholm.

To buttress its curious claim of altruistic concern, Whirlpool has included a number of supposed social service organizations it has largely created in the partnership of groups that “comprise Harbor Shores.” These intriguing institutions include a mysterious, Cornerstone-affiliated entity called “The Alliance for World Class Communities (AWCC),” whose vision statement calls for “an inclusive environment where the richness of our differences are viewed as strengths and where all citizens are prepared and contributing to our interdependent, world-class communities.” The Benton Harbor-based AWWC includes among its partner organizations a Berrien County outfit called “The Council for World-Class Communities,” which describes itself as “a nonprofit community development organization guided by the principles of collaboration and diversity with inclusion.” Another ACCW partner is a Cornerstone-linked organization called “The Center for Progressive Change” (CPC). CPC’s mission is to implement the vague, pro-“development” and -“inclusion” recommendations of Governor Jennifer M. Granholm’s Benton Harbor Task Force, another arm of the Harbor Shores developers, formed in the wake of the riots (all of these groups and their mission statements are linked off Cornerstone’s website: http://www.cornerstonechamber.com).

But Whitwam, Brody, and Whirlpool’s statements of loving community kindness sparked by the disturbances of 2003 are more than a little disingenuous. Desperately poor and predominantly black Benton Harbor stopped being a “popular summertime destination” many years ago. As one former Benton Harbor resident who prefers to remain anonymous notes, moreover, “we have proof that Whirlpool has been after the park and waterfront since at least 1987.” In a section marked “Jean Klock Park” from a 1987 document titled Waterfront Redevelopment Study, City of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Consultants’ Final Report, Study completed for City of Benton Harbor and Southwestern Michigan Commission, an “outside expert” hired by the city wrote the following:

“Detailed recommendations for these two sections are difficult to formulate at present since the future of these lands depends to some extent on the nature and extent of the developments undertaken by the Whirlpool Corporation in the adjacent St. Joseph Special Development Area. However, an essential principle of the redevelopment must be that Section 8, the lake front section, should remain a public park. High priority should be given to developing a master plan for this section which will balance the need to preserve the fragile dune landscapes with the growing demand for beach recreation opportunities and associated vehicle circulation and parking facilities. Section 9, the eastern third of Jean Klock Park and adjacent interchange lands have good potential for a hotel-convention center whether developed by the City of Benton Harbor acting independently or as part of a comprehensive development plan involving the adjacent City of St. Joseph Special Development Area. No similar site exists in the City of St. Joseph so a cooperative plan involving the Whirlpool Corporation and the two cities appears to be a good possibility. A major hotel and convention center with a view of the lakeshore, access to the beach, and a good golf course would be a powerful attraction for tourism and convention business….”

The document is loaded with lots of color maps and massive plans presaging Harbor Shores. It also uses much of the same wording, such as “cornerstone,” that emerged in later years.

Any doubts that the development was planned long in advance were ended last May. The pamphlet project publicists gave out to announce Harbor Shores’ “official beginning” that month openly admitted that the building of Harbor Shores was a 20 year process.

The Whirlpool-Cornerstone community benevolence narrative deletes the enormous amount of money that leading developers and investors like Evergreen Development Co. (responsible for Harbor Shores’ master plan) and Chicago’s Related Midwest Co. (in charge of the residential portion) and Nicklaus Design stand to make off Harbor Shores. It also omits Whirlpool’s interest in creating upper-end housing capable of attracting cutting-edge global coordinator class professionals to Southwest Michigan, whose recreational charms do not shine so brightly once winter sets in. As Brody acknowledges, “Whirlpool, a company that operates a bus for its employees who would rather make the two-hour jaunt to Chicago each day, has serious concerns about being able to attract the talent required for a operation its size” (Brody 2007).

In part, JKP would be sacrificed to an exurban version of the highly racialized gentrification that is displacing disproportionately black poor people from central city Chicago neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are being systematically “up-scaled” to house and entertain elite professionals required to handle tasks of legal, organizational and economic coordination that are being concentrated in that increasingly “global metropolis” (Street 2007). Residents being pushed further to the metropolitan margins are supposed to be pleased with the low-wage and generally non-union service jobs generated to meet the living and recreational needs of the predominantly white urban professionals who stand atop the “global city’s” increasingly bifurcated, post-industrial labor market.

Whirlpool’s assault on Jean Klock Park is partly a curious form of globalization-related gentrification – one that takes place beyond the metropolitan core and targets ecological and recreational resources, not housing.

It is unlikely that Harbor Shores will create many good jobs for which Benton Harbor’s large number of poor and black unemployed will be qualified and hired. Local activists report that the project’s authorities are already beginning to hedge on promises to set aside a significant number of employment slots for local residents. The remunerative construction jobs involved in building Harbor Shores will go to predominantly white skilled workers in regional building trades; the 2003 riots may have been sparked partly by black anger over whites’ monopoly of construction jobs in downtown Benton Harbor, interestingly enough (see Wilgoren 2003a). Conventional local wisdom holds that the prestigious caddy jobs will go “rich white college kids form [the adjacent town of] St. Joseph,” not Benton Harbor kids. The jobs that open for lesser-skilled local black residents – waiters and waitresses, cleaners and the like – will pay low wages and lack benefits. They will be particularly inhospitable to the large number of residents – including a remarkable 70 percent of Benton Harbor’s black males 17 to 30 years (Wilgoren 2003a) – who carry felony records (industrial work is the type of labor most friendly for ex-offenders ). Many of those positions can be expected to go to cheap immigrant (Latino) labor, widely available on Michigan’s western shore thanks to the presence there of large fruit and vegetable farming operations.

Harbor Shores will offer little relevant substitute for the livable wage employment that Whirlpool and other manufacturers removed from Benton Harbor in the last third of the 20th century. Carefully guarded design plans at first depicted a commercial district that purportedly would provide Benton Harbor residents with locations for small businesses. A later version, revealed after city leaders approved the leasing of the park, now shows only gated-community residential areas – what one local activist calls “a classic bait and switch.” It is sadly ironic, then, that many Benton Harbor residents have been “afraid of speaking out” against the loss of their park “in fear of not obtaining the jobs that the Harbor Shores project can provide.”

Jobs Pitted Against Nature for “An Elite Golfers’ Paradise”

But then, as local activists and residents told Granholm in September 2006, “people of color should not be forced to choose between the environment and jobs. We deserve both.” As Dave Dempsey, a onetime environmental adviser to Michigan Governor James Blanchard, wrote to Granholm in September 2006, “the citizens of Benton Harbor should not be dealt an ultimatum that forces them to give up precious assets such as Lake Michigan parkland, dunes, and recreational opportunities in order to get jobs” (Dempsey to Granholm 2006)

The “transformation of Jean Klock Park into primarily a golf course, available largely to the privileged, is,” Dempsey adds, “is an injustice to the people of Benton Harbor. The use of the park for a golf course changes the park to one used primarily by residents for their activities to an elite golfers’ paradise [emphasis added]. The two uses are incompatible” (Dempsey to Granholm 2006). Never mind, of course, that that are already many dozens of golf courses available within a thirty mile radius of Benton Harbor. Or that just nine percent of the U.S. population plays golf, according to the National Golf Foundation (Burke, Luecke, and Young 2003). It is of course well known that the relatively small segment of the population that plays this expensive game comes disproportionately from the affluent classes.


“It’s a Local Matter”

For her part, the state’s corporate-Democratic Governor has refused to meet with Benton Harbor residents or to acknowledge their concerns about the privatizing golf occupation of JKP. Her office has told residents that the plan to dismember and essentially enclose their park – in direct violation of the park’s original deed and the recent court judgment to protect JKP – is a “local matter” in which she can not be involved (Edwards to FOJKP Member 2006). . Ironically enough, however, Granholm has lent considerable state-level support to Whirlpool-Cornerstone’s Harbor Shores project. In a May 2006 memo to Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig, Granholm congratulated Whirlpool for its acquisition of the Maytag Corporation (leading to elimination of hundreds of jobs in Newton, Iowa) and then promised to help Whirlpool’s “pet project” (Brody 2007) with state dollars and permit approvals. Granholm also pledged to help Harbor Shores obtain financial and technical assistance from the federal government (Granholm to Fettig 2006).

For Michigan’s governor, apparently the local designs of regional real estate developers affiliated with powerful multinational corporations deserve state and even federal backing. But the local place-, justice-, and ecology-based concerns of a desperately poor black town’s residents and their environmentalist allies do not deserve a fair hearing or assistance from the higher authorities as far as Granholm is concerned.

“To Keep Whirlpool in Michigan”

Granholm’s refusal to side with Benton Harbor activists and their environmentalist allies stands in curious contrast with her previous advocacy for the preservation of Michigan’s Arcadia Dunes in Benzie County. In that earlier struggle, Granholm supported efforts to “keep” – in her own words – “one of the most the most scenic and picturesque places in Michigan open for the public to enjoy for generations to come” (as quoted in FOJKP to Granholm 2006)

The keys to explaining these seeming contradictions are the extreme poverty, isolation and related powerlessness of Benton Harbor’s black residents and the structurally super-empowered position of Whirlpool within Michigan. Relatively middle-class and white communities like 96 percent white Benzie County, Michigan possess the political capital required to procure state support in successfully resisting development plans for their public lakefront parks. Deeply poor, black and demoralized Benton Harbor does not.

And of course it doesn’t hurt the ecologically destructive project’s chances that the corporate behemoth Whirlpool is the real force behind Harbor Shores. Whirlpool executives have made sure to shower Granholm with tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions over recent years. Equally if note more significant, Whirlpool’s supposedly benevolent decision to maintain its headquarters and a few thousand (chiefly managerial and clerical) jobs in Michigan is something that Granholm finds politically useful in supporting her claim to be advancing “job creation” in her state. Detroit Free Press reporter Tina Lam summarizes the quid pro quo that has emerged between Granholm and Whirlpool to doom JKP: “Harbor Shores is a carrot Gov. Jennifer Granholm used to keep Whirlpool and its jobs in Michigan, a victory she pointed to often during last fall’s re-election campaign” (Lam 2007).

Harbor Shores epitomizes a critical form of business control that supplements campaign funding, lobbying, and corporate media monopoly to ensure that policymakers do the bidding of private power: the threat to relocate investment capital and its attendant “economic development” benefits – “jobs” above all – out of a jurisdiction that does not give the investor class what it wants. According to one knowledgeable local activist and native Benton Harborite, speaking on condition of anonymity:

“The reason they [Whirlpool] maintain their corporate headquarters in Michigan is because they have the government in their back pocket – their very own family [Republican] Congressmen, Fred Upton [a lineal descendant of Whirlpool’s founders, P.S.] – and no one will say ‘Boo!’ to them about anything. Further, the executives all live in beautiful (mostly) lakefront houses, which would be difficult to replaces somewhere else. The other [U.S.] places were they have manufacturing facilities, and other operations – Clyde, Ohio, La Vergne Tennessee, Tulsa – are not exactly Paris, either. They do have their annual shareholders’ meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, though.”

A Media-Encouraged Sentiment: “Why Stick Out Your Neck?”

By one local informant’s account, “this place is no different from the rest of America. People feel that their vote, their voice mean NOTHING, that the fat cats will win in the end no matter what they do, so why waste time? Why risk their ire? Why stick out your neck?” It doesn’t help, the informant adds, “that we have no media support whatsoever.”

Regarding that critical problem, here is an interesting story from last summer from local activist Carol Drake:

“Recently, Jack Nicklaus came to tour the golf project and finalize design plans. He would not meet with the public. Prior to his visit, on August 10th, I and others discovered a 75-100 foot long linear pile of neatly laid out trash – 13 toilets, tires, furniture, etc., in an area adjacent to the park. I knew this trash had been dumped and was staged for Jack’s visit. TV news broadcasts were highlighting the trashy areas of the proposed golf course and reporting that a golf course was the only solution to stop the dumping and clean up contaminated land [emphasis added].”

“We Knew if we Moved or Said a Word we Would be Arrested”

It isn’t just the local media that Whirlpool has in its back pocket. By Drake’s chilling account, which merits lengthy quotation, it also owns the local police – the people who so locally famous for prematurely ending the lives of young black males from inner Benton Harbor:

“On the 10th, I met with a fellow member at the park. Upon leaving, a Benton Harbor police officer drove into the intersection with lights flashing. Then came a four-wheeler with more Benton Harbor officers. I knew that Jack was on his way. I went back to warn the other member. Two Benton harbor police officers and two members of the Cornerstone Alliance approached us. One officer said, ‘Ms. Drake, you aren’t hear to cause problems for Jack are you? You aren’t going to yell and scream are you?’ I told him I had no intention of doing so, but did not appreciate being harassed. I was told that they were there for ‘my protection.'”

“An entourage of 30-40 people soon appeared along with Jack who totally ignored us. We were surrounded by the 2 police officers and Cornerstone people and knew if we moved or said a word we would be arrested. When Jack’s entourage left so did our police and Cornerstone bodyguards. When I left the park the entourage was gawking at the pile of trash near the [projected] ninth hole. I told an officer that the pile of trash was staged for Jack’s visit. His reply was ‘it’s been there longer than a couple days and I know that for a fact.’ It was clear that he was taking orders from Harbor Shores. A day later, the witness to the dumping went to the police headquarters to file a report. They refused his report, saying ‘workers were hired to pick up trash in the park and put it out there so a front-end loader could pick it up at another time.'”

“People Were Able to Gather and Have a Great Sense of Community and Enjoyment”

Residents’ and activists’ sense that local law enforcement takes its orders from Whirlpool deepened in early September. That’s when police in cars and on horses blocked public access to the park while Whirlpool used JKP as the site for the corporation’s annual employee picnic.

Jeff Noel, vice president of communications and public af

Speaker Discusses Hurricane Katrina and Rebuilding Efforts

Today, reporter and author Jed Horne discussed the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the attempts to rebuild the city. The lecture was held as part of GVSU’s “Conversations on Poverty and Economic Justice” series.

Today, Grand Valley State University (GVSU) hosted reporter and author Jed Horne who spoke on Hurricane Katrina’s lasting impacts on New Orleans and the United States as a whole. Horne’s lecture was hosted as part of the University’s ongoing “Conversations on Poverty and Economic Justice” series, the first of which was a lecture last week by Jonathan Kozol. Horne–who is a metro editor of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper–received a Pulitzer Prize for role in covering Hurricane Katrina. Horne also recently published a book titled Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City from which some of his talk was drawn.

Horne began by telling his audience that Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster but rather that it was a man-made and engineered disaster. Horne said that the problem began when the levee system collapsed after the storm had already passed, revealing that the federal engineering of the levee system was terribly flawed. This was compounded by a complete failure of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to respond quickly to the disaster, with DHS taking a week to enter the city while media was there within an hour. Many of course saw this as racist and questioned the government’s priorities, a charge which seems all too clear with DHS’ rapid response to recent wildfires in predominately white and Republican area of California. Horne argued that Hurricane Katrina is a defining moment of Bush’s presidency and the failure of DHS–like the failure of the invasion of Iraq–is one of the areas on which his legacy will be based. Despite this, many government officials–especially Republicans–have tried to forget Katrina and its revelations of flawed government planning and inequality.

Post-Katrina New Orleans has become an incubator for what Horne called “miniature experiments” in urban planning and social engineering. Horne said that the destruction of the city has brought about possibilities for re-engineering the city and cited several areas including healthcare and education through which new styles of development and planning are being considered. The city has liquidated the government of a host of corrupt officials, consolidating and restructuring the government bureaucracy in an attempt to address its historical failures and corruption. State-level government has taken over the education system, instituting a variety reforms including eliminating the teachers unions and building charters schools. Horne asserted that the plan–while drawing significant criticism for its advocacy of charter schools–fended off a larger rightwing plan to implement a voucher system. There are reasons for “guarded optimism” with the school reform effort, as test scores seem to be up. Similarly, healthcare has been restructured towards a model emphasizing clinics and outpatient care while stressing the importance of preventive care.

All of these “experiments” have arisen out of Mayor Ray Nagin’s difficult decision about how best to rebuild the city. Horne explained that Nagin was essentially faced with two choices: allowing people to come back as a means of renewing economic growth or adopting the advice of urban planners who argued that portions of the city were unsafe due to the threat of future hurricanes and should not be rebuilt. Nagin chose a slightly different path, adopting neoconservative plan that gave rebuilding permits to developers and complying with a Bush administration favored reconstruction philosophy emphasizing free-market policies and giving federal money to corporations via contracts. While this strategy worked to get Nagin reelected, Horne told the audience that despite all the incentives given to corporate investors, the investors are not coming through. He further predicted that the reconstruction might do for the free-market system what the Iraq War did for the doctrine of pre-emptive war.

Horne said that 70% of households are now back in New Orleans, but he is worried that rather than redeveloping into a thriving city, a more realistic end might be a city like Detroit. He argued that people will soon realize that while they have their homes back, they are in blight and that they have been victimized twice–once by Katrina and again by blight. He said that many people will find themselves in a situation where they rebuild their homes and then will be unable to insure or sell them. Moreover, middle-class professionals–who are slowly coming back into the city–initially left in great numbers. At the same time, the federal government has been unwilling to build a flood defense system despite the demands of citizens for a flood system that could defend against a category 5 storm. Horne said that without a flood defense system there is really not much point to investing in the city. The country has failed to make the reconstruction of New Orleans a national priority, despite the fact that the $30 billion cost for a flood defense system is a fraction of what is being spent in Iraq.

Despite the difficulties facing New Orleans, Horne expressed a sense of hope regarding the city. He cited a grassroots revival in the city in which in the days, months, and now years after the hurricane residents came together to take care of each other and discuss the reconstruction of the city. Horne said that the radical changes in New Orleans are comparable to the 1960s and the collapse of communism in Prague in the 1990s in that there is a real potential for positive change and a re-prioritizing of life. He said that people in Michigan can help New Orleans by watching the situation and encouraging Michigan’s federal legislators to vote in favor of reconstruction projects.

Developers Seeking Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor

Jean Klock Park, located in Southwest Michigan in Benton Harbor, is being threatened by developers and the city government in Benton Harbor. Those parties are hoping to “grab” a portion of the park’s land as part of the Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment project that would include a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The development threatens Jean Klock Park–one of the oldest parks in Michigan–and its unique natural ecosystems including dunes, marshes, and interdunal weatlands.

In addition to a variety of grassroots organizing efforts, the Friends of Jean Klock Park have produced a video highlighting the fight to save the park:

A petition calling on the city of Benton Harbor to preserve the can be signed online. For more information, visit www.savejeanklockpark.org.