The Sweetened Version of a Modern Day Crusader

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (September 1997)

On Saturday, October 18, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page of the “Religion” section article on Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright’s recent talk in town. Press writer Joane Sher tells us that Bright was hosted at Calvary Chruch, the mega-church located just off the East Beltline with a seating capacity greater than DeVos Hall.

The article quotes Bright frequently on the importance of women being witnesses, sort of a compliment to the growing men’s movement known as the Promise Keepers. The article also gives us quote a bit of background on both Vonette and her husband Bill, how they met and co-founded the Campus Crusade for Christ movement in the early 1950g’s. Interestingly, nothing much is said about what Campus Crusade has done, nor what its mission is.

Founded on the campus of UCLA in 1951g, Bill Bright’s goal was always to promote an ultra-conservative Christian worldview. To counter the anti-war movements on campuses in the 1960g’s, bright organized the Christian World Liberation Front. The group eventually split off to become what was known as the “Jesus Movement.”

In the 1970g’s, Bright went worldwide with a huge crusade in South Korea called “Explo 74.” The crusade was endorsed by South Korean leader Park Chung Kee who was notorious for being repressive. The site of Bright’s headquarters for the South Korean campaign was located on a spot that was donated by the government, which was the scene of a bloody battle between Park’s military and squatters in 1968g.

In 1973g, Bright co-founded Third Century Publishers, a conservative evangelical publishing house to promote a right-wing economic agenda and a neo-theocracy approach to government. Amway co-founder Rich DeVos was also involved with the project. In 1987g, Bright was personally invited by President Reagan to be a part of a dinner meeting with Salvadoran President Duarte and his military brass. Bright attended and there was no mention of his challenging Duarte for his bloody campaign against the Salvadoran people, nor Reagan’s military and financial support of the bloodbath.

These are only a few omissions from the Press article on an ultra-conservative movement leader while in town. This should not surprise us in a religious political atmosphere that praises the Promise Keepers and demonizes women who question their agenda. (Some of the info in this article comes from Sara Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare)

The Press Commits Another Sin of Omission: When Rape is Passe

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

On April 13, in the Religion section, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from Newhouse News Service writer Julia Lieblich about a US nun who is engaged in a protest/ fast across the street from the White House. Actually, the article spends more time talking about the “concern” that National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and his associates are having in this case.

The headline reads “Administration officials make late-night visits to see protesting nun.” The title alone is enough to lead you to believe that they are on some humanitarian mission. According to the article, Lake has paid three visits to Sister Diana Ortiz who has been camped out since April 2. In fact, the article gives more print space to the supposed empathy of government officials than that of the reasons for Ortiz’s actions.

The Press article simply states that Sister Ortiz “was raped and tortured in Guatemala.” No other specifics are mentioned. We are given no date or any testimony from Sister Diana herself about what happened. It is almost as if rape and torture were incidental in this case. The article mentions former US Ambassador to Guatemala Thomas Strook’s challenge of Ortiz’s story, but no one who supports her case is cited. For as much as the article reflects the agony of the government officials on this case you might expect the writer to give equal time to the agony of Sister Ortiz. Not so. The specifics of her abduction, rape, and torture are quite available, however. You can find full testimony in publications such as Report on Guatemala, the Bulletin of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, as well as a taped interview on Alternative Radio. Any competent journalist could easily find these sources.

Some of the specifics of her case are as follows. She was abducted on November 2, 1989. Her abductors took her to a warehouse-like building, where Sister Diana recounts that she heard “the despairing screams of people being tortured and I watched helplessly as an innocent person was tortured.” She was then questioned and every time she responded men burned her with cigarettes. In all she has 111 burns on her back from the interrogation. She then says, “I was raped numerous times. After pouring wine over my body they used and abused my body in horrible ways that are too humiliating to describe in detail. Then they lowered me into an open pit packed with human bodies – bodies of children, women, and some men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive – and all swarming with rats.” Had any aspect of this testimony from Sister Ortiz been included in the Grand Rapids Press article would it have changed your impression of this case? I think it probably would have.

None of these serious omissions by the corporate media should surprise us though. If we look at the date of the crimes committed against Sister Diana, Nov. 2, 1989, we can make other conclusions about the self-censorship that the corporate media engages in regularly.

According to Noam Chomsky in Terrorizing the Neighborhood, when this story appeared on the AP wire service on Nov. 6, 1989, none of the major media picked the story up, nor were there Congressional calls for an investigation. Just over a month later and right before the illegal US invasion of Panama, George Bush waxed indignantly about what happened to a US woman in Panama. “If they threaten and brutalize the wife of an American citizen, sexually threatening the lieutenant’s wife while kicking him in the groin over and over again – then….please understand, this president is going to do something about it.” (see Stephen Shalom’s Imperial Alibis, pg. 178-79) So, if a US woman is terrorized in a country that the US military is about to invade it is an outrage, but if a woman is terrorized in a country that systematically murder’s its own people (with US government support) it is not worthy of mention? You decide.

Finally the Press article does make mention that Sister Diana is pushing the Clinton Administration to release all classified documents related to her case. They also cite a catholic priest who believes that Anthony Lake’s interest is more posturing than genuine concern. However, the article does not seriously look at the present efforts by the Guatemalan solidarity community in this country to push the Clinton Administration to release all declassified documents related to Guatemala since the CIA-led coup of 1954. In the most recent issue of Report on Guatemala, Jennifer Harbury states that after receiving some declassified documents it is clear that Anthony Lake and other US government officials were either withholding information from her or deliberately deceiving her in regards to the status of her husband Efrain Bamanca Velasquez, who is now believed to have been killed at the hands of CIA paid military officers in Guatemala. No wonder the corporate media is “missing” the real story, it would not only indict the role of numerous US administrations in grave human rights abuses in Guatemala, it would also be self-indicting since the bulk of the information on cases like Sister Ortiz has been available for decades and has not been reported on.

Labor History in Grand Rapids, Part I

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1996)

In 1900 Grand Rapids was a bustling river town, not fully settled, but no longer frontier. The red light district was located in the river valley while the mansions of the wealthy overlooked the city from Heritage Hill.

Only seventeen years earlier, the last great log run swept away the railroad bridge near Ann Street. Crowds gathered along the banks of the Grand River to watch as thousands of white pine logs created a jam seven miles long and thirty feet deep. Perhaps this is why so many furniture factories started in the “valley city” — cheap wood, cheap water power, and cheap labor. Scattered along the river and throughout the city were 85 furniture and woodworking factories. Berkey and Gay, Widdicomb, American School Furniture Co. (American Seating), Sligh, Stickley Bros. and others were just then making this medium size city of 87,576 the furniture capital of the United States, a title it held until the Great Depression.

It was this cheap labor that bothered Thomas Kidd, secretary of the newly formed Amalgamated Wood Workers International Union (est. 1895). Low Grand Rapids wages were depressing the earnings of his members.

If the union was to grow, Grand Rapids workers needed to be brought into the fold. Kidd made numerous speaking trips to the city passionately and eloquently presenting his case to the English, Irish, German, Dutch, Polish, and Lithuanian finishers, rubbers, cabinet makers, sanders, and machine hands who compromised the 7,000 workers of Furniture City, USA.

“The most foolish and silly thing the working men have done of late years is to allow themselves to be kept divided by the religious question. Who ever heard of a corporation, a trust, or a combination of any kind, of capitalists allowing any question foreign to the objects for which they are organized to enter into their consideration at all? Everything likely to create discord is wisely cast aside, and all keep their eye on the main thing — the dollar. That is what they are after.”

“All the institutions of the country are used against us, even our chump of a president, Grover Cleveland [enthusiastic applause] and our condition will never be improved with being a better Democrat or a better Republican. Is all this not enough without our quarreling over questions of faith and thus assisting the enemy to bind us still tighter? [Many of the Dutch were opposed to trade unions.] The working men of this country are gradually but surely getting behind those of other countries. I am a Scotsman and I never worked over eight hours per day, nor on Saturday afternoons until I cam to this progressive country.”

“The union label is the coming power, and it will do away with strikes. The wood workers have adopted a label and already a furniture manufacturer in Chicago is using it on all his furniture, and a Minneapolis manufacturer will at one begin using 22,000 labels a week, and there will be no more strikes there. Furniture without the label can easily be boycotted through the central bodies in other cities.”

“In comparison with other furniture localities, wages here are fairly good, but if the workers here remain unorganized it will only be a matter of time when the employers will have to cut you still lower in order to compete with furniture from other parts. Reason as you will, experience proves conclusively that you will never get better wages unless you organize. In Oshkosh and Marshfield, Wisconsin, wages were as low as five cents an hour before unions were organized in those places, and the men were working eight hours a day, forty cents a day! Just think of it. Do you want to come to that? If you do, continue to go it alone, each man for himself, and you will get it, just as sure as you live.”

Despite Kidd’s best efforts, Grand Rapids Local 46 and Spindle Carvers Local 84 never numbered more than 200 members. In March, the AWWIU held its national convention in Grand Rapids. If the workers would not come to the union, the union would come to them. As hosts, Local 46 and 84 hand made convention badges of “white maple veneer handsomely lettered and mounted.” Sixty-eight delegates attended the week long session.

Most were German immigrants with a few English, French, and Swedes thrown in. The constitution was amended and union policies debated. However, all was not work. Germans, being Germans, and definitely not following the temperance fashion of the times, attended a social session held for the delegates entertainment:

“When the social session opened at 9 p.m. the hall was crowded, over four hundred present. ‘Elk’s mil’ was the first order of business and after several trips of the white-aproned dispensers, the fun began.”

An invitation was sent by the delegates to the local furniture manufacturers inviting them to meet with the union’s officers to discuss the advantages of the union label. Sligh, Rettig & Sweet, and the Luce Company agreed to meet.

The appointed time came and went, but no furniture representatives.

Unwilling to was the evening, the AWWIU officers decided to take in a performance at the Powers Theater. And what should be playing but “Sappho,” a performance so risqué, with the actress who portrayed a Greek heroine baring her arms and feet, that it had been banned in New York City and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

However, this was not the only thing laid bare that night. It seems the lure of culture was too strong for even upright, respectable businessmen, for there, seated in the crowded theater, were the errant furniture barons.

Epilogue

Kidd never did organize the furniture workers of Grand Rapids, despite his charismatic appeal and unceasing efforts. It would take another organizer and another union to lead Grand Rapids furniture workers in the Great 1911 Furniture Strike.

What Lack of Faith in the Government Can Lead To: Some Personal Reflections on the Kent County Militia

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (November 1995)

It was the usual media literacy class. People were asking good questions, not too surprised by the depth of the monopolization of the media in this country. I gave participants a sampling of media bias and censorship; the Gulf War, the invasion of Panama, PR spin-doctors at work, and the power of advertising. Afterwards two men from the group came up to pay me compliments on my understanding and critique of government policies. When I asked them what they hoped to produce on GRTV they said that they were from the Militia and hoped to “clear-up the public misconceptions about the militia that has been created by the media.” I thanked them and encouraged them to take advantage of the free speech platform that GRTV provides. Before I could leave they invited me to attend their meetings to be able to see for myself what I though of their movement. I was delighted by the prospect and since mid-July I have been attending one of their weekly meetings. Before I share my thoughts on who the local militia is, I feel it is important to note what resources I have been reading on the militia movement and the related movements within the country. This does not mean that I equate the Kent County Militia with any of the other movements or even any other militias, rather, I believe, it is important to have an understanding of these reactionary movements within the country in order to put into context the one that I have come to know personally.

There have been numerous journals that have dealt with the militia phenomenon and more recently several books. The most notable journals have been The Nation, The Progressive, Klan Watch, Covert Action Quarterly, and Z Magazine. Some of these publications have dealt honestly with the militia movement, others have not. The seasoned reporters and researchers of reactionary, or what is referred to as right-wing movements, have done the best job to date in my opinion, specifically Chip Berlet and Sara Diamond. Both have been following these movements for years and have keen insight into the sociological nature of such movements. Sara Diamond recently published Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States, a very thorough investigation of reactionary movements since 1945g. Chip Berlet has two books coming out before the end of the year. In a recent interview in Z Magazine, Berlet talked about how many of the recent militia recruits were victims of the global economic restructuring, especially farmers. Many of these disenfranchised workers were directly target by reactionary movements in part because of their general disdain for government, but also because of their particular ideological view of the world. Both Berlet and Diamond agree that people have gravitated towards the militia movement in part because of the failure of the progressive or left movements to reach out to rural and working class people who have been devastated by the “new world order.” Diamond, who has been following the Christian Right for over a decade, also suggests that people should not simply dismiss the militia movement. She believes that, like the Christian Right, much can be learned from these movements about the larger, more systemic reactionary elements within our society. But she also believes that they should not be quickly dismissed, since many of these people are just like you and me.

Every Friday night from 6:30 to 7:00 people wander in to a meeting room that is adjacent to the local John Birch Society book store at 1369 Plainfield Ave. People mingle and usually talk about the latest on the Waco hearings, the Oklahoma bombing, or current draconian measures proposed at the State and Federal level. Some of the men are dressed in military fatigues, but most people look like they just finished the evening meal or a long day at work. The meeting is called to order by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. There is clearly a hierarchy involved with “ranking officers” sitting up front and facilitating the discussion. In some ways their ideas reflect a paranoid and conspiratorial view of the world and at the same time, I could not help but find myself nodding in agreement with many things that were put on the table.

The discussions are always very lively and are usually accompanied by stacks of literature, copies of audio lectures, or recently produced videos that are circulating the country. Everyone is invited to participate and I have heard at least one guest speaker. People speak very personally about how they have lost faith in the system or how they have been direct victims of “unconstitutional behavior” while serving in the USA military. People are encouraged to “think for themselves since much of what they read, hear, and see in the media are lies.” Towards the end of each meeting current legislation is discussed and letter writing usually ensues. A few members surf the Internet and print out relevant material so that members can have the full text or summaries of legislation up for discussion. This was one method they employed that impressed me even though it seems contrary to the general public’s perception. Why would a movement that “advocates” violence work within the system? One of the local militia officers said that this, in addition to education, is “how we have to change things. We can change things through the courts, the guns and training are a last ditch resort. We can change things without firing a shot.” They also talked about how they want to avoid being viewed as an extremist organization. They have adopted part of the US 131 highway to help boost their image. They also feel that producing a show on GRTV would help with their image, because then people could hear for themselves what it is that the militia is saying.

The group’s fundamental belief is that we need to get back to what the founding fathers had intended in the constitution. They believe that next to the Christian Bible, the constitution is the supreme text for governing society. Some of them so firmly believe in the wisdom of the constitution’s framers that they said “if there ever was a super race on this earth it was the founding fathers.” This country, they believe, went astray in part due to the federal reserve system that was implemented around the turn of the century, but most definitely after World War II. Promoting the United Nations is at the core of their conspiracy theory. They believe that the United Nations is already engaged in taking over the sovereignty of the United States. This is demonstrated by the fact that at a United States military base in Fort Bragg, the only flag in the main office is a United Nations flag, not a United States one. I would agree that there are forces that are eroding this nation’s sovereignty, but it is certainly not the United Nations. I would suggest that anyone questioning this should read recent books by Noam Chomsky that clearly document the opposite. That the United Nations has tended to be a lackey of United States policy or ineffectual when the United States has voted against a majority United Nations position.

Another source of contention for the militia is what has happened to Gulf War veterans. This Gulf War Syndrome, they believe, was a biological experiment conducted by the Pentagon on United States soldiers without their knowledge. Here, I can agree with their analysis. In fact, we have shared resources to confirm that position. Several of their members were delighted with an article I gave them from a back issue of Covert Action Quarterly. They believe that this disease, the AIDS virus, and the Ebola virus all have some connection and that to me is not out of the realm of possibility. One of the local higher ranking officers is even trying to convene a state-wide convention just to talk about these viruses.

There also seems to be a nativist element to their ideology. They would like to see states have more autonomy from the federal government, counties more independent from the state, and common law courts revived. They are certainly opposed to big government and an intrusive government. No surprise that they would be actively opposed to any gun restriction legislation and even more up in arms over the so-called anti-terrorist legislation. Here researchers like Berlet caution us to be very careful at how the FBI and other federal agencies deal with the militia. He cautions us on how the FBI might use militias to further erode our civil rights. Clearly that is what the anti-terrorism legislation is all about. For the militias that was the purpose of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing.

They believe that the Federal government was responsible for the bombing. This would cause a smokescreen to repress or scapegoat the militia or any other anti-government reactionary groups. While I am not convinced as to who did the bombing, I do not dismiss this as out of the realm of possibility. Anyone who does so ahs not familiarized themselves with United States history. What is important here is that we don’t use any conspiracy theories to demonize any group. There are two kinds of populist movements, a progressive participatory populism and a reactionary, scapegoating populism. I would rather be with the former. Progressive populism doesn’t see things as conspiracies, rather they tend to critique things in a structural way that says that an ongoing repression and exploitation is business as usual in the present system, not some conspiracy of people sitting around plotting global takeover. Progressive populism also does not blame or scapegoat other people who are also victims of this system; immigrants, inner city dwellers, women, gays and lesbians, or Jews. In this case the local militia has taken a negative view on immigrants for sure, stating that we should close our borders. They have not expressed any racial superiority of the Klan fashion, yet all members are White and tend to be Christian.

It is not clear to me if the group as a whole embraces the Judeo-Christian writings as a sacred text. Certainly the majority does, but not in a theologically orthodox way. They believe that this nation was founded on Christian principles and that those principles should govern society. When discussing the evolutionary theory, one member said, “I’d like to see Darwin part the Red Sea.” To many of them, evolution, abortion, gay life, and the “public fool system” are all part of the “new world order.” But the religious element still seems overshadowed by their desire to fight for basic constitutional rights.

As an organizing tactic, one night one member said that we need to get to know our neighbors, go door to door, and find out if people believe in their right to bear arms. They believe that much of the public would be behind them if there was not this misconception of who they are. Over and over again they stress the need to educate themselves and then others. The resources that keep springing up the most are materials on the Internet, Bill Cooper’s radio talk show, The New American journal, Veritas newspaper, The Spotlight, Reader’s Digest, the Chuck Carter Show, G. Gordon Liddy’s program, and the Washington Times. Certainly these are reactionary publications by and large, but they also base their actions on the state and federal constitutions, copies of which can always be obtained at meetings. Most meetings consist of 30 to 50 people, and that is just on a Friday night. They meet other days for those interested in the TV show and semi-regularly for training.

I have been impressed with many of the members’ commitment, diligence, openness, and frankness with which they confront the present state of affairs. I may not agree with much of their analysis, but I respect their desire to work for change. Certainly one must always be cautious of populist movements that are reactionary, often this is what can lead to a fascist movement’s rise to power. There is always a danger in naively accepting any group’s political position, but at the same time, it is essential that there be a healthy exchange between groups for clarity and most importantly for the opportunity to find some common ground. If we allow factionalism, sectarianism, and intolerance to govern our motives, then there can be no hope for a healthy, dynamic, and pluralistic society. I would encourage people to attend their meetings to see for yourself. No one can say they know what these people believe unless you engage directly with them. I also feel it would be beneficial to hold some sort of public forum to discuss diverging opinions on the present state of affairs, with the hope of challenging each other’s fundamental beliefs. I do not know if there can be any common ground between the militia and progressive movements in this community, but to fail to promote the possibility could be disastrous. If we are to overcome our own prejudices and others’, to say nothing of the structural ones, then we cannot remain isolationist. Isolationism is the breeding ground of all kinds of phobia.

The Klan Rally and Counter-Hegemonic Race Talk

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (November 1995)

How do you get 500 Grand Rapidians out to demonstrate against injustice? Invite the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to town.

As someone who has helped organize public resistance to numerous forms of injustice in the area, I was delighted that so many people would publicly articulate their disgust for the Klan. However, I am concerned about how people view racism within this geographical arena called “America.” There was certainly no homogenous group of people who came “to see” the 10 member traveling Klan show and although I do not want to dismiss anyone’s motives for being there, I believe it is important to question those motives in the context of a system that, in the words of Black feminist scholar bell hooks, “is built on White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.”

I was there to tape the event, in order to show it on GRTV. With the camera’s aid I was able to talk to people about why they were there. Most people simply said they were opposed to the Klan, but some admitted that they just wanted to see and hear what the Klan had to say. I asked several people if they would come out to protest the systemic racism of the people who wear black robes. Most people did not respond, or just gave me a strange look as if to say, “what are you talking about?” Some Black members of the crowd did say that that was indeed the question to ask. Unfortunately, I did not hear the local corporate media ask that question. They covered the rally as if it were a sporting event, reporting numbers of people on both sides and giving a play-by-play description of how it went. The Grand Rapids Press gave most of its printed space to what Klan leader Thomas Robb had to say as well as what police chief Hagarty felt about how “professional” his officers were and how they “took an awful lot of stuff.”

Some African Americans there were clearly expressing their rage against a White Supremacist organization, while others demonstrated because they were disappointed that the local Black groups, specifically the NAACP, decided to ignore the Klan’s presence. Refusing to give the Klan an audience is a good strategy, but it can be stifling to the need for the articulation and understanding of rage against White Supremacy, especially from Blacks. In her most recent book, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, bell hooks says “As long as black rage continues to be represented as always and only evil and destructive, we lack a vision of militancy that is necessary for transformative revolutionary action.” Most White people probably didn’t have a problem with yelling by Black people at the Klan rally; indeed many joined in, possibly to show their “sympathy” for Black rage. But this is easy to do at a Klan rally. Would the same White crowd publicly stand in solidarity if and when the Black community demonstrates against the elimination of affirmative action, ghettoization of the Black community, or the racist nature of the so-called “war on drugs”? My guess is no. It is quite easy to hate the Klan, but it is another thing to confront institutional racism, the type of racism that gives me, a White male, certain privileges and perks in this society. In most instances Black rage is quickly dismissed or marginalized. Here bell hooks observers, “It is useful for white supremacist capitalist patriarchy to make all black rage appear pathological rather than identify the structure wherein that rage surfaces.” People who viewed the rally on TV would also probably dismiss the rage of both Black and White demonstrators because of their superficial display of rage; throwing cans, eggs, and adolescent insults at the Klansmen.

An even larger contingent of White folks in the crowd seemed to be there as spectators. Reflective of political culture in the USA, these people came as spectators, to watch not only the Klansmen but also the more active members of the crowd, as if they were anticipating, even hoping for some ugly confrontation. The police presence only added to the Hollywood-like nature of the day. Cops on the roof tops, cops in the street, cops with riot gear, and the chief perched up near the County building overlooking the whole event like a Roman emperor who gives hand signals that will give the go for state sponsored brutality. The mystique of this event was like some weird rendition of a Mortal Kombat video game without all the blood, but with the consequences being far more reaching and far more devastating, and all to real.

Our failure to see systemic racism clearly reflects how many of us in this society culturally perceive race and racism. We have simply personalized it, so if they are not saying anything racist, or doing something that can easily be labeled racist, they believe they are not racist. In addition, if we listen to say Black music and root for Black athletes, then we are not really racist because we “are enjoying part of Black culture.” That, some Black scholars would say, is because it is now more acceptable to embrace Blackness, simply because it is a commodity, not because if reflects the beauty of Black heritage. White people can then listen to inspiring Black jazz, but not give a damn about Black liberation struggles. bell hooks has this insight into how people are socialized about race in this country: “By socializing white and black citizens in the United States to think of racism in personal terms, individuals could think of it as having more to do with inherent prejudicial feelings than with a consciously mapped-out strategy of domination that is being systematically maintained.”

This perception of racism is reflected in how people view the Klan. People think that the Klan exists as a group in opposition to the present forms of racial relations in this country. That may be the case to some degree, but by and large the Klan simply reflects the White Supremacist structure of the United States in an overt fashion. Looking at the history of the Klan one can see that, as Michael Novick, author of White Lies, White Power, says that “They (the Klan) exist as a supplement to the armed power of the sate, available to be used when rulers and the state find it necessary.” According to Novick, more lynchings have taken place in this country when Klan activity have been low or non-existent. When Black resistance movements have surfaced and organized, the White power structure gives the Klan full license to operate. The Klan then can be easily blamed for current racist policies or attacks, even though during the civil rights years, it was local, state, and federal government policies that prevented Blacks from achieving any kind of equality.

Now we are in a period of backlash against civil rights gains, where it is clear that local, state, and federal policies are attempting to dismantle those gains. The Klan now has a better climate in which to recruit, feeding off structurally racist sentiments – but they are not needed to create terror against minority or immigrant communities. Government policies, the corporate war against workers, and media pundits do a fine job of that. This growth period is beneficial for the Klan, because it will give them an opportunity to strategize and organize for the future when the White power structure will need them to undermine Black and minority liberation struggles. Until we understand the role of the Klan in history and the nature of structural racism in this country, our rage will either be misdirected or we will see racism as not being “our” problem.

To confront and challenge the present notions and realities of racism in this country it is essential that we educate ourselves. We cannot claim racial understanding if we do not listen to the voices of people who are the targets of racism. We cannot claim a commitment to racial justice if we do not invest in those struggles and stand in solidarity with people of color. This of course means that we have to acknowledge and relinquish some of our positions of privilege that exist under the present power structures. Lastly, as bell hooks says, “we must begin to engage in a counter hegemonic race talk that is fiercely and passionately calling for change.”

Global Exploiter DeVos tells his Prostitutes about “Working Hard for what you Wish to Achieve.”

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (July 1995)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick and tired of seeing the DeVos, Van Andel, or Amway name plastered all over Grand Rapids: on its buildings, cultural events, and billboards. Certainly the appear in the local monopoly press often enough, especially to talk about their expanding business, but the recent coverage in the Grand Rapids Press was enough to evoke some personal rage and disgust.

From June 9 through the 11th, there appeared four articles on different aspects of the Amway monopoly. The lead story of June 9 promoted all the others. The Grand Rapids press felt it necessary to give front page coverage to the awful dilemma that faced Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. Should he be in Grand Rapids for the Amway convention on Friday, where ex-president and international terrorist George Bush would be speaking, or at game #2 of the NBA finals in Houston, where his team the Orlando Magic was playing? I’m sure that all of you can relate to this dilemma. It really creates stress in our lives when we have to decide between going to our annual convention with the hopes of continuing to amass wealth at the expense of others or going to a basketball game where we also will amass wealth at the expense of others. What to do! Loyal to his political chum Bush, he stayed in town.

To make matters worse, The Grand Rapids press gave DeVos another platform to promote his version of compassionate capitalism, AKA GREED! On the front page of the sports section of Friday the 10th, DeVos is said to have spoken with his basketball players in the same manner that he speaks to his Amway employees. “I always say a few words, sometimes tell a story, sometimes just say a few things about life and being responsible, and working hard for what you wish to achieve.” One of the great myths that exists in this world is that if you work hard enough you can make it big. Well Rich, what about the millions of African Americans who labored their whole lives, some with minimal pay, most as slaves, and died poor? What about the millions of European immigrants who labored in the factories in this country, fighting to gain minimal rights, only to die poor? What about the millions of Asian and Latin Americans who have labored in the fields to pick our food and died poor? What about the countless women who have raised children, taken care of all the home work, without pay, who died poor? Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps just doesn’t apply in this world. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said “pulling yourself up by the bootstrap doesn’t work if you are barefoot.” Remember, DeVos is also telling these pearls of wisdom to a group of men who get paid hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to play games.

The children I work with, both at my job and in my neighborhood, admire one of the basketball players that DeVos owns, Shaquille O’Neil. They admire him because he is good, but they don’t understand that he is just a commodity to people like DeVos who buy and sell people all the time with their top down economic philosophy. They also have these prostitutes sell for them; the Amway distributors door to door and O’Neil, who recently signed a contract to endorse and promotes Nutrilite products, a subsidiary of Amway. The sad thing is that none of the youth in my neighborhood will be like O’Neal and most probably none of them will sell enough Amway products to make it as big exploiters. What is worse is that Rich DeVos doesn’t give a shit if these children and their families, many of whom will work hard all their lives, die poor.

A small post convention article also appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on June 11. That article ends with more wisdom from the DeVos family. “I do know I see nothing to stop the Amway growth trend. I’m convinced we will see the Amway story mentioned in history as one of the greatest business successes of all time. It is true that the global trend is to Amwayzie the planet, with fewer that “make it” because of the hard work that others do for them, but my perception of history, as well as that of many of the world’s poor, will see Amway as one of the greatest exploiters of all time.

Keeping the Promise of Patriarchy Alive: Some Reflections on the Promise Keepers Men’s Movement

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (July 1995)

A headline in the local Christian publication Something Better News reads “Promise Keepers: Christians 72,000; Lions Zero.” This strange but telling headline boasts of the rapidly growing numbers of a “new” men’s movement known as the Promise Keepers. 72,000 men gathered recently in the Pontiac Silverdome football stadium to “worship, pray, and commit themselves to God and their families.” I attended a smaller meeting here in Grand Rapids just prior to the larger gathering in Pontiac and I came away feeling frustrated and afraid for the future of relationships between opposite genders. This “new” men’s movement is fundamentally the OLD one, where male dominance is the order of the day, in the family, church, and society. I also recently read the Promise Keepers handbook, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, published by the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family of Colorado. In this article I will give some analysis of the movement based on their own writings and my observations at one of their meetings.

The first and most disappointing aspect of what I understand about the Promise Keepers is their failure to denounce violence against women. In the 207 pages of Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, not one word was mentioned about the need for men to stop raping, beating, and murdering women. Sure, at the meeting that I attended men were admonished to treat their wives with respect, but that advice within a male dominant context may have nothing to do, as we shall see, with the end of spousal abuse.

Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper is a collection of 18 essays by 17 different men who offer strong advice to men on how to keep women subordinate. Many of the book’s contributors have not only been faithfully anti-feminist, but also anti-gay, pro-military, and intolerant of other religious and spiritual traditions. A quick look at some of these men will help put in perspective their urgings to other men.

Dr. James Dobson is the founder and leader of one of the largest rightwing sectors of evangelical Christianity, known as Focus on the Family. Started in 1997g, this organization has grown to a $90 million a year operation, an operation that publishes books, 10 different magazines, and broadcasts its radio program on 1,400 radio stations daily. Dobson has been a big supporter of Operation Rescue, is opposed to sex education and evolutionary theories in the public schools, but is more recently known for his major influence in the passing of anti-gay legislation in Colorado.

Luis Palau, as was reported last fall in The Fundamentalist, advocates Christianizing the world, even through violent means. This has been demonstrated by his long standing relationships with numerous despots throughout Latin America, most notably the former General of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, who was responsible for the deaths of nearly 20,000 people in 18 months as president by coup.

Jack Hayford has been a longtime preacher on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the Network that produces the “praise the Lord” program that brought Jim and Tammy Baker to fame. Hayford has been the personal minister to Paul and Jan Crouch, the founders of TBN. The Crouchs, although less political in their programming, are very involve in the politics of Israel, especially since it fits into their Armageddon theology (the notion that the world is going to end soon with the return of Jesus).

Bill Bright is president of Campus Crusade for Christ, which began on the campus of UCLA in 1951g. Bright’s movement became well known during 1968g, when it entered berkely with the intention of “thwarting the efforts of the movement against the Vietnam War and supporting Governor Reagan in his attempt to contain massive campus disruption (Diamond, Spiritual Warfare, pg. 52). Bright also is active in setting up chapters of his ministry on military bases. Known as the Officers Christian Fellowship, this group of 7,000 officers ministers to active duty officers on United States military bases here and abroad. In 1987g, Bright was included on the exclusive guest list of Ronald Reagan at a dinner for then Salvadoran President Duarte.

One of the features of the Promise Keepers, as eluded to in the opening paragraph, is by way of making their events seem like a sporting event. One of the main proponents of this men’s movement is Bill McCartney who is the head football coach at the University of Colorado. The language and metaphors that he uses in his essay of the book Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper are exclusively sports related. McCartney talks about he gets men to relax before a game by watching boxing matches. This is similar to the military showing pornographic films to soldiers before going into battle, as was done during the United States war in the Persian Gulf. McCartney is also hailed as being a healer of racial tensions, specifically between Blacks and Whites. At one point he relates his experience of being at the funeral of a former Black football player. He says that this mostly Black-attended funeral changed his life, yet does not elaborate on it or give any specific examples of what it did for his future relations with Blacks. Sure he advocates that his Black and White players get along, but that is in part so they play better together, because, as I believe, with male unity women can be better kept in place. Many other contributors to the book echo this same sentiment.

Several of the contributors refer to men “who have let the women be heads of household” as “weak” and “sissies.” Dr. Tony Evans, who is a Chaplin for the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, says tthat the primary crisis for this country is the “feminization of the American male…a misunderstanding of manhood that has produced a nation of sissified men who abdicate their role as spiritually pure leaders, thus forcing women to fill the vacuum.” Evans’ essay on Spiritual Purity is by far the most blatant in its advocacy for female subordination, in a subsection entitled “Reclaiming your Manhood,” Evans says, “The first thing you must do is sit down with your wife and say something like this: ‘Honey, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role.’ Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not suggesting that you ask for your role back. I’m urging you to take it back.” In many ways this sums up the fundamental principles behind this men’s movement: to subordinate women, because God says so. This is one of the differences between this movement and that of the Robert Bly version. This movement is exclusively supported by the perceived male godhead religion of Christianity. What is interesting is that even these men, like many other men’s movements, are trying to appropriate the language of women’s ability to give birth by saying that “Like a woman who is pregnant and nearing the end of her term, we Christian men are about to burst forth with the coming of the Lord in ways we have never experienced.”

While I can acknowledge that this movement may help men to stop drinking, cheating on their spouses, and spend more time with their children, it does not promote real equality where women are seen as equals and not as narrowly defined homemakers. In my opinion the Promise Keepers is a movement that, apart from being homophobic and supportive of the economic status quo, is a response to the influence of the feminist movements to challenge the old guard of male dominance. It is a pep rally-like movement that brings men together to primarily affirm their desire to control women. Like a football game, they are the stars that score the touchdowns, while the women stand on the sidelines in a non-participatory role to cheer them on. God is the coach and HE sends in the ideological plays that men zealously follow with other men to achieve their goals. The only promise that the Promise Keepers really keep is to continue to play this game.

Speak Spanish, Sell American! Local Ad Agency puts on a Business Seminar for Investing/Exploiting

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (June 1995)

Since the beginning of 1995 it has been no secret to most that the Mexican economy has taken a turn for the worst. That is to say that most Mexicans, who are not included in economic planning, are the ones suffering from the current economic crisis. The several dozen billionaires and other corporate hacks are not worried about where their next meal will come from. The situation is like this – the peso has been devaluated (again), strict conditioned international loans have been given, and there are pressures to privatize more and more of the Mexican economy. Sound familiar? It should. In many ways this is a text book example of the USA government led structural adjustment programs that the IMF and the World Bank have been forcing on the majority of the developing countries around the world. Then again maybe this doesn’t sound familiar, because the corporate media has chosen to blame Mexico’s woes on their government’s incompetence or societal backwardness and not the earlier IMF imposed economic plan.

A similar failure of the corporate media was it’s failure to report on the recent Chase Bank memo directed at the Mexican government on the Chiapas problem and a favorable investment climate. In a February 1 issue of the CounterPunch newsletter we are given excerpts of an internal memo from Chase Bank. The memo says “There are three areas in which the current monetary crisis can undermine political stability in Mexico. The first is in Chiapas, the second in the upcoming elections and the third is the role of the labor unions, their relationship to the government and the governing PRI.” The memo goes on to say “While Chiapas, in our opinion, does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community. The government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy.” It seems clear to me that from the reporting by the justice-based press that the Zedillo government is taking to heart Chase’s suggestion about eliminating the Zapatistas.

An April 21 article from the National Catholic Reporter states that “on April 7, Roger Maldanado, from the Chiapas human rights organization CONPAZ, documented abuses in at least 20 towns and villages under army control. The violations include torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and rape.” As to the issue of “labor unions and their relationship to the government,” again we have to consult the justice-based press since the corporate press continues to wax eloquently about the wonders of NAFTA.

To most workers in Mexico the devaluation of the peso was no surprise. According to numerous studies done by the Inter-hemispheric Resource Center based in New Mexico “the average wage in Mexico has stagnated or declined over the past 15 years, unemployment has risen and the cost of living has increased.” In addition to this, the climate for labor organizing has become very repressive, especially in USA run companies like GM, Motorola and Nike. Fortunately the bleak economic picture is not going unnoticed in some sectors of the US left. As we go to print there is a labor conference in Detroit sponsored by Labor Notes that is focusing on the consequences of NAFTA and the prospects for US/Mexican labor solidarity.

On our side of the Rio Grande things are also not as lovely as was predicted by pundits with the passage of NAFTA. Some government and corporate claims have stated that NAFTA has created 100,000 jobs in the USA in 1994. That claim however, is being challenged by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). An IPS study could only pinpoint 535 jobs attributable to NAFTA. On the other side of the ledger, the number of jobs lost to the trade treaty appears to be in the tens of thousands. “The US Labor Department says that nearly 13,000 workers have applied for NAFTA-related Transitional Adjustment Assistance (TAA), but the AFL-CIO labor organization reports 47,000 applicants in the first nine months of NAFTA operations.” (Latinamerica press) According to the IPS study, the apparel industry, with one-third of the applicants in the TAA program, was hardest hit by NAFTA displacement. Fifty-one percent of all job loss was attributable to plant relocation to Mexico and another 21 percent to increased NAFTA competition.

Eat Mexican Food

Listen to Mexican Music

Don’t Give a Shit about Most Mexicans

In March I attended a seminar organized by a local ad agency (Burglar Advertising) on some of the benefits and how to of investment in Mexico. The seminar took place at San Chez restaurant, complete with “ethnic” food, music, and little name tags that said me llamo (my name is). The entire morning was filled with speakers that ranged from economists and investors, to ad people. Needless to say the majority of those in attendance were Anglo businessmen.

The tone of the seminar was set by Comerica Bank economist David Litman. His talk was entitled “After NAFTA, GATT and the Psycho peso: What Next?” Mr. Litman’s job was to basically calm the storm that might have been in the minds of current and potential investors since the recent crash of the peso. Like most economists he gave us a whole litany of facts and figures that seemed meaningless. In the end he said “the bailout will only prolong the inevitable growth. In the real world Mexico has done well. The Salinas program set the stage for future expansion.” If by future expansion he means greater control by transnational corporations in the region, then he is right. This of course leaves out the majority of the population that will drown in poverty or join the ranks of the Zapatistas and their allies.

Next we were entertained by Andrzej Rattinger, publisher of ADCEBRA, an advertising and marketing journal in Mexico “for establishing the Mexican view of American Marketing.” This former employee of Bayer and Kodak talked about the potential for marketing in Mexico and how “most of the Mexicans are waiting for your product.” He shared an interesting image with us on the possibilities of product growth, even in a country that he said had 53 million people earning between $120-500 per year. “On highway 95 in Mexico you have two men, one is driving a new 1995 car, the other a donkey. Both are in two completely different economic brackets, but both may be drinking Coke, wearing Levi’s jeans and listening to the same radio station.” That, he said, is the importance of “Speaking Spanish, but Selling American.”

The founder of Burglar Advertising, Marcel Burglar, spoke about an ad campaign he did for the Asgrow Seed Company. This seed company wanted to introduce new tomato seeds into the Mexcian farm industry. This new type of seed would be for northern Mexican climate and would give the tomato a long shipping and shelf life. Obviously these seeds are designed for the export market. As an ad man he talked about the cultural education that he learned in attempting to develop a campaign that would speak to Mexican cultural heritage. This is all quite fine except he did not address how the increased agro-export model is unsustainable for most economies, nor did he address the fact that it will hurt most of the small ejido farmers who can not compete with these large scale farming operations (like the ones targeted by this ad campaign).

The only two Latino presenters spoke last and also echoed the words of the previous speakers. They showed us some car commercials made in Mexico for the Chrysler LaBaron. Mind you they were trying to sensitize us to the culture. The commercial was filled with elite images, and a woman waiting to be picked up and taken away by her man. This almost Victorian display did not seem to reflect the cultural sensitivity about most Mexicans that I have met either here or in Mexico. It was obvious that the target market was the upwardly mobile members of Mexican society, not the masses of indigenous or mestizos that make up the bulk of the Mexican population.

For me the seminar was a clear demonstration of cultural and economic imperialism that some in the business continue to display. Not once did anyone ask the question about what our responsibility is to promote free trade systems that honor people’s needs, respects the environment and fosters solidarity among the people of North America. One way to make this happen would be to investigate local business/government efforts that take advantage of the NAFTA model. It is with these examples that I believe we can reach a broader audience, since it makes the local connection about the real effects of these policies. People understand the local connection and will organize around it. Focusing only on the multinational corporations can sometimes leave people feeling overwhelmed. However we do it, it is high time we hold businesses and governments accountable for their policies at home and abroad.

The Acton Institute’s War on the Poor

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1995)

On Thursday, March 30th, the Grand Rapids Press ran a short article about recent efforts by the Grand Rapids based Acton Institute to lobby congress on the current welfare for the poor debate. The Acton Institute held a day long press conference in Washington on the “ethical implications of welfare reform.” Its founder and main spokesperson,, Paulist priest Robert Sirico said “This [welfare for the poor reform] is not just a question of efficiency, it’s a question of morality.” Cute, but we need to know more reverend. The article does not articulate what exactly Fr. Sirico means, but does say that the “institute’s agenda won high praise” from Gang Leader (House Speaker) Newt Gingrich. It’s too bad that the Press did not look farther, even within the ranks of the corporate media, to expound on this morality that Sirico refers to.

The neo-fascist and fanatic Rev. Moon’s paper The Washington Times featured an editorial by Rev. Sirico on Feburary 3 of this year. In response to the urgings of some politicians and most working class people for an increase in the minimum wage, Fr. Sirico displays his true colors. He says that if we “Raise the wage high enough, all but a few would be out of work.” Sounds awful to me. Then he says “Labor productivity would fall to near zero.” That’s right, pay people better and they will have no incentive to work. Please! The good reverend claims that a raise in the minimum wage would hurt the poor in particular, because they “lack the skills for the high-wage job.” Such concern for the poor is noble, but tremendously misled. In the reall world people cannot live off of the wages that are presently being paid, especially since wages for many people have either stagnated or actually dropped over the last 15-20 years (see “Overworked America,” by Juliet Schor). Rev. Sirico also feels that in order for businesses to continue to make profits, they would have to scale back their jobs if the minimum wage increased. This may be true as long as the businesses’ primary concern is profits and not providing economic security for its workers or serving the public interest. But with the paradox of the USA economy (higher unemployment and bigger corporate profits) we can clearly see where most corporate interest lies.

Last but not least, in a March 5 article in the paper of record, The New York Times, Fr. Sirico, in response to comments about the GOP’s Contract for America said, “I would go further than the contract.” Oh, beware America and beware Grand Rapids. We are surely going to have tough times ahead with the Acton Institute blasting the poor.

VanAndel Museum Center: By the Rich, for the Rich

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1995)

FUN sponsored an informational event at the opening of the new museum on November 19. Following is the information contained in the leaflet we distributed, some of which should be of interest to FUN readers:

The Van Andel Public Museum, opening today, replaces the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, originally founded in 1854g, and located in the same building on Jefferson Avenue since 1940g. Since at least 25 years ago some people have pushed for the construction of this new building — a push that accelerated in the 1980g’s, and has culminated in today’s opening ceremonies.

During the same period, numerous groups of and representing the poorest people in the Grand Rapids area have sought better housing, mass transportation, and decent work that would enable them to feel self-supporting and more fully a part of the community. In the decade between the 1980g and 1990g censuses, during which population in Grand Rapids grew at a much faster rate than in any other center city in Michigan, unemployment increased from 6.7% to 7.4%, families in poverty increased from 10% to 13%, home ownership decreased from 63% to 60%, occupied housing units without a phone increased from 5.5% to 6.6%, workers taking public transit declined from 4.4% to 3.5% as funding and service were slashed, while at a time of rising car ownership nationally, the percentage of households in Grand Rapids with no car remained virtually the same–slightly more than one out of seven.

Since the last census many of the poor in Grand Rapids can attest that things are getting worse. Sharply increasing violence among young people is only the most visible sign of this continued deterioration.

Also during this period, numerous extremely poor people in Third World countries have struggled desperately to throw off brutal USA-backed repression and to gain a fairer share of the earth’s resources. The USA, through unfair trade and other practices backed by military might, has taken much more than its share of those resources — making possible such projects as this new $39 million museum, and making certain that more people in Third World countries will continue to suffer terrible abuse and poverty.

Most of the $39 million came from public funds. $12 million in “private” funds was raised by a committee chaired by Jay Van Andel. The committee set aside about 4% of that to be raise in a so-called “grassroots” campaign — donations of $3000 or less. Casey Wondergem, a top Amway person and chair of the fund drive’s executive committee, used this ploy to claim, “It’s a very democratic campaign. It’s not elitist.”

When it was brought to the attention of City leaders that the site of the new museum is on a flood plain and that it could be inundated at virtually any time, they brushed that aside. And several years ago they used City resources to push for a “yes” vote on a “cultural consolidation” package that would have included public money for the museum’s construction. A threat of legal action forced them to stop doing so. The proposal was overwhelmingly voted down – by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. But it didn’t matter; the area’s “democratic” leadership was able to find other ways.

One of those ways was pressing state representatives for money. Due to intensive lobbying, they succeeded, despite budget cuts elsewhere. For Instance, museum funding (and funding for DeVos Hall) agreed to in 1990g “were made possible in large part by an agreement to cut funding for the employment program, the Youth Corps, from $24 million to $18 million.”

The area’s monopoly corporate “news”paper, the Grand Rapids press, helped. This corporate organ, owned by two multi-billionaire brothers who would make fit company for Jay Van Andel, informed the community how important it is to raise taxes “toward meeting some critical community needs — starting with a new Grand Rapids Public Museum.” Press editors apparently forgot about a rapidly rising murder rate, homelessness, an extremely high rate of sexual assaults, and a host of other serious problems right in its back yard.

What if the use of that $39 million had been determined not by a clique dominated by the area’s richest people, but by a coalition representing both the poorest people in the city and oppressed people in the Third World? Assuming it was divided half and half, here are two examples of what might have been done:

In Grand Rapids there are 5000-plus very-low-income families, most with less than $5000/year income, who pay excessive rent. $19.5 million dollars, at reasonable mortgage rates, would be sufficient supplement to enable all of them to purchase their own homes, assuming each family obtains a home at the median value (for Grand Rapids) of about $60,000. Once these homes were paid off, these families would be in a much better position to permanently escape poverty.

As for people in the Third World, whose grossly exploited labor supports our profligate consumption, millions die yearly due to lack of adequate health care. According to World Bank estimates, $19.5 million worth of basic public health services would save over 3000 lives.

There is another way in which this museum serves the rich rather than the poor, despite Jay Van Andel’s claim that “the museum will be for everyone.” Many of us could ill afford the admission charge at the old building of $2.50. Doubling that charge prior to opening this building has made it abundantly clear whom the museum is designed to “serve.”