Equity PAC started in early 2016 when the Grand Rapids City Commission voted in favor of a plan to allow the Grand Rapids Police Department to acquire 65 rifles to place into their cruisers. Despite concerns and requests for public comment from City Commissioners Ruth Kelly and Senita Lenear, outgoing commissioner Walt Gutowski and Mayor George Heartwell, current commissioner David Schaffer and Mayor-elect Rosalynn Bliss voted in favor of this measure. The decision was confusing to many because crime is at a 50-year low in Grand Rapids and the decision was made in closed chambers and announced later during the public city commission. The science didn’t add up but the politics did.
It was here that Raul Alvarez, Janay Brower, Denavvia Mojet, Jeremy Moore, Darel Ross and Stephen Wooden initially came around the table, soon after bringing on Dotti Clune, Chadd Dowding and Kelsey Perdue. We agreed there are two main problems in West Michigan that needed a solution.
The first problem is that this political decision made no sense and there was so little public discussion around it. It wasn’t that the Grand Rapids Police Department definitely should not have rifles. It was that a police department that struggles to see itself in the midst of a national policing problem with headlining names like Sandra Bland, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice was making unilateral decisions without any clear rational. Crime has been trending down for most of the modern era. The Grand Rapids Police Department has a SWAT team. There needed to be a public discussion on the rationale for spending an initial $300,000 on this purchase, and none was given in the context of a discussion.
The second problem is that once the decision was made, there was no accountability. Police unions have a political force that can cause more problems for our elected leaders than those who voiced their concern. That’s a problem. That means there is a gaping hole in our democracy where un-vetted decisions can be easily made without any clear public concern at all. The dies are cast. There needs to be a similar political force behind those who feel that words like ‘equity’ and ‘diversity’ need to be benchmarks for all public leaders.
Our silence is a disservice to our political leaders. The word ‘equity’ needs to mean something, and when these words are spoken by our leaders without corresponding equitable outcomes our leaders need to hear about it. They need to hear about it not because we don’t believe our leaders want to ensure equitable outcomes. We believe many do. It is more that we need to be a more powerful voice than the detractors of equity talking in their other ear. Powerful, united voices help run interference for leaders. It allows them to sit in the room and look at special interest in the face and say “my constituency will not allow this to happen, I cannot do it. If I made this decision I will get voted out of office”. Our voice is the reinforcement leaders need to ensure that guns aren’t haphazardly purchased, or our county jails are not cooperating with deportation forces. Our voice can be the reinforcement leaders need to further diversify our city government workforce, or our state representatives need to build public tools that develop neighborhoods without displacement.
Equity PAC was created to mobilize money and people to be a voice. We were sick of going to leaders with our hat in our hands and asking that the concerns of the public be considered. We need to help define solutions for our local leaders and support those who demonstrated the most equitable political leadership. After a year we are growing fast. We mobilized thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours last year toward candidates like Kristian Grant on the GRPS board, Phil Skaggs for County Commission and Winnie Brinks for State Representative. Collectively we are determined to make a difference.
Over the next few months we will send out information and opportunities around our 2017 strategy. Our focus continues to be on endorsing equitable candidates as we get closer to the election. However, we will also be specifically advancing organizing in key areas including diversification of government, immigration justice, housing and policing reform. We will need people to get involved as we build our work and infrastructure. So please be sure to pay attention to ‘Action Opportunities’ in our Equity PAC bulletins.
We are only as strong as our collective voice, and we only have voice if we agree to put our time or money on the line.
Originally published on March 12, 2017 on Medium.com.