Neoliberalism and a Weekend at the Farm

June 25, 2008 

 

Hello Friends,

One of the important issues going on out here in Berrien County, Michigan in the last couple years is the corporate effort to seize the Benton Harbor public beach from the people of that town. Benton Harbor is 20 miles from the farm, and known as the poorest city in the state. Decades ago, a family named Klock gave the lakefront land to the people of Benton Harbor, so that everybody, no matter their income, might have access to the lake; they named the park after their daughter, who died in infancy. Jean Klock Park is lucrative land in the eyes of Whirlpool, which has its headquarters here and which exerts tremendous power in the area and over Benton Harbor through various neoliberal machinations (setting up "non-profit" corporations to assist the Benton Harbor government in giving away public property) and through Whirlpool scion Fred Upton, who bought his way into the U.S. Congress as a Newt Gingrich-style conservative back in the day. Some big media attention has put the proposed seizure of Jean Klock Park on the map, including an article in the Washington Post by our friend Kari Lydersen and a Chicago Reader article a few weeks ago. The group Save Jean Klock Park has plenty more information at www.savejeanklockpark.org.

What Whirlpool proposes to do with the park is utilize its dunes as part of a $500 million hotel and recreation complex, with a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course at its center. The whole development hinges on getting those dunes, for three holes of golf looking out over the lake are what provide the "Signature" in Jack Nicklaus' world. Whirlpool promotes the project as one benefiting the poor blacks of Benton Harbor, yet studies have shown that the whole shebang would likely create a ridiculous 22 permanent low-wage jobs.

What has been written out of recent media attention are the years of community work and courageous activism by the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization and Edward Pinkney, that were bringing the taste for self-determination to Benton Harbor. For years as director of BANCO, Pinkney sought to improve the lot of Benton Harbor's poor, through various means. He organized people to watch the courts in St. Joseph, Michigan, the white town across the river, where judicial malice continues to send black youth to jail and prison in a system that reminds one of the Jim Crow south. Pinkney organized to bring 100 living wage textile jobs to Benton Harbor, but his reputation as a thorn in the side of the local powers caused them to block the effort at every step. Finally, BANCO organized a recall election of a Benton Harbor commissioner who was doing the dirty work of getting the city's approval for privatization schemes, ranging from selling off the right-of-way under the streets of Benton Harbor (a cheap location to run extremely lucrative lines for high speed internet for Western Michigan) to pushing through the giveaway of Jean Klock Park. For his efforts in coordinating a successful recall election, Pinkney was charged and convicted of 'election fraud,' the old bugaboo used to keep blacks disenfranchised. For the past half year, Pinkney has wallowed in the pokey in St. Joseph, Michigan, tucked away while Whirlpool marches on.

At this point, the only potential legal block to this travesty of class warfare is the National Park Service, which must evaluate any privatization of public lands which have received federal funds in the past, as Jean Klock Park has. Word has it that Congressman Fred Upton is twisting arms at the NPS, so letters from opponents of park privatization are crucial at this moment. For information on writing, see
http://www.savejean klockpark. org/NationalPark Service.html.

While tempting to see the farm as a rural retreat and getaway, in Berrien County as in Chicago issues of vital importance for the shaping of future generations are happening at hyper speed right now. Courageous grassroots efforts and linked movements are our hope.

Saturday and Sunday, July 5 and 6, you are invited to come work at the farm for another First Weekend of the month! Think rustic camping, carry-in carry-out, we're providing the land so bring food and drink and a tent. We do have access to a bathroom and shower. Hope to see you!

In Cahoots,
David