By Diane Bukowski
May 30, 2012
BENTON HARBOR – The stark contrast between the rich white corporate elite who showed up for the Senior PGA tournament in Benton Harbor, and the poor Black community they have largely displaced, was stunningly evident May 26.
Rev. Edward Pinkney of the Benton Harbor chapter of the Black Autonomy Community Network (BANCO), and a coalition of groups led an “Occupy the PGA” march from city hall, now under the control of Public Act 4 Emergency Manager Joe Harris. The five-mile march, styled as a funeral cortege, complete with coffin, wound past Whirlpool’s gleaming new $85 million global headquarters on the St. Joseph River, then in front of luxurious new lakefront homes, from which white families emerged to watch.
Their homes are part of the Harbor Shores development, which, subsidized by Whirlpool, cost $500 million and includes the Jack Nicklaus golf course where the tournament was played. Most of the Harbor Shores land was deeded to the citizens of Benton Harbor, which is 89.2 percent African-American, as part of Jean Klock Park. It overlooks a spectacular stretch of beach on Lake Michigan.
“We are sending a message to Whirlpool, to Kitchen-Aid, to Mercedes-Benz,” Pinkney called out during the initial rally at city hall. He was swamped by reporters and TV cameras.
“Don’t just come here to support the PGA, come here to support the people,” Pinkney said. “Whirlpool promised Benton Harbor’s residents 2,000 new jobs which never materialized, but that promise kept the residents from rising up. Just 25 percent of the profits from this tournament would take care of Benton Harbor’s $5 million deficit. There are people rallying here from all over Michigan, from New York City, Colorado, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, and other parts of the world.”
Pinkney called on the crowd to boycott Whirlpool and KitchenAid. The boycott also covers Whirlpool subsidiaries Amana, Estate, Gladiator Garage Works, Insperience, Jenn-Air, Magic Chef, Maytag, Roper, Acros, Inglis, Bauknecht, Brastemp, Admiral, IKEA and some Kenmore applicances.
Signs from Traverse City, Muskegon and Detroit were also seen throughout the parade. Cecily McClellan, vice-president of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees (APTE). Les Little, and member s of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization made up part of the Detroit delegation.
Jerome Buchanan, a staff representative for Michigan AFSCME Council 25, said he represents city employees in Benton Harbor.
“Whirlpool is stealing our water revenues,” Buchanan said. “Lay-offs are looming that could have been avoided if Whirlpool pulled its water from the city’s system so Benton Harbor could collect the revenues.”
Through its publicly-owned water system, Benton Harbor previously provided most of the water to residents and businesses in the area of Benton Township, according to the website WhatistheBigSqueeze.com.
“Benton Harbor has not been able to keep [water] customers,” says an article there.
“Benton Township (aka Whirlpool), purchased a pipeline from Benton Harbor–inked by Mr. Harris–and has built its own water plant. Benton Township has recently sued Benton Harbor for over $500,000 in delinquent payments. Prior to independence, Harbor Shores illegally tapped Benton Harbor’s municipal supply. After paying damages ($142,000), Harbor Shores then illegally tapped free water from the Paw Paw River. Without counting Harbor Shores’ thirsty golf course, Benton Township represented 40% of Benton Harbor’s income.”
(“Independence” in the article refers to Harbor Shores’ construction of its own water reservoir to feed the development.)
The result of the raid on Benton Harbor’s water has been a 45 percent rate hike for residents and small businesses in the area.
“The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) says it’s absurd for such small towns situated in a close area to have different water supplies,” the article continues. “Furthermore, it devastates the city’s fiscal health. Water provided the second largest source of income for Benton Harbor, next to property taxes.”
Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan, with 48.7 percent of its residents below the poverty level according to official U.S. Census statistics. It also has the highest rate of foreclosures, and worsening police brutality, which Rev. Pinkney has fought for years.
Teacher Ralph Pointer traveled all the way from New York City for the event.
“They are sending our students not to be educated, but to end up in prison,” Pointer said, referring to the devastated state of public schools in Benton Harbor and nationally. “Benton Harbor’s people are now disenfranchised, but this is just a trial run. They are coming to the rest of the country as well. We must awaken people any way we can.”
Raphael Adley of Occupy Lansing read his poem targeting Whirlpool. which is published below.
The march concluded with a picnic and rally at a shelter on the Jean Klock Park beach. Police accompanied the march in large numbers. Rev. Pinkney attempted to lead the march on a sidewalk closer to the PGA itself on May 25, according to published reports, but was threatened with arrest by the police. Pinkney already served over one year in prison for quoting the Bible to a Berrien County judge, on behalf of the cause.
This reporter’s section of the Detroit delegation traveled back from the Benton Harbor beach rally via a PGA shuttle bus, which first passed through St. Joseph, across the river, before stopping back in downtown Benton Harbor. White folks in St. Joseph were out in large numbers, enjoying THEIR beach (why do they need Benton Harbor’s beach as well?) and strolling though a luxurious downtown area replete with fancy shops and restauarants. The homes we saw were for the well-to-do, whereas Benton Harbor homes we saw on the way into town were small wooden frame houses, many foreclosed and vacant.
St. Joseph is 90.7 percent white, with a poverty level of 15.1 percent, slightly over the national average, compared to Benton Harbor’s poverty rate of 48.7 percent.
For more information, click on:
Outline of a Travesty
Every Sunday 5-6pm: Tune into www.blogtalkradio.com for Rev. Pinkney’s radio program.