The title here is hardly late-breaking news to anybody who knows me, or FotM, but you know how sometimes you run into an outrage so appalling, so telling, that your brain almost freezes as it oscillates between disbelief and rage? I just got hit by one.
It involves Whirlpool Corporation, golfer Jack Nicklaus, the largely Black town of Benton Harbor, Michigan and a legacy from a dead child, and I’ll try and keep it tight.
Last Friday, there was a march of 100 people in Benton Harbor, protesting the opening (despite two ongoing lawsuits) of a multi-million dollar Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The links are the anchor of a luxury development of second homes being built by the Whirlpool Corporation, the world’s largest home appliance manufacturer, whose headquarters is just outside of Benton Harbor.
That alone sounds well worth picketing, but the real deal is that the damn thing is being built in part on what had been a public park, left to the people of Benton Harbor in perpetuity by a local businessman and his wife, John and Carrie Klock. In 1917, the couple gave 90 acres of shoreline, dunes and interdunal wetlands to the town in memory of their little girl, who had recently died.
When Jean Klock Park was dedicated, later that year, her father gave a moving speech:
The deed of this park in the courthouse of St. Joseph will live forever. Perhaps some of you do not own a foot of ground; remember then, that this is your park, it belongs to you. Perhaps some of you have no piano or phonograph; the roll of the water murmuring in calm, roaring in storm, is your music, your piano and music box.
John Klock closed:
The beach is yours, the drive is yours, the dunes are yours, all yours. It is not so much a gift from my wife and myself, it's a gift from a little child. See to it that the park is the children's.Unfortunately, by end of the century, more than 90% of those children were Black and poor, in a broke-ass city of 12,000. Scores of factories had closed since the ‘60s, when Whirlpool alone had 2,400 workers at its production plant in town. Which the company shuttered in 1986.
And Whirlpool had its eyes on one of the finest remaining pieces of unspoiled land on Lake Michigan.
You can read some of the atrocious details here, but long story short, the local Chamber of Commerce, headed by a former Whirlpool CEO, and the corrupt city administration conspired to hide the plans until they were well underway. Protests and legal challenges alike have failed to stop the juggernaut. Only a few acres of beachfront will be left after Whirlpool competes its grab.
Actually there are a couple of particulars I do want to highlight, just to see if I can get you as pissed off as I am.
1. Whirlpool Corporation is the scum of the earth. Take, for instance, the fact that the scattered parcels offered "in mitigation" for the land lost in Jean Klock Park include severely polluted former company production facilities. Or consider Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel who in a talk to U. of Michigan business school students and faculty, said that if a company wants want poor peoples' land, and have justice groups "on your back," they should simply bring in Habitat for Humanity to build a few houses and donate some appliances. Lo and behold, a quick visit to Wikipedia's Whirlpool page reveals that some company flack put in a line bragging about the 10 Habitat for Humanity houses they built in Benton Harbor in 2005, the year the scheme came to light.
2. Whirlpool's Harbor Shores subsidiary claims that the golf course is open to anyone, so really it's still public parkland. Any resident of Benton Harbor, average per capita income $8965 a year, the lowest in the state, can call—two weeks in advance—and schedule a round. That'll be $175, please. (It's not clear that children, even those with large allowances, will be permitted to play.)
3. The cravenness and cupidity of the politicians is astounding. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who frequently pontificates about the environment, directed all state agencies to help Whirlpool push through its scheme. Why? It seems the golf course is essential "to the future talent recruitment efforts of Whirlpool Corporation." The Benton Harbor Town Commission only this April changed its position and took a meaningless vote withdrawing support for the project. Why? Because the billboards promoting the Harbor Shores development say it's in neighboring, predominantly white, St. Joseph.
In the neo-liberal era which crashed with the economic meltdown, the privatization of publicly-owned goods--land, utilities, schools, etc.--was justified by claims that the free market could provide the same social goods more cheaply and more efficiently. Benton Harbor is, I very much fear, a percursor of post-2008 privatization: no grandiose claims, just the rich grabbing what they want.