by Elizabeth Hunter
About 100 people marched through Benton Harbor on Aug. 10, 2010, the day Whirlpool opened its Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, despite two court cases pending. We stopped at the golf course entry where we were met by at least four sheriff’s deputies, six Benton Harbor Township police and four Benton Harbor police.
Our chanting was loud, especially when Julie Swidwa of the local Herald Palladium, attempted to interview Rev. Edward Pinkney, organizer of the demonstration and local NAACP president. “Julie is one-sided!” was chanted over and over. The people had at least this one opportunity to let Swidwa hear what is thought of her “reporting,” especially the hit jobs she’s done on Pinkney for over a decade. There was no interview. In a gratuitous show of power, police escorted her away. Whirlpool knows that media are the prime shapers of opinion; the company paper serves them well.
Other chants included, “Jack Nicklaus go home!” “Marcus Robinson go home!” and “Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people!” (Robinson works in “community development” for Whirlpool.) One hundred thirty media outlets sent reporters to cover the opening, and people in many states viewed the demonstration as part of the golf course coverage.
After the golf course protest, a rally was held on a nearby grassy area with speakers from Benton Harbor, Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Southern Illinois, Chicago, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and elsewhere. Their insightful words made evident their understanding of the era of corporate control we now live under: Government and corporation functioning together as one, which amounts to fascism, and how corporations prey on the poor.
In the case of Benton Harbor, Whirlpool is carrying out a hostile takeover of the city’s Lake Michigan beaches, parks and land. Endangered plant and animal species are of no concern to Whirlpool. African-American people were also in the way; hence, Berrien County has become possibly the most aggressively prejudicial and harsh law enforcement and court system in the state. Benton Harbor citizens get time for walking down the “wrong” street. As attorney Buck Davis wrote:
“The thrust [of the county courthouse] is to physically remove and destroy families through the use of the criminal justice system. Every person they can put in jail; every person whose voting rights they can revoke with a felony conviction; every person they can cause to lose their job by putting them on probation; every person they can cause to lose the ability to pay for basic necessities through imposing ruinous court costs and probation is all part of the process.
“In the 1960s, it was called Negro removal. In Bosnia, it was called ethnic cleansing. It could be called genocide: the removal of the minority population for the purpose of redevelopment of the land. That’s what’s happening in Benton Harbor and the foremost leader of the resistance is Rev. Edward Pinkney.”
Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel told University of Michigan business school students and faculty that if you want poor peoples’ land and have justice groups “on your back,” simply bring in Habitat for Humanity to build a few houses and donate some appliances. Part of the land he and his corporate partners wanted was deeded in perpetuity to the citizens of Benton Harbor in 1917 by John Klock, a land owner whose infant daughter died.
In a town ceremony, he spoke of people who owned no land but would always have this park, and he named it after his infant daughter: Jean Klock Park. Whirlpool, the world’s largest appliance manufacturer, which has outsourced most of its jobs, has enough lawyers to get around the minor inconvenience of a deed.
In a video no longer accessible on the web, former Whirlpool CEO Dave Whitwam stated that this 530 acres is the last and largest piece of prime real estate along the Lake Michigan shoreline. (Parkland is real estate?)
Whirlpool is busy inventing terminology to justify their hostile takeover. For example, they call this the first ever “Master Planned Community.” It will have a town center with retail shops and restaurants. (Are they replacing Benton Harbor with a new town?) Parkland deeded for the people is becoming a posh enclave for the wealthy.
A stretch of the most pristine, natural beach front is to be no more. Ever. One protester said that people who grew up in this area and love the land and lake feel like an arm is being cut off.
Judges keep ruling in favor of Whirlpool in cases brought by preservationists; see savejeanklockpark.org.
Elizabeth Hunter of Ann Arbor, Mich., is a retired music teacher and choir direct and a Green Party member who has been supporting Rev. Pinkney over the past decade. She can be reached at email@example.com. Visit the site for Rev. Pinkney’s organization, BANCO, Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, at bhbanco.org.
Note from Rev. Pinkney: Please call the following and request they stop stealing land and start paying their water bills to Benton Harbor: U.S. Rep. Fred Upton at (269) 982-1986, Harbor Shores Transformation Center at (269) 277-5500 and Whirlpool at (269) 923-5000.
Benton Harbor residents fight to save 90-year-old park from the governor of Michigan and corporate giants.