A few days ago we posted a piece that examined one of the statues in the Community Legends series, Chief Noonday. Today, we look at another statue, that of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel.
Van Andel’s was one of the first statues to go up in the series that is funded completely by another member of the local capitalist class, Peter Seechia. Van Andel, who in personality, was the exact opposite of Rich DeVos. The other founder of Amway, Jay Van Andel was quite and reserved, but make no mistake about it, his politics were every bit as ruthless as that of Rich DeVos.
Van Andel, like his Amway co-founder, funded numerous rightwing groups, both religious and secular. The religious groups that Van Andel funded while he was alive and continues to fund through his foundation are The Acton Institute, Bethany Christian Services, Campus Crusade, Creation Research Society, Morality in Media, Mel Trotter Ministries and Guiding Light.
In the secular arena, Van Andel was a big supporter of Grand Valley State University, Calvin College, Hillsdale College, Frederick Meijer Gardens and Grand Action. In fact, Van Andel was the largest single donor (besides taxpayers) to the construction of the Van Andel Arena, which is where his statue is located.
Van Andel was also a big supporter of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and had a hand in the founding of the Right Place Inc. In addition to donating money to support rightwing causes and organizations, Van Andel was also an active player in determining the policy work of several keys national groups that have had a significant effect on federal and foreign policy.
Before we look at some of the national groups that Van Andel worked with, it is important to note that the main message on the plaque the immortalizes the Amway co-founder is that he was a tireless “advocate for free enterprise.” Van Andel believed that business should lead the way to creating prosperity and freedom, especially when the government doesn’t put limited on what the market can do. Well, at least this was the public message that Van Andel was fond of espousing, but in private he was in no way interested in an unfettered market. In fact, Van Andel, like most capitalists, want the state to intervene on behalf of private capital, especially when it serves the interests of the wealthiest part of the capitalist class.
For decades the Heritage Foundation has crafted public policy that has been adopted by every US administration, beginning with the Reagan administration. Van Andel was a trustee for the Heritage Foundation from 1984 – 2004 and was part of the process that saw numerous public policy changes come about because of the influence of the foundation.
Most notable has been the Heritage Foundation’s promotion of conservative economic programs. They wrote the incoming Reagan administrations policy guide Mandate for Change that advocated the elimination of Food Stamps, Medicare, child nutritional assistance, farm assistance, legal services for the poor, and the repeal of a $1,000 tax exemption for the elderly.
The Heritage Foundation continues to play a crucial role in determining national policy, around economic issues, immigration policy, trade policy and climate change.
The Chamber of Commerce
Not surprising, Jay Van Andel was deeply involved in the largest pro-business lobbying group in the country, the US Chamber of Commerce. In fact, Van Andel was Chairman of the national group for a period of time. The Chamber, which often likes to present itself as a defender of the small business owner, is one of the largest electoral contributors in the nation. According to Open Secrets, the US Chamber has spent $1.2 billion on lobbying since 1998.
In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most consistent climate deniers in the country and has fought hard against any policy that supports working class people. The Chamber has opposed efforts to get paid sick leave policy passed and numerous other pro-worker policies. As Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, Van Andel made sure that whatever policies were being decided in Washington, they needed to benefit the capitalist class that he was a part of.
May the least known of the groups that Van Andel was deeply involved with, was the National Endowment for Democracy, also known as NED. NED was created during the Reagan years as a mechanism to push neoliberal economic policies around the world and funding governments or political parties that would best serve the interest of the US. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
Jay Van Andel was on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy and served in that capacity while the NED was funding death squad governments in Central America, funding opposition parties in Nicaragua and supporting pro-US dictatorships throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
One of the more recent campaigns that NED has been involved in is the effort to undermine the government of Venezuela. The NED has pumped millions of dollars into Venezuela in the form of propaganda material, the funding of opposition groups and the backing of opposition political parties. The campaign by NED in Venezuela is counter-revolutionary in nature and that has been the primary function of the organization since it was founded in 1983.
This last point is an important one, since counter-revolutionary politics is exactly what Jay Van Andel was involved in most of his adult life. Like the Robber Barons of the late 19th century, Jay Van Andel not only sought to increase his wealth after the founding of Amway, he sought to suppress any efforts that put his pursuit of wealth in jeopardy.