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Boston Square residents shut down AmplifyGR vote

Residents of Boston Square decided there was not enough community representation to hold a vote on the future of the neighborhood. They took over the meeting and stopped AmplifyGR's process, shutting down the planned agenda.
Residents Divine Booker and Althea Cross take the microphone while Amplify GR representatives look on.

Residents Divine Booker and Althea Cross take the microphone while Amplify GR representatives look on. /Deirdre Cunningham

Boston Square resident Divine Booker interrupts the planned voting process at last night's AmplifyGR meeting.

Boston Square resident Divine Booker interrupts the planned voting process at last night's AmplifyGR meeting. /Deirdre Cunningham

Breakout group notes about community land trust and food justice

Breakout group notes about community land trust and food justice /Amy Carpenter

Shouts of "No!" and "Give him the mic!" could be heard at the AmplifyGR meeting last night at Hope Academy, a charter school near Madison and Burton.

The meeting was one in a series hosted by AmplifyGR. AmplifyGR is a non-profit being incubated within the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation. Its purpose is to engage the community regarding the development of $10 million worth of properties that Rockford Construction has purchased in the Boston Square and Cottage Grove neighborhoods.

At this meeting, the agenda set by AmplifyGR was to vote on a community ballot for planning. This ballot was generated by AmplifyGR from the last meeting, on September 7. At that meeting, attendees were put into separate breakout groups to discuss their goals regarding topics that AmplifyGR chose: education, jobs and businesses, housing, and community well-being.

Not enough residents to vote

Last night, some brought up their concern that the majority of the people attending the AmplifyGR meetings are not actual residents of the Boston Square and Cottage Grove neighborhoods. Facilitator Eureka Smith said that AmplifyGR was committed to taking input from non-residents and residents alike, but that non-residents could choose not to vote. As she looked for agreement from the group, one man walked to the front of the crowd and shouted, "No!"

That man was Divine Booker, a longtime resident of the Boston Square neighborhood. "I am not okay with non-residents voting on plans that affect my neighborhood!" He asked how many residents were attending the meeting - out of over 100 attendees, only 7-8 people raised their hands to indicate that they lived in the affected area.

As Facilitator Smith tried to redirect the meeting back to the vote and the process, Booker continued to speak. Finally the crowd started shouting, "Give him the mic!" Eventually Smith did just that.

Booker said that he himself had canvassed the area and found almost no residents who knew that Rockford Construction had purchased the properties or who AmplifyGR was, nor did they know that the meeting was taking place - even those residents who lived on the same street or whose children attended Hope Academy. He said it was the same at the last meeting - mostly non-residents had given the input for the items on the community ballot.

Vote cancelled

Facilitator Smith asked for a show of hands from the meeting as to whether to proceed with the vote or not. The majority of the room did not want to proceed with the vote, given the lack of representation from actual residents of the area. The vote was cancelled.

Booker invited other residents to speak at the microphone and share their concerns. He noted that key points that his own group had come up with - including a Community Benefit Agreement - had not made the ballot. Another resident said that she had reached out to AmplifyGR for a meeting but she hadn't gotten a response.  

Executive Director of AmplifyGR, Jon Ippel, apologized for that and responded to residents' questions and concerns.

"We don't have the resources"

At one point Ippel reminded the audience, "The development in this neighborhood could have gone three ways. We could have left it, and each property would have been purchased separately and developed, leading to gentrification. We could have bought it as we did and just made our own plans. But Doug DeVos and Rockford Construction wanted to do this right, and so we are engaging the community."  

Althea Cross, a Boston Square resident, responded later, "We [the residents] wanted to develop these properties on our own, but we don't have the resources. That's because of divestment from this community."

Door-to-Door Surveys

Finally Booker demanded that AmplifyGR generate a new ballot and take a new vote, not in a meeting, but by surveying residents door-to-door in the neighborhood. Facilitator Smith countered that they would need volunteers from the meeting to accomplish that.

Booker held firm that AmplifyGR has the resources to train, educate, and pay residents to do the surveys and conduct a vote in the correct way.  

The meeting voted in favor of the door-to-door survey plan.

Facilitator Smith then asked attendees - residents and non-resident alike - to discuss at their tables how to move forward with the process. These comments were captured by scribes for later reporting out, which Ippel said would be on the AmplifyGR website. The meeting ended.

In later comments, resident Cross wondered, "What do we have to do to get the power back? To get the land back?" Booker commented that these questions were not present in the way AmplifyGR was framing the conversation.

A few residents noted that the real audience for the vote shutdown would be Doug DeVos. Said one, "I wonder what he'll actually hear about tonight's meeting?"

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