By Sylvia Rhodea

July 6, 2021

Ottawa County, one of Michigan’s most conservative counties, delivered 100,000 votes to President Trump in 2020, representing 59.8% of Ottawa’s total votes cast.  What does Ottawa County have in common with progressive Portland, Seattle, and the University of California, referenced in The Coming Backlash Against Public Education?

Ottawa County is a Midwest Core Member of GARE, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, with fellow member cities of Portland and Seattle, as well as Minneapolis.  Portland and Seattle, Northwest Core Members of GARE, are highlighted in multiple articles on GARE’s site as examples of Racial Equity work using GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit, even as America watched these cities riot and burn in 2020, and witnessed the formation and violent disintegration of Seattle’s CHOP autonomous zone in rebellion against government and police.

GARE — A National Network of Progressive Government for Transformative Change

GARE, “a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all”, is housed at UC Berkeley, and “is a joint project of the new Race Forward and the Othering and Belonging Institute.”  Content from GARE’s parent organizations reveals a network of politically motivated progressive organizations.

The Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley (formerly the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society) works “to create transformative change toward a more equitable nation,” and features leftist content such as the following;

“You cannot avert climate collapse if you don’t address the way racism has been politicized and weaponized by Fox and by the Republican Party because that’s precisely how they keep sufficient power to make sure nothing is actually done. The Green New Deal, the Green New Deal says we are going to invest trillions in the economy. We are going to invest trillions against racism, and we’re going to launch these ambitious programs to save the environment.

A lot of people react to that by saying, “Why we got to do this whole wish list thing? Why don’t we just save the environment?” Because we can’t just save the environment like we can’t just get economic populism all by itself, like we can’t just get racial justice all by itself.  The only way to get these things is to get them all together. Race and class, and government have been fused together as the weapon against all of us. And if we don’t respond by fusing them together and tackling them all at the same time, we will lose, and lose, and lose, and the planet will burn.”

GARE’s second parent organization, Race Forward, is equally politically charged.

“In 2017, Race Forward united with the Center for Social Inclusion. Founded in 1981, Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Founded in 2002, the Center for Social Inclusion catalyzed community, government, and other institutions to dismantle structural racial inequity and create equitable outcomes for all. Race Forward is home to the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national network of local government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. Race Forward publishes the daily news site Colorlines and presents Facing Race, the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice.”

The Center for Social Inclusion, now merged with Race Forward, was co-founded by Maya Wiley and Jocelyn Sargent

with a $75,000 seed grant from George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation, as reported by DevexMaya Wiley, an activist attorney who at one time also worked for the Open Society Institute, was former counsel to Mayor DeBlasio, as well as MSNBC contributor, is now running as a Democrat for Mayor of New York City.  Maya Wiley is endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Maya Wiley is the one. She will be a progressive in Gracie Mansion.”  (The June 2020 election may take until July to determine.)  Maya’s co-founder of the Center for Social Inclusion, Jocelyn Sargent, worked for the Open Society Foundation, as well as at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Race Forward’s publication, Colorlines, promotes the progressive agenda of; abortion, Planned Parenthood, Critical Race Theory in schools, climate change/justice, transgender athletes in female sports, LGBTQ issues, LGBTQ PRIDE, Palestine, Black Lives Matter movement, and anti-Trump/Republican content.

On June 2, 2020, GARE and Race Forward issued statements on GARE’s website following the death of George Floyd.  Race Forward’s statement included the following;

“We stand with the Movement for Black Lives and communities of color across the country who are calling for divestment from police and investment in health, education, housing, arts and culture, and the environment. We support community calls for policy changes, such as establishing a national database of decertified officers and ending cash bail. We commit to work with governments, institutions, and community organizations to advance far-reaching reforms and to abolish the current system of policing and prisons.”

Visit the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) website for additional insight into their organization, including their 5 year plan in which they “will align the left across issues, sectors, and identity, with a particular desire to maintain an intersectional analysis that elevates and centers anti-Black racism.”  Other content includes demands for reparations, guidance on safety at protests, encounters with the FBI, etc.  M4BL is supported by the Common Counsel Foundation, which boasts “30 years supporting progressive social change.”

GARE, and its network of left-wing organizations, are highlighted in the Daily Caller article, Behind The Network Of Outside, Left-Wing Groups Pushing Racial Policies In Cities, Counties Across America, a must-read piece on the push for “radical policies that see every aspect of government operations through the ‘lens’ of race” by “a network of George Soros-backed activist groups…at the most local level of government, where there is little scrutiny.”

Equity – A Core Tenet of GARE’s Work

In modern day America, we face a dangerous, incremental coup against Equality, the Constitution, and our form of government, as the progressive left works to usurp the unalienable right of Equality and replace it with Equity.

Equality, meaning equality of opportunity, is a human right outlined in the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We are a nation of over-comers with countless real-life stories of those who have risen above adversity to create the impossible.

Equity is not a human right.  Equity takes opportunity and resources from others (redistribution) for the unachievable promise of equal outcome for all. Although it promises utopia, it ignores personal agency and effort while dismantling the foundations of our society which made our nation exceptional.  Equity, a core tenet of Racial Justice efforts and Critical Race Theory, binds us to state management of society and leads us down the road to socialism.  Equity jeopardizes liberty.

Progressive groups promoting Racial Equity, Critical Race Theory, and the Democrat socialist agenda for transformative structural change in government are a perfect fit for Portland, Minneapolis, and Seattle— at least for the progressive majority who live there.  But how exactly did the GARE network infiltrate conservative Ottawa County?

Ottawa County — Invested Core Member of GARE

Ottawa County joined GARE as an early adaptor and Midwest Core Member around 2015. GARE explains,

“One of the key factors in the advancement for racial equity in Ottawa County has been the personal commitment, investment, and leadership of the County Administration. Al Vanderberg, Co-Chair of the Summit on Race and Inclusion Advisory Council, has been involved with LEDA since 2004, as a member of the CEO Advisory Committee. Vanderberg’s leadership helped to pave the way toward racial equity training of staff as well as implementation of the organizational systems review.

Ottawa County was one of two locations in the U.S. to participate in the Transforming White Privilege Project, funded by the W.K. Kellog Foundation. Key staff from the County Administrator’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and Human Resources Office participated in this pilot held in Grand Haven in February, 2015.”

Furthering Ottawa County’s work on racial equity, on January 30, 2019, Julie Nelson, Senior Vice President of Race Forward; Senior Fellow, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of CA, Berkeley (now the Othering and Belonging Institute); and Co-Director of GARE, wrote the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners to support Vanderberg’s proposal to establish the DEI (Diversity Equity Inclusion) office in Ottawa County (proposal pg. 49-60, GARE letter pg. 57-59).  Race Forward, Center for Social Inclusion, and GARE logos were included on the top of the recommendation letter.

“Ottawa County has been a Core Member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) for the past three years.  County Administrator Al Vanderberg actually attended our very first gathering that led to the establishment of GARE as a peer-to-peer, membership-led, membership-driven network in 2014.”

“GARE’s work is underpinned by the knowledge that we will not be able to advance racial equity without the transformation of government into an effective and inclusive democracy.  For government to advance racial equity, we must recognize the historical legacy of government having created and maintained racial inequity, explicitly from the foundation of our country, and implicitly for the last half a century.” (Emphasis added)

In spite of the ability to be familiar with GARE and their progressive parent organizations through the county’s membership with GARE, the completely Republican Ottawa County Board of Commissioners approved the DEI Department proposal on December 11, 2018. On February 27, 2019, with a new Board of Commissioners seated (10-1 Republican majority), Ottawa County approved the budget for the DEI Department.

“Some of our largest employers in West Michigan expressed to us that attracting global talent is critical to their success. While they can get them here, those who are different from the cultural norm are leaving after a short time on the job,” said Al Vanderberg, Ottawa County Administrator.  Vanderberg also stated at the time of office formation, “The focus of the office won’t just be on race but also age, gender and sexual orientation.”

Taking into account early year donations from the Herman Miller Foundation @ $30,000, Haworth @ $35,000, the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation @ $234,507, and the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation @ $25,000, the proposed cost to the county over the first five years was $630K.  The expense to the county was estimated to occur as follows:

  • 2019 $12,575
  • 2020 $77,995
  • 2021 $109,975
  • 2022 $196,955
  • 2023 $234,460
  • 2024 $266,757 (year 6)

Additional county expenses not outlined above have been $30K to Inclusive Performance Strategies for completion of a county Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Climate Assessment.

Have businesses, private and community foundation interests, and progressive Democrat aligned organizations, ever before influenced Ottawa County expenditures to the extent of forming of a new County Department to promote political ideology for years into the future?

On June 23, 2021, while interviewing for the position of Kent County Administrator (time 1:00:00), Al Vanderberg shared Ottawa County opened the first full time DEI director and office in the State of Michigan.  He explained “we have worked hard to develop implicit bias templates, which we plan to apply to each, in collaboration with all of our elected and appointed department heads, to each area of the county to identify and root out implicit bias in our policies, practices, procedures, programs, and then also to apply that same type of template to the services that we deliver.  We’ve also been able to set up cohorts with many of our local units of government so that we learn and do this together.”

The Ottawa County website contains videos on: systemic racism, implicit bias, equity vs. equality, and immigration; as well as links to external resources, including Harvard’s Implicit Bias Association Test, and the United Way 21-Day Equity ChallengeNew Discourses offers insight on the theory of implicit bias here.

The Ottawa County DEI Department’s 2019 Diversity Training included Michigan GARE members, and a keynote by Dr. Mira Krishnan, “named one of the Trans100, a recognition of influential transgender Americans”, who presented From Ensuring Safety to Building the Community’s Future: The Challenge and Opportunities of Building an Ottawa County that Includes and Celebrates Gender and Sexually Diverse Residents.  In October, 2020, GARE’s Director and Midwest Manager taught Ottawa County’s DEI Department’s Diversity Training, titled Advancing Racial Equity, The Role of Government.

In addition to training its own County employees and the community, Ottawa County has promoted GARE membership and DEI training to additional local jurisdictions through GARE Learning Communities of Practice.  Spring Lake Township, the Village of Spring Lake, Grand Haven, the City of Muskegon, Zeeland, Holland, Hudsonville, Allendale, and Coopersville have been reported to be participating.  Multiple action steps of engagement with GARE are outlined for communities to move through as part of the GARE Learning Communities of Practice, culminating in their own initiative with GARE.

The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners’ Chair, Roger Bergman, is helping to lead the charge.  “Between November and December of 2020, the MSU Extension invited the Ottawa County DEI Office and Board Chair, Roger Bergman to co-present at the orientation for new commissioners“, which was offered to multiple counties, on “the importance of DEI in County work, the role of a commissioner in supporting a DEI Office and the implementation of the DEI Office.”

Michigan cities which have officially joined GARE include the City of Detroit (2019) and the City of Grand Rapids (2016), among several others.  Two of Michigan’s state agencies are also members of GARE, MDHHS (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services), and MDCR (Michigan Department of Civil Rights).  The MDCR, delving into Michigan’s K-12 education system, completed an Education Equity in Michigan report, last updated March 23, 2021, which included the GARE Racial Equity Toolkit and sample education equity plans from school districts in:

  • Okemos, MI
  • Portland, OR
  • Roseville, MN
  • Seattle, WA

Numerous Ottawa County and Michigan schools are now inundated with DEI/Race Equity/Critical Race Theory, similar to the teachings of Ottawa County.  Do citizens and parents want schools to use GARE’s model districts of Portland and Seattle, which have seen devastating riots and unrest over the last year— riots and unrest which their city youth have been active participants in, as examples for Michigan schools and Ottawa County?

Conservative Thought Leaders Disagree with Critical Race Theory, as do Ottawa County Residents

Conservative, highly esteemed, minority thought leaders Thomas Sowell, Candace Owens, Bob Woodson of 1776 Unites, Larry Elder, Voddie Bauchman, and Every Black Life Matters, do not agree with the Racial Equity and Critical Race Theory teachings promoted by GARE and Ottawa County under the guise of DEI.  Neither does President Trump, or the 1776 Commission formed under his leadership.  Minority moms and dads are speaking up at schools boards to make known they oppose these teachings as well.

Christopher Rufo’s investigative journalism into Critical Race Theory training in government and education institutions exposed a Marxist movement to divide America, and Americans are waking up.  To counter Rufo’s work, and the public backlash and legislative action which followed, GARE’s parent organization Race Forward published, Guide: Counter-Narrating the Attacks on Critical Race Theory.  Race Forward’s guide affirmed the connection between the Race Equity movement and Critical Race Theory, as well as the political nature of Race Equity work.

When confronted on Critical Race Theory (CRT), government bodies and school districts often deny teaching CRT, instead identifying their work under language such as DEI, DEIB, racial equity, racial justice, and Antibias Antiracist work (ABAR), while teaching the core tenets of CRT.

Rufo recently tweeted,

 “If your school district teaches any of the following concepts, it’s teaching critical race theory:


–White privilege

–White fragility



–Systemic racism

–Spirit murder



–Collective guilt

–Affinity spaces

Ben Shapiro writes,

“Critical race theory, of course, is not America’s actual history. It is a perverse worldview, unsupportable by the evidence, in which all of America’s key institutions are inextricably rooted in white supremacy; it is an activist campaign demanding the destruction of those institutions. The founders of CRT have written as much.”

“The grassroots pushback against CRT is rooted in the best of the American tradition: a rejection of racial essentialism in favor of individualism, an enthusiastic endorsement of agency rather than determinism, a willingness to stand united against tribalism. We all ought to fight those who have hijacked and weaponized our institutions against all of these traditionally American ideals. Anything less would be an abdication of the trust we have been given — a trust that has resulted in liberty, equality and prosperity beyond imagining for nearly all of human history.”

Parental outcry is increasing in Ottawa County and across the nation, as parents make it known they do not want progressive agendas and Racial Equity/Critical Race Theory content in their children’s schools.  The Racial Equity movement and CRT labels children by the color of their skin and divides them into groups as irredeemable “oppressors”, or “oppressed” and lacking agency to accomplish their dreams.  These teachings are racist, and emotionally and intellectually abusive to children.  Teaching children and residents their country has an evil foundation built on evil power structures which must be torn down has no place in our schools or our County government.  An increasing number of states are passing legislation to ban Critical Race Theory, and legislation was recently introduced in Michigan to ban it from schools here.

As residents and taxpayers who love all Americans, we desire truthful data on and true solutions to challenges faced by diverse people groups, so we can apply best efforts and tax dollars to opportunities which provide true impact.  There may be areas of concern and potential solutions we all agree on, and some we do not.  That does not lessen our respect for others.  We simply have a different point of view, which can prove beneficial, just as President Trump’s initiatives on jobs, opportunity zones, and criminal justice reform greatly benefitted minority families and communities.

Manipulating and censoring conversation and beliefs around race and equity in a manner which leaves no room for discussion—or opportunity for redemption due to one’s skin color, sex, or beliefs, in order to mold the minds of children, dominate policy decisions, gain political advantage, tear down our nation’s structure, and transform a County and Country with divisive ideology, is inexcusable.

Ottawa County is rooted in Judeo-Christian values and belief in America as an exceptional nation blessed by God.  America’s freedom is fragile and needs protection.  We believe black lives don’t just “matter.”  Like all lives, they are sacred and of great worth, because God created each of us in His image.  We believe in the good intent and personal agency of Ottawa County residents, and that the core beliefs of our people— including our love for others, make our County an exceptional place to live.  We do not support dividing our people and children by teaching them they are “oppressors” or “oppressed” based on their skin color.

We call the Ottawa County Commissioners back to the core values of the citizens who elected them, and ask that they dismantle the DEI/Race Equity Department which is spreading division in our County.  Should they wish to continue to promote Race Equity and Critical Race Theory, we ask they personally partner with progressive nonprofits and foundations who promote this ideology, and refrain from using taxpayer dollars, buildings, infrastructure, or County employment to advance a divisive Marxist ideology and the platform of progressive Democrat socialists.

We ask the Ottawa County Commissioners who have genuine concern about issues facing minority residents to consult or reference the work of Conservative minority thought leaders, including Thomas Sowell, Candace Owens, Bob Woodson of 1776 Unites, Larry Elder, Voddie Bauchman, and Every Black Life Matters, who have identified problems and proposed solutions consistent with the values and beliefs of the citizens of Ottawa County, rather than promote the agenda of the progressive left.

We share the dream and aspirations of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We won’t let his dream die on our watch.

Sylvia worked in Child Welfare with foster children and families, before having children of her own, and operating a photography business for a decade. In recent years, she has been an advocate for health freedom, parental rights, and education, researching happenings in schools and government, while supporting parents through Informed Parents of Michigan.