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The story of a small town vs. big corp goes national

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Acme’s ups and downs

NOTE: The F-Bomb is utilized in this piece.

The October issue of the iconic national magazine Harper’s turns its attention to northwest lower Michigan in an article titled, The Acme Corporation: A town fights back against a big-box coup.

It has an ominous start:

There used to be a town called Acme at the intersection of Michigan Highway 72 and U.S. Route 31; now there’s a Chase bank and a pair of gas stations.”

The article, written by Alec MacGillis, goes on to weave the tangled saga that will become the Meijer megastore sometime in the eventual future (IPR). Many local citizens know the story all too well.

For the majority of us, it played out in the continued and award-winning coverage by the Record Eagle (RE). For others, particularly engaged citizens of Acme Township, it has been a decade of tense public meetings, exhausting elections, embittered campaigns, and uneasy run-ins with neighbors. On top of that, the story has a major corporation (it’s revealed that Meijer’s has over 74,000 employees in around 200 stores) exerting extreme public and behind the scene nefarious pressure against a small township, represented mostly by volunteer citizens, who simply care about their community.

Acme Township Trustee, Ron Hardin told Harper’s the beginning of the drama:

We all know business has to be here, but this all started with, Does this have to be so fucking big?

National politics meets local

Meijer’s response, as most of us know, was, Yes, it does have to be that fucking big. They have been willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that it will be and, prior to the Citizen’s United decision on the Supreme Court, did so illegally. The Citizen United case is the controversial 2010 ruling that protects corporate spending on elections as protected by the First Amendment without the need of transparency and without limit. For the current 2012 elections, this decision has resulted in nearly $500 million (78% of total of all campaign expenses) spent by outside groups (IBT).

Acme was one of the early consequences of that 2010 ruling and a critical connection to broad, national governance issues and how they can translate on the home front. MacGillis writes,

Acme had become an early testing ground for a post–Citizens United America, one in which the people and institutions that could once challenge the power of big business—individual citizens, the press, the government itself—seem hopelessly outmatched.

The never-ending legalities took their strain on Acme residents, the article explores a few of their stories. What is difficult not to be angry over is that result was likely among one of the intended strategies employed by Meijer: wear the local yokels down. As attorney Chris Bzdok, who was legal representation for the township at the time, described it for the article:

It was a very sophisticated, very high-power, high-volume operation. A relentless, multifront campaign of harassment and intimidation waged against people who are essentially your friends and neighbors who volunteer to take a turn at the oars for their community.”

Community continues forward

A few months ago I was discussing Acme with a member of the MyWHaT Council of Ultimate Power (yes, such thing exists) and I was amazed at her excitement about Acme’s direction. She sees great things happening around the shoreline and the efforts to turn Acme into a place that people are destined for instead of simply passing through. It won’t be easy, but the basic support for place-making initiatives and the required mix of forward thinking and inclusive engagement are in place. The high turn-out for the revealing of the Acme Shoreline plans earlier this month is a one of those hopeful signs (IPR).

Not only is the perseverance of community engagement exhibited by the Acme Shores project a healthy sign for future quality of life and economic environment for the township, but potentially it might lead to Acme once again becoming a town with a center.

Read MacGillis’s story to revisit or learn a new about the story that has dominated Acme politics for the last decade. Harper’s is available on news racks and online with a subscription here (PDF)

Where do you see Acme in 20-30 years? Can it become a place?

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