Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part I

Recently, we posted a piece about the Anti-Afghan war organizing that took place in Grand Rapids in 2001 – 2002. 

Part of that organizing grew out of a Teach-In that took place just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, in early October of 2001. One year later, a second Teach-In was held, this time focusing on Israel/Palestine and Iraq.

It was at that Teach-In, which took place in early October 2002, that people began to discuss the importance of organizing against the Bush administration’s shift from Afghanistan to Iraq, in order to wage its “War on Terrorism.”

The last session at the Teach-In was devoted to discussing plans to mobilizing resistance to a US military build-up against Iraq. People came together for meetings to oppose the war in Iraq in the next few weeks and organized the first protest against the US threat of war against Iraq near the end of October.

The protest consisted of a rally that started at Veteran’s Park in downtown Grand Rapids, where a few people spoke, mainly to get the crowd of 400 people fired up. The crowd then marched through downtown Grand Rapids, without a permit, with part of the march taking place in the streets.

The 400 marchers then went to the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building, where they occupied the steps in front of the building. A few more people spoke and shared information about next steps in the campaign to prevent a war with Iraq.

The 400 marchers was the largest anti-war march in Grand Rapids since the Vietnam war, yet this resistance would only grow in size and intensity in the coming months. The march had been organized by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change. In Part II of this series we will look at the next phase of anti-war planning in Grand Rapids, including the protest that greeted George W. Bush when he came to town in later January of 2003.

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New print celebrates the life of Anarchist Voltairine De Cleyre

This new print, created by GVSU student Katie Los, celebrates the life of American anarchist Voltairine De Cleyre.

Emma Goldman once referred to Voltairine De Cleyre as, “The most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.”

In the early 1880s she moved to Grand Rapids and was active in the anti-clerical, Free Thought Movement. Voltairine soon began writing for various publications and exploring other political disciplines. However, it was the Haymarket uprising in Chicago in 1886 that finally brought her to embrace anarchism. More specifically, it was the hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs in 1887, that solidified her belief and commitment in political anarchism.

De Cleyre wrote about numerous other topics, including the Mexican Revolution. She died in 1912, at the young age of 46. However, despite her short life, she not only impacted those who heard her speeches, she continues to inspire generations of people who will consecrate their service to the world!

For more information about De Cleyre’s life and her writing, see our original post from 2016.


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Anti-Afghan War organizing – 2001 Grand Rapids

As we mentioned in a post from February 11, 2019, after September 11, 2001, for many people it became difficult to actively speak out against US foreign policy, whether that was war or economic policy 

None of the traditional anti-war groups in Grand Rapids, were willing to criticize the US bombing of Afghanistan until months after the US war/occupation had begun.

The group People’s Alliance for Justice & Change didn’t hesitate to speak out and began forming a plan as to what could be done in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the US intent to wage war on Afghanistan.

After September 11, 2001, the US quickly moved to take action to blame someone for the terrorist attack. In October of 2001, the US began bombing Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11.

What follows are a list of things that people organized between September 2001 and September 2002:

  • The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a “teach-in” at Aquinas College to expose US policy in the region, emphasizing that if people were going to understand both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, they would need to understand the historical context of US foreign policy. The teach-in–dubbed “September 11th: Causes and Just Responses.” There were 150 people who spent the better part of a Saturday at the Teach-In.
  • The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change also created an Afghanistan Reader, which was a collection of documents that provided people solid historical and current context for the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. It was 30 pages long.
  • A march was organized in response to the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan, a march which began at Veteran’s Park in downtown Grand Rapids, where police came to intimidate protestors, even asking those protesting “how they could be against the US at this time.” It was rare to have cops make that kind of commentary at a demonstration, at least in Grand Rapids.
  • This same march also went to WOOD TV 8, the NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, to protest the hyper-nationalistic coverage since 9/11, specifically about Afghanistan.

    Limited Local Media Coverage of Dissent

    Media coverage of such dissent was limited, both locally and nationally. the Grand Rapids Press ran one article in 2001 on protests against the invasion (“We don’t believe in bombing’ – Peace activists with roots in the Vietnam War protests know they are a vocal minority in opposing Afghanistan attacks,” October 30, 2001). Its decision to place the article on the front page generated a large number of calls and letters according to The Press(“Press’ coverage of war protesters draws readers’ ire”, November 4, 2001), prompting The Press to defend its decision:

    “After the complaints, Andy [News Editor Andy Angelo] checked our A-1 pattern for October. No other photo could be described as a directly critical view of U.S policy. And 21 days out of 31, we ran page-dominant news photographs that would have to be characterized as supportive of the war effort or displays of patriotic emotion.”

    Even in its defense of running a front page photo of a protestor, the Grand Rapids Press didn’t hesitate to admit that it had a heavy pro-military bias.

    A study, the period after the bombing started (75 day study), by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), showed that the local media’s coverage of the Afghanistan War overwhelmingly relied on government and military sources

  • After the march and protest in October 2001 against the US war/occupation of Afghanistan, there was a 24-hour vigil and fast that took place on Division near Fulton in downtown Grand Rapids to draw attention to what was happening. People took shifts being outside on the street with signs and information to share with people.
  • Just after the Thanksgiving break, there was a documentary shown in the studio of GRTV, which featured long-time critic of US foreign policy Noam Chomsky addressing US terrorism around the world.
  • In December, a benefit concert was organized, where 6 bands donated their time to play to raise money for humanitarian aid for people in Afghanistan. The concert was broadcast live on the cable access channel and between bands there would be information shared by organizers on human rights reporting coming out of Afghanistan, analysis of the US military occupation and how people could get involved in resisting the war. Over $1,000 was raised, all of which went to two groups in Afghanistan doing war relief work.
  • In 2002, people who doing a great deal of solidarity work with the Muslim and Arab American community in West Michigan. The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change collected several thousands signatures from allies stating that they would stand with the Arab-American and Muslim communities. Some allies provided accompaniment to those communities who were targets of hate by individuals and state violence.
  • A second Afghan War reader was created in the summer of 2002, followed by a second Teach-In, with some 250 people in attendance. This Teach-In also included a critique of US support for Israel and the threat of war with Iraq coming from the Bush administration.
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New Print Celebrates the legacy of the Womyn’s Action Network in Grand Rapids

A new print from GVSU student Rachael Spring, brings to life the legacy of the 1990s feminist group, the Womyn’s Action Network or WAN.

WAN came together in 1992 and began their feminist work with a satirical event that took on media representation of women. The First Annual Media Bash was an awards ceremony, where those in attendance would look at misogynistic and empowering images of women and then give out what they called Dick and Jane awards. The Dick awards were given out to the ads that “are the most degrading, demeaning and disgusting,” while the Jane awards were given to “those ads that portray us in the most positive and affirming ways.”

The Womyn’s Action Network also understood how social justice issues intersected and participated in the annual Pride event in Grand Rapids, World AIDS Day, anti-war activities and community wide anti-violence campaigns.

The organization’s literature states that it was committed to looking at issues through a race/class/gender lens; challenging corporate defined beauty; fighting femicide, rape, battering and harassment; and looking at women’s health issues, like breast cancer, menopause and menstruation.

WAN only survived for three years (1992 – 1995), but accomplished an amazing amount of work in that brief time and inspired many women in Grand Rapids to find their voices and fight back against patriarchal systems of oppression.


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Organizing against the Central America Free Trade Agreement in Grand Rapids

Last week we posted a story about people from Grand Rapids participating in the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protest in Quebec, Canada. This was part of the ongoing anti-Globalization movement, which had begun years earlier, primarily outside of the US.

However, after September 11, 2001, most of the anti-globalization organizing had vanished in the US, since people were now shifting gears and combating increased racial profiling and an expansion of US imperialism abroad, with the US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It wasn’t until 2004, when the Central American Free Trade Agreement was proposed, a trade agreement that would virtually replicate NAFTA. Following the defeat of the FTAA, the US and other regional leaders sought to push a NAFTA-style trade policy for Central America. First proposed in 2004, CAFTA would test the anti-globalization movement that surfaced again to fight this most recent manifestation of global capitalism.

The anti-CAFTA campaign was organized primarily by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, a group that had formed around 2000 and organized against global capitalism and US imperialism.

The first step that the People’s Alliance took in their campaign to defeat CAFTA, was to get other groups to sign on to the campaigns. There were nearly 20 union locals that signed on to the campaign, two environmental groups and a few other entities like the Institute for Global Education. Once they had lots of organizational support, they put together their first action in March of 2004, by organizing what they called a NAFTA scavenger hunt.

The idea behind the NAFTA scavenger hunt was to send people out, like you would with any scavenger hunt, but in this case people were tasked with finding jobs in the area that were created by NAFTA. Everyone was provided a map, which of course had locations of businesses that had lost jobs because of NAFTA. In addition, members of the People’s Alliance created a video, using a character called the NAFTA Bunny, to dramatize the scavenger hunt.

The next action saw people handing out flyers at the Van Andel Arena, just prior to a hockey game, at an action that was called, a Slap Shot Against CAFTA.

In early August of 2004, Presidential Candidate John Kerry came to town, so members of the People’s Alliance decided to use that opportunity to hand out flyers to Kerry supporters about the need to move beyond a simple “Anybody but Bush” strategy. 350 “Demand More from Kerry!” flyers were distributed to Kerry supporters urging people to demand something from Kerry in exchange for their vote.

In addition to people leafleting, an appearance was made by the CAFTA Chicken and the NAFTA Bunny who distributed 500 pink slips containing information about neoliberal trade agreements and their connection to local job losses. In other CAFTA Chicken and NAFTA Bunny news, we have posted two zines explaining more about the origins of these legendary creatures. Both zines were created at yesterday’s Clamor Magazine/Hey Kidz! make your own media workshop. You can view The Adventures of the NAFTA Bunny and The Adventures of the CAFTA Chicken online.

The CAFTA Chicken and the NAFTA Bunny appeared several more times in Grand Rapids, by leafletting during Blues on the Mall several times in an attempt to engage the public through popular education.

While CAFTA ended up passing in Congress the following year, the type of organizing and creativity that was developed during this campaign reached tens of thousands of people and helped to create even more suspicion against any US trade policy that was proposed after 2005.


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New Print demonstrates the hypocrisy of GVSU and LGBTQ Equality

A new print by GVSU student Ciara Pink, beautifully depicts not on the historical struggle to win domestic partner benefits at GVSU, but the hypocrisy of the university, which claims to embrace, equity, inclusion and social justice.

Grand Valley State University used to be Grand Valley States Colleges, consisting of William James, Thomas Jefferson, Seidman School and College IV. William James College (WJC) was very progressive and experimental in its approach to education. WJC attracted faculty from all over the country, including many feminists who developed radical programs like Women, World and Wonder. Some of these women who taught at William James or Thomas Jefferson Colleges (both of which were closed by 1983) were also part of the radical feminist group in Grand Rapids, known as Aradia.

Many of the members of Aradia were also lesbian and were part of an effort in the 1990s to get GVSU to adopt domestic partner benefits. Based on interviews we conducted for the film, A People’s History of the LGBTQ Community in Grand Rapids, GVSU was set to adopt domestic partner benefits in 1995. However, word of the proposed policy was leaked to a GR Press reporter who wrote a story, which resulted in pressure from major financial donors (Richard DeVos and Peter Cook) threatening to with hold money if the university adopted such a policy.

A second attempt was made in 2003, to get domestic partner benefits passed at GVSU, but then President Mark Murray blocked the attempt. Murray stated at the time, “As a University that has benefited from very generous support from the private philanthropic community, we must recognize the prevailing views of those who provide such support.” This statement by Murray underscores the power that donors have had on policy at GVSU. Domestic partner benefits was not adopted until 2008, some 13 years after it was promised.

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Grand Rapids participated in the 2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City

In the first major hemispheric action against anti-globalization action since the 1999 Seattle WTO protest, at least 15 people from Grand Rapids traveled to Quebec City, Canada to participate in the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas  (FTAA) Summit.

The FTAA summit was an attempt to create a trade policy, similar to NAFTA for the entire Western hemisphere. Labor groups, indigenous communities, environmentalists, anarchists and other members of civil society converged on Quebec in April of 2001 to say no to the heads of state that were meeting in the old part of Quebec City, in an area that was completed walled off to the public.

There was 10 foot fencing around the area that government officials were meeting, with several thousand cops in riot gear, using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against people who were trying to shut down the Summit on the Americas.

At the same time that this gathering was taking place, a parallel summit was being held by thousands of people from all over the Americas, discussing indigenous sovereignty, environmental protections, worker rights and general human rights concerns. This civil society summit had dozens of speakers with a simultaneous translation system set up so whether you spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, French or an indigenous language, everyone could hear what was being said.

Some of the people who went to the FTAA protest in Quebec City produced this video, which was aired on GRTV just after returning from the Summit on the Americas in April of 2001.

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