How the press reported on an 1891 Labor Strike in Grand Rapids

I was recently reading Sidney Harring’s, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities 1865 – 1915,  and came across a brief description of a labor strike in Grand Rapids in May of 1891.  I decided to look up how the local newspapers reported on the strike.

Both cable and horse car workers went on strike May 10, 1891, for higher wages and union contracts. The company began hiring scab workers immediately. As the week progressed, workers tried to keep cars from running, first by inducing others not to take their jobs, but later also by blocking the cars.

The Grand Rapids Eagle and the Grand Rapids Democrat newspapers, both reported on the strike. The Grand Rapids Eagle even reprinted the text of a flyer that the striking workers were handing out, which includes information about a labor parade and the role of the local Sheriff’s office, as you can see here on the right.

The strike had the support of several merchants in the area, specifically because of how it impacted sales. Some 65 merchants signed a statement,  pleading with the company to settle the dispute with the striking workers, as is reflected in the headline of the Grand Rapids Democrat.

As the strike continued into several days, there were reported incidents of strikers and sympathizers stopping some of the few cable cars that were running. One report states:

either strikers or sympathizers stopped a South Division street car this morning and threatened the driver and the conductor unless they should stop running the car, and they did stop, the passengers being compelled to leave the car.

At a labor parade, which was organized in support of the strikers, where several thousand people showed up, one speaker shared the comments, which were reported on in the Grand Rapids Eagle, here on the right.

The day after the labor parade, which demonstrated significant public support, the Railway company put out a statement, which was reported on by the Grand Rapids Eagle. The company stated:

The management of the street railway system of Grand Rapids realizes that in the conduct of its business carrying passengers it is held more accountable to public opinion than would be any other corporation or individual.”

As the strike continued, there were other actions taken by striking workers, including marches and attempts to shut down roads, like what happened on South Division one night, where workers placed a large iron bar across the tracks to prevent it from moving.

Just before the strike had ended, other members of the business community decided to hold a meeting, which was chaired by furniture baron Charles Sligh. We include the headline for this meeting and comments by other businessmen here below, which  demonstrated that they would not tolerate disorder in Grand Rapids and that what they prized above all were law abiding citizens and obedient workers.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Anti-Capitalism/Labor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New Prints celebrate the Animal Rights/Animal Liberation Movement in Grand Rapids

As we have noted in previous posts, there has been an organized effort fight on behalf of animals in West Michigan since the 1980s.

One of the first groups that came together was West Michigan For Animals. This group was doing anti-fur protests and challenging the slaughterhouse industry in the area. The first print to honor this work is from Emma Rupprecht, which honors the work done to confront the abuse of animals at area rodeos. There was a significant campaign that lasted for several years around raising awareness and ending the Rodeo events being held in West Michigan.

The second print to focus on the Grand Rapids Animal Rights movements was created by Catherine Reynolds. This print honors the work to confront the fur industry in West Michigan, which included education, mock fur shows and protests at stores that sold animal furs in the area.

Here is an excerpt from one of our posts about the anti-fur campaign:

At that time PETA was producing posters with a picture of a skinned animal with the words “Fur is Dead” on them.  A member had the idea to secure the posters on the back of our coats and go into the stores as costumers shopping. We were able to make a couple of visits like that to each store before they began recognizing us and kicking us out upon entrance for “creating a disturbance”.

We also targeted fur wearers. We would go to the GR Symphony performances and wait for the attendees to exit. We had our signs, traps, and furs that were donated to the group that we coated in “blood”. We would engage with those wearing furs as they left the building. These engagements turned into physical confrontations more than once.”

The third print is from Arianna Onesi, a print that focuses on the protests that have been organized over the past three decades to expose the abuse of animals whenever the circus comes to town.

Each of these three prints provide powerful visuals around the incredible commitment and work that dozens of people have done around animal rights & animal liberation in West Michigan since the early 1980s.

Posted in Animal Rights/Animal Liberation, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New Print Celebrates the Central American Sanctuary Movement in Grand Rapids during the 1980s

A new print from GVSU student Michaela West celebrates the fact that Grand Rapids had a formal sanctuary for Central Americans who were fleeing US-backed death squad violence in the 1980s.

The Grand Rapids People’s History Project has several postings about the Central American Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s. The first post provides an overview of the group that provided Sanctuary, the Koinonia House, which was a community house similar to a Catholic Worker House.

The second post looks at some of the local news coverage about the Grand Rapids Sanctuary for Central American refugees, specifically the Grand Rapids Magazine.

The third post takes a look at the larger community support that the Koinonia House had when offering sanctuary, which includes several dozen letters of support they received from organizations, families and individuals who supporter their efforts.

 

 

Posted in Central American Sanctuary Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part X – resistance lost out to electoral politics

In our tenth and final post covering the anti-Iraq war organizing in Grand Rapids, we look at the final year of resistance in 2008.

The group ACTIVATE organized an End the Occupation demonstration on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the US war/occupation of Iraq in March of 2008. Here is a video that Media Mouse produced about that demonstration.

The interest in going anti-war organizing in Grand Rapids had slowly dissipated and as with all presidential election cycles, people turned away from actual organizing and anti-war resistance to put their faith in electoral politics.

In May of 2008, when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama came to Grand Rapids for a rally at the Van Andel Arena, the mood of those waiting in line was upbeat, since many people believed that Obama would usher in a new era of progressive politics. The group ACTIVATE didn’t drink the Kool-Aid and decided that people needed to take an honest look at his platform, especially as it related to the US occupation of Iraq (now it it’s 5th year) and the US war in Afghanistan (now in its 7th year.).

As a candidate, the Obama platform on Iraq and Afghanistan were not what most of his supporters thought, since his campaign rhetoric was significantly different that his actual platform. On the matter of Iraq, Obama didn’t condemn the war/occupation and as a Senator, he voted for every military spending bill related to Iraq. More importantly, the Bush administration had already brokered a deal that would see a significant US troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2008, even though Obama supports wanted to claim credit for this. However, the US government continued to use private military contractors, which continued to be paid for by taxpayers, thus replacing government soldiers for mercenaries.

On the matter of Afghanistan, the Obama platform was to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where Obama believed the War on Terror could be won. The candidate Obama proposed a US troop increase for Afghanistan, which ended up happening near the end of 2009.

When Obama was in Grand Rapids for the rally in May of 2008, ACTIVATE decided to hand out flyers with information on Obama’s Iraq and Afghanistan policies. They distributed nearly 1,000 that day, but many of the people who read the information that was being handed out, often responded with disbelieve or were antagonistic towards those who were flyering.

Of course ACTIVATE was not just against the Democratic platform on the war in Iraq, they also organized against the GOP. In fact, several members of ACTIVATE went to the Republican National Convention, held in Minneapolis in August of 2008, and took part in the resistance to the GOP platform, along with thousands of others who were protesting the Republican delegates to came to Minnesota.

Then in September of 2008, ACTIVATE organized one last demonstration against the US war/occupation of Iraq, when John McCain and Sara Palin came to Grand Rapids for a rally at GRCC. Here is how Media Mouse reported on that demonstration

Yesterday evening, around two-hundred people protested Republican presidential nominee John McCain and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin outside of the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in downtown Grand Rapids. The loud and often boisterous protest went on for three hours–long enough to greet people on their way into the speech and greet them again on the way out.

As tends to be the case during election years, the protest was a mixed bag of messages, with the majority of those in attendance taking either a simple anti-McCain approach (waving signs reading “McSame” or “Palin = Pain”) or waving Obama signs. Throughout the evening, it was clear that much of the crowd wanted to engage in the highly partisan exchanges of insults that often come with these kind of events as people hurled insults at people attending the speech. Protestors yelled at attendees asking them if they “Took Palin’s ‘Bridge to Nowhere’” to the speech, told them to “Go back to East Grand Rapids,” and said that they were all “Rich white people.” These kind of comments increased as the night went on and reached their apex when McCain supporters left after the speech, with protestors yelling insults while McCain supporters waved their new “Country First” signs. Throughout the evening there were a number of chants as well, ranging from “No justice, no peace, US out of the Middle East” to “Obama, Obama.”

Amidst the partisan fray, two groups did attempt to get across a more focused message. ACTIVATE–a Grand Rapids based antiwar group–organized around fifty people to march to the Ford Field House with a message critiquing the Iraq War. The group–led by a banner reading “Stop Funding War”–called for an immediate end to the US occupation of Iraq and the funding of human needs over war. The group distributed a leaflet to those in attendance highlighting the cost of the Iraq War ($554 billion thus far) and explaining how the $1.2 billion that taxpayers in the 3rd Congressional District has spent could be used to fund healthcare (give insurance to 442,000 people for one year), education (provide 121,000 one-year university scholarships), and low income housing (build 9,488 low income housing units). The leaflet also reminded the crowd that the Democratic Party candidate–Barack Obama–has a reputation of being “antiwar” yet does not have a plan for actually ending the Iraq War. In light of this, the group calls for people to pressure both the Republican and Democratic candidate to support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The other group was Progress Michigan who focused on McCain’s economic record. The group rallied behind a banner reading “Outsource McCain” and charged that McCain is out-of-touch with the plight of Michigan’s workers. They said that “Bush-McCain” policies–including support for foreign trade agreements that send US jobs overseas–have been responsible for 400,000 jobs lost in Michigan.

Throughout the protest, the Grand Rapids Police Department had a light deployment. Unlike when Bush was on GRCC’s campus in 2004, officers were not carrying gas masks and protestors were allowed to assemble directly across from the Field House. At various points, Police Chief Kevin Belk was seen outside directing officers. It is also worth noting that there were several undercover officers in the crowd. The only known incidents with police occurred when they confronted individuals carrying “obscene” signs. At one point, the officers confiscated a sign reading “Fuck McCain.”

After the 2008 Elections, most people forgot about Iraq even though the number of dead was astronomical and the devastation done to the country would put Iraq back decades. This reality played out all across the US and especially in Grand Rapids, thus demonstrating once again that electoral politics is the grave yard of social movements.

Posted in Anti-War/Anti-Imperialism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part IX – Counter-military Recruitment

In Part VIII of this series, we looked at all of the organizing efforts to confront Congressman Vern Ehlers, who supported the war in Iraq and voted every year to finance the US occupation of Iraq.  In today’s post, we look at the counter-military recruiting work being done in Grand Rapids.

Besides all the marches and protests that took place when politicians came to town, one of the more important anti-war actions that were taken was the counter-military recruitment work. Counter-recruitment work is some of the more effective strategies used in anti-war organizing, since it can result in reducing the number of people enlisting in the military.

There were two groups doing counter-recruitment organizing, the Institute for Global Education (IGE) and ACTIVATE. IGE was doing mostly educational work, distributing educational materials and going into the schools to let students know what they might be getting into if they signed up for the military.

ACTIVATE was also doing educational work, creating flyers, zines and videos that deconstructed what it meant to be in the military and what military recruiters were offering to potential recruits. Here is a video of one of the actions, which counters a US Army slogan at the time, Army Strong, with the tag line, Army Dead.

In early 2007, MediaMouse reported on an action at a Military Recruiting Center in Grand Rapids. Here is what was written:

On Friday, twenty-five people attended a protest organized by ACTIVATE against military recruiting and the ongoing occupation of Iraq (video and photos are also available). The protest took place at the Armed Forces Career Center at Celebration Cinema and was the third and largest protest held against military recruiting in Grand Rapids. The protest was held in conjunction with the antiwar demonstration taking place in Washington DC on January 27, with the protestors calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and opposing President George W. Bush’s planned escalation of the Iraq War.

ACTIVATE targeted the military recruiting station for its protest on the 26th because it provided a direct connection to the war in Iraq and the military’s capacity to maintain the occupation. The group held a variety signs highlighting facts about military recruiting and the human costs of the Iraq War. Thus far, the war has killed 655,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 3,000 troops. Additionally, organizing against military recruiting–through these protests and organizing high school students–could play an important role in ending the occupation of Iraq. In recent years, recruiters have failed to meet recruiting goals and pressure has increased on recruiters to meet their monthly goals. Military recruiters have also come under fire for a 50% increase in abuses in 2005, abuses that have ranged from coaching recruits to cheat on drug tests to widespread sexual misconduct with potential recruits. Antiwar activists can increase that pressure by denying them the recruits that the military needs to maintain the occupation. A number of people involved in the antiwar movement, including former Special Forces soldier Stan Goff, have argued that counter-recruitment should be a priority for the movement.

The recruiters initially positioned themselves at the front of the recruiting center and blocked the doors to the building while pounding on drums and chanting “Stop Enlisting, Start Resisting.” Two different recruiters came out and told the group that they could not block the doors, but the group refused to move. When it became clear that the recruiters had moved into the back of the building, the group moved to the backdoors and continued chanting and drumming in an attempt to disrupt the activities of the recruiters inside. At one point, the protestors opened one of the unlocked doors and disrupted an interaction between a recruiter and what appeared to be a potential recruit. The police eventually came and told the protestors that they could not block the doors or enter the building, but explained that they were otherwise free to continue protesting. When the police left, the group again moved to the front and distributed more flyers to pedestrians outside of the movie theatre. The group then chose to move to the back of the recruiting station again, chanting and pounding on the windows to disrupt the recruiters who were on the phone. Throughout the protest, the recruiters were very aggressive, repeatedly opening doors and slamming them into protestors, while responses from the public tended to be favorable. The police eventually returned to the scene and informed the protestors that they could not play drums, citing complaints from other businesses. Following the second visit from the police, the group decided to leave shortly after most of the police did.

The group is planning additional events and protests against the occupation of Iraq as part of a campaign designed to increase the visibility and effectiveness of antiwar movement in Grand Rapids. The campaign is part of a response by ACTIVATE to a nationwide call to action that the group signed onto back in December of 2006. The call challenges the antiwar movement to critically examine its failures and to move forward by “taking risks, making demands, and creating consequences” as well as making connections and doing the critical organizing work that has often been neglected by the movement.

There were also counter-recruitment actions held at Military Recruiting Center in Wyoming, MI, in March of 2007. Again, here is how MediaMouse reported on that action:

The protest began at 9:00am after the group walked over to the station. On the way to the recruiting center, the group received many supportive gestures from passing motorists. When the group arrived at the station, they used a ten-foot long banner reading “Stop US Imperialism” to block access to the main door of the building while other protestors held signs reading “Stop Recruiting the Poor for the War,” “Recruiters Lie,” “655,000+ Iraqis Dead,” and other signs highlighting the deaths of the more than 3,220 US soldiers killed in Iraq. The group also chanted a variety slogans including “Recruiters Lie, You Die,” “No Justice, No Peace, US Out of the Middle East,” and “There’s Dead and then there is Army Dead.” During the protest, one person was denied access to the building, while a couple of recruiters were forced to push their way through the protestors or using the backdoor to gain access to the building. The group was unable to close down the recruiting station given their numbers, but it was clear that their presence was an annoyance and was somewhat disruptive to the recruiters, the majority of whom just stood around watching the group from inside. The reactions of individuals entering the neighboring businesses were entirely positive, with at least two people thanking the group for being there.

At another counter-recruitment protest, a group of pro-war bikers showed up to confront the activists with ACTIVATE. Here is what MediaMouse reported:

The actions of the bikers were clearly provocative and were in many cases violent. Just as recruiters have pushed doors into protestors and physically threatened them at previous protests at this recruiting center, the bikers and their small group of supporters occasionally shoved protestors, tried to knock signs out of their hands, ripped bandanas off their faces, and challenged protestors to fights. Their presence was characterized by jingoistic and macho posturing, with the bikers repeatedly using homophobic insults towards the protestors, calling male protestors “girls,” and calling protestors “sissies.” For the most part, the protest was essentially a shouting match, occasionally interrupted by the bikers revving the engines of their motorcycles in an attempt to drown out the protestors’ chants. As is frequently the case with folks representing a reactionary point of view, the bikers collectively demonstrated a lack of understanding about the war, arguing that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked, that the war is necessary to protect the United States, and that more people were killed under Saddam Hussein than under the United States’ occupation. Whenever they were queried about matters such as the United States’ support for Saddam Hussein, the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to US-imposed sanctions in the 1990s, or the killing of 655,000 Iraqis since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the bikers either hurled homophobic insults, made quasi-racist comments disparaging Muslim people, or responded with asinine statements such as telling the protestors to “name them” when they told the bikers that 655,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed.

When the Grand Rapids Police Department showed up, it was clear that they were on the side of the bikers and the military recruiters. While the bikers got a simple wave of the hand to stop revving their engines, one protestor was immediately singled out and given a 10 second warning to leave or be arrested. As the person was leaving, the police officer grabbed him at which point a man wearing an Army shirt and hat claimed that the protestor had spit on him. Eventually the protestors were told that they had to leave or be arrested, despite the fact that the bikers–some of whom were standing in the road in clear violation of the law–were not told to leave. After the warning, the protestors made the decision to leave. The protestor that was detained was later let go without any charges.

One additional tactic that the group ACTIVATE used was to flyer at local high school football games, which were generally effective at getting information into the hands of students who were vulnerable to military recruiters and their propaganda.

Posted in Anti-War/Anti-Imperialism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Print focuses on the Immigrant Justice Movement in Grand Rapids

GVSU student Bailey Becksvoort has created a wonderful print that reflects the power of the immigrant justice movement in Grand Rapids.

The print, depicts immigrants with signs in Spanish that say, Families Deserve to be United! The text that accompanies the images in this print, provide some background on the Immigrant Justice Movement.

The beginning of the immigrant justice movement began in 2005, as a response to proposed legislation that would have criminalized immigration. The response from the immigrant community mobilized millions throughout the US, resulting in large marches across the country to the theme of Un Dia Sin Immigrantes – A Day Without Immigrants.

The immigrant justice movement that began in 2005, has continued through 2019. However, the first half of this movement put too much faith in the electoral process and believed that Comprehensive Immigration Reform would happen during the Obama administration, but never manifested. This part of the movement is covered in The Immigrant Justice Movement in Grand Rapids Part I.

The current immigrant justice movement has not only been led by immigrants, it has focused on building a powerful movement that has been demonstrating the economic power that immigrants have, using boycotts and strikes as powerful weapons to win their demands. This part of the struggle, which brings us through mid-2019, has been documented in The Immigrant Justice Movement in Grand Rapids Part II.

 

 

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement, Immigrant Justice Movement | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Print Celebrates First Pride in Grand Rapids – 1988

The annual Pride Celebration is coming up in Grand Rapids, so what better way to celebrate Pride then to post a new print we received.

The following print is from L Schippers, a GVSU student, celebrates the first Pride celebration in Grand Rapids in 1988. After activists from the LGBT community had traveled to DC to participate in a national march, they returned to Grand Rapids and created the first openly gay organization called The Network.

The Network had as some of its initial goals the first celebration of Pride in Grand Rapids and getting the city to pass an ordinance, which included sexual orientation as part of their anti-discrimination ordinance.

The video at this link is 90 minutes of the first ever Pride celebration in Grand Rapids, which includes comments from the stage, interviews with organizations tabling at the event, music and even footage of the spiritual violence that was perpetrated against those in attendance by a group of self-proclaimed Christians who tried to disrupt the event.

 

Posted in LGBTQ Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment