Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #17: People Resisting Nuclear War in Grand Rapids

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s GVSU class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Shelby Lijewski, reflects the organizing that was taking place in the late 1970s, 80s and 90s against the threat of nuclear war. The bulk of the anti-nuclear organizing in Grand Rapids was centered around the national Nuclear Freeze Campaign

The Nuclear Freeze Campaign was mostly organized through the Institute for Global Education, which involved educational campaigns, ballot initiatives and direct actions against nukes. The direct action campaigns were also organized autonomously across Michigan and in Grand Rapids. Some of the direct action work involved civil disobedience and civil resistance, such as people going underground to avoid the police after being arrested at an anti-nuclear action. Therefore, this print is a great contribution that honors the anti-nuclear work that has been done in Grand Rapids.

Advertisements
Posted in Anti-Nuclear Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #16: Remembering the 4,000 people displaced from building US 131 in Grand Rapids

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s GVSU class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Devin Gordon, reflects the devastation brought about by the construction of US 131 through Grand Rapids. In an interview we conducted with local historian Fr. Dennis Morrow, we discovered that roughly 4,000 people were displaced because of the highway construction, mostly working class families and communities of color. 

State Highway Commission at the time, John Mackie said, “The new system will enable Grand Rapids to realize its full economic and industrial potential.” Mackie’s comment is instructive, since it makes clear that the intention of the highway through Grand Rapids was not about realizing human potential, but that of industry and capital. As with all modern capitalist projects, there are some who benefit tremendously, while others are left out or even punished in the process.

As Fr. Morrow stated in the interview we did with him, “Things like tearing down homes, cleaning things out, tearing down buildings, but they went about it with a zeal. It was not originally the plan of the Interstate system as I understood it, but many of the urban planners saw this as an opportunity to clean out some of the undesirable areas.”

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

Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #15: Honoring the First Earth Day Action in Grand Rapids

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s GVSU class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Joey Parks and depicts an action taken by students in Grand Rapids in 1970, during the first Earth Day

Students, from the then Grand Rapids Junior College:

“chose to protest at a meat factory, because of the pollution the business was emitting as a result of how the company cured the meat. The factory had been the target of complaints from neighbors for years because of the pollution.

The owner of the business was cited as saying that he was in the process of addressing the air pollution, but didn’t know what kind of timetable there would be to address the issue.”

Like most of the early Earth Day protests across the country, this student action chose to focus on the perpetrators of pollution, cruelty and ecological destruction.

 

 

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

Grand Rapids, Statues and White Supremacy

There has been a great deal of public conversation in the weeks following the White Supremacist violence in Charlottesville, around the issue of white supremacy and symbols of white supremacy.

In Charlotteville, the decision was made to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and now there are communities looking to take similar actions to remove statues that reflect White Supremacists leaders or values.

If Grand Rapids was to take inventory of statues that support white supremacy, what might we find?

Like most cities, there is no shortage of statues in Grand Rapids, most of which are to honor certain individuals or specific events in history. There have been several new statues added in recent years, based on a project that has been spearheaded by a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Peter Secchia.

However, maybe a good place to start would be to look at the statue that resides in the little pocket park located at the intersection of Cherry, State and Madison streets. The statue is of a generic US soldier who fought in what is generally identified as the Spanish American Wars.

These wars began in 1898, and were for the purpose of US imperialist expansion, where the US militarily occupied Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. Here is what the plaque that accompanies the statue states:

Despite the idealistic rhetoric on the plaque, the US engaged in racist military occupations that resulted in the murder of communities of color in each of those countries, with the most violence taking place in the Philippines, because of the insurrection that ensued to fight the US occupation.

According to Alfred McCoy’s book, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, the US killed 200,000 civilians in the Philippines. McCoy also cites a US General who commented:

It may be necessary to kill half of the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords.

In each case, the US military legacy has left a bloody path that continues to impact the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico today.

Another statue that should be considered for removal because it normalizes white supremacy, would be the statue that sits in Cathedral Square, by St. Andrews Catholic Church. The statue is that of Bishop Baraga and is part of the Community Legends project headed by Peter Secchia. 

Bishop Baraga is credited with bringing Catholicism to Grand Rapids, but his real work was in his efforts to convert the Ojibway people throughout what is now called Michigan. 

Baraga’s interaction with the Ojibway people also paved the way for genocidal policies that Europeans have implemented over the past 150 years in this area.

Those policies include the outright killing of Native people, stealing Native lands, forced relocation and taking Native children from their communities to put them in boarding schools, something the Catholic Church did in Michigan. The history of these boarding schools included denying Native children to speak their language, dress in traditional clothing, subjected to Christian teaching and also physical and sexual abuse, as is well documented in Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools.

This is the legacy of Bishop Baraga, however well intentioned he was, since his commitment to converting the Ojibway paved the way for the harsh policies that followed.

Another statue to consider for removal is the statue in front of the Van Andel Arena that honors Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel. Van Andel, like his Amway co-founder Rich deVos, funded numerous rightwing groups, both religious and secular. 

At the national level Van Andel funded the Heritage Foundation. They wrote the incoming Reagan administrations policy guide Mandate for Change that advocated the elimination of Food Stamps, Medicare, child nutritional assistance, farm assistance, legal services for the poor, and the repeal of a $1,000 tax exemption for the elderly. 

Jay Van Andel was deeply involved in the largest pro-business lobbying group in the country, the US Chamber of Commerce. In fact, Van Andel was Chairman of the national group for a period of time. The Chamber, which often likes to present itself as a defender of the small business owner, is one of the largest electoral contributors in the nation. According to Open Secrets, the US Chamber has spent $1.2 billion on lobbying since 1998. 

In addition, the US Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most consistent climate deniers in the country and has fought hard against any policy that supports working class people. The Chamber has opposed efforts to get paid sick leave policy passed and numerous other pro-worker policies. As Chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, Van Andel made sure that whatever policies were being decided in Washington, they needed to benefit the capitalist class that he was a part of.

Maybe the least known of the groups that Van Andel was deeply involved with, was the National Endowment for Democracy, also known as NED. NED was created during the Reagan years as a mechanism to push neoliberal economic policies around the world and funding governments or political parties that would best serve the interest of the US. Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” 

Jay Van Andel was on the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy and served in that capacity while the NED was funding death squad governments in Central America, funding opposition parties in Nicaragua and supporting pro-US dictatorships throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

These are just three examples of statues that could be removed from Grand Rapids, because of their endorsement of White Supremacist values. Many more could be, and should be, considered for removal. However, what is more important than removing statues, would be for the dismantling of institutions that promote and practice white supremacy in Grand Rapids.

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement, Lies Across Grand Rapids | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #14: When the LGBT ordinance was defeated in Grand Rapids in 1991

EPSON MFP image

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s GVSU class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Alyssa Medina and it depicts two things about the history of the struggle for justice by the LGBTQ community in Grand Rapids in the early 1990s. First, the image that the artist uses is from a news clip about the 1991 Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, where members of the LGBTQ community were lobbying for an update in the anti-discrimination ordinance to include “sexual orientation.”

The other aspect of this print that makes it powerful, is its inclusion of names of some of the businesses at the time, which were publicly against the city ordinance campaign being organized by members of the LGBTQ community in Grand Rapids in the early 1990s. This list was put together by community members and published in The Network’s newsletter, which you can see here on the left.

The campaign to get the Grand Rapids City Commission to include the LGBTQ community in its anti-discrimination ordinance eventually passed in 1994.

EPSON MFP image

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

1888 Dummy Line Riot in Grand Rapids: Church members throw rocks and tear up rail lines

Dutch members of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church were considered pious people. The church members did more than just pray in 1888, when the Street Railway Company of Grand Rapids wanted to put a rail line along Eastern Avenue.

Fearing that the rail line would threaten the church’s ability to worship in peace, church members first petitioned the courts to stop the company from putting rail lines along Eastern Avenue.

This tactic did not work. Shortly after the court’s decision, the company began laying rail lines on Eastern Avenue near the church. Church members rang the bell to summon supporters to go out and greet the railway workers. Some church members tried to remove the rail lines, while others threw rocks at workers in an attempt to deter them from putting in the rail lines.

One source said that some of the church members were able to rip up rail lines and throw “pieces in the frog pond.” (Legendary Locals of Grand Rapids, 2012)

The police arrived by then to stop the church members from doing further damage. However, the very next day, the church bells rang again and this time about 1,000 people came to put a stop to the efforts of the Street Railway Company of Grand Rapids.

Again church members threw rocks and torn up rail lines faster than the workers could put them in. The GRPD showed up again to try to put a stop to the assault on the rail workers, even putting people in the paddy wagons. However, other church members were helping them to escape and avoid arrest.

A total of 3 blocks of tracks were ripped up that day, “some portions of it stand upon the ends of the ties, resembling a huge picket fence.” (from a retrospective piece that ran in the Grand Rapids Press in 1967)

A temporary injunction prevented the company from putting down any new rail lines that summer of 1888. The Kent County Circuit Court paid down a permanent injunction on December 23, 1889, giving the Eastern CRC members a victory.

Posted in Neighborhood organizing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #13: The Klan in Grand Rapids 1925

Last semester, art students in Brett Colley’s GVSU class on printmaking, invited me to come talk about the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. The intent of the class was to have students investigate their own part of a People’s History of Grand Rapids and then make a print based upon an individual social movement or a particular moment in Grand Rapids history.

This print is by Alexis Nixon and focuses on the July 4, 1925 parade of 3,000 Klan members marching in a parade on the westside of Grand Rapids. The print is based on that march by the Klan in 1925 and the imagery reflects how the Klan hide behind the flag and the cross.

For a more detailed article on the history of the KKK in Grand Rapids, go to this link.

Posted in Civil Rights/Freedom Movement, People's History Artwork | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment