Anti-Contra Aid action from 1986 in Grand Rapids

As we have mentioned in numerous postings before, there was an active Central American Solidarity Movement in the 1980s, resisting the US wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and the US funding of the Contra War in Nicaragua.

US aid to the Contras continued for most of the 1980s, even if that aid was so-called humanitarian. US Congressman Paul Henry, who represented the 3rd Congressional District) continued to vote for aid to the Contras, which resulted in a series of actions taking place at this office in the federal building or outside the federal building.

The article below, which is from the Grand Rapids Press (June 26, 1986) involved several members of the Koinonia House, who placed crosses in the law of the federal building, with names of Nicaraguan civilians, as a way to draw attention to the US-back Contra War in that Central American Country.

During the placement of the crosses, the federal building security people turned the sprinklers on those protesting, thinking that would deter them from taking action. It did not have the effect that the Federal Building security guards thought it would.

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Print honors the legacy of Cole Dorsey and West MI for Animals

Nearly three years ago we interviewed Cole Dorsey, one of the activist and organizers with the 1990s group known as West Michigan for Animals. 

This new print, from GVSU student Mackenzie Fox, both celebrates and honors the legacy of Cole and those involved with West Michigan for Animals.

Cole was only 13 when he joined the animal rights movement, but his age did not limit his ability to take a stand and use direct action as a means to achieve justice for animals. At some point, Dorsey even out grew the awareness building focus of West Michigan for Animals and began to move in the direction of animal liberation.

As Cole stated in the 2015 interview:

There was also direct action going on at that time that was not sanctioned by WMFA or undertaken by any “organized” group.  I know that roadkill was delivered to the steps of fur stores and that fur coats were damaged on the racks of their stores. I know that “blood” was splashed on their windows and windows were broken. I also know that more than one fur coat got splashed with “blood” while being worn in public in Grand Rapids. I believe all these actions collectively, coupled with society’s changing attitude towards fur, had a major impact on the fur industry in GR. Today I think Leigh’s in East Grand Rapids is the only store selling furs these days.

The print from Fox not only captures the spirit of the kind of activism that Dorsey was involved in, it provides a brief narrative about the animal liberation activist.


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Print Celebrates 1960s Freedom Rider from Grand Rapids, Walter Bergman

Over two years ago, we posted an article about Walter Bergman, a university professor from Michigan, who was badly beaten while participating in the Freedom Rides in 1960.

In that article we honored the commitment and sacrifice that Dr. Bergman made to support and defend the civil rights of African Americans. We continue to honor the sacrifice and commitment of Dr. Bergman, with this new print from GVSU student Nathan Knoth.

The print beautifully depicts the 1961 Freedom Riders in both text and image, using one of the most well know images of the Freedom Riders, where a bus was set on fire by White Supremacists while the bus was in Alabama.

This is an important legacy in the struggle for Civil Rights and we all should celebrate those from West Michigan who chose to fight institutionalized racism by participating in the Freedom Rides.


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The Black Community made demands of the Grand Rapids Police Department in 1970

There is ample evidence that African Americans in Grand Rapids have always been the target of intimidation, harassment and violence from law enforcement.

This history plagues the black community today, with recent incidents of police traumatizing black youth who were being held at gunpoint by the GRPD or the recent study acknowledging the disproportionate racial profiling of black drivers by those same cops.

If one reads either African Americans in the Furniture City (Jelks) or A City Within a City (Robinson), it is easy to see that the black community in Grand Rapids has experienced a great deal of harm from the GRPD, from the end of the 19th Century through the present.

Another example of this reality, can be found in 1970, when several members of the African American community submitted a position paper on April 30th of that year, to the Grand Rapids City Commission.

Based on a short article in the Grand Rapids Press, we know that some of the demands from the black community were that the city should hire a black aide to Police Superintendent Robert Anderson, the withdrawal of the police tactical unit from the inner city until an investigation of alleged police brutality is completed and a request that any time there is a request for a cruiser in the black community, if there are no black policemen available, do not send any.

Now, it is important to put these demands into context. First, the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids, was initiated when police used excessive force against several black youth after  pulling them over in what was believed to be a stolen car

For the next three days, the City of Grand Rapids became highly militarized by law enforcement agencies, including the GRPD, the Michigan State Police and members of the National Guard. People were shot at by the police during the riot, One hundred and eighty African Americans were arrested during the 67 riot, mostly for curfew violations. The City of Grand Rapids imposed a curfew, which was primarily enforced in the near southeast part of the city, which is documented in the City’s document called, Anatomy of a Riot.

In addition, in 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense had release their 10 Point Program, which included point seven, “We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.” 

In other words, the demands from the Grand Rapids black community was fairly consistent with the rest of the black community around the country, based on the lived experience of black people as targets of police violence.

The Grand Rapids Press article does say that, “A special commission meeting tentatively approved hiring a black aide and withdrawal of the tactical unit and called for a committee to work out solutions to the demands.

Unfortunately, the Press does not explore more about the demands and what it meant at the time. Instead, the Press reporter chose to focus on tensions between those who presented the demands, 3rd Ward Commissioner Lyman Parks and Franklin Gordon, director of the department of Community Relations.In fact, roughly two-thirds of the article was devote to these “conflicts,” instead of exploring the demands from the black community that challenged police presence and police violence in black neighborhoods.

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Artwork depicts the very public display of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids 1925

A new print by Jamari Taylor, depicts the blatant display of White Supremacy in Grand Rapids in 1925, when the KKK organized a parade on the city’s westside.

This new artwork communicates a powerful message about the Klan, which turned out 3,000 members who marched down Bridge St and ended up at John Ball Park.

The print includes text taken from the original posting from this site, but what makes it so powerful is that the buildings in the background of the print are situated in contemporary downtown Grand Rapids. You can see the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, what appears to be St. Mary’s hospital and another building with a dollar sign above it. The dollar sign could easily represent the amount of money that white investors and developers have spent to “revise” the downtown area, to the exclusion of African Americans and other communities of color.

The print keeps the traditional hooded white robes images, but makes the connection between 1925 and 2018, showing that white supremacy and institutionalized racism continues to dominate the city.

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Two Prints honor 1990s Feminist organization – Womyn’s Action Network

The Womyn’s Action Network (WAN) only lasted for three years (1992 – 1995) in Grand Rapids, but their impact was significant. 

Two new prints honor the work of WAN. The first print, created by Natalie Schunk, pays homage to the general spirit of the vision that the Womyn’s Action Network came to embody.

This print reflects the beauty, dignity and creativity that made up the ethos of the Womyn’s Action Network. The visually driven print captures the essence of the organization, both in image and the few words that accompany it…….All Bodies Deserve Respect and Fight Back Patriarchal Systems of Oppression.

The second print, created by Leticia, honors an annual event that WAN organized, the Dick & Jane awards. The whole idea of the Dick & Jane awards was to look critically at gender representation in media, both news and advertising.

The Womyn’s Action Network gave out Dick awards for the most misogynistic forms of media representation, and the Jane awards went to examples where women were represented as smart, powerful, confident and creative.

The Dick & Jane awards event was both informative and fun, since WAN was deeply committed to celebrating women, often using satire in the tradition of the Guerrilla Girls.


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New Print captures the anti-war organizing during the 2003 US invasion/occupation of Iraq

In 2003, there was a group called the Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice, which was the main anti-war organizing group in Grand Rapids opposing the US invasion/occupation of Iraq.

This group had begun to organize in response to the 2001 US invasion/bombing of Afghanistan and expanded its resistance work to Iraq in 2002, when the Bush administration began threatening Iraq and calling them responsible for 9/11.

The Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice had organized teach-ins, created anti-war publications, demonstrations, marches and even civil disobedience at the office of Congressman Vern Ehlers, who represented the 3rd Congressional District.

After the action at Congressman Ehlers’ office, the Grand Rapids People’s Alliance for Justice organized a trial and brought charges against Rep. Ehlers for war crimes, including the torture and murder of Iraqi civilians. This creative action was called, The Trial of Vern Ehlers, and was video taped with actors, but was based upon actual data and reports from various human rights organizations monitoring the US war in Iraq.

This print depicts that creative action against Congressman Ehlers and was produced by Chelsea Carlson.

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