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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New print looks at the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike

The 1911 furniture workers strike in Grand Rapids was/is critical to our understanding of both the power of organized labor in this community and the ruthlessness of the capitalist class.

We have written several pieces about the 1911 furniture workers strike, with this overview article containing most of the posts you will find on this site.

We are excited to present this new print by artist and GVSU professor Brett Colley, a print that celebrates the 1911 furniture workers strike. The print not only visually captures the spirit of the 1911 strike, it provides a written summary of the importance of the strike, it provides a brief analysis of the push back from the furniture barons, along with an excerpt from the most vivid documentation of the strike.

Viva Flaherty, a socialist, who worked at the Fountain Street Church, documented the 1911 strike and provided astute analysis of what went down. You can read the 30 page report that Flaherty produced about the strike, but the essence of what she wrote is captured in this new print.


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New artwork looks at the 1967 Riot in Grand Rapids

We have made nearly a dozen posts about the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids in the past several years.

Some of these posts have focused on media coverage of the riot, some on internal documents and some of the posts have looked at other archival items we have come across in our research.

In a post from a year ago, we discovered this: 

At a meeting on July 12, 1967, the head of the Grand Rapids Urban League, Paul I Phillips, communicated to Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police that according to the national Urban League office, Grand Rapids was on a “dangerous list” of cities with racial tensions. Despite the comments from the Urban League, Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Chief of Police “positively denied that riots were possible in the city.”

Two weeks later, at 11pm on July 24th, 1967, the black community rose up against the injustices they had been facing for decades in Grand Rapids, and began to riot.

The latest poster from GVSU student, Hannah Pewee, beautifully depicts the police violence against black youth, which was the spark that set off the riot in 1967. The print/poster also uses a quote from a GR Press editorial to demonstrate how white people viewed African Americans in 1967.

For more information on the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids, checkout this post, which provides an overview with multiple links on the topic.


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New Artwork exposes Settler Colonialism as part of the founding of Grand Rapids

Four years ago we wrote two pieces that looked at the foundation of the oppressive politics which led to the creation of Grand Rapids.

The first piece was entitled More White Lies: Grand Rapids and Settler Colonialism. In that piece we provided a framework for the function of settler colonialism, along with how it was practiced by white settlers, who through legal means, appropriated the land that once belong to the Anishinaabe people.

The second post from four years ago looked at the role that the government and early christian communities played in settler colonialism along the Grand River. The second article is entitled, The Role of the Church & State in Native Displacement in West MI: Settler Colonialism in Grand Rapids Part II.

Using this history and frame, GVSU student Larry Chavez created this print, which is a fabulous visual compliment to the narrative on how Grand Rapids was founded.

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