Street Theater has been a tactic used by social movements for decades as a means to dramatize the message of a particular campaign.
Much of the modern day street theater can be linked to the work of Brazilian artist Augusto Boal, credited with starting the famous Theater of the Oppressed.
One example of using street theater in Grand Rapids occurred in 1984, the day after Ronald Reagan was re-elected as President of the United States.
The Stop the Invasion Campaign (STIC), organized an intense form of street theater in Grand Rapids as a way to draw attention to the kind of brutal policies that the US government was supporting in Central America.
The Stop the Invasion Campaign staged a series of mock kidnappings throughout Grand Rapids, where hooded men would drag off someone, throw them in a van and drive off. People who witnessed the mock kidnappings were not sure what was actually taking place, but moments later other STIC members handed out information sheets explaining that what people just witnessed was a dramatization of what death-squads do in Guatemala and El Salvador everyday.
The mock kidnapping began on Monroe Avenue, right in front of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel cafe, where a van pulled up to a screeching halt and hooded men jumped out and grab a woman. The staged kidnappings then moved to the old Monroe Mall, where Father Paul Milanowski was taken. Milanowski was part of a regular Wednesday vigil that took place on the old Monore Mall against US policies in Central America.
After the priest was kidnapped, STIC members then went into the GRCC cafeteria and took a student, climbing over tables to grab her (pictured here). The next stop was in front of a Meijer store on Kalamazoo & 28th street, where someone in a wheelchair was dragged into the van, with his wheelchair left behind and witnesses left in shock.
The last mock kidnapping took place at the County building, where Kent County Commissioner Liz Oppewal was taken during a County Commission meeting.
These actions all began at noon and the STIC members and supporters ended up in front of the Federal building for a protest that included about 40 people.
The street theater was an effective tool to get both the general public and other activists thinking about the daily violence in Central America that was being paid for by our tax dollars. The timing of the event was also part of a larger STIC strategy to resist US policies in Central America, which included the ongoing threat of a direct US military invasion of Nicaragua.