Beginning in the late 1970s, many people in the US began to learn about the dangers of nuclear weapons and possibility of nuclear war.
The US and there former Soviet Union were engaged in a nuclear arms race, with both countries increasing their nuclear weapons stockpiles and placing these weapons of mass destruction all across the planet.
A movement to challenge the proliferation of nuclear weapons was born and involved not only seasoned activists, but included physicians, social workers, scientists and teachers. Groups like Physicians for Social Responsibility help push an anti-nuclear agenda that focused on getting the US to sign on to an arms reduction treaty as the beginning stages of a total nuclear disarmament campaign.
In Grand Rapids, a local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Institute for Global Education (IGE) and various faith-based groups formed a coalition to educate the community and organize for nuclear disarmament. The group pictured above, were some of the main organizers of the Grand Rapids campaign. This picture was taken in front of the YWCA building on Sheldon SE, where IGE had an office in the early 80s.
The educational campaign focused on hosting forums, creating and distributing literature, screening films like If You Love This Planet and holding regular demonstrations in public spaces in order to engage the community. One tactic was to get communities, organizations or congregations to declare themselves Nuclear Free Zones, as is pictured here. The Nuclear Free Zones were part of the Ground Zero Campaign, to help people understand what would happen to communities hit by a nuclear bomb.
Another tactic used to draw attention to the harsh realities of a nuclear attack was to hold a Die-In on the First Friday of the month in downtown Grand Rapids. At noon, a siren goes off as a test, but it is the same siren that would be used if an impending disaster would happen, such as a nuclear attack. People involved in the Freeze Campaign would be on the old Monroe Mall downtown and when the siren went off they would scream and fall to the ground. Other members of the Freeze Campaign would hand out flyers to people walking by to let them know what would actually happen if a nuclear bomb fell on Grand Rapids.
Over time, some of these same activists would use the old weather ball (formerly located on top of the Michigan National building) as a way to draw attention to nuclear war and nuclear winter by saying, WEATHER BALL BLACK, NUCLEAR ATTACK.
However, the organizing against nuclear war and nuclear proliferation by people in Grand Rapids involved taking action outside of West MI. Several campaigns involved people confronting nuclear madness where the bombs were deployed and where the bombs were made.
In August of 1982, several people were arrested at the K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, which was a Strategic Air Command base in the UP. Barb Lester, Matt Goodheart and Lisa Markucki, all from Grand Rapids, were arrested for trespassing at the military base.
Other campaigns targeted weapons manufacturers, such as Williams International in Walled Lake, MI and Lear Siegler, located in the southeastern part of Grand Rapids. Numerous people were involved in campaigns to shut down production of nuclear weapons at both of these factories, using educational campaigns, vigils and direct action to stop the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction.
The Freeze Campaign hit its peak however, in 1982, with the mobilization of over 1 million people in New York City during a United Nations gathering. Several people from Grand Rapids participated in that march, with high visibility from the Institute for Global Education, as seen in the pictures below. There were also 2 women from Grand Rapids who were arrested at the massive Nuclear Freeze march in New York, Lori and Beth Smalligan.
While the Nuclear Freeze Movement did not stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons by the US, it did create a new generation of activists who went on to be involved in the Central American Solidarity and the Anti-Apartheid movements of the 1980s.
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