West Michigan Nuclear Resisters took part in campaigns throughout the state in the 1980s through the early 1990s – Part II

(In Part I, we looked at campaigns against nuclear weapons production and deployment in Michigan.) no-nukes

Grand Rapids also had nuclear connections to the Military Industrial Complex. The Defense Logistics Agency had (and still has) a branch location in the office building at 678 Front St. NW, in Grand Rapids, right along the river.

The Defense Logistics Agency’s main function was to channel military contracts to companies in West Michigan. In the mid-1980s, local activists were able to track down the location of the office, based on Department of Defense data.

Between 1987 and 1989, numerous actions were taken at the Front St. office location as an attempt to raise awareness about nuclear weapons contracts in West Michigan and to directly disrupt business as usual at this local cog in the Military Industrial Complex.

Most of the action involved the distribution of information about the Defense Logistics Agency to the rest of the tenants in the building and to people walking or driving by, since the office is located at the westside of the Sixth Street Bridge. On several occasions banners were hung off the Sixth Street Bridge calling attention to the technical work being performed inside in preparation for a nuclear holocaust.

However, most of the actions were in the form of resistance, where activists went inside the building to disrupt the daily workings at the Defense Logistics Agency. On one occasion, activists went inside and began putting flyers on all the desks or handing them to clerical staff about the dangers of nuclear weapons production and the horror of nuclear weapons being used. According to one of those involved in the direct action efforts (who choses to remain anonymous), the clerical staff were rather sympathetic to the message, but those in administrative positions would become immediately confrontational.

On several occasions activists would not leave the office when asked to by office personnel. However, activists refused to leave the building and would stay and continue to make statements about the evils of nuclear weapons. Office staff at the Defense Logistics Agency would then call Federal Building security guards to come over and physically remove those involved in the action. Sometime activists would not cooperate and had to be carried or drug out of the building.Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.25.23 AM

One other major action was when activists planned to enter the building and pour their own blood on military documents they had seen when disrupting activities in the office. However, the day that activists had planned to enter the building to pour blood on military contracts, the building was secured and only those who worked in the building could enter.

Those involved in the action decided to pour the blood on the steps of the building (pictured above). The demonstration lasted for several hours with activists handing out information to people entering the building. During this process, people were unaware of the blood on the steps of the building and ended up bringing blood into the building on the bottom of their shoes. One activist, Richa, said that this was symbolic of the bloodshed brought about by US Militarism.Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.25.51 AM

In addition to handing out literature, the Reverend George Heartwell (pictured here at the top of the steps) performed a sort of exorcism of the building, a tactic that had been used by other activists around the country to dramatize the horror of nuclear weaponry and militarism.

Another example of nuclear resistance that took place in Grand Rapids in 1990-91, know as the Homes Not Bombs Campaign. This campaign was designed to educate the public about the cost of nuclear weapons production and how many homes could be built with the same amount of money. The other part of the campaign was to confront lawmakers who continued to vote in favor of weapons production.

The Homes Not Bombs Campaign in Grand Rapids lasted for over a year with their education efforts, plus there was a direct action component that lasted 2 weeks in the summer of 1990. Grand Rapids activists built shanties, like the one pictured here, and slept in front of the federal building on Michigan street. During the two weeks of action, activists handed out information on the campaign, had conversation with people who walked past the federal building, held workshops and some activists committed civil disobedience by having a sit in in the offices of former Congressman Paul Henry and former US Senator Carl Levin.Homes Not Bombs

During the 2 week action, activist also built additional shanties during the night, when there was only one security guard inside. Sometimes those involved with this action built the shanty around some of the large exterior columns of the federal building on the Michigan Ave. side of the building. Using power tools, they bolted a wood frame around the columns and then added cardboard, which had messages written on the outside for the public to see.

The next day, federal building security personnel would recruit maintenance people from the building to tear down the shanties, with activists only turning around and building more the next night.

This campaign and the shanty town action also involved many people who were radicalized during the so-called US War in the Gulf, which began in January of 1991 and only lasted 45 days. For many new activists, this was the first time they witnessed the human and economic cost of US militarism in what some media scholars refer to as the first 24-hour TV war. 

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2 Responses to West Michigan Nuclear Resisters took part in campaigns throughout the state in the 1980s through the early 1990s – Part II

  1. Pingback: 1990 Flyer makes the link between US militarism and Housing Justice in the US | Grand Rapids People's History Project

  2. Pingback: Artwork highlights a People’s History in Grand Rapids – Print #17: People Resisting Nuclear War in Grand Rapids | Grand Rapids People's History Project

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