In the summer of 1990, it began clear that the US government was beginning to marginalize Iraq, with the intent of going to war with the Middle Eastern nation.
The US was claiming that Iraq’s border dispute with Kuwait was an act of aggression and by late Summer of 1990, the US began a military build-up against Iraq, getting Saudi permission to use their country as a base in which to begin an invasion.
Activists in Grand Rapids began holding weekly demonstrations in front of the federal building in downtown, sometime in September of 1990. The weekly demonstrations grew in size between September and the New Year, as the Bush Administration began to ramp up campaign to justify an invasion of Iraq.
The US news media was going along with US government’s propaganda and also began to beat the war drums. CNN, which was a fairly recent player in news market, became the first 24 hour news platform and made the US build-up to the war in Iraq its main focus, providing daily coverage of US military press briefings and creating digital graphics for promoting the Gulf War.
The US military assault on Iraq, known as Operation Desert Storm, began as the national known as Martin Luther King Jr. day was being celebrated. Once the war started, the Pentagon, along with most major news outlets began framing the issue to the public as Support for the Troops. Many cities across the country, including Grand Rapids, decorated their downtown districts with yellow ribbons tied on trees or lamp posts. Such displays was meant to silence any anti-war sentiment and equate being agains the US war as being against the US troops.
There were protests every Monday in Grand Rapids, mostly in front of the Federal building, but sometimes those in the demonstrations would march. The picture above is a student-led march that began at the Federal building, but continued throughout the downtown area. These demonstrations lasted until late February of 1991, when the US ended their military attack against Iraq.
During those 6 weeks of protesting, there were other actions that were organized in Grand Rapids:
- In late January the Institute for Global Education organized a Teach-In on the Gulf War, which provided sessions on a history of US foreign policy in that region and workshops on civil disobedience.
- At a GVSU hosted MLK Day (downtown GR campus) there was a workshop done on US militarism and racism, with an emphasis on what is referred to as an economic draft. An economic draft, means that a disproportionate amount of black and latino/latinx youth were joining the US military because of the lack of work and education opportunities.
- There were also workshops being done in Grand Rapids with college and high schools students about how to become a conscientious objector or war resister if a draft was re-instated and to provide people with more information on being a CO or war resister.
However, since the US military portion of the war ended so quickly, it made it difficult to build a mass movement in Grand Rapids to oppose the war. In Part II we will look at actions that were taken by activists as a direct result of the US war in the Gulf, even though these actions were taken later in the year.