As we mentioned in a post from February 11, 2019, after September 11, 2001, for many people it became difficult to actively speak out against US foreign policy, whether that was war or economic policy
None of the traditional anti-war groups in Grand Rapids, were willing to criticize the US bombing of Afghanistan until months after the US war/occupation had begun.
The group People’s Alliance for Justice & Change didn’t hesitate to speak out and began forming a plan as to what could be done in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the US intent to wage war on Afghanistan.
After September 11, 2001, the US quickly moved to take action to blame someone for the terrorist attack. In October of 2001, the US began bombing Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11.
What follows are a list of things that people organized between September 2001 and September 2002:
- The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a “teach-in” at Aquinas College to expose US policy in the region, emphasizing that if people were going to understand both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, they would need to understand the historical context of US foreign policy. The teach-in–dubbed “September 11th: Causes and Just Responses.” There were 150 people who spent the better part of a Saturday at the Teach-In.
- The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change also created an Afghanistan Reader, which was a collection of documents that provided people solid historical and current context for the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. It was 30 pages long.
- A march was organized in response to the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan, a march which began at Veteran’s Park in downtown Grand Rapids, where police came to intimidate protestors, even asking those protesting “how they could be against the US at this time.” It was rare to have cops make that kind of commentary at a demonstration, at least in Grand Rapids.
- This same march also went to WOOD TV 8, the NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, to protest the hyper-nationalistic coverage since 9/11, specifically about Afghanistan.
Limited Local Media Coverage of Dissent
Media coverage of such dissent was limited, both locally and nationally. the Grand Rapids Press ran one article in 2001 on protests against the invasion (“We don’t believe in bombing’ – Peace activists with roots in the Vietnam War protests know they are a vocal minority in opposing Afghanistan attacks,” October 30, 2001). Its decision to place the article on the front page generated a large number of calls and letters according to The Press(“Press’ coverage of war protesters draws readers’ ire”, November 4, 2001), prompting The Press to defend its decision:
“After the complaints, Andy [News Editor Andy Angelo] checked our A-1 pattern for October. No other photo could be described as a directly critical view of U.S policy. And 21 days out of 31, we ran page-dominant news photographs that would have to be characterized as supportive of the war effort or displays of patriotic emotion.”
Even in its defense of running a front page photo of a protestor, the Grand Rapids Press didn’t hesitate to admit that it had a heavy pro-military bias.
A study, the period after the bombing started (75 day study), by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), showed that the local media’s coverage of the Afghanistan War overwhelmingly relied on government and military sources.
- After the march and protest in October 2001 against the US war/occupation of Afghanistan, there was a 24-hour vigil and fast that took place on Division near Fulton in downtown Grand Rapids to draw attention to what was happening. People took shifts being outside on the street with signs and information to share with people.
- Just after the Thanksgiving break, there was a documentary shown in the studio of GRTV, which featured long-time critic of US foreign policy Noam Chomsky addressing US terrorism around the world.
- In December, a benefit concert was organized, where 6 bands donated their time to play to raise money for humanitarian aid for people in Afghanistan. The concert was broadcast live on the cable access channel and between bands there would be information shared by organizers on human rights reporting coming out of Afghanistan, analysis of the US military occupation and how people could get involved in resisting the war. Over $1,000 was raised, all of which went to two groups in Afghanistan doing war relief work.
- In 2002, people who doing a great deal of solidarity work with the Muslim and Arab American community in West Michigan. The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change collected several thousands signatures from allies stating that they would stand with the Arab-American and Muslim communities. Some allies provided accompaniment to those communities who were targets of hate by individuals and state violence.
- A second Afghan War reader was created in the summer of 2002, followed by a second Teach-In, with some 250 people in attendance. This Teach-In also included a critique of US support for Israel and the threat of war with Iraq coming from the Bush administration.