Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part VII – What kind of organizing happened after the US invasion/occupation in Iraq had begun?

In our last post in this series, we looked at demonstrations agains the Grand Rapids-based news media, their cheerleading of the US occupation of Iraq and a report on how the dominate daily news media was reporting on the US occupation of Iraq during a 7 week period. 

Shortly after the US invasion/occupation of Iraq began in March of 2003, many people felt the need to publicly show their support for US soldiers, which included not criticizing the US invasion/occupation. This response was partly due to the pressure in 1991 during the US War in the Gulf, where the US administration and many in the commercial news media were equating failure to support the war then, with failure to support the troops.

There was also a major shift in the kinds of tactics and strategies there were used by various anti-war groups in Grand Rapids. Some felt that the most important thing after the war had started was to focus on the 2004 election, while others felt it was important to “witness” against the war with vigils advocating for non-violence. Other groups felt it was important to continue to pressure politicians who supported the war, using demonstrations and education to call out those politicians. Lastly, there were some groups who felt it was necessary to directly impact the US war machine, which meant exposing the companies that were profiting from the war, as well as engaging in counter-recruitment work, thus reducing the number of new soldiers the US military was attempting to recruit.

In the upcoming posts in this series on anti-Iraq war organizing in Grand Rapids, we will look at the various strategies being used up until the 2008 election, when all anti-Iraq war organizing ceased. In today’s post we’ll look at the ongoing protests against the Bush administration, specifically actions that took place in in West Michigan when anyone from the Bush administration came to the area.

Just before the 4th of July weekend (2003) in Grand Rapids, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that he would be visiting. There were two separate protests, one organized by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, focusing more on US war crimes and Cheney’s war profiteering, while the other protest was organized by people involved with the Democratic Party (see image above from the GR Press).

The following July, President Bush came to Grand Rapids, while campaigning for his re-election, speaking at a closed event at the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse. There was an organized protest outside of the event, an action organized by the Republicrat (un)Welcoming Committee. At the same time that Bush spoke at GRCC, just around the corner on the corner of Division and Lyon there was another protest, this time in the form of street theater, with Billionaires for Bush, see in this video.

In early November of 2004, Bush again came to Grand Rapids to campaign and an estimated 100 people showed up to protest him and the US occupation of Iraq. There were many people there who were with the Democratic Party, but there was also a noise bloc, people playing instruments and making lots of noise, which annoyed the Bush supporters going in to DeVos Hall.

The following Spring of 2005, President Bush announced he was coming to give the commencement speech at Calvin College. Students and faculty at Calvin objected and even took out an ad in the Grand Rapids Press with over 150 signatures objecting to Bush speaking at the Calvin commencement.

On the day of the Calvin commencement, there were hundreds of people lined up on the East Beltline, protesting Bush’s visit. Several groups were calling for the protest, but the group calling themselves Against Empire was the most organized with large banners (seen here)

In September of 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney again came to West Michigan, this time attending a GOP fundraiser at the home of Peter Secchia in East Grand Rapids. The group ACTIVATE organized an action near Secchia’s home, but were confronted by police and told that they could not protest since the City of East Grand Rapids had a “no picketing ordinance,” which was later contested by the ACLU and the ordinance was done away with.

In April of 2007, President Bush came back to the area, this time speaking at the auditorium of East Grand Rapids High School. Former CIA agent Ray McGovern was in town and spoke at an anti-war rally before Bush arrived, only to be greeted by at least 1,000 protestors. There were many people unaffiliated at the demonstration, but it was organized by ACTIVATE, which distributed a 10 Reasons to Oppose the Iraq War flyer. ACTIVATE also had several large banners and attempted to challenge and bypass the police efforts to create “free speech zones.”

Vice President Dick Cheney came one more time to Grand Rapids, in September of 2007. Cheney spoke at the Gerald R. Ford Museum and another protest was organized by ACTIVATE, with an estimated 75 people participating in the action in the early part of a weekday.

In our next post we will look at anti-Iraq war actions that targeted Senators Debbie Stabenow and Levin, along with Congressman Vern Ehlers.

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