Cars and the Cost of Driving Study from 1997 in Grand Rapids

It is impossible to ignore the increased traffic congestion in Grand Rapids. While some may cite the road construction projects, the main factors are the increase in population and the overwhelming reliance on the use of cars.

In 1997, several people who were working on transportation issues with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), published a study on the real costs of driving for Grand Rapids and surrounding communities.

Richa, one of the editors of the independent newspaper, known as the FUNdamentalist, was one of the co-authors of the study, and he published a summary of the findings in the July/August 1997 issue of the FUNdamentalist. You can read the entire summary at this link, but we also wanted to post some excerpts from that study.

First, the data from the study can be seen here:

The numbers at the bottom represent a total cost to Grand Rapids at $6 Billion, with $5 Billion for Ottawa County and $15 Billion for Kent County respectively.

In addition, those who contributed to the study had some recommendations, which are included below. It is interesting to note that many of these recommendations have not really been implemented and one could certainly argue that the problems and the costs have only increased in the 22 years since the report was first published.

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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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Anti-Iraq War organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part VI – Local media reporting on the US war in Iraq and hyper-nationalism on the air

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. Part IV focused on student anti-war organizing and an action that took place at Congressman Ehlers office, resulting in several arrests. Part V in this series, we looked at the GRPD’s efforts to monitor and infiltrate anti-Iraq war efforts and the protest that took place on the first day of the US invasion of Iraq. 

In today’s post we look at local media reporting on the US war in Iraq and how one radio station was overtly promoting the war.

Just weeks after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq began, some involved in anti-war organizing decided to challenge the local media with their hyper-nationalistic reporting and cheerleading.

In mid-April, anti-war protestors decided to hold a demonstration outside of the office of Citadel and Clear Channel radio, both of which were not only providing one-sided reporting on the US war against Iraq, but some of their DJs were using their airtime to dismiss and mock those who did not support the war. One DJ in particular, Rich Michaels would mock anti-war demonstrators, saying they were cowards and during the early months of the war would begin his show saying, “Born and raised in America, it’s Michaels in the Morning.”

The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) also conducted a six-week study of the Grand Rapids Press and the three TV news stations (WZZM, WXMI and WOODTV8) from a few days before the war began (March 17) through the first full week in May. The GRIID study looked at sources, framing, historical context and home-front coverage. You can view a 38 minute video analysis of their study, Searching for the Smoking Gun: Local Coverage of the War in Iraq.

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Anti-Iraq War organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part V – GRPD monitoring, infiltration and the first protest once the war began

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. Part IV focused on student anti-war organizing and an action that took place at Congressman Ehlers office, resulting in several arrests. 

Today, we want to look at the GRPD’s efforts to monitor and infiltrate anti-Iraq war efforts and the protest that took place on the first day of the US invasion of Iraq.

The Grand Rapids Press ran an article just prior to the beginning of the war, headlined, “With War looming, GR police prepare for more protests. The Press article conveys that the GRPD was planning on stepping up their activities and training in preparation for demonstrations. What the GR Press article does not discuss is the fact that the GRPD was monitoring the e-mail communications amongst anti-war organizers and sending undercover officers to meetings and protests. We know this because organizers worked with the ACLU to obtain GRPD documents related to the anti-war movement in Grand Rapids. The flyer on the right was a flyer that was created by organizers, but this copy was obtained through an ACLU FOIA request. 

The document below is from the GRPD, acknowledging that they sent undercover officers to anti-war organizing meetings, even though the undercover cops were exposed. The first part of the document discussing coming to a meeting at the IGE office on Wealthy St, then references to a meeting held at the Community Media Center on Bridge St. a few days later, where undercover cops were denied entry to the building.

The first demonstration that took place in Grand Rapids, once the US invasion of Iraq had begun was reported on by the Grand Rapids Press. The story is rather superficial and ignores the fact that the GRPD had undercover cops in the crowd of protestors.

Those involved in organizing the protest were alerted to two guys who were undercover cops, by someone who participated in the demonstration. She was able to ID the cops because she was a translator at the local courthouse and knew lots of the police officers while translating for people who had been in court and seeing the same officers in uniform there to testify against people who had been charged. Below is another document about the woman who had identified the undercover cops and shared that information with organizers. The GRPD states, “any future contact could pose even further problems based on her lack of ethical and moral decision making she has shown thus far.” Here the GRPD demonstrates their arrogance and the belief that they were right to infiltrate the protests.

Exif-JPEG-422

For many people, this was the first time they had encountered police as infiltrators. Some were surprised that the GRPD would engage in these kinds of tactics, which was really a reflection on how limited people’s understanding was on the history of police infiltration of social movements. The result of the GRPD intimidation and infiltration meant that some people chose to not participate in any further anti-war actions, while other people chose to distance themselves from those who had been the primary organizing entities in 2002 and 2003.

To view additional documents that were obtain by the ACLU, go to this page on Media Mouse.

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part IV Student organizing and civil disobedience before the war began

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. 

In today’s post we want to look at what college students were doing to respond to a build up to the US invasion of Iraq, along with an action that took place against Congressman Vern Ehlers support for the US invasion that took place prior to the March 20, 2003 US assault on Iraq.

Beginning in the fall of 2002, college students in the greater Grand Rapids area began to be involved with anti-war organizing efforts. Some of those students were part of the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, but most of them were organizing on their campus. The above article from the Grand Rapids Press attempted to show that college students were becoming active, but the main problem with the article was that they were n’t really talking to students who were actively involved in resisting the US invasion of Iraq.

On March 1st, 2003, an estimated 50 people marched from Aquinas College to the federal building in downtown Grand Rapids to protest the looming war with Iraq. Students from GVSU, Calvin College and Aquinas College made up the bulk of those marching. The march numbers were small, mostly because the action began at noon on a Friday and went til about 4pm, which made it difficult for working class people to participate.

However, some students who participated in the march were wanting to do more. The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a civil disobedience training the following week, which then led to an action at the office of Rep. Vern Ehlers. (GR Press article above)

The GR Press article headline was misleading, since the group didn’t really care if Rep. Ehlers was there or not, they just wanted to make a statement about the impending US invasion of Iraq.

There were a few GVSU students who participated in this action, along with members of the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change. Six people were arrested when they refused to leave the federal building, so the US Federal Marshals called the GRPD.

The group had people there to speak to the news media and to hand out two flyers, one with information about the illegality of the US war/sanctions on Iraq and another handout, which was a poster of a WANTED sign for Rep. Ehlers, which called for his immediate arrest for supporting war crimes.

A few months later, the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a People’s Trial against Congressman Ehlers, with a subpoena issued and the trial proceedings video taped.

In Part V, we will look at organizing to support the Arab American community and Muslims in Grand Rapids and the final action that took place before the US began bombing Iraq on March 20, 2003.

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part III – Women in Black and the false WMD presentation

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explore the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003.

Women in Black was an international movement of women who non-violently opposed war, a movement which was begun by Israeli and Palestinian women. Grand Rapids formed a chapter in late 2002 and began to have a public presence at various demonstrations both before the US invasion of Iraq and afterwards.

On February 4th, about 80 members of Women in Black attended the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to demand that the city adopt a resolution against the war, just like many other cities had already done. Only a few members of Women in Black spoke, while most of the members stood in silence wearing all black. It was a powerful image that generated a great deal of discussion and media coverage, like the Grand Rapids Press article above.

The City of Grand Rapids eventually adopted a resolution, but not until a year after the war had begun and the resolution was much weaker than the version that members of Women in Black and the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change had proposed.

The day after the Women in Black demonstration, on February 5th, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had presented his findings that proved Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). This was the smoking gun that the US administration and the US media had been looking for, and while it was not cause enough to invade Iraq, the US government and the US media used it to win public support for the invasion.

What was interesting about this news was that several Grand Rapids-based news agencies had contacted the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change to get their response to the Powell report. However, the local news agencies didn’t just ask for a response, they took the position that local anti-war organizers were wrong and needed to acknowledge their mistake. Members of the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change never accepted the Powell report as fact, but more importantly, they argued that even if Iraq had WMDs, this was not a valid reason for the US to invade Iraq. The US was in possession of more WMDs than any other country in the world and had used them more times than any other country. The local news media wasn’t interested in facts, they only wanted to make local anti-war groups look bad.

Of course, we all know that years later it was proved that Iraq never had WMDs and that Colin Powell himself admitted that he lied during his February 5th, 2003 presentation to the United Nations. The local news media never apologized for their complicity in reporting Powell’s report as fact.

 

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part II – Confronting Bush in Grand Rapids before the war started

Two weeks ago, we posted Part I of this series on anti-Iraq war organizing in Grand Rapids. Part I dealt with the beginning actions against the build-up to the war, specifically in the fall of 2002. Today, we will focus on the continued resistance at the beginning of 2003, including the demonstration that took place when President Bush came to Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address.

Just prior to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in mid-January, there was an indoor rally held at Plymouth Congregational UCC in Grand Rapids, which included speakers and a send-off for people who were making the trip to Washington, DC for an anti-war march on MLK Day.

The People’s Alliance for Justice and Change were hosting ongoing organizing meetings in preparation for the US invasion/war against Iraq. The meetings were held in numerous locations, but organizers began noticing that there were both GRPD cruisers parked nearby meeting spaces and on several occasions undercover officers attempted to come to the meetings. Organizers were able to spot them and denied them entry into the spaces were the meetings were being held.

Then, it was announced that President George W. Bush was coming to Grand Rapids, the day after his State of the Union address. Organizers began planning an action to confront Bush when he would be in town. The announcement said he would first be at Spectrum Hospital and then take the motorcade to DeVos Hall.

The plan was to line up on both sides of Michigan Street, from just west of Spectrum Hospital, all the way down to the Federal building. The GRPD was told that the demonstration would then move down Michigan Street and turn left onto Monroe. However, organizers had a different plan, which was to turn left on Ottawa, then right on Lyon St and go directly to DeVos Hall.

There were over 100 cops out in force that day in late January, 2003. When the police realized that the demonstrators took a detour, they panicked. Protestors, which numbered over 1,000, began turning right on Lyon Street, near the entrance to the building, when police cruisers jumped the curb and almost ran into the building, in order to block those demonstrating to walk any further. At the same time, dozens of police officers lined up along Lyon St, facing demonstrators, in full riot gear. For nearly 30 minutes there was a shouting match between cops and protestors. What was not known at the time was that the GRPD had created a “Free Speech Zone,” which was something that the Bush administration had begun to use after 9/11. Free Speech Zones were fenced off areas that were designated for protestors, often a significant distance from where those protesting had intended. The same was the case on that day, with the Free Speech Zone create in front of City Hall on Monroe, nearly a block from where Bush would be speaking. (as you can see in the photo here below)

Jack Prince, who was teaching at GVSU at the time, and was at the protest, told us what had happened to him that day.

The protest in 2003 had problems from the beginning. All of the phones were shut off in the sociology and psychology department on campus as a means to thwart communication, since they knew there was talk of organizing or even discussing Bush’s visit. This was denied later, obviously. The group I was in was detained on North side of Michigan Ave in attempt to separate us from other protestors by police. After complaints we had to travel down Michigan to a point to cross. We noticed a lot of plain clothes men in suits with earplugs that were directing the local police as to what to do with shades on and dress suits. They would not interact with us and tried to be invisible but they were clearly in authority and control. As we proceeded down  Ottawa south they attempted to compact us on sidewalk and when we turned West on Lyon there they had a constricted area where they made their move and began grabbing people. My daughter was grabbed and thrown on top of the hood of a car and was arrested. I became very vocal obviously at that point toward the police, but as there was a crowd forming with more witnesses they didn’t arrest me until I was walking up the steps to the ground level of a second story level by what is now the 5/3 bank building. Again in an area that was blocked from vision. My charge was: instigating a riot. A serious Felony Charge. People at GVSU, meaning  the administration higher ups, saw me with a GVSU coat I had on in the news coverage and I was contacted by the Coaching department and they shared their displeasure which led to my departure from the school. After some time and organization with others who were arrested the charges were dropped. The ACLU was helping us and and really were instrumental in the charges being dropped after approximately a month. 

In addition to the few who were arrested on Lyon Street, there was a whole other group that chose not to march down to the Free Speech Zone and began marching in the streets through downtown Grand Rapids. The GRPD began arresting people for marching in the street and an estimated 17 people in all were arrested that day. However, as Jack Prince shared in his story, ACLU lawyers got involved and most people had the charges dropped. Those who did not have their charges dropped were ultimately charged with misdemeanors.

In Part III, we will explore other actions that took place in Grand Rapids prior to the US invasion of Iraq.

 

 

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