Grand Rapids participated in the 2001 FTAA protests in Quebec City

In the first major hemispheric action against anti-globalization action since the 1999 Seattle WTO protest, at least 15 people from Grand Rapids traveled to Quebec City, Canada to participate in the protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas  (FTAA) Summit.

The FTAA summit was an attempt to create a trade policy, similar to NAFTA for the entire Western hemisphere. Labor groups, indigenous communities, environmentalists, anarchists and other members of civil society converged on Quebec in April of 2001 to say no to the heads of state that were meeting in the old part of Quebec City, in an area that was completed walled off to the public.

There was 10 foot fencing around the area that government officials were meeting, with several thousand cops in riot gear, using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against people who were trying to shut down the Summit on the Americas.

At the same time that this gathering was taking place, a parallel summit was being held by thousands of people from all over the Americas, discussing indigenous sovereignty, environmental protections, worker rights and general human rights concerns. This civil society summit had dozens of speakers with a simultaneous translation system set up so whether you spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, French or an indigenous language, everyone could hear what was being said.

Some of the people who went to the FTAA protest in Quebec City produced this video, which was aired on GRTV just after returning from the Summit on the Americas in April of 2001.

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New print looks at the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike

The 1911 furniture workers strike in Grand Rapids was/is critical to our understanding of both the power of organized labor in this community and the ruthlessness of the capitalist class.

We have written several pieces about the 1911 furniture workers strike, with this overview article containing most of the posts you will find on this site.

We are excited to present this new print by artist and GVSU professor Brett Colley, a print that celebrates the 1911 furniture workers strike. The print not only visually captures the spirit of the 1911 strike, it provides a written summary of the importance of the strike, it provides a brief analysis of the push back from the furniture barons, along with an excerpt from the most vivid documentation of the strike.

Viva Flaherty, a socialist, who worked at the Fountain Street Church, documented the 1911 strike and provided astute analysis of what went down. You can read the 30 page report that Flaherty produced about the strike, but the essence of what she wrote is captured in this new print.


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New artwork looks at the 1967 Riot in Grand Rapids

We have made nearly a dozen posts about the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids in the past several years.

Some of these posts have focused on media coverage of the riot, some on internal documents and some of the posts have looked at other archival items we have come across in our research.

In a post from a year ago, we discovered this: 

At a meeting on July 12, 1967, the head of the Grand Rapids Urban League, Paul I Phillips, communicated to Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police that according to the national Urban League office, Grand Rapids was on a “dangerous list” of cities with racial tensions. Despite the comments from the Urban League, Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Chief of Police “positively denied that riots were possible in the city.”

Two weeks later, at 11pm on July 24th, 1967, the black community rose up against the injustices they had been facing for decades in Grand Rapids, and began to riot.

The latest poster from GVSU student, Hannah Pewee, beautifully depicts the police violence against black youth, which was the spark that set off the riot in 1967. The print/poster also uses a quote from a GR Press editorial to demonstrate how white people viewed African Americans in 1967.

For more information on the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids, checkout this post, which provides an overview with multiple links on the topic.


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New Artwork exposes Settler Colonialism as part of the founding of Grand Rapids

Four years ago we wrote two pieces that looked at the foundation of the oppressive politics which led to the creation of Grand Rapids.

The first piece was entitled More White Lies: Grand Rapids and Settler Colonialism. In that piece we provided a framework for the function of settler colonialism, along with how it was practiced by white settlers, who through legal means, appropriated the land that once belong to the Anishinaabe people.

The second post from four years ago looked at the role that the government and early christian communities played in settler colonialism along the Grand River. The second article is entitled, The Role of the Church & State in Native Displacement in West MI: Settler Colonialism in Grand Rapids Part II.

Using this history and frame, GVSU student Larry Chavez created this print, which is a fabulous visual compliment to the narrative on how Grand Rapids was founded.

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2006 Immigration March was the largest in Grand Rapids History

(On March 26, 2006, I was writing for Media Mouse and reported on an immigrant-led march that was a response to proposed anti-Immigration legislation that year. What follows is what I wrote and a brief analysis of the Grand Rapids Press coverage.)

Thousands of people marched in favor of immigrant rights today in Grand Rapids as part of ongoing organizing efforts against anti-immigrant legislation being debated by the federal government. The march, which went from Garfield Park to Calder Plaza, was the largest march in recent history, far exceeding a 2004 march for immigrant rights that was attended by more than 400 people.

In Grand Rapids today, nearly 10,000 people marched in favor of immigrant rights and against legislation that would criminalize undocumented workers. Their signs read “We are ALL Immigrants,” “We do the Work,” and “We are not Terrorists.”

Starting at Garfield Park on the south side of Grand Rapids people from all over West Michigan came together from all walks of life. There were ministers, small business owners, parents, students, but most of the people who gathered today were workers. Several people I talked to said they took the day off from work, because “this issue is more important than a day’s pay.” Economics was one of the 2 main reasons that people mentioned for taking action on this issue.

A farm worker named Vicente said, “people don’t realize how important we are to the economy…..we pick the fruit, we do the work!” Teresa Hendricks from the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project says that “if the current undocumented workforce was arrested the economy locally would shut down. We estimate that migrant workers generate about $10 billion annually in West Michigan.”

The other issue that people kept repeating was the fact that if the proposed legislation went through it would be “a grave injustice.” The possibility that millions of people could be jailed for nothing more than being undocumented, generated lots of angry energy at the march. People yelled, chanted, and carried hundreds of Mexican flags. Luis Beteta, head of the Catholic Church’s Hispanic Ministry office said that “this proposed legislation itself was criminal. People should never be considered illegal just because a policy says so.” When asked about people who are not directed at risk with this proposed legislation Beteta said “in Nazi Germany many people said this doesn’t concern me and look what happened. It affects all of us. We are all Immigrants.”

The march ended at the Calder Plaza, where several thousand people listened to speakers from a variety of different community organizations. Speakers highlighted the contributions of immigrants to US society, discussed HR 4437, and highlighted the continued need for legislative proposals such as the Kennedy-McCain Immigration Reform Act and the DREAM Act. Similar events were held across the country in cities such as HoustonPhoenix, and Salinas over the weekend with the largest of these rallies drawing between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people in Los Angeles.

Grand Rapids Press Coverage

The Grand Rapids Press coverage wasn’t awful, but it was limiting in what information was shared. First, the coverage does not center the voices and perspectives of the immigrant community that participated in the march. Second, the coverage focused too much on the theme of, “we are not terrorists.” Third, the coverage underestimated the numbers that turned out. The GR Press relied on the GRPD for an estimation and put it at 7,000, while organizers told me they believed it was closer to 10,000. Lastly, the GR Press coverage did not provide any larger analysis of why so many turned out for the march and how the mass turnout was replicated across the country. The lack of context also failed to acknowledge that there had been several organizing meetings in the months leading up to the march, meetings that were public with 200 – 300 each meeting.


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Farmworker Solidarity action in Grand Rapids – 1983

Last week we posted a piece on efforts in Grand Rapids in the late 1970’s to provide support and solidarity with migrant farmworkers across the country. These efforts were organized through the group, Western Michigan Friends of the Farm Workers.

We obtained archival documents of this movement work from the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University. There were a few other documents that we found, documents from the same group, the Western Michigan Friends of the Farm Workers.

These documents are from their newsletter in 1983.

On page 1 it states that those supporting the national boycott from the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) will be holding “human billboard” action on July 28th in Grand Rapids in front of Monroe Plaza at noon.

This action was in conjunction with a 527 mile march that FLOC organized, a march that was ending at the Campbell Soup Company headquarters in New Jersey.

On page 2 of the document, it states that FLOC has been on strike since 1978 in the tomato fields of northwest Ohio, because of low wages and working conditions. In 1983, wages for those picking tomatoes in Ohio were $1.96 an hour, with poor housing and constant exposure to pesticides. It was also documented that child labor was being used.

The United Farm Workers endorsed the boycott, as did the AFL-CIO and other labor groups, including the Grand Rapids Education Association. There were also peace and justice organizations in Grand Rapids that supported the Campbell boycott, like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Institute for Global Education.

The boycott ended in 1986, with a victory for farmworkers, who were able to get a $4.50 an hour wage for hundreds of farmworkers beginning in 1987.

A big thank you to Kaitlin Popielarz, for taking pictures of these documents and sending them to us!!!




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Solidarity with Migrant Farm Workers event in Grand Rapids – 1978

Recently, we were able to find some archival documents from the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University, documents that are specific to Grand Rapids, particularly the Farm Worker Movement.

The image below is taken from a newsletter in April of 1978, and as you can see it says Vol. 1, No. 1. We have yet to come across any other copies of any other volumes from this newsletter, which was put out by Western Michigan Friends of the Farm Workers.

There are three people pictured in the newsletter, one of which is Rosa Fraga, who is still in Grand Rapids and still active in issues that impact the Latinx community, specifically around the issue of immigration.

Based on our own research and talking with people who were active in migrant worker justice in the 1970s in Grand Rapids, we known that there was never a migrant worker union that was formed in West Michigan. However, there were numerous support groups of allies doing solidarity work, like the Western Michigan Friends of the Farm Workers.

At the end of the archived document above, it says that there was going to be a meeting at Sr. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, in preparation for the Migrant Worker Walkathon being held in Detroit in May of 1978. We did not find anything on the Walkathon for 1978, but we did find an archival flyer for a Walkathon in 1983, picture below.

A big thank you to Kaitlin Popielarz, for taking pictures of these documents and sending them to us!!!

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