On Saturday, March 18, a couple hundred people protested the ongoing occupation of Iraq in downtown Grand Rapids. The march and rally, organized by the Grand Rapids Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was held in conjunction with protests held around the world.
Following a short speech by a member of the IWW the march took to the streets in the largest unpermitted march since the President George W. Bush visited Grand Rapids in January of 2003. The majority of the crowd decided to take up both lanes of traffic while heading to the rally site at Calder Plaza and the energy was considerably higher than at previous anniversary protests (2004 and 2005) with drumming and chants of “no justice, no peace” and “bring the troops home” being shouted by the marchers. At the corner of Lyon and Monroe the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) moved in with several squad cars and directed marchers to move onto the sidewalk, warning marchers that they would be cited if they did not move out of the street. While about half the march moved onto the sidewalk, the other half remained in the rode despite increasingly aggressive threats from the GRPD of arrest. The march arrived at Calder Plaza with no arrests and no further harassment from the GRPD.
The rally featured a number of speakers focusing on not just the War on Iraq but a variety of interrelated issues including immigration reform, the elimination of social services, factory closings, the criminal justice system, and other issues all of which raised the question of the priorities of those with power in the United States. The speakers made it clear that an illegal and expensive war distracts attention from the considerable problems faced by low income and people of color in the United States. Moreover, the crowd was considerably different that in previous years, with a sizable number of people attending from groups outside of the traditional antiwar movement.