On Saturday, an antiwar march demanding an immediate end to the United States’ occupation of Iraq attracted nearly 500 participants. The march, which began at Heartside Park in downtown Grand Rapids, was organized by ACTIVATE (Grand Rapids SDS) in solidarity with protests being held around the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the United States invasion of Iraq.
The group left Heartside Park and moved east on the sidewalk towards Division, at which point the march–led by a banner reading “Stop Funding War” and flanked by banners reading “Troops Out Now” and “1,100,000 Iraqis Killed”–took the two northbound lanes of Division. The six GRPD cars trailing the march immediately began announcing over their loudspeakers that the march had to stay on the sidewalk, but it continued for a block in the street before the police made one arrest. After the arrest, the march continued on the sidewalk, passing by Veteran’s Park, Grand Rapids Community College, the Federal Building, and the Grand Rapids Press building (where protestors hung a “MEDIA LIES = IRAQ WAR” banner). Despite being on the sidewalk, the march was spirited with chants and a generally high energy level. When the march turned up Monroe Center, it once again took the street as protestors chanted “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!” After repeated warnings from the GRPD to get on the sidewalk, the group turned onto the sidewalk at the intersection of Monroe Center and Ottawa where one additional arrest was made before the group made marched back to Heartside Park. At the park, members of ACTIVATE collected money to bail out the two individuals who were arrested. Both were charged with “Disorderly Conduct” and were out of jail by 4:00pm.
Before the began, two members of ACTIVATE briefly addressed the crowd. They reminded the crowd that despite five years of protest, the war has continued. Moreover, despite all the rhetoric about the elections and the possibility of a “withdrawal,” the speakers told the audience that none of the major party candidates–including Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–are serious about ending the war. They told the audience that protests such as Saturday’s needed to continue and that they need to increase in frequency and effectiveness.
As a means of facilitating increased protests against the war in Grand Rapids, ACTIVATE released a series of “how to” guides aimed at helping people organize against the war. The guides cover everything from “banner drops” to organizing protests against government officials. Additionally, a “call to action” accompanying the guides called on people to start organizing against the war more frequently rather than waiting for waiting for ACTIVATE or other groups to organize protests.
In light of antiwar activity in Grand Rapids since 9/11, the call is a welcome one. All too often, organizing has been dominated by one or two groups despite the fact that there are hundreds of people that regularly show up for protests.