Yesterday evening, around two-hundred people protested Republican presidential nominee John McCain and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin outside of the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) in downtown Grand Rapids. The loud and often boisterous protest went on for three hours–long enough to greet people on their way into the speech and greet them again on the way out.
As tends to be the case during election years, the protest was a mixed bag of messages, with the majority of those in attendance taking either a simple anti-McCain approach (waving signs reading “McSame” or “Palin = Pain”) or waving Obama signs. Throughout the evening, it was clear that much of the crowd wanted to engage in the highly partisan exchanges of insults that often come with these kind of events as people hurled insults at people attending the speech. Protestors yelled at attendees asking them if they “Took Palin’s ‘Bridge to Nowhere'” to the speech, told them to “Go back to East Grand Rapids,” and said that they were all “Rich white people.” These kind of comments increased as the night went on and reached their apex when McCain supporters left after the speech, with protestors yelling insults while McCain supporters waved their new “Country First” signs. Throughout the evening there were a number of chants as well, ranging from “No justice, no peace, US out of the Middle East” to “Obama, Obama.”
Amidst the partisan fray, two groups did attempt to get across a more focused message. ACTIVATE–a Grand Rapids based antiwar group–organized around fifty people to march to the Ford Field House with a message critiquing the Iraq War. The group–led by a banner reading “Stop Funding War”–called for an immediate end to the US occupation of Iraq and the funding of human needs over war. The group distributed a leaflet to those in attendance highlighting the cost of the Iraq War ($554 billion thus far) and explaining how the $1.2 billion that taxpayers in the 3rd Congressional District has spent could be used to fund healthcare (give insurance to 442,000 people for one year), education (provide 121,000 one-year university scholarships), and low income housing (build 9,488 low income housing units). The leaflet also reminded the crowd that the Democratic Party candidate–Barack Obama–has a reputation of being “antiwar” yet does not have a plan for actually ending the Iraq War. In light of this, the group calls for people to pressure both the Republican and Democratic candidate to support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
The other group was Progress Michigan who focused on McCain’s economic record. The group rallied behind a banner reading “Outsource McCain” and charged that McCain is out-of-touch with the plight of Michigan’s workers. They said that “Bush-McCain” policies–including support for foreign trade agreements that send US jobs overseas–have been responsible for 400,000 jobs lost in Michigan.
Throughout the protest, the Grand Rapids Police Department had a light deployment. Unlike when Bush was on GRCC’s campus in 2004, officers were not carrying gas masks and protestors were allowed to assemble directly across from the Field House. At various points, Police Chief Kevin Belk was seen outside directing officers. It is also worth noting that there were several undercover officers in the crowd. The only known incidents with police occurred when they confronted individuals carrying “obscene” signs. At one point, the officers confiscated a sign reading “Fuck McCain.”