Media Mouse has compiled a new database detailing military contracts awarded to Grand Rapids area companies with the intent that the database will make up for the shortcomings of the corporate media in reporting on the $380 million that local companies have made from the “war on terror” and that the information will facilitate increased antiwar organizing.
Today Media Mouse unveiled a new online database tracking military contracts awarded to local companies and companies based in the Grand Rapids area. The database is essentially an updated version of a report released by Media Mouse last year (Aiming to Please: A Look at Military Contracts Awarded to Grand Rapids Area Companies), revised to include data from 2005 and 2006.
The database, documenting contracts received by local companies since the start of the United States’ “war on terror,” contains details of more than $380 million in contracts awarded by the military to local companies. These contracts have been awarded for a variety of services from cleaning and construction projects to components for fighter jets, armored vehicles, and missile systems. Components manufactured in Grand Rapids have been used in a variety of weapons systems including the AV-8B, the F-15, the F-16, the F-18, the M1A1 tank, the Stryker, and others, many of which have been used in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, thereby providing a clear link between local companies and the war. Moreover, the database also tracks tax breaks awarded to the companies, demonstrating the ways in which corporate welfare is frequently used to support the military-industrial complex and to provide the weapons needed to wage wars.
Since the United States began its attack on Afghanistan, the local corporate media has occasionally reported on local companies’ contributions to the war effort, although such reporting has been done so in a congratulatory manner that praises West Michigan’s contribution. The media has even gone so far as to describe contracts awarded to local companies as “collateral benefits,” making light of the “collateral damage” term used by the military to describe civilian casualties. Such coverage kicked off in 2002, when the Grand Rapids Press praised Eaton Aerospace for its contributions to the C-17 cargo plane that was being used to drop aid packets in Afghanistan and ignored the fact that the aid packets looked nearly identical to the yellow BLU-97/B cluster bomblets also being dropped . The Grand Rapids Press has profiled the head of Borisch Manufacturing and provided space for him to promote his assertions that his company is “supporting the troops” while ignoring the fact that weapons components made by Borisch are necessary for the ongoing occupation of Iraq and likely have contributed to civilian suffering in that country while allowing Borisch to tout his Christianity. Additionally, media coverage has frequently announced new contracts as they are awarded and has provided little information about the ways in which the weapon systems are used, as is the case when the media reports on contracts awarded to Smiths Aerospace.
The task of providing information about these contracts is undoubtedly important in light of the corporate media’s lack of coverage, but more important is the prospect that such information could be used to facilitate antiwar organizing in Grand Rapids. Antiwar organizing is frequently plagued by the difficulty in drawing links between what the United States is doing abroad and what is happening in Grand Rapids, and while activists have made attempts to draw connections in literature distributed at protests, such connections have rarely been used as the crux of an antiwar campaign. While there are indications this may change with the recent start of a campaign to pass a Grand Rapids City Commission resolution calling for the end to the occupation of Iraq in relation to the $132 million of Grand Rapids taxpayer money to fund the war in Iraq and the city’s ongoing budget difficulties, such connections have been made infrequently. Instead, activists have largely organized protests that have no direct connection to the government or institutions responsible for the war (see the anniversary protests of 2004 and 2005 for examples) or are held in response to visits by government representatives such as President George W. Bush or L. Paul Bremer. By focusing on companies manufacturing weapons, activists could target a direct link to the war and pursue the type of sustained and strategic organizing against the war that is desperately needed both on a local and national level.
The information contained within the military contracts database provides a number of organizing opportunities—activists could consider the prospect of civil disobedience at a contractor to physically stop contributions to the war, a campaign could be undertaken to prevent new tax breaks from being awarded to companies making components used in the Iraq war, a media campaign could be launched to educate the press and the public about how these weapons are used in Iraq, or public protests at contractors’ factories could be held.