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Grand Rapids rally a catalyst for state peace effort

BY DANIEL STURM

There was a sunny, clear blue sky when dozens of Lansing peace activists left for a rally in Grand Rapids last Wednesday, Jan. 29. Antiwar protesters are now calling the event a spring awakening for the peace movement, whose regional identity seems to be taking shape two weeks after 500,000 people marched in Washington against President Bush’s planned Iraq invasion.


Photo: Kristina Zwick
As President Bush spoke in Grand Rapids last Wednesday, Jan. 29, 1,000 antiwar protesters flooded all four lanes of traffic in a march downtown.
The night before, Bush had delivered his State of the Union speech, and he was now expected to reveal his new plans for Medicare. However, speaking in front of 2,800 Republican Party members at Grand Rapids’ DeVos Performance Hall, Bush instead only expanded on the administration’s plans to go after terrorists through military intervention. When they “pop their heads up, we’re getting them — one by one,” he said. He later drew raucous applause by commenting that he wanted the United Nations “to be something other than an empty debating society.”

Just two days before, a Pentagon official told CBS News that the United States intends to shatter Iraq “physically, emotionally and psychologically,” by raining down on as many as 800 cruise missiles in a period of two days. This tactic is based on a military strategy known as “Shock and Awe,” conceived at the National Defense University in Washington. It foresees destroying the enemy with rapid speed “rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima — not taking days or weeks but minutes.” The plan would be to use more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40-day Gulf War of 1991. Inside DeVos Hall last week, Bush did not refer to these military plans but still made his message obvious to the Grand Rapids audience, saying that Saddam Hussein was one of those “cold-blooded killers” hiding out in Afghanistan, North-Korea, Iran and Iraq.

As Bush spoke, a crowd of antiwar protesters grew outside of the building. During the first hours they were blocked from the area by police and yellow “do not cross” tape. Eventually, however, 1,000 protesters flooded all four lanes of traffic and took off on a spontaneous march to DeVos Hall.

“We were loud and we let our anger at the corrupt Bush administration show,” Lansing resident Mark Parker said. “I’m still buzzing with the knowledge that I participated in something special today. I will savor today for a long time.”

Parker, who runs operationcensored.info, a newsletter that focuses on themes that aren’t covered by mainstream press, said the crowd took over the streets in downtown Grand Rapids to make the point “that we won’t trade blood for oil profits, that all attempts to silence the antiwar movement aren’t going to work.” Parker spoke enthusiastically about a breakthrough for the Michigan peace movement, saying that he saw people for the first time that day with broad smiles on their faces. “I saw probably over 500 people skipping and singing and shouting about peace, freedom, justice, the whole works.”

Other Lansing residents expressed similar feelings. Steve Rall, who traveled to Grand Rapids to promote the Michigan Peace Rally scheduled for Feb 15 in Lansing, said he saw “very lively, enthusiastic and energetic participants.” He quickly ran out of the 400 fliers announcing the statewide march. “I thought I had made plenty of copies. Wow. The movement is growing. The response to our fliers in general was excellent, with people saying, ‘Fantastic, we’ll be there!’”


Photo: Kathie Kuhn
Grand Rapids police officers arrested 10 antiwar activists.
Members of the Greater Lansing Network Against War and Direct Action were concerned about police brutality. Lindsay Alexander said that as she stood on a corner after the rally talking about plans for the afternoon, a police car pulled up. Officers jumped out and aggressively approached her group of friends. “They singled out the three who had Mohawk hair cuts for no reason, grabbed them, and pushed them against the car,” Alexander said. The East Lansing resident said that the police acted very violently even though the punk-style peace activists were not resisting arrest. Alexander believes the police probably profiled some protesters.

Another Lansing area activist, who took pictures of the rally, Kristina Zwick, witnessed a similar scene. “I got to an intersection and turned around to see a man being thrown onto the street by three police officers,” said Zwick. None of the peace demonstrators City Pulse spoke with said they had observed protesters do anything violent. Some said they believed police officers acted violently because the crowd violated police orders to stay off the streets and not to join the larger stream of demonstrators.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan later confirmed that the police arrested 10 people in connection with the protest, most of them belonging to a group of about 150 who marched through downtown streets and refused police orders to disperse. “We were concerned,” Dolan said. Dolan said this included five arrests for inciting to riot, felony arrests leading to up to a 10-year sentence. Depending on their age, those arrested were lodged in the Kent County Jail or in the county’s Juvenile Detention Center, pending arraignment for charges that also included trespassing and failure to obey the lawful command of a police officer, which are both misdemeanors.

Inside DeVos Hall, Bush ended his 40-minute talk, which would later be referred to by major national press as disappointing. He closed with a final rally for war: “We will commit the full force and might of the United States military, and in the name of peace we will prevail.”


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