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20 years ago there was a movement in Grand Rapids to oppose the US war and occupation of Iraq – Part I

January 18, 2023

Over the next few months, GRIID will be posting numerous articles in a series that remembers and celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the organized resistance to the US War and Occupation of Iraq.

Opposition to the US government’s decision to go to war against Iraq began in September of 2002, when the group known as the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change hosted its 2nd Annual Teach-In on US foreign policy.

At that teach-in, which was held at Aquinas College, there was a workshop on resisting the rhetoric from the Bush administration about Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein. From that workshop, there was consensus that there needed to be public opposition to the possibility of going to war against Iraq. A protest was organized for a Saturday in October, which began at Veteran’s Park and ended up at the Federal building. This was a non-permitted protest, but most of the 400 people marched in the streets, despite the GRPD attempting to move people onto the sidewalks.

There were a few speakers at the beginning, followed by a few other when the marchers arrived at the federal building. Speakers shared actions that people could take, which included a weekly protest against the build up to the war, letter writing campaigns, workshops for those interested in doing civil disobedience and regular planning meetings to discuss upcoming actions. 

During the annual Santa Parade in Grand Rapids, members of the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change handed on quarter sheets about what people could to do oppose the US war in Iraq, along with candy canes. The regular meetings were being held at the Koinonia House, but in early January of 2003, they were moved to the office of the Institute for Global Education (IGE). Unfortunately, moving the meetings made organizers and activists more vulnerable to GRPD infiltrators. 

In late 2004, working with the ACLU, activists submitted a request for Freedom of Information documents. This request resulted in near 400 documents being obtained from the GRPD, which provided a paper trail of evidence that the GRPD was monitoring and at times infiltrating this anti-war movement in Grand Rapids. In one FOIA document, the GRPD admitted to sending undercover cops to an anti-war meeting at IGE. Fortunately, some activists recognized the undercover cops, cut the meeting short and even announced that there were undercover cops at that meeting, which essentially outed those who were cops. See FOIA document on the GRPD attempted infiltration.

After the meeting at IGE, we then moved it to the TV studio at the community media center, since one of the organizers worked there. Two undercover cops came, but we meet at the door by organizers who recognized them, then told them they were not allowed to enter. 

The next action that was taken was held at Plymouth United Church of Christ, just days before people were departing to attend a mass rally in Washington, DC, to oppose the possible US war/occupation of Iraq. 

In Part II of this series on the 20th Anniversary of the resistance to the US war/occupation of Iraq, we will look at the plans to protest President’s Bush’s visit to Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address, the protest and the GRPD’s response during that protest.

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