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20 years ago there was a movement in Grand Rapids to oppose the US war and occupation of Iraq: Part III – Women in Black, global protests, and the lies of Colin Powell about WMDs

February 9, 2023

In Part I of our series looking back at the 20th anniversary of the public resistance to the US invasion/occupation of Iraq in 2003, we focused on early organizing efforts to build an anti-war movement before the US war on Iraq even began. In Part II, we looked at the protest when President’s Bush’s visited Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address and the GRPD’s response during that protest.

Today, we will look at the Women in Black actions, the global protest against the war march that took place in Lansing, along with the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change workshops on civil disobedience that were offered to a growing number of people who wanted to do more than just hold signs. In addition, we will talk about how the local media responded to Colin Powell’s WMD presentation to the United Nations.

On February 4th, about 100 anti-war activists came to the Grand Rapids City Commission, demanding that the commission adopt a resolution against the US invasion/war against Iraq. Some people from the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change spoke and they were followed by Women in Black protesters. Women in Black was an international movement started by Israeli and Palestinian women who protester the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The movement then grew to oppose war and militarism in general. Only a few members of Women in Black spoke, while most of the members stood in silence wearing all black. It was a powerful image that generated a great deal of discussion and media coverage, like the Grand Rapids Press article above. 

The City of Grand Rapids eventually adopted a resolution against the US occupation of Iraq, but not until a year after the war had begun, plus the resolution was much weaker than the version that members of Women in Black and the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change had proposed. 

Then on February 15th, the largest global anti-war protests in history took place. There were at least 60 different countries that participated in the anti-war protests, with 225 communities in the United States holding some sort of action. There was a big push for people in Michigan to attend a march Lansing, a march that began at MSU and ended up at the State Capitol. There was an estimated 10,000 people marching against the war, with at least 1,000 from Grand Rapids. 

Despite the largest global anti-war protest in history, US President George W. Bush said that he wasn’t changing his mind about invading Iraq. Bush had actually referred to the millions of people in the streets on February 15/16 as a “focus group.” As a response to the Bush Administration’s dismissal of the massive global anti-war protests, the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change decided to escalate tactics and provide some training for people who were willing to participate in Civil Disobedience. In Part IV, we will talk about the acts of Civil Disobedience that took place just before the US invasion began.

The last item we wanted to address in today’s post was US Secretary of State Colin Powell presentation the United Nations on his findings that “proved Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).” This was the so-called smoking gun that the US administration and the US media had been looking for, and while it was not cause enough to invade Iraq, the US government and the US media used it to win public support for the invasion. 

What was interesting about this news was that several Grand Rapids-based news agencies had contacted the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change to get their response to the Powell report. However, the local news agencies didn’t just ask for a response, they took the position that local anti-war organizers were wrong and needed to acknowledge their mistake. Members of the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change never accepted the Powell report as fact, but more importantly, they argued that even if Iraq had WMDs, this was not a valid reason for the US to invade Iraq. The US was in possession of more WMDs than any other country in the world and had used them more times than any other country. The local news media wasn’t interested in facts, they only wanted to make local anti-war groups look bad. 

Of course, we all know that years later it was proved that Iraq never had WMDs and that Colin Powell himself admitted that he lied during his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations. The local news media never apologized for their complicity in reporting Powell’s report as fact.

In Part IV of our exploration on the 20th anniversary of the US war against Iraq, we will talk about student organizing and Civil Disobedience that was done at the office of Congressman Vern Ehlers the week before the US invasion took place.

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