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Grand Rapids stands against U.S. war on Syria

By Tom Burke

Grand Rapids protest against U.S. war on Syria.

Grand Rapids, MI – 40 people protested against a U.S. war on Syria at the War Memorial in downtown Grand Rapids on Sept. 7. Some brought flowers for the victims of U.S. wars to the noon time protest, while others brought anti-war signs and messages. After folk singer Carol Johnson opened the rally with her rousing voice, organizer Joe Fletcher welcomed the protesters.

One speaker explained why the White House wants to go to war in Syria despite the lack of evidence and facts, “because the U.S. wants to dominate the Middle East and control the oil in the region after being forced out of Iraq.” Another speaker led the singing of John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, while a third read a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro opposing the U.S. war on Syria. There were announcements about the Midwest Action Against Drones in Chicago on Sept. 28 and 29 and Peace Days in Grand Rapids leading up to Sept. 21. The final speakers led chants and pumped people to march around the downtown area and a street festival. Grand Rapidians either applauded and gave the fist pump in the air, or stood amazed as the protesters ranging in age from 18 to 81 passed by chanting, “Hands off Syria, no new wars!” and “We demand peace, U.S. out of the Middle East!”

Local radio personality Jeremiah Bannister emceed and spoke about the widespread opposition to President Obama’s plans for war saying, “Some of my progressive friends have amnesia, but I am trying hard to help them remember when they opposed a major war in the Middle East just a few years ago, and the reasons why. With many being the same today.” Bannister also spoke about the anti-war sentiment that spans society in the wake of the U.S. destruction in Iraq and the ongoing U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, saying “Take care with speaking to your conservative friends, family and acquaintances about their sudden embrace of anti-war values. Be very gracious and constructive with them.”

Chaka Holley, a Black community activist, spoke about the strong and consistent opposition to U.S. war in the African-American community. She explained, “When I come to anti-war rallies, rallies against big business, banks, animal abuse and the like, I rarely see more than a handful of Blacks or Latinos. I do not believe that this is due to a lack of concern but more so due to a lack of opportunity.” Holley then detailed many of the recent police and vigilante murders of African-American people, including Trayvon Martin. After an emotional moment, Holley asked of anti-war activists, “Not only do we need you to oppose war but we need you to fight for good public education, access to fair housing, good immigration laws, ending the mass incarceration of African Americans, fight for laws that protect our children when they are driving while Black in America, laws that protect our children from being shot down on their way from the candy store, school or bombed while sitting in church or on their living room floors.” After Holley finished with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., the applause was loud and prolonged.

The anti-war movement in Grand Rapids is grappling with the political contradictions faced on a national level. U.S. Representative Justin Amash, a Republican and Arab-American, is a strong and outspoken ‘no’ vote against U.S. war in Syria, while liberal Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, support another U.S. war in the Middle East. The Left Forum of Grand Rapids launched a campaign this week “Michiganders against U.S. war on Syria” targeting the supposedly ‘progressive’ Senators Stabenow and Levin with phone calls and emails demanding they vote no on any new wars.

Mike Kowalski of the Left Forum of Grand Rapids summed it up, “Our rally was pulled together quickly, but still the biggest anti-war protest in Grand Rapids for a few years now. We are targeting these treacherous Senators from Michigan with a phone call blitz to ‘Vote no’ and students are starting anti-war outreach on the campuses in town. Like people in the rest of Michigan, and the world, we want to stop this war before it starts!”

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