On Friday, a group of about fifteen people protested military recruiting outside of the Armed Forces Career Center at the corner of East Beltline and Knapp inside of the Celebration Village shopping complex. The group arrived at 5:00pm and unfurled a large banner reading “Stop Enlisting, Start Resisting!” and began playing drums and chanting while other members of the group leafleted people passing by and placed leaflets on the cars in the parking lots. The group also chant facts about the military including that only 1/3rd of recruits receive any money for college, that 75% of women were sexually harassed and 30% have been raped, and that 1/3rd of the United States homeless population are veterans.
As was the case at the last protest held at the recruiting center, the military recruiters who were present were visibly agitated at the protest taking place directly in front of their office. In what appears to be standard procedure, the recruiters locked the doors once protestors were present in front of the building for about five minutes in a move that effectively “shut down” the recruiting center. After about fifteen minutes of chanting facts about the realities of life the military, recruiters forced open one of the doors and started attempting to play music to drown out the protest. Interestingly—and perhaps not surprisingly—the recruiters played Toby Keith’s jingoistic country song “American Soldier” until it became clear that the music was not deterring the protestors and likely was doing more to disrupt business within the recruiting center. The majority of the recruiters then left the building and stood around drinking beer and smoking at the buffalo wings restaurant across the street while waiting for the police to come. For the most part, the recruiters did little to interfere with the protest aside from calling the police, although at one point a particularly gung-ho recruiter took it upon himself to walk through the parking lot and remove the leaflets that had been placed on car windshields exposing the lies that military recruiters tell. This same recruiter also bought three teenagers—two women and one man—ice cream in exchange for them waving United States’ flags next to the protestors, although the effort did nothing other than make it look like there were more people protesting military recruiters. Of course, this is nothing unusual to recruiters who have become accustomed to using pizza, iTunes downloads, Craigslist, blogs (1, 2), and other non-traditional sources to meet the military’s recruiting goals.
This was the first counter-recruiting activity in Grand Rapids that drew the attention of the local media, with Ted Roelofs of the Grand Rapids Press writing an article about the protest. Roelfs—who has written two articles favoring military recruiters on the difficulty recruiters are facing and the cash bonuses offered by recruiters—focused his article on the protestors opposition to the war. Rather than focusing on the issue of military recruiting and the lies that recruiters tell (http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1210-20.htm), Roelfs chose to report the story as a “war protest” and to emphasize that “small protests” at a military recruiting station “will not stop the war in its tracks.” Instead of reporting that the protestors chanted against military recruiting, Roelofs reported that the protestors “chanted slogans against the war.” Moreover, rather than investigate the facts being offered by the protestors, Roelofs simply mentioned that the protestors “denounced recruiting practices they maintain deceive disadvantaged recruits.” He also gave space to Army recruiter Sergeant Michael Bell who was quoted saying that “We don’t use any deceptive measures. Everything they are offered is guaranteed in writing” despite the fact that the military can change enlistment provisions at any time and that former recruiters have exposed deceptive techniques used by recruiters. While Roelofs was at the protest, he spoke to one of the participants and expressed his view that the time to protest the war was before it started and that there was little point in doing it now and that it was not “appropriate.” Roelofs left after he determined that there was not going to be any “trouble,” as he asked one participant if the group was expecting any issues with the police.
The police did eventually come after a little more than an hour. The two officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department told the group that they could not play drums or chant because they were creating a disturbance and potentially violating the city’s noise ordinance. According the police, this was the same ordinance that would require the police to intervene if someone was yelling outside of the movie theatre. In addition to the calls received from the recruiters complaining that protestors were blocking their door, the police also claimed that they received calls from people shopping in the area and that complaints had been received from patrons at the buffalo wing restaurant. The police confirmed that the protestors had a legal right to be there as long as they were not blocking the doors to the center and were not “disturbing the peace.” While never specifically asked, the officers provided no proof of complaints that were allegedly received from “people” at Celebration Village and indeed after the general manager of the Buffalo Wings came over to tell the police that she had many complaints from customers, recruiters were seen giving her a “high five,” suggesting that like the kids with the flags, she was somehow convinced by them to do it.