On Friday, twenty-five people attended a protest organized by ACTIVATE against military recruiting and the ongoing occupation of Iraq (video and photos are also available). The protest took place at the Armed Forces Career Center at Celebration Cinema and was the third and largest protest held against military recruiting in Grand Rapids. The protest was held in conjunction with the antiwar demonstration taking place in Washington DC on January 27, with the protestors calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and opposing President George W. Bush’s planned escalation of the Iraq War.
ACTIVATE targeted the military recruiting station for its protest on the 26th because it provided a direct connection to the war in Iraq and the military’s capacity to maintain the occupation. The group held a variety signs highlighting facts about military recruiting and the human costs of the Iraq War. Thus far, the war has killed 655,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 3,000 troops. Additionally, organizing against military recruiting–through these protests and organizing high school students–could play an important role in ending the occupation of Iraq. In recent years, recruiters have failed to meet recruiting goals and pressure has increased on recruiters to meet their monthly goals. Military recruiters have also come under fire for a 50% increase in abuses in 2005, abuses that have ranged from coaching recruits to cheat on drug tests to widespread sexual misconduct with potential recruits. Antiwar activists can increase that pressure by denying them the recruits that the military needs to maintain the occupation. A number of people involved in the antiwar movement, including former Special Forces soldier Stan Goff, have argued that counter-recruitment should be a priority for the movement.
The recruiters initially positioned themselves at the front of the recruiting center and blocked the doors to the building while pounding on drums and chanting “Stop Enlisting, Start Resisting.” Two different recruiters came out and told the group that they could not block the doors, but the group refused to move. When it became clear that the recruiters had moved into the back of the building, the group moved to the backdoors and continued chanting and drumming in an attempt to disrupt the activities of the recruiters inside. At one point, the protestors opened one of the unlocked doors and disrupted an interaction between a recruiter and what appeared to be a potential recruit. The police eventually came and told the protestors that they could not block the doors or enter the building, but explained that they were otherwise free to continue protesting. When the police left, the group again moved to the front and distributed more flyers to pedestrians outside of the movie theatre. The group then chose to move to the back of the recruiting station again, chanting and pounding on the windows to disrupt the recruiters who were on the phone. Throughout the protest, the recruiters were very aggressive, repeatedly opening doors and slamming them into protestors, while responses from the public tended to be favorable. The police eventually returned to the scene and informed the protestors that they could not play drums, citing complaints from other businesses. Following the second visit from the police, the group decided to leave shortly after most of the police did.
The group is planning additional events and protests against the occupation of Iraq as part of a campaign designed to increase the visibility and effectiveness of antiwar movement in Grand Rapids. The campaign is part of a response by ACTIVATE to a nationwide call to action that the group signed onto back in December of 2006. The call challenges the antiwar movement to critically examine its failures and to move forward by “taking risks, making demands, and creating consequences” as well as making connections and doing the critical organizing work that has often been neglected by the movement.