On Tuesday, March 20, protestors with the local group ACTIVATE held a protest at the Armed Forces Career Center located at 5316 Clyde Park Plaza SW in Wyoming, Michigan. At 9:00am, approximately 15 protestors moved in front of the recruiting center and blocked access for the building for about 45 minutes before deciding to leave once Wyoming police told a police liaison with ACTIVATE that they were going to start making arrests. The protest was held as part of a nationwide call to action by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and a call for “Days of Resistance” to the war by a number of antiwar groups around the country.
The protest began at 9:00am after the group walked over to the station. On the way to the recruiting center, the group received many supportive gestures from passing motorists. When the group arrived at the station, they used a ten-foot long banner reading “Stop US Imperialism” to block access to the main door of the building while other protestors held signs reading “Stop Recruiting the Poor for the War,” “Recruiters Lie,” “655,000+ Iraqis Dead,” and other signs highlighting the deaths of the more than 3,220 US soldiers killed in Iraq. The group also chanted a variety slogans including “Recruiters Lie, You Die,” “No Justice, No Peace, US Out of the Middle East,” and “There’s Dead and then there is Army Dead.” During the protest, one person was denied access to the building, while a couple of recruiters were forced to push their way through the protestors or using the backdoor to gain access to the building. The group was unable to close down the recruiting station given their numbers, but it was clear that their presence was an annoyance and was somewhat disruptive to the recruiters, the majority of whom just stood around watching the group from inside. The reactions of individuals entering the neighboring businesses were entirely positive, with at least two people thanking the group for being there.
ACTIVATE chose this location because military recruiting centers are a direct connection between West Michigan and the Iraq War. ACTIVATE argues that the military needs new recruits to maintain the United States’ military occupation of Iraq and asserts that efforts designed to hinder the abilities of recruiters are a legitimate way of working to end the occupation of Iraq. As has been the case with previous protests at area recruiting centers, the protestors had a variety of interesting interactions with recruiters at the station, all of whom have appeared agitated by the protestors presence. The recruiters told the protestors that they were “bums,” offered them coffee, and asked them to enlist. One recruiter emailed ACTIVATE, making the following assertion:
Hi, I’m one of the recruiters…I want to thank you for the support that you are giving us. Your efforts really help us in recruiting! Believe it or not you are actually helping us out. People see the garbage ya’ll put out and support us. And ya’ll say we “target the poor”…that’s a crock of shit because most of the people who enlist are out of the better school districts such as Forest Hills and Rockford. Not the “poor” schools as ya’ll state. Get your facts straight. Thanks again for your support!
This is the second such email received from Brandon Faulkner, a recruiter with the Navy. An earlier email received after the group’s January 26 protest read:
FUCK YOU! YOU FUCKING HIPPIES! YOUR PROTESTS ONLY HELPED US RECRUIT PEOPLE LAST TIME BECAUSE OF THE MEDIA. WE ENLISTED 6-7 PEOPLE BECAUSE OF IT. YOUR EFFORTS ONLY HELP US. THANKS FOR THE SUPPORT…NOW GO TAKE A SHOWER.
The comments were similar to those made by recruiters at a February 16 protest where recruiters told protestors to “go back across the border” and that they had to “kill people in order to make room for his [a protestor's gut],” while also stating on video that people “should take a bath” if they want to make a change.
While challenging the protestors in a variety of macho ways ranging from attempting to blast Toby Keith’s jingoistic “American Soldier” back in May to a recruiter leaving his pick-up truck running in front of the demonstrators on Tuesday, the recruiters have generally failed to challenge the facts touted by the protestors. Moreover, in subsequent months, reports have come out to back allegations such as “recruiters lie” (recruiters have been documenting telling potential enlistees that the war in Iraq is over) or that sexual assault is rampant within the military and toward potential enlistees. ACTIVATE has addressed its comments at the phenomenon of military recruiting as a whole, not specifically for Kent County. However, the claims of Navy recruiter Brandon Faulkner that “most of the people who enlist are out of the better school districts such as Forest Hills and Rockford” are still interesting. The most recent data available from the National Priorities Project–unfortunately from 2004 and for the Army and Army Reserve–shows that there were six students from Rockford high school compared to 14 from the Grand Rapids Public School district. Coupled with numbers at the national level showing that recruits from neighborhoods with low to middle-median household incomes are overrepresented, there is reason to be suspicious of the claims of Faulkner, although more recent numbers need to be obtained.
The Grand Rapids protest was one of dozens organized by SDS chapters around the United States. The protests ranged from protests at recruiting centers to walkouts and teach-ins.