On Tuesday, October 24 about 15 people with the group ACTIVATE came to the Amway Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids to use a variety of tactics in the hopes of raising awareness about the war crimes of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Some people handed out brochures with information on Kissinger’s war crimes and financial connections, while most people marched around the hotel with signs, drums, and chanting. The group kept these activities up for about an hour at about the time the lecture was to begin.
Police presence was much larger than had previously been experienced for such a demonstration. While people began to gather at Rosa Parks Circle police cruisers and officers on bikes began to monitor the protests even before an action was taken. While people marched around the hotel there were at least 6 different police vehicles, bike cops, and several police on foot, with a one-to-one ratio of police to protestors. Several police vehicles were unmarked and they kept reminding people that if they stopped moving on the sidewalk that they were in violation of city ordinance. At one point several of the protestors attempted to enter the building, but were confronted by confronted by hotel security who quickly called upon an officer nearby.
Local news outlets were more visible than they have been at previous demonstrations in Grand Rapids. The news outlets who talk the most with demonstrators were college papers (GVSU and GRCC) and the weekly paper known as the Advance. In addition, WXMI 17 and WZZM 13 both interviewed spokespersons for the group. What the major daily news outlets ran unfortunately, did not reflect the intentions of the group, despite all of them receiving a 2-page media release the day before. The Grand Rapids Press only sent out a photographer, which resulted in only a photo of the protestors, but no mention in the article. Instead the Press focused on Kissinger’s comments with no verification of his claims about past policies and his comments on the current US occupation of Iraq. WZZM 13 ran a short announcement about Kissinger’s talk at the 6pm newscast with a longer piece at 11. The 11pm story ran several comments from Kissinger and even referred to him as someone who brought piece to Vietnam. Kissinger is quoted talking about the importance on not leaving Iraq and then the newsreader mentions that “Activate was outside to protest Kissinger for what they called his war crimes both during and after Vietnam.”
WXMI 17 also reported on the event with emphasis on both Kissinger’s position on the US occupation of Iraq and his personal relationship to former President Ford. Channel 17 also referred to the protest as “a small liberal group outside protesting his involvement with foreign policy issues from the war in Vietnam to his current talks with President Bush on how to succeed in Iraq.” The WXMI story is the only one to cite a member of ACTIVATE who said “he’s telling the Bush administration, he’s giving them advice on how to better kill 100,000’s or 10,000’s of people just like he did when he was Secretary of State.” The Advance, GRCC, and GVSU papers plan on running articles in the next issue.