Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Anarchism in Grand Rapids

While researching information on Voltairine de Cleyre (for the previous post), I came across a 4 part publication detailing the history of anarchism in Grand Rapids.  See  here.

I looked in vain for the author's names, but couldn't find it.  Apparently whoever wrote it wanted to be anonymous.  But I've got a strong suspicion I know who it is--one of my former comrades from the Media Mouse days.

I suspect it's the same comrade who wrote this 2009 article: A History of Anarchist Organizing in Grand Rapids.  I linked to it back at the time.  And, just to show off how clever I was, I also chimed in with my own factoids about Grand Rapids and Anarchism down in the comments section:

Should one wish to go a bit further back, Emma Goldman once visited Grand Rapids and actually loved it. She gave a speech at which she was very well recieved. She writes about her trip briefly in her autobiography, and at the time she gave a brief write in mother earth magazine
Also anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre lived and worked in Grand Rapids at the turn of the century
The author, though, was way ahead of me on this one, and responded:

Way to go with knowing my two favorite bits of Grand Rapids anarchist history! There was actually a hilarious article in one of the newspapers of the time when Emma Goldman was in town that basically expressed surprise that she wasnt an actual monster, it was pretty ridiculous.
There was also a very active IWW branch in the early 1900s.
So I said:

Ah, so I see I'm not the only one who knows this little tidbit then. I actually learned about it a few years ago, in Japan of all places, when reading through Emma Goldman's autobiography. Id be curious to know where you first heard about this. Is it common knowledge in West Michigan progressive circles, or did you have to dig around a bit?
I've not seen the newspaper articles though. Were these from the Grand Rapids Press or its equivalent of the time? And again, how did you stumble upon them? Are they publically available?
In her autobiography Emma Goldman also talks about William Buwalda, a US soldier from Hudsonville Michigan, who was court martialled and imprisoned for the crime of shaking hands with Emma Goldman. 
And the author responded with:

I came across the bit about Volteraine de Cleyre while reading her biography.
As for the Emma Goldman bit, I actually searched around a bit in the Grand Rapids Public Librarys local history room to find the articles. They were in whatever the Grand Rapids Press equivalent was back then, although there were actually multiple newspapers. I cant remember what one they were in. To find the dates I believe I cross referenced with a tour itinerary from another source.
I dont have access to the notebook with the references right off hand, but Ill try to find it. Maybe Ill see about scanning or retyping the articles sometime, just for curiositys sake.
Someday Id like to do a piece looking at radical history in Grand Rapids, so this would certainly fit.
So, I suspect that he's the same author of this extensive 4 volume history of anarchism in Grand Rapids.

Anyway, I've already commented on Emma Goldman and Volteraine de Cleyre in Grand Rapids in my 2005 blogpost: Emma Goldman Visits Grand Rapids....And Loves It!

Moving back to the 4 volume history of Anarchism in Grand Rapids:
My own activist days are covered in volume 4, which covers the late 90s and early 2000s (my time).

I was an active member of the group Media Mouse--whose history is briefly covered in volume 4 starting on page 30.
Since I like to wax nostalgic on this blog, I'll jot down a few reminiscences here from my Media Mouse days.  This can be read as a supplement to the history of Media Mouse that you'll find Volume 4 of the History of Anarchism in Grand Rapids.
I wasn't one of the founding members of Media Mouse, but I started hearing about them through the Calvin College Social Justice Coalition (which I was actively involved in at the time).  With several members of Calvin's SJC, we attended the April 17, 2000 Breaking the Bank Protest (which is mentioned in on page 31 of the history). The Media Mouse video of which can be viewed here.

By the summer of that year, I started attending Media Mouse meetings regularly.

There were a lot of people in Grand Rapids who were vaguely interested in Media Mouse, but there were only about 5 of us who attended the regular meetings with any consistency.  And I was one of those 5.  I didn't have any valuable skills to lend to the group--I wasn't particularly smart, or creative, and I usually just went along with what the other members suggested.  But I was dedicated--I never missed a meeting.

I gained such a reputation for regular attendance that my absence was remarked upon in a Media Mouse e-mail shortly after I had left for Japan.

In total, my days at Media Mouse lasted for slightly over a year, and then I left for Japan in August 2001, and that was the end of my activism days.
(Much to my regret--it all seemed like a big adventure at the time, and I was sorry to give it up.  But it was impossible to stay involved in grass roots politics in America and live in the Japanese countryside at the same time.  So I had to choose one of the two adventures, and I chose travelling.  But I've always wondered about the road not taken.)

My own personal recollection is that Media Mouse itself, as an organization, was non-doctrinal.  (I don't remember anyone referring to it as an anarchist group at the time).  But I think all of us regular members self-identified as anarchists, so in that sense it was an anarchist organization.

On page 31, the history mentions Media Mouse's coverage and participation in the 2001 Quebec anti-FTAA protests.  For my own memory of that event, see excerpts from my journal here here.  For the Media Mouse documentary of the event, see here.  (The documentary contains some footage that I shot, and also contains me as part of a Media Mouse panel discussion).

One of the people tangentially associated with Media Mouse published her own Zine called "Get Up!"  This is also mentioned briefly in the history on page 31.
Anarchist ideas began to manifest themselves in other venues as well. A short lived zine called Get Up! featured anarchist symbols and described itself as “an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, pro-feminist, radically-oriented publication.”
At her request, I submitted two articles that were published in Get Up!  Report on 2000 RNC Protest , and Adventures at the Border.

When I came back to Grand Rapids in 2006, I tried to get back into activism.
I followed the pattern I had set before--I attended all the meetings regularly, and I showed upat the -protests, but I didn't provide any leadership or have any special skills.  And that was my history with the Grand Rapids chapter of the IWW (also mentioned in volume 4 of the history, page 31).  I attended their meetings regularly for a period during 2006, but that's as much as I can claim.

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