Protest Signs and Picketing: Grassroots Anthology Explores Local Activism

Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology tells the story of grassroots activism in a rust belt city.
Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology tells the story of grassroots activism in a rust belt city.

Join editors Dani Vilella and Ashley Nickels as they explore grassroots activism in Grand Rapids, “a modern rust belt city.”

“Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology” is a collection of essays, poems and articles exploring the realities of grassroots activism. The book gives an insider’s look from authors on the front lines of social justice work.

It is the latest title in the City Anthology Series, produced by Belt Publishing, which also includes Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and more.

Nickels shared her inspiration for the book, “I was doing research for my Flint book and stumbled across ‘Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology.’ I was intrigued. I noticed that nothing was published on Grand Rapids. I reached out to Belt and pitched the Grand Rapids book. They liked the idea, so I reached out the Dani, my long time friend, and asked if she would be interested in joining me.

“The inspiration for the concept, however, stems from my early work as an activist in Grand Rapids. Having moved away in 2011, I am often struck by how the city is portrayed and how those narratives often miss the voices of people at the grassroots.”

The book explores different perspectives and stories from numerous local authors, with unique takes on similar ideas.

“We knew that we wanted to define grassroots and activism broadly,” Nickels said. “We also knew that some stories of activism or grassroots community building required some background and history. So, as we put together the submissions, we started to see some that focused on historical legacies of activism and others that talked more about the realities of the lived, on the ground experiences of living in Grand Rapids. Some authors talked about their work and the connection they had with specific organizations, while others offered critiques.”

The book aims to share a wide variety of views and opinions. Nickels and Vilella worked to find a diverse group of authors to share their knowledge, but they acknowledged some people declined to participate for various reasons.

“We worked really hard to have the most diverse, broad spectrum of voices, both in terms of writers and in terms of areas of interest, for this book,” Vilella said. ”There are many great organizations, groups and people doing incredibly innovative work here in Grand Rapids that are not a part of this for one reason or another – fear of retribution, lack of time, lack of writing skills, conflicts with schedules or permissions from others. I would love to do a second edition in a few years and capture those voices that we missed this time around.”

While there are many great entries, Nickels and Vilella highlighted a few.

Nickels said, “I will point out two: Breannah Alexander’s piece tackles why some people opted not to submit, we discuss this in our intro as well. Many people expressed a genuine desire to contribute and then pulled out, concerned that their ideas or criticisms about grassroots work, the nonprofit sector or the political elite in Grand Rapids could threaten their jobs. It is a reality that grassroots activists face all over, but is particularly relevant in a community with a robust nonprofit sector that is supported, in many ways, by local philanthropists.

“The other is Joel Potrykus. Joel is an internationally acclaimed film director that has chosen to live in Grand Rapids because of what its grassroots nature of the Michigan and Grand Rapids film scene provides.”

Vilella added, “I would also like to highlight the amazing piece by Reyna García. She wrote “Mi Vida, Mi Historia, Mi Narrativa” in Spanish with a full English translation for the book. I think this piece is amazing and we are proud to have this dual language piece in the book.

The paperback book is available to order online for $20. There will be a book launch party at the Pyramid Scheme on Nov. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. where books will be available for purchase. A panel discussion is being held on Dec. 7 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Public Library with some of the contributors.

*Editor’s note: GR|Mag Digital Editor Charlsie Dewey’s work appears in “Grand Rapids Grassroots: An Anthology.”

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