Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part VIII – Confronting Congressman Ehlers

In Part VII of this series, we looked at all the times that President Bush or Vice President Cheney came to Grand Rapids after the US occupation of Iraq had begun in March of 2003.

In today’s post, we will look at the various actions that were organized and directed against 3rd Congressional District Representative Vern Ehlers. In previous posts, we looked at an action prior to the war, where several people were arrested in the Federal building in Grand Rapids, by the office of Congressman Ehlers. We also, in a previous post, wrote about a dramatized trial, where Congressman Ehlers was being charged with War Crimes.

On the 4th anniversary of the US invasion/occupation of Iraq, the group ACTIVATE had organized an action that began near Calvin College on Burton and the East Beltline. Once the action began, about 200 people marched to Congressman Ehlers house, who lived close to the campus. People put yard signs in his lawn, calling him a war criminal, and distributed a flyer to his neighbors, a flyer that read like a neighborhood crime watch report. Activists also made a large contract for Ehlers to sign, a contract that committed him to work towards ending the war and withdrawing US troops from Iraq. The Congressman did not answer his door, so organizers duck taped the contract to the front of his house, as can be seen in the photo here above. The video below, documents what happened at Congressman Ehlers house that day.

After the protestors left Congressman Ehlers home, they marched back to Burton Street, when all of a sudden GRPD officers began to grab people and arrest them. Michael Ott, who was at the protest, recounts what happened:

After we received no response from Ehlers, and I think someone received a message that the police were on their way, the protesters began their march back on Burton Street toward East Beltline. Not too long after our march back, 3 police cruisers came up along side us. It was then, with this needless police intimidation, that the some of the marchers became more animated. Most of the protesters were marching on the sidewalk, while others were in the street. One person was using a bullhorn. Using a bullhorn was supposedly in violation of city ordinances against noise pollution. When the person refused to stop using the bullhorn, he was put into the back of one of the cruisers. This angered many of the protesters, who began questioning the police, circling the cruiser and demanding the person’s release. People on the sidewalk began moving into the street, which was met with push back from the police and the threat of being arrested. With the police show of force, the peaceful march ended. As the police tried to herd the protesters in the street back on the sidewalk, many resisted. The police became aggressive pushing and shoving the protesters. I remember one young man was apprehended by the police but broke free and began running. He ran off the street and into the crowd of protesters on the edge of the road. It was then that he ran past my GVSU colleague, Hermann Kurthen, who was holding the other end of a large protest sign with me. Hermann was not in the street and wasn’t doing anything but holding the sign. Yet, as the young man who was being chased ran by him, Hermann was grabbed by a police officer and dragged into the street, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, arrested, and put into another police car. We all began loudly protesting what was happening and were warned that the same thing would happen to anyone who tried to come to his assistance. After a short while, both arrested people were driven away. My wife, another GVSU colleague and I immediately drove to the Grand Rapids police station to lodge a complain of police brutality and illegal arrest, but were not allowed in the building. We spoke to an officer through a speaker system in the foyer of the building, who said we would have to come back on Monday. I attended the arraignment of Hermann a few weeks later, where he denied his guilt of the erroneous charges that were brought against him by the arresting police. Hermann was ultimately cleared of all charges.

After the arrests were made, the rest of the march continued along the East Beltline, all the way to the Woodland Mall. There were still at least 100 people at this point and they were just approaching the parking lot of the mall, when police cruisers cut them off and cops got out to let marchers know that if they didn’t leave there would be more arrests.

In May of 2007, Ehlers held one of his annual town hall meetings at the Ford Museum. After the Congressman spoke, he was grilled by several people on the US occupation of Iraq, war crimes, torture and US killing of civilians. Media Mouse reported on this in detail, with direct questions and responses from Ehlers. There was also one person arrested during the town hall meeting, a person who interrupted Ehlers comments and began talking about his complicity in war crimes, before being taken out of the building.

One final action worth mentioning was an action at another public meeting that invited Congressman Ehlers, this one in August of 2007 at GVSU. Ehlers did not show up, but Media Mouse reported on the event and listed other Congressman Ehlers actions at the end of their report.

In our next post we will look at actions organized to confront Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

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Cars and the Cost of Driving Study from 1997 in Grand Rapids

It is impossible to ignore the increased traffic congestion in Grand Rapids. While some may cite the road construction projects, the main factors are the increase in population and the overwhelming reliance on the use of cars.

In 1997, several people who were working on transportation issues with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), published a study on the real costs of driving for Grand Rapids and surrounding communities.

Richa, one of the editors of the independent newspaper, known as the FUNdamentalist, was one of the co-authors of the study, and he published a summary of the findings in the July/August 1997 issue of the FUNdamentalist. You can read the entire summary at this link, but we also wanted to post some excerpts from that study.

First, the data from the study can be seen here:

The numbers at the bottom represent a total cost to Grand Rapids at $6 Billion, with $5 Billion for Ottawa County and $15 Billion for Kent County respectively.

In addition, those who contributed to the study had some recommendations, which are included below. It is interesting to note that many of these recommendations have not really been implemented and one could certainly argue that the problems and the costs have only increased in the 22 years since the report was first published.

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part VII – What kind of organizing happened after the US invasion/occupation in Iraq had begun?

In our last post in this series, we looked at demonstrations agains the Grand Rapids-based news media, their cheerleading of the US occupation of Iraq and a report on how the dominate daily news media was reporting on the US occupation of Iraq during a 7 week period. 

Shortly after the US invasion/occupation of Iraq began in March of 2003, many people felt the need to publicly show their support for US soldiers, which included not criticizing the US invasion/occupation. This response was partly due to the pressure in 1991 during the US War in the Gulf, where the US administration and many in the commercial news media were equating failure to support the war then, with failure to support the troops.

There was also a major shift in the kinds of tactics and strategies there were used by various anti-war groups in Grand Rapids. Some felt that the most important thing after the war had started was to focus on the 2004 election, while others felt it was important to “witness” against the war with vigils advocating for non-violence. Other groups felt it was important to continue to pressure politicians who supported the war, using demonstrations and education to call out those politicians. Lastly, there were some groups who felt it was necessary to directly impact the US war machine, which meant exposing the companies that were profiting from the war, as well as engaging in counter-recruitment work, thus reducing the number of new soldiers the US military was attempting to recruit.

In the upcoming posts in this series on anti-Iraq war organizing in Grand Rapids, we will look at the various strategies being used up until the 2008 election, when all anti-Iraq war organizing ceased. In today’s post we’ll look at the ongoing protests against the Bush administration, specifically actions that took place in in West Michigan when anyone from the Bush administration came to the area.

Just before the 4th of July weekend (2003) in Grand Rapids, Vice President Dick Cheney announced that he would be visiting. There were two separate protests, one organized by the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, focusing more on US war crimes and Cheney’s war profiteering, while the other protest was organized by people involved with the Democratic Party (see image above from the GR Press).

The following July, President Bush came to Grand Rapids, while campaigning for his re-election, speaking at a closed event at the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse. There was an organized protest outside of the event, an action organized by the Republicrat (un)Welcoming Committee. At the same time that Bush spoke at GRCC, just around the corner on the corner of Division and Lyon there was another protest, this time in the form of street theater, with Billionaires for Bush, see in this video.

In early November of 2004, Bush again came to Grand Rapids to campaign and an estimated 100 people showed up to protest him and the US occupation of Iraq. There were many people there who were with the Democratic Party, but there was also a noise bloc, people playing instruments and making lots of noise, which annoyed the Bush supporters going in to DeVos Hall.

The following Spring of 2005, President Bush announced he was coming to give the commencement speech at Calvin College. Students and faculty at Calvin objected and even took out an ad in the Grand Rapids Press with over 150 signatures objecting to Bush speaking at the Calvin commencement.

On the day of the Calvin commencement, there were hundreds of people lined up on the East Beltline, protesting Bush’s visit. Several groups were calling for the protest, but the group calling themselves Against Empire was the most organized with large banners (seen here)

In September of 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney again came to West Michigan, this time attending a GOP fundraiser at the home of Peter Secchia in East Grand Rapids. The group ACTIVATE organized an action near Secchia’s home, but were confronted by police and told that they could not protest since the City of East Grand Rapids had a “no picketing ordinance,” which was later contested by the ACLU and the ordinance was done away with.

In April of 2007, President Bush came back to the area, this time speaking at the auditorium of East Grand Rapids High School. Former CIA agent Ray McGovern was in town and spoke at an anti-war rally before Bush arrived, only to be greeted by at least 1,000 protestors. There were many people unaffiliated at the demonstration, but it was organized by ACTIVATE, which distributed a 10 Reasons to Oppose the Iraq War flyer. ACTIVATE also had several large banners and attempted to challenge and bypass the police efforts to create “free speech zones.”

Vice President Dick Cheney came one more time to Grand Rapids, in September of 2007. Cheney spoke at the Gerald R. Ford Museum and another protest was organized by ACTIVATE, with an estimated 75 people participating in the action in the early part of a weekday.

In our next post we will look at anti-Iraq war actions that targeted Senators Debbie Stabenow and Levin, along with Congressman Vern Ehlers.

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Anti-Iraq War organizing in Grand Rapids 2002 – 2008: Part VI – Local media reporting on the US war in Iraq and hyper-nationalism on the air

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. Part IV focused on student anti-war organizing and an action that took place at Congressman Ehlers office, resulting in several arrests. Part V in this series, we looked at the GRPD’s efforts to monitor and infiltrate anti-Iraq war efforts and the protest that took place on the first day of the US invasion of Iraq. 

In today’s post we look at local media reporting on the US war in Iraq and how one radio station was overtly promoting the war.

Just weeks after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq began, some involved in anti-war organizing decided to challenge the local media with their hyper-nationalistic reporting and cheerleading.

In mid-April, anti-war protestors decided to hold a demonstration outside of the office of Citadel and Clear Channel radio, both of which were not only providing one-sided reporting on the US war against Iraq, but some of their DJs were using their airtime to dismiss and mock those who did not support the war. One DJ in particular, Rich Michaels would mock anti-war demonstrators, saying they were cowards and during the early months of the war would begin his show saying, “Born and raised in America, it’s Michaels in the Morning.”

The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) also conducted a six-week study of the Grand Rapids Press and the three TV news stations (WZZM, WXMI and WOODTV8) from a few days before the war began (March 17) through the first full week in May. The GRIID study looked at sources, framing, historical context and home-front coverage. You can view a 38 minute video analysis of their study, Searching for the Smoking Gun: Local Coverage of the War in Iraq.

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Anti-Iraq War organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part V – GRPD monitoring, infiltration and the first protest once the war began

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. Part IV focused on student anti-war organizing and an action that took place at Congressman Ehlers office, resulting in several arrests. 

Today, we want to look at the GRPD’s efforts to monitor and infiltrate anti-Iraq war efforts and the protest that took place on the first day of the US invasion of Iraq.

The Grand Rapids Press ran an article just prior to the beginning of the war, headlined, “With War looming, GR police prepare for more protests. The Press article conveys that the GRPD was planning on stepping up their activities and training in preparation for demonstrations. What the GR Press article does not discuss is the fact that the GRPD was monitoring the e-mail communications amongst anti-war organizers and sending undercover officers to meetings and protests. We know this because organizers worked with the ACLU to obtain GRPD documents related to the anti-war movement in Grand Rapids. The flyer on the right was a flyer that was created by organizers, but this copy was obtained through an ACLU FOIA request. 

The document below is from the GRPD, acknowledging that they sent undercover officers to anti-war organizing meetings, even though the undercover cops were exposed. The first part of the document discussing coming to a meeting at the IGE office on Wealthy St, then references to a meeting held at the Community Media Center on Bridge St. a few days later, where undercover cops were denied entry to the building.

The first demonstration that took place in Grand Rapids, once the US invasion of Iraq had begun was reported on by the Grand Rapids Press. The story is rather superficial and ignores the fact that the GRPD had undercover cops in the crowd of protestors.

Those involved in organizing the protest were alerted to two guys who were undercover cops, by someone who participated in the demonstration. She was able to ID the cops because she was a translator at the local courthouse and knew lots of the police officers while translating for people who had been in court and seeing the same officers in uniform there to testify against people who had been charged. Below is another document about the woman who had identified the undercover cops and shared that information with organizers. The GRPD states, “any future contact could pose even further problems based on her lack of ethical and moral decision making she has shown thus far.” Here the GRPD demonstrates their arrogance and the belief that they were right to infiltrate the protests.

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For many people, this was the first time they had encountered police as infiltrators. Some were surprised that the GRPD would engage in these kinds of tactics, which was really a reflection on how limited people’s understanding was on the history of police infiltration of social movements. The result of the GRPD intimidation and infiltration meant that some people chose to not participate in any further anti-war actions, while other people chose to distance themselves from those who had been the primary organizing entities in 2002 and 2003.

To view additional documents that were obtain by the ACLU, go to this page on Media Mouse.

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part IV Student organizing and civil disobedience before the war began

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explored the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003. 

In today’s post we want to look at what college students were doing to respond to a build up to the US invasion of Iraq, along with an action that took place against Congressman Vern Ehlers support for the US invasion that took place prior to the March 20, 2003 US assault on Iraq.

Beginning in the fall of 2002, college students in the greater Grand Rapids area began to be involved with anti-war organizing efforts. Some of those students were part of the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change, but most of them were organizing on their campus. The above article from the Grand Rapids Press attempted to show that college students were becoming active, but the main problem with the article was that they were n’t really talking to students who were actively involved in resisting the US invasion of Iraq.

On March 1st, 2003, an estimated 50 people marched from Aquinas College to the federal building in downtown Grand Rapids to protest the looming war with Iraq. Students from GVSU, Calvin College and Aquinas College made up the bulk of those marching. The march numbers were small, mostly because the action began at noon on a Friday and went til about 4pm, which made it difficult for working class people to participate.

However, some students who participated in the march were wanting to do more. The People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a civil disobedience training the following week, which then led to an action at the office of Rep. Vern Ehlers. (GR Press article above)

The GR Press article headline was misleading, since the group didn’t really care if Rep. Ehlers was there or not, they just wanted to make a statement about the impending US invasion of Iraq.

There were a few GVSU students who participated in this action, along with members of the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change. Six people were arrested when they refused to leave the federal building, so the US Federal Marshals called the GRPD.

The group had people there to speak to the news media and to hand out two flyers, one with information about the illegality of the US war/sanctions on Iraq and another handout, which was a poster of a WANTED sign for Rep. Ehlers, which called for his immediate arrest for supporting war crimes.

A few months later, the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change organized a People’s Trial against Congressman Ehlers, with a subpoena issued and the trial proceedings video taped.

In Part V, we will look at organizing to support the Arab American community and Muslims in Grand Rapids and the final action that took place before the US began bombing Iraq on March 20, 2003.

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Anti-Iraq War Organizing in Grand Rapids from 2002 – 2008: Part III – Women in Black and the false WMD presentation

In Part I, we looked at the early organizing that took place in the fall of 2002, where various groups were organizing resistance to the possible US invasion of Iraq. In Part II, we talked about how some groups went to DC for a national march on MLK Day, but then President Bush came to Grand Rapids in late January 2003, where over 1,000 protestors greeted him.

In Part III, we explore the organizing effort of the Grand Rapids chapter of Women in Black and the local news media’s reaction to the Colin Powell presentation at the UN on WMDs, in early February of 2003.

Women in Black was an international movement of women who non-violently opposed war, a movement which was begun by Israeli and Palestinian women. Grand Rapids formed a chapter in late 2002 and began to have a public presence at various demonstrations both before the US invasion of Iraq and afterwards.

On February 4th, about 80 members of Women in Black attended the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to demand that the city adopt a resolution against the war, just like many other cities had already done. Only a few members of Women in Black spoke, while most of the members stood in silence wearing all black. It was a powerful image that generated a great deal of discussion and media coverage, like the Grand Rapids Press article above.

The City of Grand Rapids eventually adopted a resolution, but not until a year after the war had begun and the resolution was much weaker than the version that members of Women in Black and the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change had proposed.

The day after the Women in Black demonstration, on February 5th, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had presented his findings that proved Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). This was the smoking gun that the US administration and the US media had been looking for, and while it was not cause enough to invade Iraq, the US government and the US media used it to win public support for the invasion.

What was interesting about this news was that several Grand Rapids-based news agencies had contacted the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change to get their response to the Powell report. However, the local news agencies didn’t just ask for a response, they took the position that local anti-war organizers were wrong and needed to acknowledge their mistake. Members of the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change never accepted the Powell report as fact, but more importantly, they argued that even if Iraq had WMDs, this was not a valid reason for the US to invade Iraq. The US was in possession of more WMDs than any other country in the world and had used them more times than any other country. The local news media wasn’t interested in facts, they only wanted to make local anti-war groups look bad.

Of course, we all know that years later it was proved that Iraq never had WMDs and that Colin Powell himself admitted that he lied during his February 5th, 2003 presentation to the United Nations. The local news media never apologized for their complicity in reporting Powell’s report as fact.

 

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