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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