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20 years ago there was a movement in Grand Rapids to oppose the US war and occupation of Iraq: Part IV – Student organizing against the war and civil disobedience at the office of Congressman Ehlers.

February 20, 2023

In Part I of our series looking back at the 20th anniversary of the public resistance to the US invasion/occupation of Iraq in 2003, we focused on early organizing efforts to build an anti-war movement before the US war on Iraq even began. In Part II, we looked at the protest when President’s Bush’s visited Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address and the GRPD’s response during that protest. In Part III, we looked at the Women in Black actions, the global protest against the war march that took place in Lansing, along with the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change workshops on civil disobedience that were offered to a growing number of people who wanted to do more than just hold signs.

In today’s post, we will look back at the students organizing that was taking place at a few colleges in Grand Rapids, plus the sit in that took place in the Federal Building to confront Congressman Ehlers on his complicity in the US war against 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. (As this picture here on the right shows) 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.

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 of Rep. Vern Ehlers. The mock trial was a piece of performance art designed to dramatize the human rights violations and war crimes that the West Michigan Congressman was complicit in, since he consistently voted for ongoing military operations and funding for the US military invasion/occupation of Iraq.

The trial organizers did send a People’s Subpoena to Congressman Ehlers office in Grand Rapids, but he never responded. The trial script was written by John Rich, a script you can read here, along with supporting documents on the war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq, crimes which the Congressman supported.

The trial was also broadcast on the public access TV station, GRTV, as well as being posted on line. The video is 33 minutes long and involved several characters to address specific issues related to the US invasion/occupation of Iraq. Here below is the video of the People’s Trial of Vern Ehlers. 

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

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