On Saturday, March 17 around 200 people participated in a march commemorating the 4th anniversary of the US war in Iraq (photos). The local group ACTIVATE organized the march which began at the corner of Burton and the East Beltline. The march first went to the home of Congressman Vern Ehlers who lives just blocks from where the march started. ACTIVATE went to the Congressman’s home in order to get him to sign a contract that demanded he agree to an immediate withdraw of all US troops and to vote against any new funding for the war in Iraq. Ehlers, as we have reported before, has been a consistent supporter of the war in Iraq from the very beginning. The Grand Rapids Press reported that Ehlers was home at the time, but refused to answer the door, so activists taped the contract to the front of his house. Some people put yard signs in his front lawn that read “war criminal lives here,” while others took flyers to his neighbors’ homes. The flyers read like a neighborhood crime alert, drawing attention to Ehlers’ legal support for war crimes.
The march then proceeded back to the East Beltline, but along the way the police detained one protestor without giving a clear reason for doing so. The police refused to give the protestor a reason, and contrary to reporting in the corporate media, the protestor did not resist arrest. The protestor was put in a police car which led to other protestors questioning and challenging this action. Suddenly a police officer yelled, “You are going to jail” and grabbed someone. Protestors and the police fell to the ground. This resulted in the arrest of three more protestors, even though many eyewitnesses said the arrests were the result of police provocation. A statement issued by ACTIVATE made similar assertions. Despite the focus on this incident in the corporate media, the arrests occupied only ten minutes of the whole protest.
People eventually re-grouped at the East Beltline and then began marching towards 28th street. When the march arrived at the intersection that connects the two major shopping malls, people used the crosswalks as an opportunity to communicate with motorists about the war in Iraq and to limit vehicle movement. The marchers did the same thing at the 28th street/East Beltline intersection and despite creating delays for motorists received mostly favorable responses. Next, the march made it’s way towards the Woodland Mall with the intention of marching through the mall and handing out flyers to people inside. The Grand Rapids and Kentwood police departments, along with mall security guards had been monitoring the march since it arrived by the mall on the East Beltline. When protestors entered the mall driveway, police pulled in front of the march and stopped protestors from moving forward. There was an exchange between protestors and police for around 15 minutes. The police told protestors that this was “private property” and that if people didn’t leave they would be arrested. The protestors eventually left the mall area and marched back to the Burton and East Beltline intersection where the march began.
Local news coverage of the protest appeared in a variety of media, most notably the Grand Rapids Press and WZZM 13. None of the coverage provided reasons for the protest and tended to focus on the arrests made by Grand Rapids Police Department. In fact, even though Congressman Ehlers refused to speak with members of ACTIVATE, the Grand Rapids Press gave him more print space than those who organized the event.