The Occupation Project, organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV), kicked off at noon, Eastern Time when four people were arrested holding a funeral service in the Chicago office of Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and four more people were arrested in the Chicago office of U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), reading names of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers.

At the same the same hour, 10 people sat down and were arrested in the Washington, D.C. office of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), including Garett Reppenhagen, a director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Franciscan priest Jerry Zawada, and Kathy Kelly, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and co-director of VCNV. McCain's office in Phoenix was also occupied.

On the opening day of the six-week project, a total of eight local congressional offices were occupied across the country, including the San Francisco offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and the Portland office of Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). Members of Veterans For Peace, one of the 18 organizations endorsing the campaign, participated in an action at a congressional office in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Dan Pearson, a spokesperson for the Occupation Project, explained the campaign's goal is to defeat the $93 billion "emergency supplemental war funding bill that the Bush administration forwarded to Congress yesterday."

Pearson and three others were removed from Obama's Chicago office yesterday after the office manager told them they could stay until closing time if they stopped reading letters from U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. Pearson responded that "We didn't come here to sit down and be quiet. We are responding to an emergency. If an apartment were on fire across the street I would bang on every door and interrupt whatever the neighbors were doing and I wouldn't feel bad about it."

Today, organizers are targeting congressional offices in Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, and Seattle. Plans for other occupations are underway in over 20 states as a way to pressure elected officials to "defund the Iraq war.

The Occupation Project got a boost yesterday when United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the coalition that brought some 300,000 protesters to Washington on January 27, endorsed it and sent an email letter to its 1400 member organizations around the nation, urging their participation.

-- Mike Ferner is a freelance writer from Ohio and author of "Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq" He can be reached at: mike.ferner (at) sbcglobal.net

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