On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters–now known as the “Saint Patrick’s Four“–entered a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building’s vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.

For this act of non-violent civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists–sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott–are now charged with conspiracy to impede “by force, intimidation and threat” an officer of the United States along with three lesser offenses. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.

The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favoring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, “Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government.” Which is, of course, the idea.

To counter the chilling effect, and turn up the heat, supporters of the Saint Patrick’s Four have organized a Citizen’s Tribunal in Binghamton the first week of the trial, to address the legal, historical and moral defense for civil resistance to the Iraq war. Scheduled speakers include Medea Benjamin, John Bonifaz, Camilo E. Mejia, Ray McGovern, James Petras and many others and the public is heartily invited to attend.Supporting the Tribunal is one good way to help. And check out other suggestions below for supporting the St. Patrick’s Day Four and the rights of all Americans to engage in non-violent civil disobedience.

** Join 50,000 others and sign the letter in support of the St. Patrick’s Day Four.

** Donate to the St. Patrick’s Day Four’s Legal Defense Fund.

** Help spread the word about the trial.

** Support the Citizens’ Tribunal on Iraq.

Also, make sure to make plans to be in Washington, DC next weekend for what United for Peace and Justice and other activist groups are expecting will be a massive series of protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for info. (And watch this space for more on these activities.)