The Democrats’ First Day
The triumph of the new Democratic Congress on their first day and their promises of a "new direction" offered all the refreshment of Lysol dressing up the stench of rotting homes of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, of human waste and blood in the secret C.I.A. torture dungeons, and of the mangled bodies that are being chewed by dogs in the streets of of Baghdad.
Nancy Pelosi’s much touted agenda for the first 100 hours of the new Congress made no mention of ending the war on Iraq, repealing the Military Commissions Act which legalizes torture and rips up habeas corpus, rebuilding New Orleans, or — for all the talk of her chairmanship as a "great advance" for women — taking on the assault on women’s reproductive rights and basic equality.
Throughout their painstakingly choreographed first day in Congress, the horrors that the Democrats are working with the Bush Regime to push out of the public eye and the deep and widespread disgust of millions with these horrors kept bubbling up.
On January 4th, millions of readers woke up to articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Post and elsewhere with the exhilarating news of Cindy Sheehan seizing the microphone after Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emmanuel fled the disruption of his press conference by anti-war protesters. Emmanuel’s smug arrogance about his "success" in turning the Democratic Party into one that is even less distinguishable from the Republicans — by recruiting pro-war, anti-abortion, anti-gay candidates — was challenged before his new Congress was even sworn in.
At noon, just as Nancy "impeachment-off-the-table" Pelosi was being sworn in, hundreds gathered near the Capital beneath a banner that read: "Impeach George Bush for War Crimes." Several dozen people crouched in the bright orange jumpsuits that are the signature of Guantanamo detainees with black hoods over their heads. They were a living portrayal of some of the Bush Regimes’ crimes against humanity: the illegal detention and torture that this regime has institutionalized and that this Congress won’t even speak about.
People of all ages had traveled from Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, New York and elsewhere, some abandoning at the last minute their plans to see their congresspeople get sworn in–choosing instead to protest for impeachment. An active duty Marine blended into the crowd in his street clothes to prevent being arrested. While most people had come out of opposition to the war, it was striking how strongly the crowd responded when people from the stage spoke against the Bush regime’s handling of Hurricane Katrina as well as the brutal killing of Sean Bell by the New York Police Departments’ 50 shots, particularly the fists of anger and defiance that shot up from among the Black folks in the crowd.
Military mother Elaine Brower, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Green Party co-chair Steve Cramer, Paul Magno of the Torture Abolition Coalition, Kevin Zeese of Democracy Rising and others took turns at the mic. Some expressed their hope that the new Congress will listen and respond to the demands of the people to get out of the brutal war in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan was greeted with enthusiasm spoke movingly about the cost of the Iraq war in the lives of Iraqi people and the need for people to hold the new Congress’ feet to the fire to impeach Bush and end the war in Iraq. Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus delivered a stirring challenge to the audience to cross traditional color lines and bring together the streams of outrage around US immigration policy, against the treatment of people in New Orleans, and against the war into a unified movement against a regime that is endangering us all. I spoke for World Can’t Wait, focusing on the complicity of the Democrats in accepting and promoting the whole logic of Bush’s so-called "War on Terror" and the need for people to rise up in massive political upheaval to bring this whole direction to a halt.
As the rally came to a close, a recording of Pink’s scathing "Dear Mr. President" filled the air. And protesters in Guantanamo orange jumpsuits lined up on the street each with a four-foot-tall letter spelling out "The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime!" and then marched towards the capital, drawing support from many people on the street who raised concerns ranging from stem cell research to the discarding of the Geneva Conventions.
Meanwhile, the Senate building was being redecorated with immense, truth-telling banners. One that hung 30 by 10 feet proclaimed: "War, Lies, Torture – We Will Not Be Silent," was flashed on several major news programs. Senators came out with their eyes wide and jaws open while federal workers gathered to admire and appreciate this message.
That evening, 300 people crowded in to the National Press Club to listen to Michael Ratner, Cindy Sheehan, John Nichols, Daniel Ellsberg, myself and a video message from Gore Vidal in a program emceed by David Swanson of After Downing Street. Together we laid out the crimes of the Bush regime, from the war of aggression against Iraq and legalization of torture which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, to the frontal assault on women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gay people, the danger to the environment, the suppression of science and critical thought, the official promotion of Christian fundamentalism, and the criminal response to Hurricane Katrina.
An Historical Challenge
As the Call for the World Can’t Wait states, "The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come."
This was not changed or even challenged in the 2006 elections. A sobering sign of the political climate is that even with a Democratic majority, even John Conyers — one of the most liberal members of Congress who has done as much to expose the impeachable offenses of George Bush as almost anyone and who has worked with World Can’t Wait-Drive Out the Bush Regime — has come out and argued against impeachment, insisting it is unrealistic because it would require bipartisan support.
What this is really saying is that the only people who can set political terms in this country are George Bush’s neo-cons and Christian fascists and that everyone else has to find their place within these terms. But this must not be accepted.
Just as it did during Nixon’s day, it will take political struggle breaking free of these terms and coming up from below to create a situation where those in power are compelled to change their position and impeachment is put back on the table and carried out or some other means is found to politically drive out this regime. If we fail, everything that Bush has done will remain legitimate, no matter who becomes the next president and the people of the world and future generations will judge us harshly.
Subhead: O’Reilly’s Threats. . . and Their Fear of Mass Action
That night, The O’Reilly Factor aired an exchange between me and O’Reilly where he repeatedly called me a lunatic and actually threatened me, while I stayed focused on how George Bush has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be stopped.
One very interesting thing about this program was the discussion that followed my appearance. O’Reilly’s next guest, Dick Morris, a high level bourgeois political operative, challenged how O’Reilly dismissed me and the protesters as just a small group. "It’s huge, it’s not 50 or 60, its tens of millions," Morris said, "Just as in the 1960′s the Vietnam movement was critical of its own Democratic Party for supporting the war and for not opposing it vigorously enough, you’re going to see the Howard Dean element of the Democratic Party increasingly breaking away from the Pelosi mainstream of the Party… The Democrats are determined to stay away from the two issues that got them elected: opposing the tax cuts and the Iraq war… There’s a fissure happening… and that lunatic, as you called her… is not alone."
O’Reilly tried again insisting that we are merely "a pressure group." He said, "They’re not wide, they can’t mobilize a lot of people because people understand that the United States would be much better off if we did win in Iraq." And Morris replied, "I’ll bet they could put two million people in the streets of Washington."
The truth of how widespread opposition to the Bush program was apparent in the response our protests got all day long. It was even apparent when I stepped into the car that Fox News had provided for me. The driver, after hearing about my appearance, blurted out, "Bill O’Reilly is the lunatic! And George Bush doesn’t need to be impeached. He needs to be thrown in jail!"
Will the resisters who sprung up all over D.C. and who represent the will and the interests of millions of people in this country and more around the world persevere and step up their challenge to this regime–and also challenge all those who would sit back and be complicit in the tremendous crimes being committed? Will all this gain in momentum and determination to create a situation where the refusal of those in power to reverse this direction is responded to by greater outbreaks of political struggle rather than passive acceptance and demoralization? Or will the people be lulled by the false sense of victory that comes from this reactionary Democratic Congress? Will people’s hopes, energies, resources and principles be sucked into the killing confines of the 2008 elections which have already kicked into gear and are not challenging in any fundamental way the whole direction and package of the Bush regime? There is a huge choice and challenge before us–and what we do, and win others to do, will matter immensely.