Overcoming John Conyers
Rep. John Conyers, venerable member of Congress, finally chair of the House Judiciary Committee,is a man who worked with Rosa Parks in Alabama and who hired her on his staff after he won election to Congress in Detroit. Years in Washington DC change a man. Yesterday Conyers had 48 impeachment activists, including Gold Star Families for Peace founder Cindy Sheehan, Iraq Veteran Against the War activist Lennox Yearwood and Intelligence Veterans for Sanity founder Ray McGovern, arrested for conducting a sit-in in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building. The three, together with several hundred other impeachment activists who packed the fourth floor hallway outside Rep. Conyers’ office, had come to press Conyers to take action on impeachment, and specifically to start action on H.Res. 333, the bill submitted nearly three months ago by Rep. Dennis Kucinich calling for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.
After nearly an hour of talking with Conyers, a clearly angry Sheehan emerged together with Yearwood and McGovern, and announced to the waiting throng in the hall that Conyers had told them "impeachment isn’t going to happen because we don’t have the votes." Sheehan said Conyers had insisted that the best thing was for Democrats to focus on "winning big in 2008." To volleys of boos and hisses, the three went back inside Conyers’ office suite, where they were joined by some thirty other supporters, and all were subsequently arrested, at Conyers’ request, by Capitol police, who cuffed them and walked them off for booking. Several of those who sat in refused to walk and were carried or dragged out of the Rayburn Office Building, as the activists in the hall chanted "Shame on Conyers! Shame onConyers!" and "Arrest Bush, Not the People!"
It was a disgraceful scene wholly unworthy of a dean of the Congressional Black Caucus. Before returning to sit in the Judiciary chairman’s office and await arrest, Sheehan publicly announced her intention to run in 2008 as an independent candidate for Congress against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and she called on Americans everywhere to run not just against Republicans in 2008, but against Democrats too. Yearwood, who is a chaplain in the Air Force, said that Conyers had been a mentor to him, but he declared that he now felt betrayed and that Americans needed to take back their government. As he was led down the hall to his arraignment, the handcuffed Yearwood sang "We Shall Overcome!"
This reporter subsequently called Conyers’ press office for an explanation of Conyers’ true position on impeachment. Only a few days earlier the congressman, at a San Diego meeting on health care reform, had told members of Progressive Democrats of America that it was time to "take these two guys (Bush and Cheney) out" and had promised that if just "a few more" members of the House signed on to the Kucinich bill (it already has 14 co-sponsors), he would move it forward for consideration in his Judiciary Committee. Asked how that statement squared with what he had told the group of activists in his office, the spokesman said Conyers’ "must have been misunderstood" in San Diego. He said that in view of Conyers’ statement to Sheehan and the others today, the Kucinich bill was "not going to go anywhere."
As impeachment activist David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org has said, there "seem to be two John Conyers." There’s the one who, in 2005 and early 2006, while Republicans controlled the House, was systematically making the case for impeaching the president and vice president. This Conyers had even submitted a bill, with 39 co-sponsors, which called for creation of a select committee to investigate possible impeachable crimes by the administration. And then there’s the Conyers who submits to the wishes of the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and is keeping impeachment off the table. Occasionally the former Conyers breaks out, saying things such as that the president needs to be "taken out" or, as he put it at an anti-war rally last spring, that "we can fire him!" But then the other Conyers comes to the fore, and stands in the way of impeachment action.
Yesterday, however, was worse than just doing nothing. The arrest of impeachment activists and their forcible eviction from his office was a betrayal of people who were doing the very thing that had allowed Conyers to make his way into Congress in the first place: sitting in to insist on action on their demands for justice. It was, after all, sit-ins that helped lead to the Voting Rights Act which allowed African American candidates like Conyers to finally win seats in the US Congress.
It’s ironic that Rep. Conyers, speaking in 2005 on "Democracy Now!" following Rosa Parks’ death at the age of 92, said her passing "is probably the end of an era." Certainly, with his request to have Capitol Police officers enter his office (the very office where Parks once had worked as a staff member!) to cuff and arrest peaceful protesters who were trying to defend the Constitution, he has made that point far more clearly than he could have expressed it in mere words.
But as in the case of Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement, arrests and fines will not stop the national grassroots drive to impeach this president and vice president. With polls showing that a majority of the country now favors impeachment, and with Conyers, Pelosi, and the Democratic Congress sinking deeper and deeper into disfavor even as the president continues to add to his list of Constitutional crimes, something’s gotta give. After all, the Founders, in writing impeachment into the Constitution, did not say the test was whether Congress had the votes to impeach. They wrote that if the president abused his power, or committed other high crimes and misdemeanors, bribery or treason, Congress "shall" impeach.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His n book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment",
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org