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Race is the Tripwire for the Progressive Movement: John Conyers and Impeachment
On July 23, Cindy Sheehan, Ray McGovern and I met with U.S. Rep. John Conyers about the issue of impeachment. We delivered a petition for impeachment with one million signatures. While we met, 400 activists waited in the halls outside of his office along with a hoard of media to find out what the outcome of the meeting would be. The meeting was a very significant moment for the progressive movement from a historical standpoint. The movement for impeachment and the immediate reactions to why John Conyers was publicly targeted on this issue reflect how race continues to be, as my dear friend Bill Fletcher says, the tripwire for the progressive movement.
Rep. Conyers is a great mentor to me and my respect for him is unquestionable. He has been fighting for peace and justice and civil rights for decades inside and outside of Congress. He is a man for the people and for America. So, it was a truly disappointing moment on Monday, when we realized - as mentor and mentee - that we do not agree on his role as the Chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary committee to uphold our constitution by holding our President and Vice President accountable for their impeachable offensives.
After concluding our meeting I stepped into the hallway with Cindy Sheehan and Ray McGovern to inform the crowd that he refused to put impeachment back on the table. We then returned to his office and sat down, refusing to leave until Capitol Police arrested us.
Since Monday, our action has been criticized on two fronts. First, by the tedious "maintain the Democratic party line no matter what" folks who think that we should wait Bush out until November 2008 and get back at him by voting in a Democrat for President. Second, by folks who have interpreted our targeting of Rep. Conyers, a deeply respected African-American leader in Congress, as an attack that is fundamentally racist by the White leftists of the anti-war movement.
To uncritical supporters of the Democratic Party, I say this is not a time for partisan politics. To use the American people's frustration with Bush as political leverage in the 2008 elections, and to ignore the constitutional responsibility the legislative branch has to hold the executive branch accountable through the impeachment process, flies in the face of our democracy. People are dying in Iraq because of Bush's lies; people are being tortured in Guantanamo because of Bush's disregard for the Constitution and international law; and the American people are loosing faith in our democracy. But, Congress doesn't get that, and that is why their current approval rating is lower than Bush's.
To my African-American counterparts who take issue with the White progressive anti-war movement, I understand your criticism of our recent action in Mr. Conyers office, but I do not agree. It was extremely difficult to challenge a man that means so much to African-Americans, but impeaching Bush is critical to the future of our country. We cannot let the precedent stand that Bush has established, which severely oversteps the bounds of executive power. We cannot send the message that such actions will not go unpunished, or at least unchecked.
Impeachment begins in the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, which Rep. John Conyers chairs. He is in the position to begin the impeachment process or keep it from happening, and no other human being is in that position. In addition, Rep. Conyers is the recognized authority on Capitol Hill both on impeachment and on the impeachable offenses of Vice President Cheney and President Bush. He and his staff literally wrote the book on them before the Democrats won the majority last November: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/constitutionincrisis.
Moreover, the action on Monday was not a first resort - it was a last resort. There is no other recourse against Bush for the American people after impeachment, and if Rep. Conyers does not put forth impeachment then we have no recourse and the Democrats will have failed us.
This moment is not about race, it is not about John Conyers, and it is much bigger than the divides within our movements. This moment is about our future as a country, because humanity is at stake. The Bush administration' s hunger for war has caused so much instability in our world that we face a state of permanent wars.
The challenge we face as activists and leaders is how can we possibly bring an end to this madness when the Democrats in power are not with us? We need a broad-based movement that can hold our elected officials accountable and to create such a movement we need to address our internal divides. The reason many African-Americans have interpreted our action against Rep. Conyers as racial betrayal goes deep into the tradition of the progressive movement. How we can begin to address this is something I will discuss in an upcoming article.
In the meantime, for the sake of our country and our world, let us all work to impeach Bush and Cheney now.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President of the Hip Hop Caucus. The Hip Hop Caucus is a national, nonprofit, non-partisan organization meant to inspire and motivate those of us born after the '60s civil rights movement.