The People's March for Peace, Equality, Jobs, and Justice on Saturday, August 25 in Newark, New Jersey brought thousands of impassioned pleas for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. It also brought Congressman John Conyers to the stage to promote the very popular National Health Insurance Bill, H.R. 676.
While the discussion of health insurance for all and the great congressman from Michigan were well-received with cheers and applause, the cries for impeachment took center stage. In what has become routine now, Conyers fed into the momentum asking "What should we do?" "IMPEACH!" cried the crowd. "What should we do?" "IMPEACH!" and so it was repeated. The congressman went on to declare that we needed to bring back Rumsfeld and put him on trial and the big question was to decide who ought to go first. "Cheney!" shouted the crowd enthusiastically.
Some knowing impeach activists in the crowd called the bluff asking "When are you going to act on this?" He replied that he was going to meet with impeachment activists. "When?!" they called. "Right after this march. Right here!" and he pointed back stage.
NJ impeachment activists, Stuart Hutchison (North), Cheryl Biren-Wright and Joanne O'Neill (South) as well as a representative from Central NJ positioned themselves behind stage to avoid getting the slip. After a few condescending and sarcastic assurances from the legislative aide that "Sure, sure, the congressman will meet you right here," they slowly maneuvered their way towards Rep. Conyers. By then, word had spread through the crowd that Conyers, not only was going to meet with impeachment supporters, but was going to sign onto H. Res. 333 on Monday. As the activists greeted the congressman, a warm exchange and introductions were made. "We're very pleased to hear that you've agreed to sign on to H. Res. 333 on Monday," announced Hutchison despite his doubt that this would actually be carried out. Conyers did not deny he said that, but replied "Well, you know I can't do it Monday, we're not in session." Biren-Wright interjected by pulling out a cell phone and suggested they could call Kucinich right there. Conyers proceeded, "...and, I can't do it on the 6th or the 13th...but I'll be back here in November." The NJ Impeach Group persisted and Conyers prepared to setup his next "deal." "Listen," he said, "You keep working here in New Jersey. You get one representative from New Jersey..." The members precipitously jumped in declaring, "We've got one!" Conyers was taken aback and shot a look at assistant, Joel Segal. "Who?" inquired Conyers. "Congressman Donald Payne who is on his way here right now," they replied.
Payne, New Jersey's only member of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus signed on to H. Res. 333 after a strong campaign by the NJ Impeach Groups and a sealing of the deal by David Swanson of afterdowningstreet.com last month. The congressman, who represents the city of Newark, was on his way to join Conyers in leading the march and addressing the crowd. Rep. Conyers struggled to respond to this unexpected news and suddenly his approach was less amicable and more direct. He searched each activist intently asking "Do you know what will happen if this moves forward and doesn't succeed? Do you have any idea?" as if the mere thought was too much to bear.
The representatives replied that they understood the consequences of not moving on it and that is where the real danger was. Despite the contentions of some critics, Conyers readily acknowledged that as chair of the judiciary, he holds the power to propel the impeachment process forward. However, he insisted that a campaign to impeach that was not successful would have dire consequences - presumably politically. The NJ Impeach Group explained that the success would be acquired through defending the Constitution and standing up to an administration that has committed a felony and grave abuses of power. They reiterated that this was the will of the people and that a growing number of democratic constituents are positioned to walk away from the party if the dems do not hold this administration accountable. Conyers stood firm in his position which begs the question of why he continues to urge crowds to support taking out Bush and Cheney before their term expires. The discussion was stuck in a stalemate when the South Jersey impeach leader asked what Conyers was going to suggest would happen if they were able to get a NJ congressman to sign on to impeach Cheney. Suddenly, Conyers looked longingly back at the stage and said he had to "get back up there." In the aftermath of Conyers telling a group of Progressive Democrats in July that if they could get just 3 more to sign on he would move on it and then failing to do so and now the suggestion that something would come to fruition if this group could get a NJ representative on board, they pressed the issue. Conyers began to move away from the group while pointing to the stage at an unseen force beckoning him, Biren-Wright respectfully, but firmly drew him back in and asked, "Sir, why do you keep upping the ante?" With a hint of apology, the Congressman responded simply that he had to go.
After descending from the stage a second time, Congressman Conyers was surrounded and confronted by an unrelenting group of protestors demanding that he begin impeachment proceedings. As a long-time admirer of this great statesman and feeling sentimental as a fellow Detroit native, this writer stood observing from a distance while the 78-year-old endured the near 100 degree heat of the day and the even more heated reaction from the crowd and felt an urge to reach in and pull him out of the smothering environment. We made eye contact a few times while he was being inundated with demands from the people and I wondered at what point would he realize that the consequences of not pursuing justice outweigh his fear of failure.
Later, as Congressman Donald Payne joined his colleague and friend, John Conyers, on the march for peace and justice, I approached Payne in the presence of Conyers, shook his hand and thanked him for his support of the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. With a wink and smile to John Conyers, I made my way back into the crowd and back to the drawing board.
Conyers continued on the march with great passion, commitment and leadership with respect to the other calls to march of ending the war, racial equality, healthcare for all, stopping the violence at home and abroad and other issues of social uplift. His presence on Saturday was inspiring and encouraging to the marchers and the citizens of Newark who cheered him on and stepped into formation when they saw they had the support of the man who has been one of the most powerful forces for social justice in our Congress. As Conyers, himself, wrote the book on impeachment - literally in The Constitution in Crisis: The High Crimes of the Bush Administration and a Blueprint for Impeachment and introduced in 2005, H. Res 635 that would create a select committee to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment, we hold out hope that he will choose to put justice and the future of our country before politics.