For the second week in a row, News Hits was out trying to relax while cadging free food and drinks at a fete only to find ourselves forced to do some actual reporting. We blame John Conyers, who has twice been put on the hot seat by admirers imploring the esteemed Democratic congressman from Detroit to hold hearings on the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.
But Conyers is keeping mum on his plans.
First it was liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes turning up the flame on JC at Peace Action's 50th anniversary soiree. Then, this past Sunday, it was peace activist Cindy Sheehan who cranked the temp to high.
Sheehan was receiving an award from the Cranbrook Peace Foundation, which annually honors someone whose actions to make the world a more peaceful place have been deemed extraordinary. Sheehan joined a prestigious group of past recipients that includes five Nobel Peace Prize winners.
So Sunday's 20th anniversary event at Cobo Center was a big deal. Conyers came to introduce Sheehan, which, if nothing else, was at least a little odd.
As Sheehan noted, "The last time I saw the congressman I was being led out of his office in handcuffs."
That was back in July, when Sheehan led a contingent of about 200 orange-clad protesters on a march from Arlington National Cemetery to Conyers' D.C. office. There she met with Conyers behind closed doors for an hour, beseeching the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Cheney. After reportedly being told by Conyers that wouldn't happen because there weren't enough votes to pull it off, Sheehan and others staged a sit-down protest. And Conyers, who is rightfully lauded for the role he played during the civil rights movement, had Sheehan and some 45 others arrested for disorderly conduct.
At Sunday's event, that incident appeared to be behind them as Sheehan and Conyers chatted amiably during a reception held before the award ceremony. Then Conyers heaped praise on Sheehan, introducing her as the "mother of the anti-war movement."
Sheehan became the public face of what was then still a fledgling movement following the death of her 24-year-old son, Casey, killed during an ambush in Baghdad shortly after his deployment there in spring 2004. When she set up a protest camp near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005, Americans were still largely in support of the war in Iraq. That's now changed.
However, attempts to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for a litany of alleged crimes — from the deceptions used to justify war in Iraq to warrantless wiretapping to torture to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, to name just a few — have been stymied.
Before the 2006 elections, no Democrat was more outspoken about the need to launch impeachment proceedings than Conyers. With Republicans in control of Congress, he made a show of holding an unofficial hearing on the issue in a basement office at the Capitol to both draw attention to the issue and, implicitly, to dramatize what would happen should Democrats take control of the House. He also wrote a book titled Constitution in Crisis. (Sheehan clutched a copy Sunday, calling it "brilliant.")
But after Democrats won both houses of Congress last year, impeachment, by order of newly installed Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was suddenly off the table. The rationale was that pressing the issue would create a backlash and hurt the party's chances of winning the White House in 2008. Conyers defended the decision, saying that, in addition to lacking the votes, Democrats needed to concentrate on passing important legislation.
But it wasn't just this about-face that left many feeling, as Sheehan said, "betrayed." Around the country, Democrats promised to bring about an end to the war if voters supported them. But instead of taking substantive action, the Democrats have done little more than offer nonbinding attempts to tie war funding to a timeline to troop withdrawal — which they knew would be vetoed.
Rather than flatulent shows of empty rhetoric, the Democrats could have taken action that was both decisive and effective. All they had to do was refuse to approve any bill providing war funding.
"Instead of passing phony bills with nonbinding timelines, they could have said, 'We're pulling the plug,'" explained Sheehan.
For those who gathered at Cobo on Sunday, Cindy Sheehan is a certified hero. You could see it in the way people approached her, almost reverently, as they offered handshakes and hugs.
During her speech, Sheehan laid bare her anguish over failing to protest the war before her son's death. At one point, fighting back tears, her eyes looking up as if to ask Casey's forgiveness, she lamented her complacency and the price she — and, more importantly, her son — paid for it.
She also recited a poem her daughter Carly wrote shortly after Casey's death. Titled "A Nation Rocked to Sleep," the poem contains a verse that Sheehan says prompted her to turn her grief into action:
Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rockedThrough all the emotion Sheehan delivered a clear message: We all need to fulfill our responsibility as citizens and force change, because the politicians won't do it on their own.
The leaders want to keep you numb so the pain won't be
But if we the people let them continue another mother
Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?
Afterward, when Conyers was pressed to say what he intended to do now that a bill calling for the impeachment of Cheney is before the Judiciary Committee he controls, Conyers refused to answer.
A week earlier, when News Hits asked him the same question, Conyers was sphinx-like, saying only that the situation was in flux.
However much those on the right might try to paint calls for impeachment as partisan retribution, they are wrong.
This is about us sending the message that the Constitution is still a document we hold dear, and whose protections we still value. It is about letting succeeding administrations know in no uncertain terms that, as Rhodes said a week ago, the notion of a unitary executive is just a euphemism for "dictator" and that we as Americans will not tolerate anyone trying to dismantle the system of checks and balances our nation's founders established to protect us from tyranny.
There's at least one more aspect to all of this: Increasingly alarming speculation that BushCo is planning an attack on Iran. By holding hearings on issue that led us into one illegal war, it is possible we could stop another.
The world is watching. What will we do?
As David Swanson — the co-founder of the group After Downing Street who helped Conyers stage his faux hearings back in 2006 — told News Hits, the people of Detroit are in a unique position. Our congressman holds in his hands the keys to pursuing justice. He can decide to hold hearings on the impeachment bill and begin the process of holding this administration accountable, or he can play political ball with the Democratic leadership.
And we can act to help shape that outcome. The number to John Conyers' Detroit office is 313-961-5670. The time to call is now.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com
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