We went to a celebration over the weekend and stumbled upon what might be some big news. The emphasis, though, is on the words "might be." The occasion was Peace Action's 50th anniversary, with the local affiliate marking the milestone in high style with a soiree at the Westin Hotel in Southfield on Sunday afternoon. With a who's who list of local lefties among the 350 in attendance, the banquet room was filled with an air of camaraderie and high hopes. You would think that after seven years of the worst administration in U.S. history, and more than five years of a disastrous war in Iraq, the peaceniks would be left somber and reeling. But with people in the audience who've been activists since before the group that would become Peace Action was founded in 1957, it was possible to take a longer view, and to see that there've been crusades before that seemed daunting, but were won in the end.
Maybe it's the fact that change is most likely when things are at their worst, and that, in some ways, our situation has never seemed more dire. Look at the polls regarding public support for George Bush or the need to end the Iraq War and it is obvious that a sprawling swath of Middle America has caught up with what people gathered at the Westin Hotel have long been saying. That's certainly cause to celebrate. And the fact that a group like Peace Action has survived for a half century is surely reason to sing and dance.
The event's highlight came in the form of keynote speaker Randi Rhodes, a popular host on the liberal talk radio network Air America (heard locally on WDTW-1310 AM). Rhodes delivered a series of one-liners — not jokes, but rather elements of the progressive canon. From opposition to "pre-emptive war" to the privatization of conflict ("The military is not in service to corporations, " said Rhodes, "and corporations are not the military.") to warrantless searches, seizures and wiretaps being conducted in the name of national security, she laid these touchstones down one by one until they formed both a link to the past and a road to the future, all built on the bedrock foundation that our Constitution is the law of the land and that no man is above it.
At that point Rhodes began talking about what happened when Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio congressman who's seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced a bill last week calling for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney.
Kucinich's bill appeared headed toward a swift death because of opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who adamantly opposes the launching of impeachment proceedings.
But, to the surprise of almost everyone, House Republicans began throwing their support behind Kucinich — not because they know their party's leader and his No. 2 deserve to be put on trial for committing high crimes and misdemeanors, but rather as a way to embarrass Pelosi and the Democrats.
"They were treating this as a joke," railed Rhodes.
Kucinich was seeking a floor vote on his bill, but the Democratic leadership was able to instead maneuver it to the House Judiciary Committee.
And here's where things got particularly interesting in terms of Rhodes' speech, because one of the few people in the world who has a direct hand in determining the fate of that bill — U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee — sat in the audience, less than 20 feet from her.
Before the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006, Conyers was one of the leading voices discussing the possibility of impeaching George Bush and his shadowy veep. After the election, with the House leadership declaring that impeachment was off the table, Conyers said that the votes needed to force the duo from office weren't there, and as a consequence pursuing impeachment would be counterproductive.
After her talk, Rhodes knelt alongside Conyers' chair and they had what looked to be a friendly chat that ended with an embrace. Afterward, as Rhodes was racing to catch a plane home, we tried to ask her what was going on with Conyers. Without breaking stride, Rhodes relayed that Conyers told her for something to happen with the legislation there would have to be an outpouring of public support for the bill.
We then collared the always-congenial Conyers and asked him what was going through his mind as he heard Rhodes endorse the call for impeachment and saw the crowd of lefties stand and give that endorsement thunderous applause.
"I can't tell you," responded Conyers.
We pressed him, pointing out what he'd told us in the past about impeachment being counterproductive. But that was before Republicans voted to make this an issue, Conyers explained.
"Events have changed the situation," he said.
Mainstream pundits have predicted Kucinich's bill would languish in committee. If nothing else, Conyers appears to be leaving the door open to the possibility that hearings on the matter could be held.
But, if what Rhodes told us is accurate, it's up to us to force the hand of Democrats on this issue. As longtime activist Al Fishman told the assembled crowd at the Westin, the name of the group being celebrated had two components, peace and action.
In a letter to Conyers, Kucinich held that his bill involved even more than that, seeing it as a way to possibly head off what many believe is the Bush administration's push to attack Iran.
"Recent reports indicate that the vice president is attempting to shape the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran to conform to his misperceptions about the threat Iran actually poses," Kucinich wrote. "Much like his deceptive efforts in the lead-up to the Iraq war, the vice president appears to be manipulating intelligence to conform to his beliefs."
So, if you believe in the Constitution, and also believe those who violate it should be held accountable — not as a matter of political partisanship but instead as a matter of principle and justice — now is the time to attach some action to those beliefs and let your feelings be known. And if you want to try and stop what could well be the next war, there's no time to waste.This column is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]