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Swanson: The Fierce Urgency of Impeachment

The Fierce Urgency of Impeachment
By David Swanson

Remarks at Emergency Impeachment Conference in New York City, February 17, 2007

It's an honor to be speaking with these panelists and it's great to be back in New York. But I want to ask you one thing about New York, because there's something I heard Senator Hillary Clinton say and I want to know if it's true. Is it true that if you live in New York you have to support this war? Can you live in New York and work for peace?

That's what I thought.

I got up at 2 a.m. this morning in Charlottesville, Va., my town and the town of Thomas Jefferson, the man whose greatest fear for our republic was of elected despotism. Jefferson and Madison and Mason and the others who drafted the most influential Constitution the world has seen, created a system of elections, but devoted much more attention and many more words to creating a system for maintaining our democracy in between elections. They gave this essential power to the House of Representatives, as the branch most subject to popular control, and they called this power impeachment.

The founders knew that democracy could only be maintained through eternal vigilance. But we – or perhaps more G.E. and Disney than we – have substituted for eternal vigilance an eternal election season. I don't know if the founders could have imagined the way in which elections are killing our democracy, but they certainly imagined that the loss of the power of impeachment would mean a return to tyranny.

No one can say exactly how long our window of opportunity is to get impeachment up and running before it's effectively blocked by the November 2008 election. Is it too late already? Do we have two months? Three months? Four months? Wiser minds than mine seem inclined to think we may have until roughly the end of April to get the impeachment process up and running. That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep pushing until January 2009 if need be. But it does mean that if you or your organization are on the edge of accepting the need for impeachment you should bear in mind that it will be much more helpful for you to make that decision right now than later this year or next year.

Seventeen Republicans took a tiny step forward against the war on Friday. They did that because Republican voters are turning against Bush and Cheney. Republicans should think very hard about something. Do you, as a Republican, want future Democratic presidents to have the ability to rewrite laws with signing statements? Do you want them to have the ability to spy on you with no legal oversight? I know Libertarians don't want that. Congressman Ron Paul says Bush should be impeached, but Congressman Paul has not found the nerve to do anything about it – yet.

The Green party publicly stands for impeachment. Every other party should join them.

Impeachment is not a means of empowering a party. It's a way to empower the American people and the first branch of our government, the Congress. But the fact is that if the Democratic Party takes a stand for impeachment, it will gain the respect and support of Americans and of people all over the world, and it will be rewarded. When the Democrats failed to impeach Reagan for Iran-Contra, thinking they could thereby win elections, they lost elections and put George Bush I in power – and we are suffering from that still. Americans do not vote for cowardice. They voted for Democrats post-Nixon, but not post-Reagan.

The current crop of Democrats has shown that it will not act to end the war without some sort of kick-start, something to strengthen the hand of opponents of Bush and Cheney. Impeachment is the one thing that might shift the balance.

A labor union member and peace activist sent me an Email yesterday that said: If the peace movement wants to succeed, we can't fail to employ the threat of impeachment any more than a union can promise never to go on strike.

Right now, unions are lobbying hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would restore the right to effectively organize unions in this country. But Cheney has promised to have Bush veto it. It is time for unions to threaten a strike. In politics a strike is called impeachment.

Environmental organizations are concerned that we only have to many years to reverse our energy policy if we are going to reverse global warming. But any bills to do that will be vetoed or signing statemented. You cannot tell me that you care about global warming and that you're willing to sit on your hands for two full years because impeachment is not your focus. It had better become your focus or the rest of us are going to learn about global warming the hard way.

Pick an issue, any issue, and a compelling case can be made that your priority for the next few months should be impeachment. Failing to pursue impeachment will mean two more years of war, detention, torture, and abuse, and the defunding of every useful public project. Two years is a quarter of the Bush, Cheney presidency. Pick any past two years of that presidency, and you have an idea of the catastrophe we're facing. The results of it will last well beyond the end of the two years.

To recognize the gravity of the impeachable offenses that Cheney and Bush have committed and yet not work to end them because your focus is elsewhere is, in many cases, to lose your focus. A citizen who does not work for impeachment when it is merited is a neighbor who watches a murder and does not intervene. We're all busy. We all have vitally important missions. But that's a murder outside the window. You wouldn't watch and do nothing. But the Bush Administration is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year by acts of commission and omission, people of Iraq, of Africa, of New Orleans, of the world. And if we fail to impeach, we will establish the precedent to allow future presidents to do the same and worse.

Impeachment is the nonviolent answer to this crisis. We should feel no animosity toward any human being, and we should condemn all acts of violence. This is absolutely essential if we are to succeed. But we should act with deliberateness and determination to restore the rule of law and hold accountable those who would place themselves above it.


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