Saturday, July 15, 2006

Teach to impeach

Teach to impeach

Events nationwide aim to educate public about impeachment

By Kathryn Casa / Vermont Guardian

Here’s an impeachment pop quiz: true or false?

* If impeached, a public official is removed from office.
* One U.S. president has been impeached.
* Impeachment can occur only at the federal level.

The answers are: false, false, and false. Impeachment is the first of two distinct phases to remove a government official. Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached. Impeachment can occur at the state and federal levels.

Many in the United States don’t know much about the impeachment process, according to organizers of a national day of impeachment teach-ins. So on Wednesday, they are seeking to change that.

Impeachment teach-ins have been organized in more than 100 U.S. communities, including three in Vermont — Waitsfield, Burlington, and Brattleboro — where they are precursors to a month-end impeachment organizing effort featuring anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.

The July 19 teach-ins will feature the premiere of a short documentary, How to Impeach a President, featuring lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights who have developed a legal case for the impeachment of Pres. George W. Bush.

The New York-based center, along with Melville House Books, has developed an impeachment how-to kit, including the video and a 144-page handbook, Articles of Impeachment Against George. W. Bush.

The pamphlet details four articles of impeachment on four separate charges: warrantless surveillance, misleading Congress on the reasons for the Iraq War, violating laws against torture, and subverting the Constitution’s separation of powers.

“We were interested in making a book that would be like a handbook to the legal case for impeachment,” said Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson. “We wanted an inexpensive handbook that the average person can buy to understand what’s going on, the relevant rules and laws, and that the Constitution has a means in it to deal with exactly this kind of situation.”

Johnson described the response to the handbooks as “amazing.” More than 2,000 constituents have paid Melville House to send copies of the handbook to more than 300 representatives in Congress, he said.

According to Dan DeWalt, a Newfane selectboard member and architect of impeachment town meeting resolutions that passed in seven Vermont communities, “The whole concept of impeachment is very fuzzy in people’s heads. You talk about impeachment and they say, ‘Gee, shouldn’t we try him first?’ A certain amount of people’s reticence toward the idea of impeachment comes from them not understanding what it really is.”

After Town Meeting Day, a pair of U.S. missionaries serving abroad were among the hundreds who wrote to DeWalt to congratulate him. “You have set an example for the entire country,” wrote Graham and Dory Hutchins. “It is unfortunate that so many find your actions reprehensible and do not understand the value in the process in which you all engaged. It demonstrates that far too many people have forgotten, or were never taught, the basics of the republic in which they live. Those traditions that you abide by are in grave danger from an imperial orientation that values power over liberty, deception over truth.”

DeWalt’s efforts in Vermont helped spark similar resolutions at state and local levels throughout the country.

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson wrote last spring: “It’s all over the blogosphere. It’s the cover story in the current Harper’s. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed an impeachment resolution. Antiwar activists, civil libertarians, all the usual-suspect constituencies have growing impeachment tendencies. But it’s reaching beyond the usual suspects.”

But it did not reach as far as Congress, where impeachment and censure failed to resonate, and even Vermont’s lone representative, self-professed socialist Bernie Sanders, refused to pursue impeachment in a body dominated by Republicans. Only a handful of representatives signed on to Rep. John Conyers’, D-MI, resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate the administration, and the media soon lost interest.

Nevertheless, Johnson believes there is still strong grassroots support for impeachment that will come to the political fore after the November elections. “Vermont started something, and I think there have been numerous other town councils, boards of supervisors, and state Democratic parties that have passed similar resolutions,” he said.

On June 27, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to let voters decide whether the president should be impeached. The measure will appear on the city’s Nov. 7 ballot. The question is also on ballots in two Illinois cities, according to ImpeachPAC, a political action committee that has raised more than $41,000 to help elect candidates who support the simultaneous impeachment of Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.

Three state legislatures, including Vermont’s, have passed impeachment resolutions, joining 16 state Democratic parties, and more than 22 towns and cities and dozen more local Democratic committees nationwide. In a continuing education effort, DeWalt said Sheehan will be in Brattleboro and Montpelier on July 30 to strategize with activists from throughout New England on how to pursue impeachment.

Sheehan and DeWalt will be joined at a 1 p.m. rally on the Brattleboro Common by Frances Crowe, who advocates for conscientious objectors; Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space; Rob Shetterly of; Dud Hendrick, a former Naval officer and member of Maine Veterans for Peace; and Sunny Miller of Traprock Peace Center in Deerfield, MA.

Sheehan and DeWalt will travel to Montpelier the same day for a 6 p.m. rally on the Statehouse lawn.