Revolution #76, January 14, 2007
World Can't Wait Program at National Press Club
Against "Laying Back and Letting it Happen"
On the evening of January 4, 300 people crowded in to the National Press Club to listen to Michael Ratner, Cindy Sheehan, John Nichols, Daniel Ellsberg, Sunsara Taylor, and a video message from Gore Vidal in a program emceed by David Swanson of After Downing Street. The program was sponsored by the World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
John Nichols, of The Nation Institute, drew from the themes of his latest book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. After drawing the similarities between Bush and the monarchs that the founders of the U.S. had broken with, he laid out how in 1787 the authors of the Constitution “set out to do a couple of very simple things. One, to insure that no one man could ever lead this country into war on his own. They wanted to chain the dogs of war. And two, to insure that if a president did that, then the people and their Congress would have the tools to remove him. Not at the next election. But at the next possible moment.”
As opposed to taking impeachment off the table because of the big trouble the U.S. is having with the war in Iraq, Nichols argued forcefully that these are the circumstances when it is needed most!
Cindy Sheehan cut through a lot of the recent hype surrounding the death of Gerald Ford, saying, “We all know Gerald Ford was a crappy president… People say he’s a healer, he healed the country after Watergate. Well, I want to tell you that if he healed the country after Watergate my son would still be alive. Almost a million Iraqis would still be alive. Three thousand and four other Americans would still be alive. And thousands would still have their arms, legs, and eyes… If Richard Nixon had been truly prosecuted and imprisoned, George Bush wouldn’t think he was above the law.”
Daniel Ellsberg, who risked imprisonment to leak the Pentagon Papers that helped bring the Vietnam War to an end, urged whistle-blowers of today to not wait as long as he had, to not wait until the blood has been spilled, the troop level escalated and the next war, probably Iran, is launched. Ellsberg compared the undermining of the rule of law, the sharpening of the repressive edge of the state, and the wars of aggression by the U.S. under Bush to those of Nazi Germany. He spoke with historical clarity and moral authority, saying, “I’m not talking about the Holocaust. I’m not even talking about the aggression which by the way, we have had in Iraq. Iraq is not legally or in any way distinguishable from the invasion of Poland or France or any of those others… But let me go earlier than all that and talk not about the German dictatorship but about the German liberal, fairly liberal, constitutional democracy, under Weimar.” He recounted how Hitler came to power in January of 1933, how he took advantage of the burning of the Reichstag government building in February to unleash his brownshirts to round up, detain, torture, and kill thousands of communists and other members of the political opposition. He concluded by saying, “Bush and Cheney have to go for a number of reasons. One of them is that frankly if there’s [another] 9/11 while they’re in power, then I think you will not distinguish this country very much from the police state in Germany the summer of 1933. There was detention camps and everything else.”
Then Ellsberg recommended the book, Defying Hitler, saying, “You cannot read that without feeling that you’re reading what’s going on now. The essence of it being not so much the ferocity and determination of the Nazis but the lack of opposition. The fact that everybody laid back and let it happen.”
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, laid out the slam-dunk case for impeachment on counts related to the Iraq war, warrantless wiretapping, the policy of torture and illegal detentions, and signing statements. He stressed that “All of us want to push for very good hearings in Congress that actually expose things and bring the American people along. But let me say, Congress will not do this without a push from the American people and the public and the people in this room.” After praising those who had dressed in the orange jumpsuits, Ratner called on people to protest again in D.C. on January 11 to stop the torture and indefinite detentions.
Sunsara Taylor, who spoke on behalf of World Can’t Wait, expanded on the crimes of the Bush Regime, which include the frontal assault on women’s reproductive rights and the rights of gay people, the danger to the environment, the suppression of science and critical thought, the promotion of Christian fundamentalism, and the criminal negligence against Black people and others through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. And she put a challenge to everyone, especially the students, saying:
“Nixon won the presidency in a landslide election but just two years later he resigned in shame. The U.S. war in Vietnam was going terribly. The military was disintegrating. The whole of society was in political upheaval—campuses were being shut down and taken over, soldiers were in political rebellion, hundreds of thousands were out in the streets, the music of the time pulsed with disaffection and dreams of a better world, revolution was on the lips of many among the most oppressed—and millions more were on the verge of losing their faith in the whole political system. It was in the face of all this that some Republicans changed their position and voted for impeachment, that John Dean, a member of Nixon’s own cabinet, refused to lie for him, where his subordinates refused to carry out Nixon’s request to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate and where the whole dynamic in society was radically reversed.
“Today all this is being rewritten as if this was an unfortunate and painful period and the pardon of Nixon by Gerald Ford is being upheld as a model for national unity and healing.
“But this is a moment when the real lessons of that period are more relevant than ever. When Nixon said he’d end the war by escalating it to Cambodia, campuses across the nation were shut down in the largest student strike in the history of this country. This is something the purveyors of war for empire fear—but this is something that people who have no interest in today’s war should be working urgently with every resource they can command to achieve. As part of this, World Can’t Wait is calling on all of you to help organize teach-ins at 100 campuses this spring to bring the full truth about the crimes being committed in our names.”
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