January 25, 2007
Courage is in short supply in Washington, D.C. Hardly a surprise.
The realities of the Iraq War cry out for the impeachment of a president who is responsible for death, destruction and chaos in that country.
But all we hear in the nation's capitol -- which is the source of those catastrophes -- is a whimper from the Democratic Party, muttering and nattering about bipartisanship and non-binding resolutions, in a situation that calls for bold action to immediately reverse the present course.
These are the Democrats who were brought to power in November by an electorate fed up with the war, furious at the Bush administration and counting on the new majority in Congress to represent voters.
But if sanity is to be restored in our national policies, it can only come about by a great popular upheaval, pushing both Republicans and Democrats into compliance with the national will.
The Declaration of Independence, revered as a document, ignored as a guide to action, needs to be read from pulpits and podiums, on street corners and radio stations, throughout the nation. Its words, forgotten for more than two centuries, need to become a call to action for the first time since it was read aloud to crowds in the early days of the American Revolution: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government."
The "ends" referred to in the Declaration are the equal right of all to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
True, no government in the history of the nation has been completely faithful to those ends. But no past government has so casually ignored the will of the people, affirmed the right of the president to ignore the Constitution, even to set aside laws passed by Congress.
The time is right, then, for a national campaign calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Judging by public opinion, there are millions of Americans, indeed a majority of those polled, who declare themselves in favor of impeachment if it is shown that the president lied us into war.
There is a logical next step in developing an impeachment movement: to convene "people's impeachment hearings" all over the country. Such hearings would bypass Congress, which is not representing the will of the people, and would constitute an inspiring example of grassroots democracy.
These hearings would be the contemporary equivalents of pivotal events in our nation's history, such as the unofficial gatherings that marked the resistance to the British Crown in the years leading up to the American Revolution.
Or the movement by black and white anti-slavery groups that organized, before the Civil War, to nullify the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act by acts of civil disobedience. Knowing that the national government could not be counted on to repeal the act, they held meetings, made plans and set about rescuing escaped slaves who were in danger of being returned to their masters.
More recently, we recall the peace groups of the 1980s, which sprang up in hundreds of communities all over the country, and provoked city councils and state legislatures to pass resolutions in favor of a freeze on nuclear weapons.
Today, impeachment hearings could energize the peace movement and push reluctant members of Congress in both parties to do what the Constitution provides for and what the present circumstances demand: the impeachment and removal from office of Bush and Cheney.
Simply raising the issue in hundreds of communities and congressional districts would have a healthy effect, and would be a sign that democracy, despite all attempts to destroy it in this era of war, is still alive.
Howard Zinn is author of the best-selling "A People's History of the United States" (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005, latest edition) and also the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of "Voices of a People's History of the United States" (Seven Stories Press, 2004). This piece was adapted from a commentary that appeared in The Progressive magazine. Zinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.