Do-it-Yourself Impeachement: Part II, the Return of the Resolution
I've been involved in the Rutland Resolution portion of the impeachment process in Vermont and thought it would be a good time to share what we've learned over the last 6 weeks or so, for any of you who might want to give it a "go" in your own states.
While all of us have been relatively politically active the last couple of years (a couple of us have even managed to become members of the Democratic State Committee), for the most part we've never really done much more than send emails, sign petitions, maybe blog, and hold signs on the sidewalk.
As a result, this has been quite a crash-course in the political process!
Here's a taste of how it has worked (so far) here in Vermont.
First off, why the Rutland Resolution version of impeachment process instead of directly asking our US Representative to write an impeachment bill? We prefer the Rutland Resolution method (the version that leverages US House Rule 603) because John Conyers already has a top-down bill in committee in the US House, using the normal procedural process.
Our effort is meant to be a tool for creating bottom-up, ground-level support and for bringing the discussion into the public square, the two necessary elements for any impeachment proceeding to get anywhere at the national level. This work is complementary to both Conyers' impeachment bill and Feingold's censure bill. If you have not already pestered the bejeebers out of your US Rep and Senators, please do so. Ask for co-sponsorship of Conyers' bill from your Representative and for co-sponsorship of Feingold's Censure resolution from your Senators. It doesn't matter what party they're in! The US Constitution is not a partisan issue.
On to the tips...
- The established parties are scared to death of this, so it seems to work best if you bring it around from the bottom up. In VT it started with towns and counties. One county voted on and approved one resolution (Rutland). One town voted on another resolution (Newfane). Both resulted in publicity.
If you're going to try to work through official party committees, look for your state committee list on line. Most have something on the official party web site in your state.
When you find the list, see if you can find the ones who are more willing to try new things (hint: if they have an email address, they're slightly more likely to be more willing).
- We then brought the Rutland Resolution to the next state committee meeting - not to be voted on, which would require all sorts of machinations to comply with by-laws and would have been killed before it went any further, but just as a point of discussion.
- We used our personal email lists and made it a Democracy for Vermont project (it helps that some of us are on the DFV steering committee, but the important thing is for an established organization in the state to adopt it). We also used phone trees, and personal cajoling to get an overwhelming grassroots turnout at this meeting (in most states, it's usually hard to get event the committee members to show up for meetings, this time the room was filled). The committee may be less likely to try to quash it if they have to do so in public.
- When the meeting ended and people were milling around preparing to leave, people talked to the committee members from their own counties in person and ask for a special meeting to be called for their county to discuss and vote on it. In addition, there was a county chairs working group immediately after, so we discussed it there, too. Not all counties chose to hold special meetings, but the majority did. The reticent counties may be more likely to vote in favor due to not wanting to look out of step.
- After the meeting, we called and/or emailed all the county committees and asked for the date their committee would be meeting to vote on it and put together an excel spreadsheet to track county/date/result. After we had a few counties' results, we pushed the results out through a couple of email groups.
- Every week, we've sent out new results, with more words of encouragement to the remaining counties.
- Simultaneously, we got the rules on how to require a new state committee meeting. We've dotted all the i's nd crossed all the t's, and a special meeting is scheduled April 8, specifically to discuss and vote on the Resolution. Barring either a blizzard or a 70-degree spring day that just can't be ignored, the committee meeting is likely to be well-attended and some national press is planning to show up, so we hope the tendency to try to kill it by procedural means will be limited by the brightness of the spotlight.
- Not resting on that, we know the state legislature is not going to take it up willingly, so, we've been working on candidates for various offices this coming November, trying to bring them around (a very slow process). We have also been chipping away at the current House and Senate membership, finding out who leans which way, and trying to get people who support it privately to agree to support it publicly if it gets there, while trying to get those who are wavering to at least agree not to stand in the way.
- PLUS, we've put together a petition for redress to force the legislature to take it up once it gets through the committee. Note: If you are a Vermont resident and want the URL to the petition or a copy of it, send an email to bringvisibility*at*charter*dot*net. I'm not publishing the link here, because it's for Vermont residents only.
- Introducing non-binding resolutions at town meeting has been very powerful. Many of these were entirely independent, uncoordinated efforts in different towns. Many towns and cities in other states are likely to have town meetings/council meetins/whatever coming up over the next several weeks. Check the Secretary of State's web site in your state for information on town and city governance and how voting occurs.
The power of these meetings comes from the presence of the local press. One trick is to find towns where it is likely to be popular, and only bring it up in those, so press coverage is consistently about passage of the resolution. We haven't had to do that in Vermont. I don't know if it's the strong independent streak among Vermont voters, but it seems they don't like what they're seeing and aren't buying the Administration's line.
By-laws for the different towns and cities in your state will vary - some will allow non-binding resolutions, some won't so you'll need to mobilize a couple of people to call around to friends and relatives to figure out which are the friendly towns (in MA, Concord & Lexington might be a good start, for example), then find out from the town clerk or town moderator which of those will allow a resolution to be brought to the floor.
- Any other kind of group at all: Treat the resolution somewhat like a petition and get members of various groups to adopt it - Quakers, Unitarians, and UCC churches, peace & justice groups, arts guilds, libtertarian groups (a big source of supporters), unions, etc. This is unlikely to get a lot of publicity, but will create "buzz" on the ground and build a broad support network.
Note: you must be EXTREMELY careful working with non-profits. This cannot be done as an organizational activity or they could lose their non-profit status. Ask individual members of various organizations to ask their friends who are also members of those organizations to support the resolution. Depending on the specific form of legal organization, the organization itself may not be able to support it, since it is specific to a candidate: George Bush, and thus is a partisan activity. It's best to play it safe. You can be just as effective.
One way to do this is to hold an informational session nearby after one of their group meetings and have one of the group members announce to the group that the session will be taking place.
- Simultaneously, find a friendly columnist at a popular paper. For xample, in MA, in the Boston Globe, I bet E.J. Dione would be a good choice, or Mary McGrory, if she's still there. Peter Freyne at Seven Days in Burlington has been the one keeping this in the news in VT. He's been including at least a little "aside" about it in most editions, if not devoting his column to it.
- We've published several diaries on Daily Kos, occasionally coordinating with one another to try to get to the recommend list for at least a few minutes, and cross-posting to other blogs we might belong to. Plus Green Mountain Daily, a popular blog in the state, has been running regular posts.
- Get the folks who are most excited about it in each area to write letters to the editor of their LOCAL paper and the big papers. It's the local coverage that will determine the flavor of articles in the big papers. The more "pro" letters in the smaller (generally more conservative) papers, the better the coverage will be both in those papers and in the big ones.
- The above combined is what brings the national attention: AP, NYT, Washington Post, Reuters, ...
You'll need at least 4 committed people to help you get this rolling and keep it on track. You'll need to divide up the effort and cajole each other to do your respective bits, despite the demands of your real lives.
We fairly consistently hear the following:
It's impractical. It'll never get anywhere, so your effort is wasted.
Response that seems to work:Our legislators took one oath when they were sworn into office: to preserve and protect the United States Constitution. The oath said nothing about doing it only if it's practical. It is our duty as citizens of this democracy to hold them to their oath.
It's an election year, we don't want to distract people from the elections. OR We have to focus on the people's business, not some pie in the sky flight of fancy. (or equivalent)
Response that seems to work:The people are bringing this to the legislature, because the people don't think their representatives will do the job otherwise. Continuing to not do that job will make them put more energy into making it happen, not less. It's better to let this train roll through the station. Once it passes through, you can leverage all the networks that have been built to work even more effectively on those campaigns/issues/whatever.
The focus is on Bush right now, and we want to keep it there. If we do this, the focus will shift to the Democrats (or impeachment, or ...).
Response that seems to work:Rove is going to do everything in his power to move the focus off of Bush no matter what. If we walk away from impeachment, he'll focus on that.
So wouldn't it be much better to use impeachment to turn the focus back onto the President? When attacked, reply with something like: "Every patriotic American is deeply concerned about this President's failure to uphold his sworn duty to the Constitution. It is a very serious matter and must be addressed."
Let's Just Support "x" Instead:
Conyers (or Feingold) already has something in the works, let's just support that and get on with [whatever].
Response that seems to work:Those are both great and we should support them as well, but this is an effort that gets the voters involved in the process in a way that gives them hope. It is building strong coalitions, laying the groundwork for those other efforts to succeed, and is creating a volunteer base that can be leveraged at election time to get volunteers to help with campaigns - at least for those candidates that support it.
Here's a three-fer. The apologists have several primary reactions:
Frame = It's Just Sour Grapes or Personal Dislike
"I don't think we should be impeaching presidents because we disagree with them. Or something similar - the goal of the statement is to paint the impeachment movement as either childish, irresponsible, or cynical.
Response:He is correct. But we should absolutely undertake impeachment when the President has violated the Constitution of the United States, admitted to it, and says he will continue to do so.
Frame = "It's the Loonies"
This is being driven by "left-wing blogs and conspiracy theories. Or similar. The goal is to dismiss it as an out-of-the-mainstream concept.
Response:When you're as far right as this administration, of course everything looks like it's from the left. But when the President himself admits to violating the Constitution, that's an American problem, not a right or left problem. Every patriotic American knows that a President who fails to uphold his oath of office is not qualified to be President.
Frame = "There's Nothing to See Here, Move Along"
Impeachment is "an extraordinarily serious action that they propose to take against the president of the United States in a time of war, based on actions he has taken to protect the United States from terrorism." Or similar. The point of the frame is to imply that the current impeachment movement is a lark - rather than the deeply serious and gravely important action that it is.
Response:The "time of war" argument did not work for President John Adams. It was James Madison, himself - author of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights - who wrote the Virginia Resolution in response to President Adams' going too far. Thomas Jefferson joined Madison by writing the Kentucky resolutions.
Are they trying to tell us the Founding Fathers did not know what they were talking about?