August 9, 2007 - Issue 241

Cover Story
Rep. John Conyers - Friend or Foe?
Impeachment Strategy Debate Part 2
BC Columnist Larry Pinkney
Cindy Sheehan
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr.
David Swanson
And BC Readers

In last week's issue of BlackCommentator (Issue 240), two articles were published regarding the action or lack of it by Rep. John Conyers.

BC Columnist Larry Pinkney defended Conyers in his Keeping It Real column entitled, "John Conyers: What Of Impeachment?." Here are a few excerpts:

There has been a bit of a buzz emanating for some time from certain quarters about impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Recently with this buzz has come a virulent attack by certain white so-called progressives and leftists upon US Representative John Conyers who is a member of the Democratic Party and Chair of the Judiciary Committee in the US House of Representatives. becomes obvious as to why this "White progressive anti-war movement" apparently felt no compunction in publicly attacking John Conyers. It is, after all, by definition a "White anti-war movement." However, first and foremost, what is needed in the US is a Pro Peace With Justice movement, not a "White progressive anti-war movement" that is, by definition, fundamentally flawed and privileged.

For a certainty, there can be no question that Bush, Cheney, and their arrogant and bloody ilk (including certain alleged people of color) have committed (and are no doubt continuing to commit) impeachable offenses. However, the public targeting of John Conyers by some in the US white left is undeniably racist, totally unacceptable, and in the final analysis, it is self defeating and divisive.

What needs to be impeached by the majority of the people is this entire filthy, hypocritical, bloody, racist, capitalist system.

Pinkney was reacting to a number of published comments on the issue including Race is the Tripwire for the Progressive Movement: John Conyers and Impeachment, by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., President of the Hip Hop Caucus, which BC re-printed in Issue 240. The following are excerpts from Yearwood's article:

Rep. Conyers is a great mentor to me and my respect for him is unquestionable. He has been fighting for peace and justice and civil rights for decades inside and outside of Congress. He is a man for the people and for America. So, it was a truly disappointing moment ...when we realized that we do not agree on his role as the Chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary committee to uphold our constitution by holding our President and Vice President accountable for their impeachable offensives.

To my African-American counterparts who take issue with the White progressive anti-war movement, I understand your criticism of our recent action in Mr. Conyers office, but I do not agree. It was extremely difficult to challenge a man who means so much to African-Americans, but impeaching Bush is critical to the future of our country. We cannot let the precedent stand that Bush has established, which severely oversteps the bounds of executive power. We cannot send the message that such actions will not go unpunished, or at least unchecked. 

The challenge we face as activists and leaders is how can we possibly bring an end to this madness when the Democrats in power are not with us? We need a broad-based movement that can hold our elected officials accountable and to create such a movement, we need to address our internal divides. The reason many African-Americans have interpreted our action against Rep. Conyers as racial betrayal goes deep into the tradition of the progressive movement. How we can begin to address this is something I will discuss in an upcoming article. 

Both the Pinkney and Yearwood writings brought forth a great deal of reaction from BC readers.

The Rev. Yearwood did not respond to the Pinkney commentary, but Cindy Sheehan, who was part of the demonstration at Conyers' office did:

Dear Mr. Pinkney,

I did not confront Mr. Conyers because he is black, but because he is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

I am not running against Ms.Pelosi because she is white, or a woman, but because she fails to hold this administration accountable.

I want two white men held accountable.

Please don't make this about race, it's about justice.

There are many brown people in the Middle East suffering because of BushCo and I want it to stop...along with saving our troops who often suffer too because of a racist economy-based draft.

When I was camped outside of George Bush's ranch...was I racist then?

I sincerely apologize if what we did looked racist, but it was not.

Love and peace,

Cindy Sheehan

Pinkney responded:

Stating that your having publicly "confronted" Rep. Conyers was not done "because he is black" is missing the point. Black America, and in particular our Black youth, have far too few publicly known and respected progressive Black men and women as it is; publicly attacking Rep. Conyers was ill conceived, unnecessary, and divisive. Moreover, as was pointed out in my piece, Rep. Conyers is the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, not the entire Committee. Notwithstanding his influence on the Committee, he nevertheless has only one vote. To have publicly targeted him and not the other Committee members also, was as I stated in my piece, "tactically and strategically incorrect." Whether intended or not, it gave the distinct impression of active white racism.

Moreover, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (of the increasingly white racistly gentrifying City of San Francisco) is clearly the person in the House who has far more party-line influence and Democratic Party clout than does Rep. Conyers, or any other member of the Judiciary Committee for that matter. Whether or not you plan to run or are "running against Ms. Pelosi" does not alter this present reality. Whether it does in the future, remains to be seen.

I agree with you that the suffering of "Brown people" in the so-called "Middle East," due to the actions of "BushCo," etc. needs to "stop," but the horrible ongoing suffering of Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow peoples right here in racist white America also needs to be stopped. Not to acknowledge and address this is both hypocritical and incredibly racist.

To paraphrase the words of the esteemed brother Malcolm X, "Let us have our disagreements in the closet and come out as a united front." I would hope that especially white progressives and / or leftists would remember Malcolm's wise words and the enormous damage that can be done by engaging in (albeit perhaps unintended) chauvinistic actions. None of us, regardless to color or gender, is without flaws, which is the beauty of having comrades to help us grow, develop, and press on...

In struggle,
Larry Pinkney, BC Columnist

BC reader RW thinks the blast against Conyers was a mistake:

I have just read your article in Black Commentator re: Representative and Judiciary Chair John Conyers. I too was quite disappointed that Conyers did not support the effort to impeach Cheney and Bush; but on the other hand I will not criticize him. And I think that those that went to his office made a terrible tactical and strategical mistake - that still needs to be rectified.

I was at the rally in Washington DC yelling and waving my impeachment sign when Conyers talked about firing George Bush. I got up close to lead the effort and so that Conyers could clearly see that so many of us wanted Bush and Cheney to be impeached. But I also know that it would be disastrous for Conyers to table an impeachment effort too soon.

As of last count there were only 14 supporters of Kucinich's Bill. We need 15 to 20 times that number to be successful. Of course, Conyers doesn't want to support the impeachment effort before it even stands a chance of winning. It was not the right time for us to challenge him. We should have asked him in advance to what extent he could support us and then have gotten the best statement we could from him as to what he would do if and when a sufficient number of representatives are ready to impeach.

We still need to get this, but first we need to go and apologize to him for how poorly this was handled. Here is a man that was willing to lead the impeachment effort and hold hearings about it before the last election; and [instead] we put him on the spot and embarrassed him (and in the process ourselves) because we have not raised sufficient political support yet for him to be able to again lead the effort and movement.

I wrote to and, right after the confrontation and said something similar. I will include it below for your consideration. I hope that you will contact those leading the impeachment effort and encourage them to take steps to repair the damage done and again build a constructive working relationship with Congressman Conyers.

The big meeting with Conyers should have been held in private and without the press around; and perhaps with a couple of supportive congressional representatives. Such a meeting should probably be organized again now, after the apologies have been made. It may mean that the Impeachment Movement will also need to do some internal processing to understand the mistake that they have made and that one can not just alienate their allies because they disappoint us when they make their own strategic calculations.

WT wants a follow up from the Rev. Yearwood:

I appreciated your careful explanation of the Conyers event. However, there needs to be a follow up on the continuing reaction by those who sincerely feel that the action was as Larry Pinkney says "undeniably racist, totally unacceptable, and in the final analysis it is self defeating and divisive."

To say something is undeniably true seems more of an emotional assertion than a useful statement of fact. Except that it is now undeniable that racially charged statements such as saying Conyers is no MLK or betrayed his race, were at least unconsciously racist and certainly "self defeating and divisive." So as one among a growing majority that wants to see us unite more effectively, I think we must work to both appreciate legitimate emotional reactions and more importantly, to reconcile our differences this event has surfaced, so we can unite and not divide.

Since last week, the Rev. Yearwood followed up with Part II of his article:

As a minister, an activist, and the president of a Hip Hop organization, I speak often on a number of issues. When I speak at anti-war rallies the audience is usually all White, when I speak at immigration rallies the audience is usually all Brown, when I speak at rallies and events with Katrina survivors, the audience is usually all Black. Global warming, usually White, police brutality, usually Black, and so on. The progressive movement is segregated, and race is the tripwire that prevents us from coming together. Not only do I find this to be very discouraging, it is self-defeating.

Last week, the impeachment movement challenged Congressman John Conyers on Capitol Hill to put impeachment back on the table. As chair of the U.S. Committee on the Judiciary, Mr. Conyers is the only person in Congress who can move impeachment proceedings forward. When he refused to put impeachment on the table, several key progressive activists wrote articles that said Mr. Conyers had “betrayed” our country and that he “is no Martin Luther King” because he is not using his constitutional powers to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Many in the African-American community felt that the attack was deeply disrespectful of Mr. Conyers.

I agree that these personal attacks are uncalled for and inappropriate. Mr. Conyers represents our struggle for racial and social equality in this country at the Congressional level and is a hero to many African-Americans. However, as I explained in the first article of this series, I believe that impeachment of the president and vice president is an issue of critical importance to our country. At this moment in history we must overcome the racial barriers that so often prevent us from working together.

To our detriment, we define some issues as Black issues, some issues as White issues, and some issues as Brown issues. When White progressives call for impeachment, the African-American community says we won’t stand with you on impeachment because you won’t stand with us on reparations. The White folks give an entitled rebuttal, arguing that they do stand for reparations, but impeachment is more important.

Amidst this back and forth, we are missing two critical points. Firstly, African-Americans are the most anti-Bush demographic; nearly 90 percent support impeachment. Secondly, we are at a critical moment in history. For the sake of our country’s standing throughout the world, we all need to challenge the Democrats, including Congressman Conyers, on the issue of impeachment.

Instead, the progressive movement is fragmented along issues and these issues provide cover for our race divides. Ostensibly, identity-based politics has emerged because certain issues are more relevant or of more concern to specific communities. Unfortunately, this current paradigm discourages people of different backgrounds from working together and limits what issues people are "supposed" to work on.

Racist oppression means that certain populations and their experiences tend to be viewed as essentially irrelevant. Among White progressives, race is treated as a special interest issue, which is why it is so difficult for people of color to buy into the progressive movement, as it exists today. Our entire perspective is basically regarded as irrelevant.

The way that this links in with the Conyers controversy is that insofar as White progressives are not seen as consistent allies of the Black Freedom Movement and its demands, their criticisms of liberal and progressive Black elected officials are viewed as suspect. In other words, when our experiences, e.g. Katrina, are treated as exceptional rather than something around which there needs to be broad unity, African-Americans tend to become suspicious of White progressives who call upon us to unite on issues that they believe to be important.

This, I should note, is a problem with a long history. In the aftermath of the Civil War, White organized labor, which largely excluded the Black former slaves from union membership, turned to the freed population and asked that we unite with them to form a labor party separate from the Democratic and Republican parties. While this may sound revolutionary, the Black “Freedmen” found this to be a peculiar offer since it was coming from those who would not permit us to enter into their unions and from those who seemed to ignore the growing terror against the African-American population in the South by White supremacists. In other words, our experiences and our pain were considered to be irrelevant, or at least something that could/should be easily ignored in the interest of the larger unity or greater good.

I chose to protest Congressman Conyers’ stand on the question of impeachment, but not out of disrespect for the Congressman. Rather, as I wrote in my earlier piece, because I believe it to have been the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it is quite understandable that some of my sisters and brothers would raise questions about this and I respect those questions. I would say to my White progressive friends that they should be careful of whom they condemn for not following in the steps of the late Dr. King, if they themselves have not been prepared to walk in those steps and be champions of the consistent fight for social justice.

At the same time, to my African-American sisters and brothers, I would suggest that irrespective of what White progressives do or choose not to do, we must do the right thing even when it means crossing or disagreeing with one of our own. It is easier to see that in the case of a Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell who are in Black skin but have advanced policies antithetical to the interests of Black America. But sometimes it also means challenging our friends, such as Congressman Conyers, and suggesting that our respect for them necessitates that we openly disagree with them.

In my opinion, we have no choice but to stand for what is right.

BC reader DN had a couple of questions for Pinkney:

I attended a Peace Action meeting last year at which Mr. Conyers spoke. One of his aides spoke as well, stating as how a Democrat majority needed to be elected in order to ensure that Mr. Conyers ended up as head of the House Judiciary committee to ensure that impeachment proceedings could begin against Bush and Cheney. Obviously, Mr. Conyers has modified his position, and just as obviously, you feel is should not be held accountable for his about face because he is black.

The question is, how is your position that Mr. Conyers should not be held accountable for his action, a position clearly based on Mr. Conyers race, not racist?

Pinkney responded:

You are absolutely and totally incorrect in stating that I "feel" that Rep. Conyers "should not be held accountable...because he is black."

As I clearly stated in my article, "The Democratic and Republican Parties of this nation are simply two wings of the same Party." Moreover, I also wrote in that article that, "attacking John Conyers and clamoring for impeachment might serve adequately to assuage the consciences of some in white America, but it does not seriously address the horrible ongoing systemic injustices and 21st century economic apartheid, experienced on a daily basis by Black, Red, and Brown peoples in this nation. Only real systemic change will do this."

Regarding the Yearwood article, JRJ wrote BC that he feels and shares the passion in the message, and thanks The Black Commentator, for printing it:

When Rep. Pelosi was voted Speaker of the House, she forcefully declared that Impeachment, would not be considered. By the way, I live in San Francisco, Pelosi's district. Would you truly expect that Rep. Conyers, would go against his Speaker, after her clear declaration? Would you please explain through The Black Commentator, why the Anti War Progressives did not stage their event at Speaker Pelosi's office, rather than Conyers, given the circumstances? It appears to be a very deliberate act, to put Brother Conyers, in an impossible position of embarrassment.

While I personally would love to Impeach both Bush and Cheney, it would simply be an exercise in futility, because the votes are not there to be successful.

MC wrote that he understood Pinkney's strong dissatisfaction with the assault on Rep. John Conyers' office by "white anti-war" people:

When I heard that people in the movement to impeach Bush and Co. did so, I winced, thinking it was the wrong target.

I say this though I am in league with those who were arrested at his offices and believe that the work they are doing is valuable to help change the course of this nation.

I do not believe for one second that race had anything to do with this as you suggest. I also don't believe that people in the movement for change should quit working on issues only because they do not specifically deal with the deep systemic problems of our system that you point out and [I believe many work] on more specific issues (such as impeachment, or the environment, or on even local control of public access, whatever this issue) because our total system is fundamentally flawed.

The problem all of us in the movement for change have is that we do not have a coordinated effort, one that includes all the various participants working to stem the residual effects of particular policies but at the same time always [have] its eye on dealing with the root cause of our problem as a nation: the pure corporate rule of our nation that keeps pushing us toward fascism.

To taint those with good intentions, even if with bad tactics using what happened in Conyers' office as an example, does a disservice to those working to make the world better. As a white American, a clock card-worker and truck driver for UPS, a middle class representative, I should not have to apologize for being white if I work to try to stem the effects of specific government policies. I know the problem behind all these effects is deeper and have [their root cause] on a systemic level.

But we need ways to forge all these separate entities into a real movement that is unified in its end game, not one that name calls (as you have in calling those who are white and middle class in the movement) and divides those who are doing their best to move the country in the direction that I think all on the left agree would bring about an expansion of democracy and an extension of justice to a greater number of people, not only in our nation but in the world at large.

In short, let's try to bring people together and not divide. We already are rendered more ineffective by our inability to see how the many separate issues [on which] different groups work in our nation have systemic roots and need a complete overhaul. Let's keep the thrust moving toward more unity in the goal to change, the core failing of our capitalistic system, and include all those who are trying to do something, in any way we can.

JT felt the Keeping It Real column was absolutely correct:

While living in Boston (until very recently), I alienated much of the membership of the local chapter of Veterans For Peace for making the same basic argument vis-a-vis their refusing to see the war as a symptom of the disease, rather than as the disease. Please keep speaking out.

BC Reader MS, who claims to be an African-American combat veteran of the Vietnam war, totally disagrees with Pinkney's defense of Rep. Conyers and what he calls his disparaging of the so-called White Progressives:

George Bush is responsible for the murder of over one million people of (Iraqis) color, with another four million internally displaced or refugees. One of the oldest civilizations (Iraq) has been turned into a failed state. Why on earth would you condemn white progressives for trying to end the carnage in Iraq? Keep in mind that young Black men and women are dying in Iraq on behalf of racist psychopaths, Bush & Cheney. Not to mention the bad image this presents of these Black troops throughout out the third world by assisting white men in the murder (genocide) of other defenseless and innocent people of color. Also, let's not forget the massive damage inflicted on third world consciousness by the Black savage of the State Department Condi (Birth Pings) Rice.

Question, Mr. Pinkney, what Progressive Black organizations are confronting the racist onslaught Black people have been subjected to since the White Nationalist Party (Republicans) came to power decades ago? The Black Congressional Caucus are a joke. Where were they when the racists Nazi's controlled by Tom Delay were pissing on Black folks, just for fun? Where were they when Aristide was abducted from office? Where were they when Bush militarily assisted the Ethiopian government in attacking the elected government of Somalia, murdering thousands of innocent Blacks and causing massive refugee problems? Where was the black caucus when Cynthia McKinney was being attacked? Why did 37 members of the Black Caucus vote in favor of racist sanctions against the government of Zimbabwe, yet will fall all over themselves to vote for what ever is appropriated for the racist, apartheid, terrorist occupying force that is Israel? These are the same Israeli racist thugs who had no problem giving the bomb to the racist apartheid regime of S. Africa while committing genocide against the Palestinians. Conyers as you know, is a staunch supporter of Israel. Cindy Sheehan has spoken out against the terrorists of Israel.

I'm sure there are multitudes of Black folk who agree with the white progressives concerning their confrontation with Conyers, but for various reasons are unable to participate politically. But our concern should be the de-legitimizing the white (sick) power structure of its supposed God-given right to murder people of color anytime, anywhere for whatever reason.

WK reacted to the impeachment issue this way:

John Conyers should repay the money he received when he ran on impeaching bush if democrats were to take back the house and senate. Does he understand the seriousness of asking for money and then not doing what he said he would do if we poor blacks would send him money? Damn John.

One final note:

David Swanson (, who has been in the forefront of the impeachment drive and keeps a head count in the House of Representatives, reports the following:

Forty-five Congress Members now stand in one manner or another for impeachment.

Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas have signed onto H.Res. 333. That makes six Judiciary Committee members ready to impeach the Vice President. The other four are Hank Johnson of Georgia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Maxine Waters of California. Four of these six are African American. A fifth, Cohen, is white but represents a majority black district and attempted unsuccessfully to join the Congressional Black Caucus. All six represent urban districts, three from the South, two from the Midwest, and one from Southern California. All six are Democrats. None of the six chairs a subcommittee. Three of them are freshmen.

There are 23 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and 17 Republicans.

All told, 19 congress members have signed on as cosponsors of H.Res. 333, a bill proposing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney. H.Res. 333 cosponsors include, Dennis Kucinich, Jan Schakowsky, Maxine Waters, Hank Johnson, Keith Ellison, Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Albert Wynn, William Lacy Clay, Yvette Clarke, Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Bob Filner, Sam Farr, Robert Brady, Tammy Baldwin, Donald Payne, Steve Cohen, Sheila Jackson-Lee. Nine are African-American, ten are white. All 19 are from urban or suburban areas, three from the South, five from the Midwest, five from the East, and six from the West. One, Jan Schakowsky, is Chief Deputy Democratic Whip. Let's hope she starts whipping!

Twenty-eight Congress Members have signed onto H.R. 589, a bill proposing the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The cosponsors are Jay Inslee, Xavier Becerra, Michael Arcuri, Ben Chandler, Dennis Moore, Bruce Braley, Tom Udall, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Hank Johnson, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, David Wu, Yvette Clarke, Darlene Hooley, Betty McCollum, Timothy Bishop, Barney Frank, Carolyn Maloney, Ed Perlmutter, Tammy Baldwin, Shelley Berkley, Raul Grijalva, Ed Pastor, Ellen Tauscher, Rush Holt, Jim McGovern, Gary Ackerman.

Only Johnson, Ellison, Clarke, Baldwin, and Cohen have signed onto both bills (four of them Judiciary Committee Members, four of them freshmen). (19 + 28 - 5 = 42)

Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Maurice Hinchey have recently said that they support the impeachment of Cheney and Bush, but have not yet signed onto any bills. (42 + 2 = 44)

Other Congress Members have said privately that they favor impeachment but not these bills, even that they would only support impeachment if it included Bush. The lack of cross-over support between the two existing bills is an indication of the importance of petty personal politics within Congress, and the extent to which Congress Members will sign onto a bill based on who the sponsor and cosponsors are and who asks them, and whether anyone asks them, to sign on.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has opposed impeachment since May 2006, but this week said that if she were not the Speaker she would probably be backing impeachment, and that impeachment of Gonzales is clearly merited. (44 + 1 = 45)

In November of 2006, BC Editorial Board member Bill Strickland wrote the following in a commentary entitled: "Boxed-In"- What Do We Do If They Steal This Election Too?:

John Conyers in his August report, “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Cover-ups in the Iraq War”, charges that the level of misconduct by this administration in leading the nation into war rises to the "level of impeachable conduct."

BC thanks all those readers who responded to the articles on Conyers and Impeachment.

Please stay tuned for more on the discussion in, of this important issue . Columnist Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney and BC.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President of the Hip Hop Caucus. The Hip Hop Caucus is a national, nonprofit, non-partisan organization meant to inspire and motivate those of us born after the ‘60s civil rights movement. Click here to contact the Rev. Yearwood and the Hip Hop Caucus and BC.

David Swanson is the Washington Director of and of He is co-founder of the coalition, creator of, and a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and of the Backbone Campaign. He was the organizer in 2006 of Camp Democracy. He serves on the steering committee of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and on a working group of United for Peace and Justice. His website is Click here to contact Mr. Swanson and BC.


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