Resistance and Revolution

By David Swanson

Remarks made on May 24, 2008, in Radford, Va., at the Building a New World Conference:

Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered….

And he added:

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

And he added:

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

I suspect King’s phrase “revolution of values” has roots in Friedrich Nietzsche’s phrase “revaluation of all values.” I suspect that King admired Nietzsche’s radicalism, his proposal to question the morality of our most central morality and to establish a new view of how we should behave. But I suspect that King found Nietzsche’s own attempts to draft new moral guidelines to be pointlessly cruel and heartless.

In his final address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King said:

“There is nothing wrong with power, if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” End quote.

This is a revaluation of values that we have not yet succeeded in making. It is still little known, even to ourselves, that the strongest politicians do not support the waging of war against weaker peoples, that the strongest voices in the United States today oppose the occupation of Iraq, and – and this part is the furthest from public consciousness – that they oppose the war out of love for the people of Iraq and the world and the United States.

The revolution or revaluation that we need begins with a rejection of all notions of superiority, of nation, of race, of religion. Eighty percent of Iraqis have long wanted the United States to get out of Iraq, and yet we stay there telling ourselves it is for the good of the Iraqis. In fact there are dozens of nations around the world whose peoples would like to be rid of U.S. military bases, but we can’t hear those people. If we could, our lives would be enriched by new friendships, new cooperation, new insights and cultural gifts. Thinking of ourselves as equals with others would actually make us better off. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Just as hard is moving away from militarism. We not only need to make the necessary changes to run our economy on something other than weapons, but we need to drop the notion that weapons make us safe. It’s not just the occupation of Iraq that has made us less safe because it’s been poorly handled by a military that’s stretched thin and ought to be even bigger. In fact, it’s the existence of this mammoth military that puts us in danger. It is designed for offense, not defense. It exists to be used. During 86 percent of the days since this nation was founded, its military has been used somewhere in the world. Often the U.S. military fights against weapons manufactured in and sold by or given as so-called aid by the United States. We should not fear our failure to manufacture new weapons. We should fear our failure to make friends with and share prosperity with new people.

We need to revalue our planet and value it more than we ever previously valued our own bodies. We should abandon the notion that there is an away to which things can be thrown. We should value economic goods in ways that include their full costs.

We should recognize, when appropriate, the reality of urgency. It can become too late to stop the devastation of a planet or the launching of a war or the sliding of a nation into fascism. Patience can be the furthest thing from a virtue.

We need a revolution in political values. We should cease giving all of our loyalty to what this nation’s founders called factions and we call political parties. I spoke at a rally in Eastern Tennessee down the road from here last year, in an area that had backed the abolition of slavery and then stuck with the Republican party until it became the party of racism and slavery again. We’ve all experienced or witnessed the temptation to stick by the Democratic party as it becomes something grotesquely unlike what we visualize it being. Of course, dropping the importance of parties does not mean devoting ourselves to the destruction of a major party or the creation of a new party. It means placing a value on individual elected officials who represent their constituents rather than a party leader.

We need to view a president not as the head of a party or even of the nation, but as the executor of the people’s laws as created by our representatives in what should be the most powerful branch of our government, the Congress.

We need to value congress members more highly and demand more of them, but not more in the way of expertise so much as more in the way of transparency, accountability, and effort. We need to abandon the notion of permanent politicians in favor of short-term representatives.

We also need to value citizens more highly and demand more of them, and I said citizens, not voters. Serving as a citizen of a democracy should involve effort every day of the year. Elections should absorb our attention for little more than a day every two years. Election madness in the form of two endless years of obsession every four years over yet another Most Important Election in Your Lifetime must end or elections will be the death of democracy.

When I say citizen, I do not mean amateur pundit. As citizens we should be willing to push straightforwardly for what we want. We should compromise, but not prior to opening our mouths. We should not fear losing, which is perhaps the single biggest cause of losing.

We should resist this week with all our energy the proposal in congress to throw another $165 billion or so into occupying Iraq. This proposal failed in the House and then passed in the Senate. Now it goes back to the House for a new vote with some relatively teeny good things, such as veterans care, built into the same vote. Every member of Congress needs to hear, while they are home for the next week, before they go back to vote on this thing – they need to hear that we will remember in November and oppose them if they vote yes to extend the occupation, no matter what else is in the bill.

Our goal is for Congress to send the White House a note saying simply: There shall be no more funding. Bring them all home.

But that’s not all we need Congress to do to the White House.

The revolution we need could involve a lot of restoration of things we’ve lost that were won in a revolution in 1776. Veterans for Peace has selected words from the Declaration of Independence to create what VFP calls the Declaration of Impeachment. It reads as follows:

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are instituted to secure the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But

“…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

“…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…design(s) to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

“…The history of the present King (George) … is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny…To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
§ He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
§ He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
§ He has…deprive(ed) us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury…transport(ed) us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.
§ He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us…
§ He is at this time transporting large Armies…to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

Remind you of anyone?

But we shouldn’t actually impeach him, right? We don’t need that sort of crisis, right?

Impeachment is not a crisis, but a cure for a crisis.

Impeachment is not about an individual or a party. Impeachment is discussed at length in the U.S. Constitution which does not mention political parties. Impeachment is the means by which we restore the rule of law when it has been damaged or eliminated. Impeachment is a way to establish a precedent for the future of our nation, not just a way to punish an individual.

John Adams, who was later the second president of the United States, wrote some words in the Constitution of Massachusetts that have been quoted approvingly by the U.S. Supreme Court and every state supreme court in the United States. He described a separation of powers among three branches of government and said that this would be done

“to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

Thomas Paine in his “Common Sense” pamphlets that helped launch the American war for independence, wrote that

“so far as we approve of monarchy, … in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law OUGHT to be King; and there ought to be no other.”

This was revolutionary and still is.

The Constitution is the highest law of this land. Failure to uphold it amounts to moving the country in the direction of lawlessness, in the direction of the rule of men and women, not of laws.

The current president has violated laws and abused power to such an extent that to let it pass unchallenged would establish that future presidents and vice presidents need only obey laws if they choose to. This president has violated old laws and new laws, including laws he himself signed – often announcing his intention to violate them with signing statements. He has spied without warrants, detained without charges, tortured, and lied to the public and the Congress about matters of the gravest importance. We might get lucky and elect a new president who does not abuse any of the new powers this president has seized, but what about the president after the next one, or the one after that, and what about the next 8 months of an administration threatening to add new wars to the ones we have? We are not supposed to have to trust a king to be benevolent. We are supposed to be able to count on our representatives in the House to hold our executive accountable. That’s why our ancestors fought a revolution.

When President Polk misled the nation into an aggressive war on Mexico with the intention of stealing Mexican land, a young Republican congressman named Abraham Lincoln challenged him. Lincoln wrote these words:

“Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, ‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’ The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.”

Lincoln pushed for an investigation that led to Polk leaving politics. “Let him answer fully, fairly, and candidly,” Lincoln said of the wartime President. “Let him answer with facts and not with arguments. Let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation.”

George Mason remarked that: “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”

The founders considered impeachment of the utmost importance. They had risked their lives in a bloody struggle to overthrow a king. The last thing they wanted was a new one. And the fact that any new king might be voted out after four years did not alter their insistence that what they called “an elected despot” be subject to premature removal. Jefferson in particular, but others as well, expected and hoped that impeachment would be used at least once a generation. They did not believe that the threat of it would be sufficient to hold presidents or justices in check without its routine use.

When asked what sort of a government the Constitutional Convention had created, Benjamin Franklin said: “A Republic if you can keep it.”

But isn’t it too late to keep it, at least through impeachment?

It is never too late to establish that future presidents and vice presidents will be required to obey laws.

It is far from too late to try to prevent the damage that this president and vice president can still do in the next 8 months.

There is nothing else for Congress to do that impeachment could distract from. All good bills are vetoed and all partially good bills are signing statemented.

Impeachment in this case could be very quick because of the overwhelming evidence.

Most impeachment efforts achieve important results quickly, without actually achieving impeachment (think Elliot Spitzer or Alberto Gonzales — or Harry Truman);

It is not uncommon for impeachment efforts to begin later in an administration than where we are now (think Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman);

While preliminary investigations of the sort that have been done on Bush and Cheney for the past year and a half can be dragged out for months, impeachments tend not to last long;

An impeachment of Bush and/or Cheney for an indisputable offense (refusing subpoenas, refusing to enforce contempt citations, rewriting laws with signing statements, openly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, etc.) could take literally one day. Such a thing would not be unprecedented. President Andrew Johnson was impeached three days after the offense for which he was impeached. Senator William Blount was impeached four days after the offense for which he was impeached.

There is no reason impeachment hearings on Cheney or Bush should be limited to the simplest crimes or rushed through at top speed. Public education might benefit from a slower process. My point is only that it is possible to impeach rapidly.

A Senate trial can also be completed quickly, and there is no requirement or precedent for including every obvious impeachable offense. (In fact, there is no precedent for elected officials being guilty of so many obvious impeachable offenses or for the public being so aware of impeachable offenses prior to an impeachment.) The Senate expelled Blount the day after he was impeached. Judge Halsted Ritter’s Senate trial took 11 days. Judge John Pickering’s trial took nine days. Judge James Peck’s trial took three days. Judge West Humphreys’ trial took one day.

The House began impeachment procedures for Bill Clinton on October 8, 1998, and impeached him on December 19th. The Senate trial lasted from January 14, 1999, to February 12, 1999. The whole four-month farce took less than half the time remaining to Bush and Cheney.

If there is time for endless hours of grilling steroid-popping baseball players, there is time for impeachment.

At you will find over 100 candidates for Congress who support impeachment. Spend the next week letting your representative know that you will work to unseat them, and that you will do everything you can to nonviolently make their work impossible unless they agree to put impeachment back in our constitution, to keep our republic, and to avoid the necessity of starting the American experiment over from scratch.

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