As Congress edges nearer to the months-long national ordeal of a Senate impeachment trial, People For the American Way and the online anti-impeachment MoveOn.org trekked to Capitol Hill to deliver the American people's message: Let's Move On.
At an 11 a.m. news conference in the Rayburn Building, groups that have been leading the effort to get the people's message heard on Capitol Hill expressed frustration, disbelief, and sadness over Congress's apparent unwillingness to heed or even to hear what the people have been saying for many months now.
"This Congress should be found in contempt of the people," said Carole Shields, President of People For the American Way. "Never has a Congress so blatantly ignored the voice of the people or so openly defied their wishes. We're hearing outrageous stories about offices shutting off phones and e-mail to avoid hearing from the people. In this room we're surrounded by volunteers who came on a moment's notice from all over this country to get the people's message delivered. Congress should be bringing in volunteers to read the letters and take their phone calls."
"By ignoring the clear will of the American people and impeaching a twice-elected President, the Republican Party seems on a course of self-destruction," said Wes Boyd, co-founder with his wife Joan Blades of the online organizing campaign best known by its address: MoveOn.org. "I just hope they don't take the nation with them."
At an 11:00 a.m.news conference in the Rayburn Building, MoveOn.org unveiled petitions containing over 300,000 signatures opposing impeachment. The petitions, which were gathered in an unprecedented organizing drive on the internet, will be delivered to every Congressional office today by a group of volunteer activists from around the country who got involved in the campaign though the internet. Full sets of all the petitions are also being delivered to House Speaker Livingston and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.
People For the American Way, announced the expansion of its radio ad campaign opposing impeachment into three more cities with crucial moderate Republican votes: New York City, San Diego, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The MoveOn.org organizing campaign has been one of the big surprises of the impeachment fight, tapping into a wellspring of frustration and latent activism that skeptics had believed couldn't be organized. Yet, not only did people sign on to petitions, they wrote hundreds of thousands of e-mails and they stepped forward to organize local volunteers to meet with their Member of Congress face to face in 44 states, 219 congressional districts.
The press conference was opened by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), whose constituents include MoveOn.org co-founders Boyd and Blades.
A nationwide media and organizing campaign by People For the American Way has yielded an enormous response. A special toll-free number set up by People For through Working Assets Long Distance has logged over 200,000 calls just since last Wednesday, and estimates are that volume is so high at some times of day that only half of the callers are getting through. Those who do are connected with the Capitol switchboard and, after giving their zip code, with their member of Congress.
Working Assets' Vice President of Business Services, Haig Yaghoobian, spoke at the press conference about his company's involvement in the "Let's Move On" campaign. "What better role for a telephone company to play," Yaghoobian said, "than to make the voices of a democratic society heard, loud and clear."
The huge volume of calls has so swamped the system that People For has added another option: a toll-free call to Western Union to get a low-cost telegram delivered. In addition, People For is also organizing to get the people's message through the old-fashioned way with rallies, phone banks, and other on the ground actions.
Despite consistent public opinion polling opposing impeachment and a midterm election widely seen as a setback for pro-impeachment forces in Congress and on the Religious Right, the GOP leadership in the House has made impeachment a do-or-die loyalty test. Many reports have surfaced indicating that moderates are being forced to side with the Party leaders and against their constituents, many of whom helped elect President Clinton in '92 and '96, under threat of facing primary opposition.
"It's always a sad day when Congress chooses politics over the people, but the fight's not over yet - and we know that because the people still have their hands in a fist. This is a real test of character for the Congress," said Shields. "We're here to urge Congress - one more time - to do their homework, search their consciences, and take their cues from the people."
MoveOn.org is a nonpartisan campaign supported by Republicans, Democrats and Independents who agree on one thing: "The Congress must immediately censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country." Using e-mail and the web to mobilize supporters, MoveOn.org has worked to translate a broad and deep consensus among the electorate into an immediate end to impeachment proceedings. The MoveOn.org petition can be found at http://www.moveon.org.
Working Assets was founded in 1985 to help busy people make a difference in the world. Through long distance, credit card, and business long distance services, Working Assets has raised more than $13 million in donations for nonprofit groups working for peace, equality, human rights, education and a cleaner environment. For more information about Working Assets, visit http://www.wald.com.