Excoriating George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney for defiling the constitution, the Berkeley City Council spoke out with one voice Tuesday night, voting unanimously to place a referendum on the November ballot to poll Berkeley citizens on the question of impeaching the president and vice president.
Berkeley is the first city in the country to decide to ask its citizens to vote on whether Bush should be impeached.
“We’ve invaded a sovereign country without provocation,” Councilmember Max Anderson said in support of placing the measure on the ballot.
“Wiretapping people is illegal; it’s senseless,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “Look at what [George Bush] has done to shred the Constitution.”
And that’s just the point, according to student organizers of Constitution Summer, the group that helped the Peace and Justice Commission craft the ballot measure.
Abraham Kneisley, one of the Constitution Summer founders, said the campaign to pass the referendum, though advisory, is an opportunity to educate people locally and around the country. In addition to UC Berkeley, the group includes participants at Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Columbia Law School, Georgetown Law School, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, University of Michigan and the University of Maryland.
“We can motivate people, engage them in a civic process,” Kneisley told the council.
Celebrated Vietnam-era whistleblower and Constitution Summer Advisory Board Member Daniel Ellsberg also weighed in.
“Imagine if there was a constitutional crisis and nobody noticed,” he said, underscoring the notion that Berkeley should be first in the nation to put the question before the voters. “If not here, where?” he asked.
Berkeley resident Cindy Sheehan, mother of slain soldier Casey Sheehan, at the council meeting to accept an award for her peace work, drew applause from the packed chambers when she urged the council to put the measure on the ballot.
Passing the referendum already has had an impact, Steve Freedkin, chair of the Peace and Justice Commission, said Wednesday, pointing to wide-ranging local and national media coverage. It has begun the community dialogue, he said.
“Impeachment is not a vote of no confidence; it’s for a serious violation of principles,” Freedkin said. “It gives us an opportunity to say what we’re for, while we’re working against what we’re against.”
Freedkin expressed his message to the large Fox TV news audience on June 27.
Responding to a question by host John Gibson, he responded: “Well, there are a number of particulars that [Bush and Cheney] have been involved in. There is the wiretapping, the electronic surveillance done without court approval, even after Congress passed the law specifying you have to go to the secret foreign intelligence courts and to get that approval. Bush simply signed a document saying, well, that’s the law, I’ve signed the law, but I’m not going to follow it.”
The ballot measure will be highlighted tonight (Friday) on the 6 p.m. Fox News show Hannity and Colmes.
As of Thursday morning, the mayor’s office had received 520 e-mails on the referendum, of which 497 were in favor and 23 opposed, according to Bates’ chief of staff Cisco DeVries. Positive comments came from other California cities including Santa Rosa and Half Moon Bay and from residents of Oregon, Vermont, and New York, he said.
The ripple effect from the approved ballot measure sparked right wing reaction.
Marcie Drinkwalter of Glendale addressed a vitriolic e-mail to the mayor and council: “While al Qaeda is no doubt as gleeful as you about this ballot measure, I am incredulous that any American would propose such an idiotic initiative during this time of war. Your act is despicable and treasonous, and will only serve to encourage al Qaeda supporters.”
Speaking from his home in Virginia, David Swanson, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.com, said putting the referendum on the Berkeley ballot will influence cities considering impeachment resolutions. At least 11 cities, including Berkeley, have approved impeachment resolutions.
The ballot text accuses Bush and Cheney of misleading the nation so that it would invade and occupy Iraq; conducting electronic surveillance in violation of the Fourth Amendment; detaining persons without charges, due process and access to counsel or courts; and permitting the torture of detainees
The city will spend about $10,000 to place the referendum on the ballot.