Controversy which began with Article 24, on Focused Residence Picketing (FRP).
To explain: a few years ago, Brookline passed a bylaw prohibiting people from engaging in picketing focused on, and solely in front of or about, a particular residence. The bylaw was in response to the actions of anti-abortion protesters, whose tactics include picketing in front of the homes of physicians who perform abortions. Many of those physicians and their families feel threatened by this form of picketing, and in response, other communities have passed bans against it. Brookline chose to do the same, but Town Meeting included a sunset provision, which would cause the bylaw to expire if not renewed. It was renewed once, but tonight we were voting to make it permanent.
The twist in an FRP ban, however, is that a town cannot pass a bylaw specifically prohibiting abortion protesters from picketing. The bylaw has to cover everyone, which means that it can be used against other groups as well. For example, earlier this year a group protested against the proposed Level 4 Biolab at Boston University by picketing in front of the home of the BU president. Brookline's police department used the FRP bylaw to stop the protesters from doing so.
What fascinates me about FRP is that the issue mostly pits the left against the left. On the one hand, you have Planned Parenthood and their supporters, encouraging the passage of the bylaw so that physicians and their families will feel protected. But on the other hand, you have the ACLU, which views the FRP ban as a slicing away of free speech.
I have to admit that this was one of those articles that I had no idea how to vote on going in. In previous years, I had voted in favor the FRP ban, which I had been willing to do mostly because of the sunset provision. This year, as I listened to speaker after speaker, my mind kept changing. There were many speakers, but the two I found most eloquent were TMM Jesse Mermell, who spoke on behalf of the majority of the committee in favor of making the bylaw permanent, and TMM Rebecca Stone, who warned us against slicing away at a tiny corner of free speech. Mermell pointed out that the harassment of doctors makes it harder for women to get access to abortions, while Stone noted just how dangerous a step the law would be in censoring free speech.
In the end, I voted against making the FRP ban permanent, although I would not have minded renewing it yet again with another sunset provision. By a standing vote, however, the motion passed 114-80. Brookline's ban on Forced Residence Picketing, General Bylaw 8.17, is now permanent.
The next bunch of articles had little in the way of controversy. We passed Article 25, a bylaw protecting wetlands, and Articles 26 and 27, which were mostly housecleaning of the town bylaws. Articles 28 and 29, which dealt with zoning issues, had a bit of debate but were eventually passed. Article 30, supporting the improvement of the Gateway East Area on route 9 for pedestrian traffic, also passed easily.
And so finally, we came to Article 31, "A Resolution in Support of the Impeachment of President George W. Bush."
Before I get to the discussion of the article, let me set the stage for you. The members of Town Meeting tend to sit in the auditorium in specific locations depending on peoples' political leanings. In general, the liberals sit on the stage left side of the auditorium, the moderates in the middle, and the conservatives at stage right. As Sandy began the proceedings for the article, a group of people on the right side walked out of the auditorium. From what I can gather, they did this both in protest of the article and in the hope that there would be no more quorum present.
After the motion was read by Sandy, he noted the existence of my amendment, which would alter the resolution by changing impeachment to censure. The amendment easily got a second, and then the debate began.
The first to speak was the petitioner, Jonathan Margolis, who is not a member of Town Meeting but is a Library Trustee. He listed the Bush administration's abuses of kidnapping, torture, secret prisons, and eavesdropping without warrant as reasons to vote in favor of his resolution.
The next speaker, TMM Bob Sperber, presented himself as someone who worked to defeat Bush in both 2000 and 2004 but who felt that this article would encourage terrorists and rogue governments. He also pointed out that the warrant article as written did not actually give explicit reasons to vote for impeachment.
TMM Estelle Katz of the Advisory Committee spoke next. Briefly, she said that the Committee had voted 12-6-1 in favor of the resolution, in the hope that we could lead the way for other communities.
And then Sandy called me to the lectern. He gave me about five minutes to speak, during which I laid out the argument in favor of censure over impeachment. Except for a little ad-libbing, my comments were as follows:
Last December, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, filed three resolutions. HR 635 called for a select committee to investigate the Administration's manipulation of intelligence and other abuses, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for impeachment. HR 636 and 637 called for the censure of the President and Vice-President respectively.
At the time, I contacted the office of our own congressman, Barney Frank, to express my support of these resolutions. Like my fellow Library Trustee Jonathan Margolis, I too have found myself upset at the actions taken by the current administration. I agree with the petitioner when he asserts that the Bush administration is taking actions in violation of our constitution, and I am disturbed by the way the president seems to feel that the executive branch is not answerable to the other two branches of our federal government.
However, shortly after I contacted Representative Frank's office, I received a letter in return which gave me a lot to think about. Frank supported the idea of a select committee, but he pointed out that the creation of such a committee would require some Republican support, and that their support would become less likely if the creation of a select committee included a call for impeachment or censure. In short, he disagreed with the attempt to either censure or impeach the president. After reading over his letter, I came to an almost similar conclusion. Therefore, I decided that I ought to offer my censure amendment as an alternative for us to consider.
It is true that Brookline Town Meeting does not have the actual authority to impeach a president, but the country does take resolutions seriously. During the lead up to the Iraq War, anti-war resolutions such as the one we passed snowballed with those of other towns, until even the city councils of Chicago and New York passed anti-war resolutions. The national media has already reported on the six Vermont towns that have passed impeachment resolutions; if we pass one as well, I have no doubt that the national media would report it as well. And so, for the following reasons, I offer my amendment.
One. Impeachment is a serious matter. This country went for over one hundred years between impeachment trials of a president, and I worry that another call for impeachment would in fact do harm to the workings of our federal government, no matter who is in office at the time.
Two. Although I would welcome the removal of the current president, it is extremely unrealistic to assume that the current House would impeach the president, and our voting for impeachment will do nothing to change that. Instead, repeated calls for impeachment might alienate the American people, just as the impeachment of President Clinton over perjury charges did. I have read in the news that the far right is using the threat of impeachment to mobilize its base. If we call for impeachment, I worry that the far right and the so-called swing voters will point to our actions as a reason to keep the Republican majority in the Congress, and so those voters will come out in force in November to keep the status quo in place.
Three. Take this article to its logical conclusion. Let us suppose that by some improbable turn of events President Bush is actually impeached and then removed from office. That would put Vice-President Dick Cheney in charge. As much as I oppose many of Bush’s actions as president, I do not see a Cheney administration behaving much differently. In fact, to create a federal government that I would support out of the current administration, I would have to figure out a way to put the Secretary of Transportation in charge.
At the same time, however, I agree with many of my fellow Town Meeting Members that it is vital to express our displeasure with many of the actions of our current president. I believe that a censure resolution would be just as effective, without causing the possibly damaging fallout I see as a result.
I therefore ask Town Meeting to consider my amendment to change this article to a censure resolution.
One more TMM, John Bassett, spoke in favor of impeachment, and then the question was called. TMM Michael Selib went to a microphone to ask if we actually had a quorum, but Sandy said that we did and that the vote would prove him out. He took a hand vote on my amendment, which did have a lot of support but not enough. And so we went to a standing vote on impeachment. As I've already reported, the motion passed, 104-52. As much as I disagree with the Bush administration, I truly felt that an impeachment resolution was not the way to go, and so I voted against.
The final vote dispensed with, Sandy also took us through Article 32, the reports from committees, by encouraging us to read them at home. And so we dissolved Brookline Town Meeting at 9:32 PM. Join us again in November, when I'm sure we'll continue to have fascinating politics to involve the community.