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John Nirenberg (right) stops in Philadelphia during his march from Vermont to Washington, DC. (Photo: Monique Frugier.)
News and Opinion

One-Man March on Washington Stop In Philadelphia
Meets local activists... and cops!

-- David Lindorff

Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Brattleboro, Vermont-based John Nirenberg stopped midway through his impeachment hike from Boston’s Faneuil Hall to the halls of Congress to plant some seeds of revolt at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, just a block north from Independence Hall, the old brick building where the nation’s founders wrote and passed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Addressing a group of over 100 people who had braved intermittent rain and a blustery cold wind to greet the 60-year-old retired professor of organizational behavior on his 500-mile trek, Nirenberg explained that he had decided to march to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to tell her it was past time to move forward with impeachment hearings against the president and vice president.

Bill Perry (Veterans for Peace) and Sholom Keller. Sholom Keller is a 25-year old Jewish veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is active in Iraq Veterans Against The War. (Photo: Cheryl Biren-Wright)

Nirenberg, 60, an Air Force veteran who says he is "not a movement person," and who is not part of any organized impeachment campaign, said he had simply grown disgusted with the continuation of a criminal war in Iraq, with reports of officially sanctioned torture by American soldiers and guards of captives in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the so-called "war" on terror, and with the ongoing abuses of power by Bush and Cheney. "I decided I had to do something about it," he said, simply. His answer: to just start walking. With a goal of 15 miles a day, and the support of impeachment and anti-war advocates all along his chosen route—Highway 1, the so-called Boston Post Road—Nirenberg hopes to make Washington before the end of the month and the start of the next Congressional session, and to bring his personal call for a start to impeachment hearings to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been blocking impeachment since taking the speaker’s gavel last November.

While his trek for impeachment was covered in Boston by local media there, and by the Associated Press nationally, as well as by New York’s Village Voice news weekly, his arrival in Philadelphia, home of the Constitution and its impeachment clause, was covered in the local media on by the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. None of the city’s major media sent reporters or even a photographer. Nirenberg and some hardy locals, at the end of a rally on Independence Mall, took an impromptu walk for the 14 blocks to the offices of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Philadelphia’s two daily papers, and there Nirenberg offered editors at both city desks an easy interview. Although cheap news and press handouts are the papers’ stock-and-trade in these days of staff cutbacks and shriveled editorial staffs, neither obliged.

Nor did any radio or television reporters show up at the Philadelphia event, though they have regularly covered far less significant events involving far fewer people at the same location.

Local police from the Philadelphia Police Civil Affairs unit were on the job though, energetically protecting the local citizenry and the Inquirer building from Nirenberg’s "threatening" free speech activities. Two members of the department, a man and a woman, dressed in plain clothes and wearing no police identification, showed up in the Inquirer building lobby at the security guard’s desk within moments of Nirenberg’s arrival there and began peppering him with questions him about his plans. They made no mention of their police department affiliation until asked directly if they were reporters.

It was a sorry commentary on the sorry state of civil liberties and of the Constitution, as well as on the sorry state of the nation’s media, that Nirenberg’s remarkable one-man protest—a march from Boston to Washington, DC in the dead of winter to petition Congress—would be met in Philadelphia by no elected officials and no press, but rather by the police.

Nirenberg, in the blog on his trek website, writes:

"Rather than end the rally after the moment of silence, we decided that since the news media hadn’t come out we would take the story to them. About 20 people marched through Philadelphia to City Hall, turned west and ended up at the Philadelphia Inquirer offices where we failed to get their interest but stirred Gar Joseph, (Sunday) City Editor of the Daily News, to think twice before dismissing the movement and my walk through town. We’ll know in a day or two if we made any sense to him but he seemed to awaken to the fact that this isn’t a partisan issue but an historic one."

Nirenberg’s plan is to walk straight to the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and there to demand that she stop blocking a hearing on Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s H. Res 799 Cheney impeachment bill. He would also like to see a bill calling for Bush’s impeachment, and an end to funding for the Iraq War.

Nirenberg says the abuses and crimes of the Bush administration, and the abject failure of the Democratic-led Congress to act led him to "activate my citizenship," and begin his one-man march.

In a letter to Speaker Pelosi, announcing his intention to march from Boston to her Washington office, he wrote:

"Your repeated statements that impeachment is off the table have sent the message, intentionally or otherwise, that no basis for impeachment exists. Consequently, succeeding Presidents can assume that they, too, have the powers that Mr. Bush claims under the contrived construct of 'a unitary executive.'

"If Congress does not utilize the Constitutional remedy of impeachment, which was designed for precisely this kind of situation, how can Bush and Cheney be held accountable for any of their lies and crimes? If Congress does not open impeachment hearings, if no act of censure is introduced, then the courts, the people, and history will clearly assume that Congress approved of the entire spectrum of illegal acts, abuses, and immorality perpetrated by this administration."

To date, Pelosi’s office has not told Nirenberg, or announced publicly, whether the Speaker will meet with the one-man demonstration.

Those interested in supporting Nirenberg’s effort, in following his progress, or in meeting him at any of his remaining stops along the way, should visit his website.

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