Now, a little background on what was behind today's hearing. First, it was held in Room 2237 of the Rayburn Building. The Republicans, of course, control the assignment of rooms, and this was the smallest, oldest, out of the way room that they could have possibly given Conyers for his hearing. Usually, the Judiciary Committee meets in 2141, the room where the articles of impeachment on Clinton were voted out...it has state-of-the-art TV lights and is huge. 2237 is, in comparison, a closet.
As you can see, it was packed (they had an overflow room down the hall):
We got started a few minutes after 10:00. I agree completely with the folks on the hearing open thread who said that Conyers handled the meeting well. And this was no mean feat. He really didn't want the affair to go on and on and on and on, and with all of the horror stories that people in attendance could have told, I could have been on the record until midnight.
In opening statements from the members, Mel Watt from North Carolina mentioned our government's hypocrisy in promoting "free and fair" elections in Afghanistan and Iraq when we can't even get our own house in order.
The first panel consisted of Rev. Jesse Jackson (no introduction necessary); Cliff Arnebeck of Arnebeck Associates, Common Cause of Ohio and the Alliance for Democracy; David Cobb, the Green Party nominee; Steve Rosenfeld of Air America; Ralph Neas of People for the American Way; and Robert Fitrakis of the Free Press. So many good lines, but the best (as usual) goes to Jesse Jackson: "There is an unbroken link between Selma, Alabama, and Ohio." Neas spoke of his "anger and sadness at the travesty, the injustice, the hypocrisy that we have seen especially in Ohio but, again, in Florida and in many other states around this country." He said there had been 45,000 complaints to Election Protection but that those were just "the tip of the iceberg." Cobb spoke of the unique place that third parties occupy in the country. Arnebeck remarked that our election could be analogized to Ukraine's.
After their testimony, they were invited to sit on the lower level of the dais (from left to right: Fitrakis, Neas, Jackson, Cobb, Rev. William Moss, and Rosenfeld).
I've been a skeptic of the "Kerry really won the election" argument since back on 2 November. As someone with both social scientific and legal training, I know that there are too many factors that papers like Steve Freeman's and Michael Hout's from Berkeley don't take into consideration for them to stand up in a court.
But what I heard today was irrefutable evidence of massive voter suppression on a scale that I never even knew was possible: elderly people collapsing because they wouldn't let them vote; people standing out in the rain for four hours; students in a hot gymnasium; someone who lost her job because she had to stand in line for so long to vote. Now, even if all of these stories are true, I'm not sure that they'd create enough votes to swing the election to Kerry.
But that's not the point. That's not where the story is. The story is the suppresison of voters, all in one direction: US. Traditionally Democratic groups of voters. As someone pointed out, there hasn't been a single, solitary report of any Republican voter who wasn't allowed to cast her ballot. It's all coming from the inner cities, from the college campuses, from places that would have voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry.
The second panel was composed of (from left to right) Susan Truitt, from the Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections-Ohio; Jon Greenbaum, Director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation; Shawnta Walcott from Zogby; Steve Freeman (you can barely see his head down at the end); and (not pictured) Rev. William Moss and Matthew Segal. By the time that we got to the second panel, faced with a long queue of people lining up behind the microphone to speak from the audience, Conyers was whipping through the speakers; each got about three minutes; and each said about what you'd expect them to say.
The panels and the interaction with the members were the high point of the session. The low point was the question and answer period. I hoped to see, for instance, a dignified Bev Harris reporting on the results of her own investigations (though the postings on Bev's recent antics made me doubtful that she'd be dignified even if she did appear) and maybe even folks like Chris Bowers, Jerome Armstrong or Ruy Teixiera.
Instead, with a couple of notable exceptions, the public comment period was the tinfoil hat brigade out in force.
Jeff Fisher, former Congressional candidate, made an utter fool out of himself and finally had to be shut up by Barney Frank. He was joined by TWO, count them TWO LaRouchies, one of whom apparently got George Schultz and George Bush mixed up. Ellen Brodsky, who's done a bunch of really good work down in Broward, also came off as a hysteric. I wanted to stand up, go to the mike myself, and try to rescue a little bit of sanity out of the public comment portion, but it's not in my job description, even though I am at least theoretically a member of the public.
In the future, if something like this is going to happen again, we need to think about who we're going to get to attend. Some really insightful things could have been said from the audience microphone. Nearly none were. It was a real shame.
There was real press interest; in fact, as many cameras as I think I've ever seen in a Hill hearing. Views of the press on both sides of the room:
And finally, if anyone has ever wondered what Steve Freeman looks like, here he is getting ready to be interviewed after the hearing:
All in all, those of us who have been following the Ohio situation since 2 November didn't learn much that we didn't already know. However, I was left with the sense that this story is not as much in the dark as Kossacks sometimes think it is. There are lawsuits being filed; recounts taking place; bills being introduced; and members of the press actually covering the story. But we really look bad when voices of reason such as Jesse Jackson, Cliff Arnebeck, Ralph Neas, Steve Rosenfeld, Susan Truitt, John Bonifaz and Steve Freeman are overshadowed by a ranting Jeff Fisher and two LaRouchies.
If you're interested in pursuing this further with Members of Congress, here's a list of the ones who cared enough about the issue to attend today's hearing, all Democrats, of course:
John Conyers (MI)
Jerrold Nadler (NY)
Bobby Scott (VA)
Melvin Watt (NC)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)
Barney Frank (MA)
Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL)
Robert Wexler (FL)
Major Owens (NY)
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