Activists hope to take impeachment fight to the streets

NICHOLAS RICCARDI

Women's rights, gun control and climate change have drawn masses of demonstrators into the streets during President Donald Trump's first term, but one prominent cause has been missing so far: impeachment.

Though some liberal groups have been advocating for Trump's impeachment for more than two years, there have been few large-scale public demonstrations calling for it.

Now, activists want to change that.

A coalition of liberal groups announced Friday that it will sponsor a series of national impeachment marches, including one in Washington, D.C.

"People take action when they think they can make a difference, and for a long time a lot of the silent majority on impeachment thought it wasn't going to happen," said David Sievers, a campaign director of MoveOn, one of the liberal groups organizing the demonstrations. "We want to show that this isn't just some fringe thing, this isn't just Democrats in D.C."

When the protests might happen, though, is unclear.

Sievers said the marches would occur the night before the House holds a formal impeachment vote. Currently, the House is in the initial stages of an impeachment inquiry, taking closed-door depositions, and no public hearings or vote have been scheduled.

The flurry of public mobilization comes after years of smaller-scale, more granular pushes by groups like MoveOn, which, ironically, was formed to combat former President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998.

The organization and several others have been urging those on their mailing lists to call Democratic House members, swarming town halls and dubbing the past August recess "Impeachment August" to pressure representatives in their districts. Need to Impeach — a group founded by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer in October 2017, before he became a Democratic presidential candidate — erected billboards in Democratic House districts and held more than 50 impeachment-themed town hall meetings.

But because of the rapidly moving investigation into Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, tactics have changed, organizers said. It's no longer necessary to pressure the House to act.

"The real fight that we have in front of us right now is in the Senate, and we won't succeed there unless we engage in a traditional organizing model," said Nathaly Arriola, executive director of Need to Impeach. "When you're dealing with the Senate, you have to have organized masses and numbers."

Democrats control the House, and Republicans control the Senate. Trump, a Republican, has denied doing anything wrong and has called the impeachment inquiry into his actions "a witch hunt."

There have been efforts to turn out marchers before on impeachment. MoveOn and other groups organized demonstrations to protect special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But those marches boasted far fewer protesters than higher-profile ones, like the Women's March after Trump's inauguration or ones for gun control after the massacre at Parkland High School in Florida last year.

A prominent New York-based liberal activist, Sean McElwee, said there's a simple reason impeachment hasn't brought as many people into the streets.

"One involves dead children, and the other involves Richie Neal and Jerry Nadler filing escalating subpoenas," McElwee said, referring to two Democratic congressmen chairing committees investigating Trump who have been targets of pressure campaigns from activists.

Charles Chamberlain, the chair of the liberal group Democracy for America, noted that people are most moved to public protest over issues they feel aren't being addressed or that government is worsening. That's why gun control and climate change brought so many liberals out, he said.

"On impeachment and holding Trump accountable, we may not be seeing the level of action that we want, but the Democrats are moving," Chamberlain said.

Still, organizers are optimistic they can sustain a protest movement now.

"It feels real in a way it hasn't before," said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, the director of democracy policy for the group Indivisible, one of the co-sponsors of the march.

She noted that Indivisible, like MoveOn, has backed impeachment since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

It was then that MoveOn reserved a critical URL, impeach.org, that will now, after more than two years, be used as the hub to plan national protests.

This story has been updated to correct the URL for the marches to impeach.org.