Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Detroit criticized the Bush administration’s efforts in Iraq during a speech to GW’s chapters of the NAACP and College Democrats Wednesday night.
Conyers, the second-most senior member of the House of Representatives and one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke to a crowd of about 30 at the Marvin Center Betts Theater. His speech focused on civil liberties, voting rights and terrorism.
“When the president says we’ll stay the course in fighting terrorists, it means we’ll never leave,” Conyers said. “We’re creating the terrorists we’re hoping to diminish (in Iraq).”
“Congress never gave any additional powers that said anything about Iraq,” Conyers added, arguing that the president overreached his authority and that Congress never officially gave the president the power to go to war.
Conyers said homeland security is “chipping away slowly and effectively at our civil liberties.” Conyers said the country can still remain safe from terrorism without intruding on civil liberties.
In December, The New York Times broke news that the president had conducted wiretaps on domestic phone calls with suspected al- Qaida members without receiving permission from a court. Republicans have maintained that the president was within his authority to conduct domestic surveillance and he had briefed selected members of Congress and Justice Department lawyers beforehand.
One of the other key concerns discussed in the speech was the issue of voting rights. Under his core belief of equality, inspired by the works of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, Conyers expressed the necessity of making sure that no voter is disenfranchised during the course of any election. He alluded to the claims of voting fraud in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election.
Conyers is also part of the effort, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, to bring more money to victims of the Hurricane Katrina, especially poor blacks.
“Katrina was one way to confront race and class in a positive way,” he said.
Conyers said that the media is “so intimidated by this president that people don’t know what is really going on.” He encouraged activism among college-age students and said they should strive to understand what’s going on in the world.
After the speech, former Student Association President and NAACP member Omar Woodard commented that “the main component of what the NAACP is doing is about activism in communities across America.” He echoed Conyers’ encouragement for the College Democrats and NAACP members to unite with other schools in the D.C.-area for a more unified front.
Conyers’ comments were not well-received by all, however.
“He seemed to imply that all Republicans are opposed to civil right; that if you support President Bush, you must hate African Americans,” said Dennis Petersen, a junior. “I think all decent Americans embrace the view of Martin Luther King Jr., even if we part ways when it comes to those of Jesse Jackson.”
Other students were more inspired by Conyers’ comments. Sophomore Sarah Spooner, press relations director for the College Democrats, said Conyers discussed “issues important to talk about that we don’t usually mention.”