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Rally for Clinton Draws New Voices

Jesse Jackson Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses an anti-impeachment rally outside the Capitol Thursday. (Reuters)

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  • Full Coverage: Clinton Accused

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  • Transcript: Online Discussion With Jesse Jackson

  • By David Montgomery and Hamil R. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, December 18, 1998; Page A41

    Voicing anger and fear at the prospect of President Clinton's impeachment, a few thousand people from as far away as San Francisco rallied outside the Capitol yesterday to prayers and chants of "Enough is enough!"

    Many represented classic hard-core pockets of Democratic support, such as labor unions, women's groups and the African American church community. The demonstrators also included many people like Marcia Grooms, 66, a substitute social studies teacher from Athens, Ohio.

    Grooms, a registered Democrat whose husband is a minister, said she had always told herself she was not the demonstrating type. She passed up any number of marches for peace and human rights over the years. Then it looked as though a president was about to be impeached by his political enemies for acts she considered distasteful but not nearly meriting removal from office.

    "I figured if good people didn't get up to stop it, then the country was in danger of falling into an abyss," she said. "This is too important. I'm so patriotic, and I believe in our form of government, and right now our form of government is threatened."

    The rally and prayer vigil in a biting breeze on the west side of the Capitol were organized by the Rainbow Coalition. The coalition's founder, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, was the keynote speaker in a lineup of about two dozen preachers, politicians and exhorters over four hours.

    "This act of sexual indiscretion, being less than candid," Jackson said, "is a low crime, a sin, not a high crime, not a threat to our national security. We must have a sense of proportional justice."

    Jackson attacked congressional Republicans for failing to act on issues such as Social Security and health care as they worked to take down the president. "In their haste to tarnish Bill Clinton's legacy, they destroy their own."

    The coalition had projected 5,000 people would attend, but the crowd at the foot of the Capitol steps appeared to number no more than about 3,000. Police said there were no arrests.

    Clinton's adultery and prevarication frustrated the yearning for a simple moral theme. The speakers and the ralliers looked for other inspirations for outrage.

    In a call-and-response with his audience, Jackson led a chant of what might have been the vexing theme of the rally: "Reprimand, yes! Impeachment, no!"

    "That is wrong! That is wrong! That is wrong!" shouted House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), referring to the Republicans' intention to begin the impeachment debate today, while bombing might continue in Iraq.

    Members of the clergy from many faiths described a complicated yet clear moral equation: Clinton had sinned, but the punishment must fit the transgression, and politically inspired retribution is not righteous.

    "To impeach the president on these flimsy charges is itself immoral," said the Rev. David Chaplin, first vice president of the National Baptist Convention and pastor of Pleasant Lane Baptist Church in the District.

    Sister Sheila Flynn, a Roman Catholic nun, brought a group of recovering drug addicts from the New Jerusalem Counseling Center in Philadelphia. "It's morally wrong what the president did," she said, "but it is not impeachable."

    Union members turned out in force. They equated the attack on Clinton as an assault on labor.

    "He represents the working man," said Marino Dona, a 46-year-old painter from Baltimore. "He admitted that he did wrong."

    But the rally also attracted many who never expected to be there.

    "I haven't been to one of these demonstrations since the '60s," said Rachel Kaplan, 51, of Northwest Washington, who traveled by Metrorail with a folding beach chair and a paperback. "I think what they're trying to do is more of a violation of the Constitution than what [Clinton] did."

    Katie Armstrong, 73, a proofreader at an accounting firm in Chicago, said there are people like her across the country "sitting at home who are so enraged" at the impeachment drive. It prompted her to find a group that had chartered a bus to Washington. "I can't tell you how much better I feel this morning than I did yesterday," she said. "The action is relieving the rage."

    Staff writers Maria Elena Fernandez and Lena Sun contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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