This is my experience with Representative John Conyers, Jr.
As an intern in his office in 1986, I experienced him as a kind and gentle soul, who believed deeply in the equality of all people, and worked every day to advance that equality.
It was a largely African-American staff (for a largely African-American district), and I, the son of an Irish immigrant mother who was a maid, and a first-generation Irish-American father who was a public school building custodian, was treated so kindly by everyone there.
I spoke to Rosa Parks in the Detroit office every morning. Conyers gave me more than the usual intern work, allowing me write a few floor speeches, to get a taste of policy research, and to interact with the lawyers on the staff.
It was a grim time for progressives, as it is today. Conyers stood as a beacon of hope at that time.
John Conyers, Jr. had served his country in the nightmarish Korean War, in the then recently integrated armed forces, and was deeply skeptical of the use of American military forces abroad.
Conyers was always a friend of the underdog, victims of violence and abuse, and the arts, especially jazz. He was close friends with Representative Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress; he was also one of the few original co-sponsors of the federal gay rights bill.
Shortly after MLK’s assassination, Conyers filed a bill to make the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a national holiday. People laughed at him at the time. Conyers prevailed.
(During my time there, the national holiday was celebrated for the first time.)
Conyers was especially concerned with the long term unemployed and with the plight of prisoners.
He is the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives.
I, for one, would like to know more, before condemning such a human being, and before assuming all of the accusations are true.
They may yet prove true, but I would like to know more, and I would like him to be given the dignity of administrative due process. (He is not up for election for ten months.) Conyers, 88, deserves, and has earned through a lifetime of service to his country, at least that.
None of this excuses the behavior if it turns out to be true. But that being said, I do wonder whether, as a country, we might not need to return to seeing the greys in life, and not just the stark right and wrong absolutes that seem so appealing today. Maybe appreciating the very American life of John Conyers, Jr., yes, the ACCUSED John Conyers, Jr., would not be a bad place to start.
Maybe we can then learn about the life of his accuser. I hope we learn that she also has a valuable American, and human, story.
Then let’s take a brief respite, from our unbearable smugness.