On August 6, just after the Veterans for Peace conference in Dallas, Cindy Sheehan and a handful of veterans camped out in a ditch alongside of a road outside of President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, TX. They came unprepared in an unplanned protest — their only light was a flashlight — their only place to go to the bathroom was a bucket. They slept in ant-filled ditches in one hundred degree heat and when it rained their tents and sleeping bags got soaked. Their simple request to the president — meet with us to explain the reason for the Iraq war.
Kevin Zeese with Cindy Sheehan in Sheehan trailer
When we visited her 21 days later there were approximately 3,500 people joining her vigil and 1,000 pro-war demonstrators trying to counter her. Her camp had been moved next to the entrance of the president’s ranch — thanks to a neighbor who believes in free speech under a tent large enough for 2,000 people. Finally, a much-needed conversation was taking place in America: Should the U.S. have invaded in Iraq? Should we stay in Iraq? How does the United States end the Iraq occupation responsibly and get our troops home quickly?
Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out described the cascading response to Sheehan as the "acoustics of a ditch." The whole nation — indeed much of the world — has now heard of Sheehan. More and more are joining her asking — what is the noble cause for which Casey Sheehan and nearly 1,900 other American soldiers and over one hundred thousand Iraqis have died?
Even though President Bush has refused to meet with Sheehan he has found it necessary to create events to respond to her. Speaking to friendly audiences — the National Guard in Idaho and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Utah — he broke White House policy and mentioned the total number of soldiers who have died. For years, antiwar advocates have tried to get him to acknowledge the high number of soldiers killed, complained about his undercount of deaths and those seriously injured in action, and watched in sadness as he prevented photos of caskets, and as the DoD brought the injured to the Walter Reed Medical Center in the middle of the night so the public could not see them.
But Sheehan forced him to acknowledge the deaths. Sadly, the president used the soldiers to support his war. He is running out of reasons for the war — there were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no connection between Saddam and bin Laden or al Qaeda, we’re not bringing stability to Iraq — in fact, as Senator Hagel (R-NE) says, we’re destabilizing the region. And, the invasion of Iraq is not making us safer as reports of the CIA and State Department have found the U.S. occupation is turning Iraq into a magnet and training ground for terrorists. The vaulted democracy the president has repeatedly mentioned turns out to be an Islamic Republic that gives Muslim clerics say in defining the law. And, creates a weak and poor Sunni region that will be a hotbed for unrest and further instability. The Constitution provides very weak protections for women, free speech and free press. So, how does the president use the soldiers who’ve died, he says: "We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for."
When I met with Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey she lamented "now he wants more of our kids to die because he’s already killed so many in a war which has no justification." We can’t justify more people dying because others have died in a war that was never justified. Every death in an unjustified war only compounds the mistake.
Camp Casey has started a national conversation. In Crawford, we heard the voices that America will hear and they are powerfully persuasive. A woman who lost her son in Iraq — afraid to speak out until Camp Casey — now she is empowered and will be silent no longer. How many hundreds or thousands are like her? An Iraq war veteran who told how when he was 17 he took an oath to defend and protect the United States and in his anti-war advocacy says "I am still defending the country today — from enemies within. We’re all patriots here today." Another voice, a Latino who lost his nephew in Iraq who focused on the class realities of the war, what some have described as an "economic draft" and he described as "the false nobleman of today declaring a false noble cause fought by the poor who have no choices for the wealthiest to get wealthier." Sheehan, who has faced personal attacks and false barbs, provides the backbone of the Camp Casey Movement, proclaiming: "smear away because we aren’t going away."
Of course, not all people who have lost family members in Iraq share the views of Sheehan and her supporters. But even here the approach is one of understanding and love. These activists know the pain and anguish of losing a relative in combat. They know that that pain is more difficult if their loved one died for no good reason. And, they recognize that many in the military come from families with generations of service. These are people who do not easily admit that the president of the United States would lie to send Americans to war. In time, these difficult realities will be faced. So the debate is joined and the American public will hear all sides — already support for the president is dropping.
While Democrats may be gleeful that Cindy has focused her attention on the President, they should realize that she also holds Democrats who support the war responsible. Ending the Iraq occupation and bringing our troops home transcends political parties. The Democrats, who are dropping in the polls as rapidly as President Bush, should be forewarned — they to will also be asked the question: "What is the noble cause for which our sons and daughters are dying?" If they fail to answer or answer in support of the war they too will feel the wrath of voters in November 2006.
Sheehan believes the Camp Casey Movement will end the Iraq War. Her stand has awoken the conscience of a nation that wants to return to being perceived as a moral leader in the world. The debate she has started will not be silenced.
Kevin Zeese in front of Camp Casey Memorial