Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thank You Cindy Sheehan

Today, MaGreen and I read Cindy Sheehan's letter on DalyKos with great sadness. I'm not sad because she's retiring from being the face of the US peace movement, but because she has suffered so much. Her motivation truly came from losing her son to the war in Iraq, not from ego or ideology. She cut through the divisions within the peace movement. When she set up Camp Casey, MaGreen and I had already ended our intense phase of street activism because we were burnt out by those divisions. She gave us a way to lend our bodies and voices without having to debate points of unity and march routes with anyone. I didn't have to go downtown and ask for a sound permit. MaGreen didn't have to design a website getting out the word about the next protest. We just showed up in Crawford. Cindy Sheehan's authority as the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq seemed to trump all the distrust among activists. Her civility set the tone for the thousands of people who gathered with her in the Texas heat.

MaGreen was six months pregnant with BabyG when we drove to Crawford with our friends Keith and Theresa. The weekend we went may well have been the most frenzied moment in the history of Cindy Sheehan's protest outside George W. Bush's ranch, because a national group of pro-war activists had planned a counter-protest. On the way, we got caught up in the pro-Bush caravan made up almost entirely of SUVs and huge trucks. They had US flags mounted, draped, and crammed between various parts of their vehicles. Their windows were painted with “Support the Troops” type slogans. Right before Crawford, the whole caravan turned off towards what I assumed was their rallying site.

We drove into Crawford as pro-Bush people stood on the sides of the streets or sometimes in the street itself heckling us. People flipped us off or gave thumbs down signs. Many of the pro-war signs seemed factory made and they said, “I’m with W.” Others were homemade and said things like, “Cindy doesn’t speak for our marine.” Or “I support the troops and their mission.” There were several signs connecting the U.S. invasion of Iraq with 9-11. Free US flags were being handed out and the little plastic ones were strewn all over the ground. We had a big flag with a peace sign flying from our car. One man shouted that our peace sign looked like a chicken foot. “Now I know what it stands for,” he said, “chicken foot, chicken foot.”

When we got through their gauntlet of flag-waving and heckling, a peace protestor greeted us. “Ah, you’re friendlies,” he said and gave us directions. We worried that some pro-Bush person impersonating a peace activist had duped us. We had to park in a lot outside a hotel and take a shuttle to the site where the peace activists had gathered. We could see the road towards Bush’s place and there were secret service people there standing behind the “100% ID Check” road blocks. The volunteers hurried us into the huge tent where a rally was in full swing. We walked under the tent and there was Joan Baez getting on stage. Late, Cindy Sheehan spoke, mostly light-hearted quips, not her full-force polemics. “Joan proposed to me yesterday,” Cindy said, “and I accepted…just another day at Camp Casey.” A few more jokes and the rally was over. We missed most of it. Several Iraq veterans had spoken.

Once the rally broke up, some extraordinary musicians took the stage. Terri Hendrix, and Lloyd Maines played with a fantastic fiddle player. Non-Texans started shouting, “Who are you? You’re amazing!” One of Terry Hendrix’s song had the refrain, “Hey hey FCC don’t you turn your back on me.” The infrastructure of the whole camp was well done and clean. The main tent was situated behind “Arlington West” where all the crosses in honor of killed US troops were erected. To the side of the tent were about eight port-o-potties. Also tents for some groups like Military Families Speak out. There was a no drug and alcohol policy. Everyone volunteered to do something. I passed around the donations bucket and collected about $250 for the Crawford Peace House in five minutes. It was so hot, over 100 degrees in the sun, so everybody stayed underneath the tents or an umbrella. Water was available free and volunteers walked around handing them out. People had to drink massive amounts of water. The recycling bins for the “empties” filled over and over again. MaGreen had to find two chairs to sit on and placed them in front of a fan. She said, and I quote, she needed, "one for my enormous behind and another to put my feet up for the first time of my pregnancy."

A restaurant catering group served free food – celery, salad, tomatoes, cheese, dressing, cole slaw, cucumber and tomato salad, beef and corn and chicken and poblano tamales, tortillas, buffalo meat, barbecue chicken, roasted green peppers, roasted onions, two kinds of sausages, a vat of barbecue sauce, pecan pie, brownies, several other desserts, lemonade, and tea. While people were waiting in line for the food, they wrote thank you letters to the man who lent the land for Camp Casey II.

There were people there from all over the country. We met folks from California, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Colorado. There were many, many middle-aged women there. There were few teenagers and children. Also very few people of color, perhaps twenty-five out of the 2,000+ people there. We did not see Camp Casey I where we heard that there were a 1000+ people. Singer songwriters must have been ten percent people there. One young man had a sign that read, “Country singers against the war.” One t-shirt had a Gandhi quote on it, “At first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” Another said, “The revolution will not be televised…it’s online.” Several shirts said, “Yee-haw is not a foreign policy.”

After dinner, we volunteered for traffic duty and helped keep the road from getting congested. Many of the people who drove by were curious onlookers with cameras and many were pro-Bush people waving flags, giving us thumbs down signs, the three-finger W, holding up signs that said “Hippies go home,” and even people sticking their tongues out at us. We kept telling each other, “No confrontations, avoid confrontations.” Peace people also drove by. One truck had a hand-drawn devil on the back next to which it said, “Bush is my number one worker.” Every now and then a beat-up truck driven by tough-looking guys with thick moustaches, fencing materials in the back, would drive by. They just looked at it all and kept driving. The volunteers said, “Now that was a real cowboy.”

From the road, you could see the sun setting and a big storm coming in. In the tent, three sisters from Ithaca were singing a cappela, their refrain was something like “can’t be silent anymore,” and it was if their harmony drew in the wind. The tent started shaking violently. The overhead lights swung from side to side. People were packing up and securing things madly. We caught the first shuttle out. Keith and Theresa stayed back longer to help with the traffic. We reunited at the car. All the hotels in the area were booked solid so we drove home in the night through an electrical storm. Every two or three seconds the sky lit up like it was daylight. MaGreen said that the Calvinists tried to read meaning into everything they saw in nature and it was hard not to see the two thousand lightning strikes we witnessed as symbolic of all the people who had died in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan wrote in her resignation letter:
The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried every since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful. Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.
That part made me want to cry. Camp Casey was an incredible moment in history, not just because it forced the human cost of the Iraq war into US news coverage but because for the people who were actually there it was a time of communion, renewal, hope, kindness, and friendship. That beautiful event happened because of Cindy Sheehan's determination. She deserves our utmost attention. We should open ourselves to the message in her "letter of resignation."

She ended her letter with bitterness and a challenge:
Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now.


MaGreen said...

what a fabulous memory you have, my darling. this is a great post, well said.

Anonymous said...

i sensed a real edge to your voice in this post which made my stomach kind of hurt. but in the end it gave me goose bumps. nzaza

Henitsirk said...

The thing that struck me about her letter was that partisan politics and rancor can strike anywhere...even between peace groups!

Thinking that includes any version of "us" versus "them" is what creates wars and terrorism in the first place.

GreenDaddy said...

When we were organizing, we were surprised by the level of rancor. ANSWER, RCP, and other socialist and communist groups that people have written off often dominate the organizing of anti-war events. Though the vast majority of anti-war activists don't consider themselves to be socialist or communist, the people holding the microphones and megaphones are not representative. They tend to be people whose passion makes them difficult to deal with, to the point that whole movements fall apart. It can be hard to tell the difference between a COINTELPRO-type infiltrator and a hardcore activist.

I think now the anti-war movement is dominated by democratic party activists, Moveon.org types. The intra-party stuff can get ugly too. But I guess the whole point of my post was that Cindy Sheehan, despite being cast as a wingnut by certain media pundits, had an amazing ability to cut through the rancor.