September 1, 2005
Cindy Sheehan is among many inspirational people I've been privileged to meet in the fight to stop the war. I've known and loved her for the better part of a year and, though she has always filled me with tender admiration, she's just Cindy to me.
But not to the nearly 10,000 people who have come through Camp Casey. Or the hundreds of thousands that have sent cards, letters, gifts and money enough to set up a full kitchen in a football-field sized tent at the new campsite. To them she is the "new Rosa Parks"; the face of the mainstream American majority; newly empowered and resolute in their certainty that we can and will stop this war NOW!
Cindy herself is well known in activist circles; and, to be sure, there are many national anti-war figures from Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and others that are spear-heading the media and events in Crawford. But they represent neither the bulk nor the overriding spirit of what is happening outside Bush's ranch.
What strikes me most about Camp Casey and its inhabitants is how very centrist, mainstream and organic this movement is. One would not be hard pressed to call it divine intervention. The euphoria and unity among Democrats, disenfranchised Republicans, people of faith, previously a-political military families, rural heartland people, as well as seasoned anti-war activists is absolutely palpable. Time and time again people told me that they had never been a part of a protest before. That they had opposed the war in Iraq in silence; voiceless and isolated in their perceived powerlessness to stop it. And then Cindy's story moved them, and they felt compelled to come to Crawford. I heard over and over again stories about how people could not sleep, made all kinds of elaborate arrangements, became obsessed with the need to make their way to Crawford.
I arrived in Crawford on August 10th, just 4 days into Cindy's stand. And though 100s had already passed through there were no more than 50 campers (or ditch people' as they've self-labeled themselves) present. As I reluctantly leave Crawford 13 days later, there are 4 campsites, sold-out area motels, an elaborate all-volunteer shuttle service, various working committees, a growing number of day visitors', and a 100% consensus that we cannot be stopped.
What is it about Cindy's vigil that has so unified and stirred the American masses? I believe it has to do with the simplicity of her message. Polls tell us that the majority of the American public is becoming increasingly opposed to the war in Iraq and yet debates rage about what should be done to disentangle ourselves from the horrific mess we've made there. The Rove propaganda machine, backed by the corporate media, continually and purposefully blur the issues leaving many unsure as to what's gone wrong and why. Enter Cindy a woman who has lost her son and who has, therefore, the moral authority to dispute one single (albeit repeated) statement: that the war in Iraq is a "Noble Cause." Combine this moral authority with her humble approach of seeking (and being denied) audience with a president who claims to be in sync with military families and you have a straightforward, action-oriented rallying point that mid-America can easily and fully support
This support is both personal and widespread. Take the case of James from Orlando. A computer technician under contract with Disney, James arrived in Crawford a few days after I did. While left leaning and dissatisfied with his upwardly mobile (and hollow) lifestyle, James had never been an activist. One morning he told me, "This is day 4 of being an activist and I'm calling my boss to let him know I'm not coming backI'll work remotely from Crawford or I'll quit." His boss agreed but the very next day he told me that he had quit anyway. "I realized we don't even speak the same language," he said of a conference call he had participated in, "I can't play their game anymore." He intends to stay with Cindy for now, and he'll decide what to do next when his savings run out...about 6 months from now, he calculates.
He is not alone. People hug each other constantly. They say, "I love you" to people they've known 15 minutes. They cry often, connecting viscerally to the pain this war is causing the military families and veterans that are present. But, above all, they are transformed, "born-again". Known as a friend of Cindy's, I've received their messages. Bily from Air America in Phoenix said, "Tell Cindy that she has given me hope again I'd lost it for a really long time." Dot, working the welcoming table when Cindy was in California caring for her mother said, "Tell Cindy that people just keep coming. A lot of them are saying that they had not intended to come, but when they heard about Cindy's mom they decided that they had tothat they had to be a part of keeping this movement alive." And Julie from San Diego, whose activism had consisted of precinct walking for Kerry, said, "Tell Cindy she's changed my life. She's empowered me I've found my voice."
Lynn Gonzalez is a counselor with the San Diego Military Counseling Project, part of the G.I. Rights Hotline network that assists enlisted men and women seeking discharge and proudly supports the growing anti-war movement within the military ranks. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org