CRAWFORD, Texas – Cindy Sheehan’s roadside vigil has reverberated in towns and cities around the nation and even through the gates of President Bush’s ranch here. Vowing to trail the president back to Washington at the end of his vacation, this 48-year-old mother, whose son Casey died in Iraq last year, has voiced what a growing number of Americans are thinking, judging by the latest polls: Bush’s Iraq war is a cruel failure, based on lies, and it’s time to end it.
Crawford TX, August 13, 2005. Rally in support of Cindy Sheehan’s vigil. Photos by Hobie Hukill and Jim Rivers
Caravan to the rally
Sheehan rode down to Bush’s Crawford ranch Aug. 6 on a Veterans For Peace bus from the veterans’ national convention in Dallas. Since then she has maintained a vigil outside the president’s ranch and refuses to leave until he personally listens to her demands to bring the troops home now. Her son and many of his comrades died in Iraq in 2004 attempting to save several ambushed soldiers. She believes that the best way to honor the fallen is to ensure that no more fall in the same way.
News of Sheehan’s vigil reached national, then international proportions, as a growing number of military families and supporters have flocked to join her.
Just outside Crawford proper, the one-lane roads, cow pastures and barbed-wire fences have new company. Parked cars crowd the ditches, and rows of small white crosses line the roads. Chants and songs fill the silence between birdcalls, while tears, smiles and straw hats pepper the tranquil landscape. The smell of sunscreen and mosquito repellant tingles the nostrils.
Some 500 people caravanned several miles out to Sheehan’s vigil Aug. 13, after a rally at the Crawford Peace House. Among them were veterans and members of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace.
“Although I didn’t expect it, I’m not surprised by the wonderful response we see here today,” Sheehan told the World. “I knew the American people were with us.” She encouraged Americans watching and reading about the vigil to get together and stand in unity against the war in Iraq. “This war can end, and I won’t quit my vigil until President Bush speaks with me — here or in D.C.,” she said.
The police had barricaded the public road a mile before the entrance to Bush’s ranch. The vigil stopped just short of the barricade. Folk music and peace chants rang out as the caravan arrived. As the crowd grew, several military families against the war lined up to speak.
Bill Mitchell, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, likened the extraordinary turnout and caravan to the movie, “Field of Dreams.”
“If you build it, they will come,” he told the crowd. “People will drive to Crawford and they won’t even know why. They will bring love and support.” He told the audience about similar small camps and vigils popping up all over the nation as evidence of the growing movement they are all a part of. Bill Mitchell’s son Sgt. Mike Mitchell died in Iraq with Cindy Sheehan’s son in April 2004. Mike had only seven days left in his military service.
Overwhelmed with emotion, Sheehan gave a stirring speech to the crowd gathered to support her. “Who knew that the beginning of the end of the occupation would begin right here in Crawford, Texas?” she said.
“Sixty-two percent of the American people think the war in Iraq is wrong, and now they are letting their voices be heard,” she continued. “What we have here in Crawford is hope and love. We do not have to be angry because we the people have the power, and we will exercise it and hold President Bush accountable for his actions.”
This vigil is just the beginning, she told the audience, declaring that it would continue on to Washington, Sept. 1, when Bush returns to the White House from his vacation. President Bush will never again vacation in peace, Sheehan declared.
“I wrote a letter to President Bush on November 2, 2004,” she said. “I told him that if he doesn’t resign, I will work my butt off to impeach him. Hopefully after seeing the amazing movement today he’ll take me more seriously.”
She added, “I don’t have a political machine; I don’t have a Rumsfeld or a Cheney or a Rove. I have a broken heart. But we don’t have to hide like him. We have the power, and we will overcome. For the last 16 months I’d thought that America was cursed, but now, after seeing all of you here today, I can finally say, God bless America.”
This movement can’t stop when the occupation ends and the troops come home, she told the crowd. She said, “Americans must build a movement strong enough to make sure that our sons and daughters are never forced to fight and die again. We will stay the course. We will complete the mission. He may have started it, but we’re going to end it!”
Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth, Texas, had constructed a memorial for her nephew Sgt. Daniel Torres at the vigil. Daniel died in Iraq this February. She told the World she is committed to raising awareness about the war among the Hispanic community, and said she hopes to join in counter-military-recruitment campaigns in local high schools.
Al Zappala, a Gold Star Families for Peace member from Philadelphia, told the World about the organization.
“We’re an offshoot of Military Families Speak Out. We’re the members of that organization that have lost loved ones in the Iraq war.” Zappala’s son, National Guard Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq last year.
The corporate media tells America that these families view the death of their loved ones as a necessary sacrifice for democracy, Zappala said. Members of Military Families Speak Out formed Gold Star Families For Peace to challenge the corporate media’s distortions and lies.
This reporter asked Zappala what message he had for all the Americans watching the events in Crawford unfold on their evening news. He said each person has to find workable ways of waging peace specific to their organizations and communities. This could include letter-writing campaigns to Congress, utilizing the corporate media as much as possible, and supporting independent media. He stressed the importance of political work, and getting the Democrats in Congress off the fence. “As it stands, the American people are far ahead of the Democratic Party,” Zappala said.
Voices of military families
At press time, over 40 military families have arrived in Crawford to join Cindy Sheehan. On Aug. 12, members of Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out came together to share stories and reflections. The full report is on the web at www.mfso.org. These are excerpts.
Sherry Glover of Houston, Texas, came with daughter Katie, who is on Individual Ready Reserve, and her 5-month-old granddaughter Dakota:
“This is a historical event. I’m one of three generations of women here. With Dakota’s dad in Iraq, this is the time to participate. I’m so concerned about the future of my grandchild. What debt are we leaving her?”
Phil and Linda Waste of Hinesville, Ga., new members of Military Families Speak Out, have three sons, a grandson and a granddaughter who are active-duty military. Together, they have already spent a total of over 57 months on tours of duty in Iraq:
“[We] came to Crawford to support our troops — really support our troops — not just a sticker on the back of our car, or an empty phrase. We wanted to present ourselves in person to speak out and encourage the Bush administration to change their mind about continuing this war.
“This experience has been truly cathartic for me. By coming to Crawford, my wife and I are able to express ourselves. We hope that Americans out there will join our movement and help us in our endeavor to bring the truth to the American people.”
Valarie Fletcher of Seymour, Mo., has a son in the Marines who will be deploying to Iraq at the end of this month:
“I’ve talked to people, I’ve written to my reps, but this was the first time I could physically do something, and in fact had a responsibility to do something.
“This is hard work, but it’s how we are going to end the war. Hiding behind silence is no longer an option.”
Tammara Rosenleaf is from Belton, Texas. Her husband serves in the Army and will be deploying to Iraq this fall:
“I’m here because I believe that this country needs to take a look at the path that it’s on and make an adjustment. I believe we cannot kill our way to peace.
“I can be proud of my husband and ashamed of my government. The military says they offer support to families but they don’t return calls. They gave me a book for surviving deployment. It had the number of a plumber to call in case your toilet gets stopped up. But they don’t tell me who to call at 4 a.m. when I’m worried that my husband is dead.”
Lietta Ruger of Bay Center, Wash., is sleeping in a tent in the roadside ditch. Her son-in-law and nephew have both served extended 15-month tours of duty in Iraq; they are both under stop-loss orders and due to redeploy to Iraq this fall:
“But while I’m in there I’m thinking of Iraq soldiers sleeping in ditches. When I get bit by fire ants, I think of them getting bit by sand fleas. I’m using this experience to get a microcosm of what their day is like, to get a flavor of what they’re doing. What that does is make my voice stronger on their behalf.”
Jean Prewitt’s son Pvt. Kelly Prewitt was killed in action in 2003 during the first few weeks of the war:
“I don’t want to see other families go through what my family has gone through. I have lost respect for my president. I supported Bush in the beginning but I no longer can do that — not just because my son died, but because we invaded a country with no plan. The military was not ready, no equipment. I want the war to end because it seems like we’ve lost direction and it’s snowballed into nothing but chaos and death. My son is worth more than that.”
Sue Niederer is from Pennington, N.J. Her son 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin was killed in action in Iraq in February. Sue is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace:
“My son — my pride my joy, my best friend — would never send his men out on a mission that he himself would not do. Why aren’t the children of anyone on Capitol Hill who sent our kids over serving?
“This is bigger than Crawford — we’re trying to change the future.”
Military Families Speak Out members in Crawford are asking for support vigils and demonstrations in front of congressional offices and federal buildings. They are also urging everyone to turn out Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C., to take the message to the politicians that the war must be brought to an end.