Ignites nationwide movement to bring the troops home


CRAWFORD, Texas — Just two months ago, people in this quiet, rural town, population 705, lived their lives in relative anonymity. But thanks to the lies of an infamous neighbor, the townsfolk have had to adjust to a daily barrage of photographers, reporters, television cameras and, most of all, protesters.

That infamous neighbor is none other than President George W. Bush. Cindy Sheehan’s courageous vigil outside his ranch has forced Americans all over the country to stand up and ask Bush, “For what noble cause?”

As Sheehan’s supporters streamed to Crawford, Bush interrupted his ranch vacation to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Salt Lake City on Aug. 22, and his backers launched a public relations offensive including a cross-country caravan supporting Bush’s war policy.

However, the president is being met with protests wherever he goes. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Rocky Anderson told thousands of demonstrators, “Those who take a

stand … who stand up to deceit by our government … are true patriots.”

Although Sheehan flew home to care for her ill mother, she was due to return to Crawford this week. Meanwhile, members of Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace continue the fight with the support of courageous volunteers.

The Crawford Peace House has become a center of organization and activity, its property literally overflowing with volunteers, food donations and tents.

Volunteers were busy refurbishing the small white crosses erected in memory of the soldiers fallen in Iraq — desecrated Aug. 15 when a Crawford resident purposefully ran over them — and building new ones.

“We hope to erect all 1,800 crosses, one for each soldier killed in Iraq,” Houston resident Ken Keeling told us as he began repainting a cross smudged by tire treads.

Our driver on the shuttle to Camp Casey II, the encampment’s new site, was Ralph Hutchins, a Republican from Austin. “Cindy’s fight goes beyond party divisions,” Ralph said. As we wound down one-lane roads, past cow pastures, barbed-wire fences and churches, he said he felt a moral imperative to help out with Cindy’s struggle: “I don’t support Bush or the war in Iraq.”

The land for the camp, donated by local rancher Fred Mattlage, flanked President Bush’s ranch. State troopers, Texas Rangers and Secret Service agents guarded the road into the ranch. A giant white tent donated by an Italian company housed a stage and several hundred demonstrators. Peace organizations tabled, sheltered from the sun and the brutal 101-degree heat; hundreds of white crosses bearing the names of fallen soldiers paralleled the tent.

These were not seasoned protesters. Most were ordinary Americans. Many had not been politically active until now.

“I’d never been to a protest in my life until the candlelight vigil in my community last Wednesday,” Johnnie Johnson, an African American from Austin, told me. At the gathering Johnson and others from her community decided to drive to Crawford. “I’m here to support the mothers and families of the fallen and to support the movement to bring the troops home,” she said.

Riding back to the Peace House, I spoke with Vietnam veteran and Veterans for Peace member Carl Risingmoore, who heads Camp Casey’s security team. “Our side has had wonderful relations with the police,” he said. “They’ve arrested several pro-Bush counter-demonstrators that have forced their way into our camps and verbally harassed us.”

Although most were from Texas, many supporters came from other parts of the U.S.

Bill McNulty, from Setauket, N.Y., arrived Aug. 20, and was filling in wherever needed. A member of Veterans For Peace and Pax Christi, Long Island, McNulty said, “Cindy has forced everyone in America to ask the question: ‘For what noble cause?’ Regardless of political or religious beliefs, this question resonates deeply,” he added.

“My church claims to subscribe to the ‘Just War Doctrine,’” McNulty said, “but although none of the seven conditions of that doctrine have been met by the war in Iraq, the Catholic Church does not actively condemn it.”

“Hip-hop music speaks to the youth in American today, and that’s why it’s so important to get this music behind the antiwar movement,” said antiwar hip-hop artist and Gulf War veteran King Flipp. “There aren’t enough hip-hop artists taking a stand against the war in Iraq.”

Flipp, shooting a music video for his next album, “Wake Up!” said “the love Cindy has for her son” convinced him to shoot the video in Crawford. He and Joan Baez were the two scheduled performers that night at Camp Casey.

United for Peace and Justice said this week that Sheehan will speak at the massive Sept. 24 antiwar rally in Washington, D.C. The rally “will bring the protest to the very doorstep of the White House,” said UFPJ Vice Chairperson Judith Le Blanc.

Last weekend, the biggest celebrities were the volunteers, supporters, and demonstrators. This was a time of ordinary Americans remembering the courageous men and women forced to die for a lie and supporting the families left behind, vowing “Never again!”