Caravans to meet in Washington for Sept. 24 rally

Cindy Sheehan and other military family members and supporters ended their vigil near President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, Aug. 31, and boarded buses for a nationwide “Bring Them Home Now” tour. The tour is set to arrive in Washington for a massive antiwar march and rally Sept. 24.

A member of Gold Star Families for Peace told the World they were sensitive to the suffering inflicted on the southern states by Hurricane Katrina and may make changes in the tour. A rally had been set for New Orleans.

The first tour event was in nearby Austin. Josefina Castillo, program director for the Austin chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, told the World, “I joined the Crawford vigil 10 days ago. It’s very encouraging to see that the peace movement is gaining momentum. The Bush administration is very self-righteous about the war and is not willing to tell the people what is really going on.”

She praised Sheehan for voicing sympathy with families who believe their son or daughter died in a “noble cause.” Faced by a “Cindy Doesn’t Speak for Me” counterdemonstration Aug. 27, Sheehan reached out, inviting the participants to meet with her and others who have lost loved ones in the war.

The counterdemonstrators had vowed to bring 3,000 to Crawford. “But only 200 showed up,” Castillo said. “This is not about rage and anger. It is about being truthful and moral.”

David Sole, a leader of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice, told the World he and seven other antiwar activists drove 24 hours from Detroit a week before to join the Crawford vigil. As they returned home the next day, “We decided this was just too important to let it drop. We drove the van right up to Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit. We set up a tent and called it Camp Casey, Detroit.”

The police made them take down the tent, “but they have left us alone since then,” Sole said. “We are keeping the vigil 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rain or shine.”

Motorists honk and pedestrians give them the thumbs-up salute. He said, “We have about 40 people vigiling every day, and four to eight who stay overnight. People bring us food, water, ice.”

The park is “right in the path of the Labor Day parade,” he said. “We have invited people to join us that day holding placards greeting the AFL-CIO for the stand it took against the war at its Chicago convention. We are also selling bus tickets to go to Washington on Sept. 24.”

Deb Hagerman of Dayton, Ohio, whose husband is a military reservist recently returned from overseas, traveled to Crawford with several other members of Military Families Speak Out. “I can really sense the tide is turning,” she told the World. “People are hopeful that we have the power to reverse the destructive course our nation has been on.”

To be in the presence of women who have gone through the ultimate sacrifice is very moving, she said. “I can walk away from it but they will live with their loss the rest of their lives. When I was at the Crawford vigil, I held a little baby boy whose father died in Iraq. That child will never know his father.”

The veterans coming home are not being taken care of, Hagerman said. “They are even planning to shut down Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It’s frightening. I am making plans right now to go to Washington on Sept. 24.”

David Cline, national president of Veterans for Peace, told the World that Cindy Sheehan was speaking at VFP’s national convention in Dallas when she conceived the idea of heading down Interstate 35 to Crawford.

“Everybody in our convention wanted to drop everything and go with her,” Cline said with a chuckle. “I convinced the vets to send a squad of 40 down with Cindy and our convention continued.”

The movement that mushroomed from that vigil, he said, “is one of the biggest grassroots movements I’ve ever seen.” There is a Camp Casey in Union Square in Manhattan and another in Jersey City, he said. “This is about breaking into the ranks of blue-collar people, opening the antiwar movement up to working-class people.”

Cline is an infantryman who suffered multiple combat wounds in Vietnam. For many years he boycotted VA treatment facilities because of his bitter anger over the war. Now, with no health insurance other than VA benefits, he relies on those services.

“When a soldier goes off to war and comes back wounded, it is the responsibility of the government to care for them,” he said. “Lincoln said it in his second inaugural, ‘To care for those who bore the burden of battle and care for the widows and orphans.’ Our message is ‘Bring the troops home and treat them right when they get home.’”