PHILADELPHIA — On Independence Mall, across the street from the Liberty Bell, over 500 supporters rallied Sept. 16 to welcome Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan and the “Bring Them Home Now” bus tour. The tour was making its way toward the national antiwar rally and march set for Sept. 24 in Washington.

Sheehan and others spent 26 days protesting the war in Crawford, Texas, near President Bush’s home, and the three legs of the bus tour, which began Aug. 31, have covered 51 cities in 28 states.

Sheehan said that after her son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004, she initially thought that one person couldn’t make a difference in trying to stop the war. “But I decided to do the best I could to bring peace and justice to this world,” she said. “I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror.”

Sheehan has since criss-crossed the country with her message to bring all U.S. troops home now. She said the terrible devastation of Hurricane Katrina was compounded by a man-made tragedy that stemmed from the Bush administration’s “criminal negligence” of domestic needs. “Katrina has proven that Bush’s insane policies have made our country more vulnerable,” she said.

John Grant, president of Veterans For Peace in Philadelphia, credited Sheehan with putting a face on the conversation about the war in Iraq. She keeps asking, he said, “Why did my son die? For what noble cause did my son die?”

Angel Ortiz, a former councilman, was applauded when he called Bush “an emperor” and led a chant, “Impeach Bush,” while Rep. Chaka Fatah (D-Pa.) thanked Sheehan and the tour for “waking people up” and making a difference. Also on hand was Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who announced that the City Council had just passed a resolution calling for the orderly and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The vote for the resolution was 16-1.

A copy of the resolution was presented to Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphian and co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. Zappala’s son, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq last year. Zappala asked the crowd to make a promise not to be quiet about the 1,899 GIs killed in Iraq and to work to stop the war.

Thomas Paine Cronin, president of District Council 47 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said the AFL-CIO convention passed a resolution against the war in July, and noted that the Philadelphia Central Labor Council had spoken out against the war even earlier. He said it was time to end “a war based on lies and a war that is draining our resources from helping our own people here.”

Cronin denounced the billions of dollars going to Halliburton and other “corporate cronies” of the Bush administration, both in Iraq and in the reconstruction effort in New Orleans. He presented Sheehan with a plaque honoring her for her efforts.

Other speakers included relatives of Iraq war soldiers, such as Beatriz Saldivar, of Fort Worth, Texas, who showed a photo of her nephew Sgt. Daniel Torres. He was killed in Iraq on his second tour of duty in February. “He will never see his baby, due to be born this week,” said Saldivar. Many in the audience clearly empathized with her grief.

The rally themes were reflected in the songs, poetry, banners and signs, which included slogans like “Bush lied, thousands died,” “End the war — Bring the troops home alive!”

Other tour-related events in Philadelphia included an ecumenical service at First United Methodist Church of Germantown to honor those who died in Iraq, a meeting with labor leaders, and a “Camp Gold Star” vigil in the park.

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