Peace mom or traitor?

Cindy Sheehan: "We're asking how many people have to sacrifice before they bring them home?"

September 20, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,Sun Reporter

She has been called everything from Peace Mom to American Traitor. But when it comes to name-calling, Cindy Sheehan gives as good as she gets.

"We've been lulled to sleep by a dictatorship," Sheehan says, "with no opposition from the opposition party and the media."

Her soft voice may sound like the person who calls to say the book you checked out is overdue, but her message is in your face. Or rather, in the president's face.

Sheehan drew both fame and infamy by camping outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch during his vacation there this summer, demanding he meet with her and explain why her son had to die in Iraq. Bush refused -- saying he'd previously met with her and other parents of fallen soldiers -- and now that his vacation is over, Sheehan has taken her crusade on the road to follow him to Washington. She appears tonight at the Johns Hopkins University, under the sponsorship of a student anti-war group, and will then head to the capital this weekend.

At Lafayette Park, across from the White House, she intends to set up a camp similar to the tent city that emerged outside the Bush ranch and became known as Camp Casey, after her late son. After returning home, she will revisit the site from time to time -- until all the troops are brought home.

The face-to-face meeting that she once sought is no longer enough. No, Sheehan has raised the stakes.

"Our mission is to bring all of our troops home so no one has to suffer what we're suffering," says Sheehan, who arrived in Baltimore on Sunday as part of the last stop in her "Bring Them Home Now Tour" before Washington. "We're asking how many people have to sacrifice before they bring them home?"

The 25-day, 51-city tour began last month. She had arrived in Crawford as a largely anonymous, grieving stay-at-home mother: The death of her son, Army Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan, in Iraq on April 4 of last year, just five days after his arrival in Sadr City, turned her into an activist. Soon, other anti-war activists joined her, and Camp Casey -- an impromptu encampment down the road from the vacationing president -- was born. The media arrived, counterdemonstrators arrived, and the grieving mother became a rallying point -- drawing support from opponents to the war, and condemnation from supporters of it.

She has helped organize and support groups like Gold Star Families for Peace, which also seeks to provide support for families of fallen soldiers, and Meet With the Mothers campaign, which asks members of Congress to convene with mothers of fallen soldiers.

"Gold Star Families is not just people who have lost family members in the war in Iraq, but Vietnam, Korea, even World War II," said Sheehan. "The Meet With the Mothers, we set out to ask Congress what they think is a noble cause about this war because the president didn't answer me when I asked him."

National attention

The 48-year-old former Catholic youth minister from Vacaville, Calif., had no idea what she was getting into when she began her anti-war crusade. Though she has long spoken out against the Iraq war, it wasn't until she camped out in Crawford that she drew national attention.

"I've been doing this for a year before we went out to Crawford," said Sheehan about her activism. "Even before the standoff, I knew people supported me. But I had no idea things would grow to these proportions. I've seen this [anti-war] movement in place for months, and it just needed a spark."

That spark set off a firestorm of reaction across the country.

To anti-war supporters Sheehan's been a long-overdue throwback to the 1960s, someone who openly challenges military action at a time when, just as in the 1960s, peace signs are once again being likened to chicken feet. Activists and members of organizations also opposed to war joined her at the site. College students -- historically the most ardent anti-war demonstrators -- began calling for her presence on campuses.

"I think that at the beginning of summer the peace movement ran out of things to say or maybe just how to say it. She provided a new way to express our position," said Kevan Harris, governing board member of the Hopkins Anti-War Coalition, which raised money to bring Sheehan to campus. "She let us all know that the way we feel about this way is not radical but mainstream, and it made it easier to speak your mind."

In the past, such visits from anti-Iraq war speakers have prompted controversy on the campus, but Harris said that on this occasion, because Sheehan is receiving no honorarium, there is no such controversy. "Our student group is paying for use of [Shriver Hall] and security," said Harris, who declined to say how much those costs were. "But that's no different than any other group that brings someone to campus. No one's making money off this."

No fallout so far

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