May 10, 2006

Cindy Sheehan at the McDermott Fundraiser

From left: Rep. McDermott, Cindy Sheehan and Therese Hansen in Seattle on May 7, 2006. By Natasha Celine at Pacificviews.orgCindy Sheehan of Gold Star Families for Peace spoke in Seattle this past weekend and was the guest of honor at a fundraiser for Rep. Jim McDermott's legal fund Sunday, naming the congressman as one of her heroes and a man who was right on all the progressive issues. After the pleasantries, she sat down with everyone for a Q&A session with the congressman and the other guests.

In person, Cindy Sheehan hardly seems like someone who would have started a national media firestorm. Her presence is soothing, her voice is gentle no matter the topic and while she isn't shy, she doesn't act like someone who's trying to draw attention to herself. When she mentions that she was a Catholic youth minister for 8 years, no one is surprised.

She talks about what started her determination to speak out about the war, saying that one of the last straws was the president's declaration that the U.S. had to stay in Iraq to honor the sacrifice of the fallen, like her son Casey. "I don't know any mother who lost her child who would want another mother's child to die. Casey died saving his buddies, he wouldn't want anyone else to die," she said.

So she went down to Crawford, TX and decided to ask for a better answer about why the U.S. was in Iraq. She said that Bush's staff who came out to speak to her couldn't give any better answer than the president had in public, telling not to "make the mistake of thinking that because I'm a grieving mom that I'm a stupid mom." She left Crawford without an answer that satisfied her and has been speaking out in favor of pulling out the troops ever since.

As she travels the country, she says most of her support comes from veterans and current active duty, people who know how bad war can be. By now, even members of the military who don't agree with her tell her that they support her right to do what she's doing, that she rarely gets called a traitor anymore like back in the beginning. Even the shopkeepers in Crawford, TX have described her and her fellow demonstrators as 'not so bad,' which she says is quite a change from back when she started. What else is she hearing when she meets with people? Apparently, lots of talk about pulling out of Iraq now and impeaching the president.

Speaking of presidents, someone asks her who she supports in 2008 and she doesn't hesitate to name Al Gore as her favorite. She says she likes him now even more than she did then, saying that she believes that if Gore had been in office these last few years, her son would still be alive. Is he electable? She seems certain that the answer is yes. "He was already elected once, why can't he be elected again?"

Back to Iraq, she talks about the terrible conditions for troops on the ground, including those who have resorted to asking the Iraqis for food because they're only being given two meals a day. She talks about the conditions the Iraqis live in, contrasted to the sprawling U.S. embassy that doesn't lack for the water and electricity they now go without.

Regarding the politics of getting Congress to move on this issue, Rep. McDermott said that there are now about 150 members of congress who would like to get out but are trying to figure out how to explain their original votes for the war. He said it was hard to admit they were wrong, but they're trying to come to terms with it, especially since their districts are increasingly unhappy. Of that original vote, he said "Most of these people wanted to believe what they were told."

When it comes to talking about getting out, McDermott noted that everyone wanted to say redeploy instead of retreat or withdrawal. He recalled though, that before the war, he'd appeared on a news show with a senior military officer for a segment on the merits of going into Iraq. Off camera, he asked the officer what would happen if, just for the sake of argument, he turned out to be right and everything went to hell. The officer said that in that case, the senior generals would go to the president and say they wanted out. McDermott said that Rep. Jack Murtha was the canary, while the retired generals who've been speaking out represent a 2nd wave in the attempt to talk the White House out of Iraq.

Sheehan noted that even redeployment might not be what people expect. Of the phrase strategic redeployment, she said that what it meant was withdrawing ground troops while increasing aerial bombardment and using death squads. The comment was a reminder that Iraq's recent ambassador, John Negroponte is intimately familiar with supporting and organizing death squads, that Pentagon discussions on using death squads in Iraq are public knowledge and that U.S. trained Iraqi police forces are known to be among the groups in Iraq using terror tactics that would have been familiar to any Central America watcher during the Reagan administration of which Negroponte is a veteran.

Sheehan said that just about everyone who could be convinced that the Iraq war was wrong had been convinced. Now, she said, "we have to convince everybody that they have a stake in this war." She pointed to the recent immigration marches as an example of what people can do when motivated, saying that if the deficits weren't enough, there were always the war crimes. "If we don't repudiate these crimes against humanity, then we are complicit," she said.

Concerning the recent drumbeat of alarmism over Iran, she said that she thought "they have an intern in the White House just changing all the Q's to N's." She noted that Iran was at least three times the size and population of Iraq and had far better defenses. Soldiers have told her that during the initial invasion of Iraq, some of them were met with Iraqi soldiers surrendering to them in flip-flops and carrying rusty rifles, that they'd had very few defenses left. "Iran won't be like that," she said, they "won't roll over." Iraqi blogger Riverbend might have agreed if she'd been there, recently having described American troops in Iraq as 150,000 Iranian hostages, in the event of an invasion.

Sheehan said that people ask her sometimes how she would fight the war on terror and she said that she's no great expert, but she "wouldn't fight it with a war of terror."

After the event, I rode with Ms. Sheehan and her host for the ten minute trip to catch their ferry and was able to ask her a few more questions.

She spoke some more about Iran, saying that she couldn't believe that anyone in Congress or the Senate was going along with the administration's rhetoric on Iran after his lies about Iraq, now that Bush was claiming that it was a new front for the war on terror. She described the effort as another war to "enrich the military industrial war complex." I asked her about the Iran Freedom Support act, about which she wrote a recent oppositional editorial for Buzzflash. I asked her why, in spite of the fact that use of force is not explicitly authorized in the bill, she thought it was a step towards war. "It's the first step towards bombing, it's the first step they took for Iraq, yes. It says if they don't follow the rules they'll become a pariah state."

What else is she hearing about conditions in Iraq from the active duty forces she speaks with? "They're telling me it's a nightmare. They don't get enough food. They don't get enough clean water. They're doing things that they never signed up to do and they're saying that they were lied to. They know it's all about oil and about making the war machine rich." About her message and activities, "They're saying 'keep on doing it,' because the peace movement is the only way that they're getting out of Iraq."

Sheehan says the Bush administration not only hasn't attempted to engage any of the questions of servicemembers' families who've joined Sheehan's search for real answers, "they only meet with families now who are pro-war. ... They screen their audiences, you know, they screen everybody. George Bush never meets with anybody who disapproves of him." Not even the families of fallen soldiers from the war he sent them off to.

Currently, Sheehan's political activities include working with John Kerry's office to support his resolution to start bringing the troops home on May 22, and all of them home by the end of the year. She's been working with Rep. Jim McGovern and has been asking all the elected officiels she meets to stop voting for war funding. She's on the national board of Progressive Democrats, working to get not only Democrats elected but as the group's name would indicate, progressive Democrats. She said that "should be an oxymoron, they should all be progressive."

And in response to the standard question about whether or not we can pull out of Iraq given its current state: "I think we need to pull our military presence out of there, they never needed our military presence there. And like I said in the talk, to say that to be able to rebuild their country they need a U.S. military presence there is arrogant and racist. We need to withdraw all our troops, close the permanent bases. We need to bring the general contractors out of there, give Iraqi people back their jobs and let them rebuild their country because it's their country. It's not the 51st state of America. And right now, what's happening is our presence there is degenerating, the country is degenerating into civil war, chaos and confusion, and it's because of the occupation. Occupations, ... the goal is to create chaos and confusion in a country so they can't resist the occupiers."

This is what Sheehan said she tells people they can do to raise support for getting out of Iraq: "They can urge their congresspeople to support such resolutions as McGovern's 4232 and John Kerry's S.R. 33. They can get out on the streets, they can write to their congresspeople. They can do counter-recruitment, dry up the cannon fodder, ... if they don't have soldiers, they can't fight wars. ... You know, just stand up and reclaim our country."

Posted by natasha at May 10, 2006 03:42 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

Great piece, natasha. You've done a very nice job of letting Cindy shine through. What a gutsy patriot she is.

Posted by: Mary at May 10, 2006 08:50 PM

It's nice to hear about the people who are still sane in the U. S. It's too bad there aren't more like McDermott, (Jim) McGovern and Kucinich in Congress to stop the next war. From what happened this week, it looks like the current Dem leadership, especially in the Senate, has made a cynical calculation to go along with the Iran war too. Reid signed on to the IFSA and he, Biden and Levin wrote a letter to Bush demanding not caution but more bellicosity against both Iran and Russia.

Despite the best efforts of Cindy and people like her, another war looks unstoppable now.

Posted by: goinsouth at May 12, 2006 08:16 AM

You gotta be kiddin' me. Cindy Sheehag is still being trotted out? She's half-baked and we all know it, folks. Let go of your anger...

Posted by: Don at May 12, 2006 07:24 PM