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Antiwar sentiment gets champion

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Antiwar sentiment gets champion

Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch brings focus to a protest movement that's been largely unseen and ineffective.

By Brad Knickerbocker and Kris Axtman | Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

ASHLAND, ORE., AND CRAWFORD, TEXAS – In her high-profile vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch, Cindy Sheehan has brought the face and the heart of the antiwar movement to the world.

The plain-spoken words and image of a mother carrying a wooden cross to commemorate the son she lost in Iraq have suddenly brought focus to what has been largely an unseen and ineffective protest movement in the US.

To be sure, this is still not Kent State in 1970. For a variety of political and practical reasons, today's antiwar movement may never approach the ardor of a generation ago. Moreover, many conservatives criticize Ms. Sheehan for being co-opted by the broader political left - itself a reflection of the crosscurrents of the time.

Yet the mother, hoisting her plaintive signs and vowing to stay in Crawford until she gets a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Bush, has become a potent personal symbol of opposition to a war now stretching into its third year. More important, her crusade comes at a time when doubts about US engagement there are clearly growing.

"One keeps hearing that the number of queries coming into conscientious objector advisory groups are on the upswing," says retired US Army Colonel Dan Smith, a Vietnam veteran now working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group. "College campuses are stirring. Facts suggest a rising antiwar sentiment is in the making."

The depth of America's ambivalence is reflected in the polls. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll this month, echoing other surveys, shows that Americans by a 55-44 majority now believe the US "made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq." Some 56 percent say some or all US troops should be withdrawn now.

The hardening sentiment hasn't gone unnoticed in Washington. Many Democrats have become more vocal about the need for a definitive timetable for the withdrawal of troops, and they have been joined of late by some Republicans. The recent special congressional election in Ohio - where the Democrat was an Iraq war vet who nearly won in a heavily Republican district - has added to concerns about the war in some GOP circles.

Within the military, some senior commanders have talked about a timeframe for starting to bring home troops. But late last week, Bush tamped down any expectations of a quick withdrawal, saying it was too soon to say when the number of troops might be reduced.

This is no Vietnam era

Still, for all the concern about Iraq, the antiwar movement today isn't likely to reach the levels of Vietnam. For one thing, there are fundamental reasons why this war is distinctly different: the lack of military conscription, a relatively low level of American casualties (at least compared to Vietnam, where more than 30 times as many US soldiers were killed), and the absence of a self-conscious youth culture.

"What made the antiwar movement so powerful during the Vietnam War was its close connection to the movement of millions of baby-boomers through college," says national security analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "Away from home for the first time and insulated from military service by student deferments, many of these adolescents were acutely aware of their susceptibility to the draft once they completed college. Opposition to the war became part of a generational identity, particularly among middle-class students in universities."

Today, some of the not-so-silent minority worried about the war includes military veterans and their families. Jan Barry, a founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, says that when his group posted a statement of opposition to the Iraq war on a website shortly before the conflict started, it was signed by some 4,000 vets and family members, many of whom were retired. What surprised him, though, was the number of second and third generation military who signed up - including many World War II vets.

Activists say the grumbling about the war extends to some in the active-duty ranks. Even though there is no draft today, they note that the war has stretched on long enough, and has involved enough multiple deployments of many older National Guard and Reserve troops with family and work responsibilities back home, that misgivings are surfacing.

"We don't have a 'conscription draft,' as we say, but we have an economic draft [recruiters increasingly targeting poorer high school students], a backdoor draft with the National Guard and Reserves [who now make up more than 40 percent of US troops in Iraq], with the stop-loss program and the calling up of the Individual Ready Reserves," says Steve Morse of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, which offers counseling on a "GI Hotline" at 13 locations around the country.

Where the soldiers stand

The group Iraq Veterans Against the War was launched a year ago. Yet like its Vietnam counterpart in the 1960s and 70s, it remains a minority voice.

In a survey of service members earlier this year, readers of Military Times publications agreed that the US should have gone to war in Iraq by a 60-21 percent margin. The University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey last fall found that 64 percent of military personnel sampled (compared to 45 percent of the general population) said the situation in Iraq had been worth going to war over. Among those who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, that dropped to 55 percent.

In any case, GI's seem to take a realistically sober view of the war. The Military Times survey found that about half thought it would take 5-10 years for the US to achieve its goals in Iraq. A plurality (47 percent) thought the media should publish or broadcast news stories "that suggest the war is not going well," and 65 percent said "it should be OK to publish photographs of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base from Iraq."

'Camp Casey'

On the road outside Bush's ranch, the view is even more sober - and the anger more prevalent.

"I have a feeling that a lot of people have found their voice in her [Cindy Sheehan]," says Hadi Jawad, an activist in Dallas who helped found "Peace House" in Crawford near the Bush ranch. "She is articulating what is in their hearts."

About a dozen military families have arrived to lend a hand in the Sheehan protest. They come from Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas - and most have lost a loved one.

"We are here for all the soldiers who don't have a voice anymore," says Sergio Torres, whose son Army Sgt. Daniel Torres was killed in February when a roadside bomb hit his unarmored Humvee.

At what's called "Camp Casey," after her son who was killed, Sheehan is shepherded from interview to interview, sometimes using a protester's van to take media calls on a cell phone. Outside her tent, supporters have placed flowers and signs.

Since arriving Aug. 6, she has endured Texas thunderstorms, jalapeño heat, and unfriendly stares from some local people. "Last night I had fire ants crawling all over me," Sheehan says. "Physically it's very uncomfortable, but I think of all the soldiers in Iraq who, when it's too hot or too stormy, can't go into town for refuge. As bad as we have it here, it's nothing compared to how bad they have it over there."

The president's motorcade passed by for the first time on Friday, on its way to a Republican fundraiser down Prairie Chapel Road. But even if she doesn't get to meet with him, Sheehan says, "I've accomplished a lot by putting this war back on the front page where it should be."

At that moment, a counter-protester appeared with a sign that read, "Your son is a hero, not a victim!" Sheehan was whisked away before the two could meet.


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Dead soldier's mom brings anti-war protest to Bush

14 Aug 2005 20:27:00 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Tabassum Zakaria

CRAWFORD, Texas, Aug 14 (Reuters) - The mother of a dead American soldier who brought the anti-war movement into President George W. Bush's backyard has become a symbol for those who want U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004, has pitched a tent on the side of a country road that leads to the president's ranch and refuses to go away until he speaks to her.

She has grabbed the national spotlight and developed an almost cult-like following, drawing supporters to this Texas town, which has a population of 705.

Cars line up near her campsite on a two-lane road that winds through farmland, from states like Kansas, Colorado and Florida, with messages such as "Crawford bound to support Cindy" scrawled on windows.

Bush, who met with Sheehan once shortly after her son's death, has said he grieves for every death but will not prematurely pull troops out of Iraq. Opinion polls show public approval dropping for the president's handling of the war, in which more than 1,800 American soldiers have died.

"I was just fed up. When the 14 Marines were killed, and when George Bush said again that they died for a noble cause, and he said we have to complete the mission by honoring the sacrifices of the fallen heroes, that was it, I just was so enraged," Sheehan said in an interview with Reuters.

"If it's such a noble cause, why aren't his daughters over there?"

She sits in a white plastic chair wearing a straw hat, a white shirt with a picture of her son, and a tattoo on her left ankle: "Casey '79-'04." Visitors pay homage, kneeling down, grabbing her hand or hugging her, saying they support her.

Those who have gathered include parents with children fighting in Iraq, parents whose children died in Iraq, former soldiers who fought in Iraq and clergy.


Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who addressed protesters from the bed of a red pickup truck, called Sheehan "our Rosa Parks," in a reference to the black woman who triggered civil rights protests after she was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.

Sherry Bohlen of Scottsdale, Arizona, came to Crawford after seeing Sheehan on television. Bohlen tears up when she talks about her son, Thor Bohlen, 36, who has been in Iraq for a month. "My son joined the Army to serve his country, he didn't join to serve a lie," Bohlen said.

Hart Viges, 29, who joined the Army because of the Sept. 11 attacks said: "We were used. I believe the government betrayed the United States armed forces. They sent them out on a mission that was meant for something other than weapons of mass destruction." Viges, who returned from Iraq last year, has since left the military.

Sheehan said she has been overwhelmed by the response. "The movement was already in place, it just took somebody to be a catalyst to spark it off," she said.

Not everyone in Crawford is happy about the protesters. One resident made his opinion clear with a shotgun blast that rang out on his nearby ranch on Sunday.

Sheehan said in a statement that protesters had not infringed on the rancher's property. "As to the neighbor's suggestion that we go home, we suggest he talk to his permanent neighbor, President Bush. We are not leaving until President Bush meets with us and answers our questions about why our sons are dead."


Public relations firm Fenton Communications was hired to help organize media coverage for Sheehan and is being paid by TrueMajority, a nonprofit advocacy project founded by Ben Cohen, co-founder of the Ben and Jerry's ice cream company.

Sheehan, a Democrat, rejects any suggestion that her actions are politically motivated against a Republican president.

"I don't think this is being politically active," she said. "I see it as life and death, war and peace. It just so happens that the party who is the most war-like and that wants the war the most is the Republican Party."

But she also had plenty of criticism for Democrats.

"They vote for the funding, or they voted to give Bush the authority to go to war. They won't stand up and say well we voted to give you the authority, now we're going to take it away," she said. "A lot of Democrats are very wishy-washy."

Sheehan said she has been asked by several groups to consider running for Congress, but dismissed that, saying she is a one-issue activist -- bringing U.S. troops home.

She is already booked for the whole of September with speaking engagements and other activities in Italy, Colorado, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.


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A Mother And the President

A woman lost her son in Iraq and won't leave George W. Bush alone until he sees her. Who is she, and why is she stirring such emotion?


Cindy Sheehan, 48, is not a natural-born revolutionary. She speaks in a high, almost childlike voice. She says like as often as any teenager, as in, "This whole thing was like so freaking spur of the moment." When her supporters gather to discuss strategy, Sheehan is not to be found in the circle of beach chairs; she is 50 yards up the road, doing yet another interview, hugging yet another stranger. But here she is, the mother of Casey, 24, who died in Iraq last year, and now the central character in the strange, swirling protest she initiated two miles down the road from President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Sheehan is unflinching about why she's here. She says George W. Bush killed her son. She demands that U.S. troops come home now, and she insists on telling that to Bush personally. She speaks without caveat. "I'm not afraid of anything since my son was killed," she says. But she has never been one to move quietly through life. Father Michael McFadden, a priest she once worked for, calls her "very defiant, very stubborn, very strong willed" when dealing with authority. When a soldier from the local base comes by to argue with her, she asks him to go for a walk. She puts her arm around him. Soon they are hugging. Her friends call her Attila the Honey.

Back home in California, her family is imploding under its grief. Sheehan lost her job at Napa County Health and Human Services because of all her absences, she says. Husband Pat, 52, couldn't bear having Casey's things at home and put most of them in storage. "We grieved in totally different ways," Cindy says. "He wanted to grieve by distracting himself. I wanted to immerse myself." A car tinkerer, he added two 1969 VW Bugs to his collection recently and diverted some of his sorrow into them. The couple separated in June.

Daughter Carly, 24, wrote a poem that begins, "Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?" Surviving son Andy, 21, supports his mother in principle but recently sent her a long e-mail imploring her "to come home because you need to support us at home," he says. Casey's aunt Cherie Quartarolo e-mailed a California radio station last week to rebuke Cindy, writing, "She appears to be promoting her own personal agenda at the expense of her son's good name."

Outside her family circle, Sheehan's crusade has been just as divisive. Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin has called the protesters "terrorist-sympathizing agitators." But at a time when 56% of the respondents in a CNN poll say they think the war is going poorly, this wandering mother has tapped into a national well of worry: Are our troops dying in vain? "People were looking for something to do," says Sheehan. Now they are calling to see whether they can sign over their Social Security checks to her.

Still, it is hard to know when a flash-fire protest in a prairie will turn into something more. Surely it didn't happen when Martin Sheen called (which was on Day 5). Nor did it when the police donned riot gear, as they did on Day 7, when the President's motorcade came within 100 feet of Sheehan's ramshackle encampment. (Riot gear is casual fashion for police at protests these days, after all.) Attendance figures--about 100 by midweek--did not break any records either.

But the people who did come made it seem different from other antiwar spasms. A retired postal worker drove from San Diego for 26 hours. A local soldier who had just returned from Iraq appeared with his mom. And a truck driver--a former Marine who had never been to an antiwar protest before--decided to pull his 18-wheeler full of frozen pizzas into Crawford just to shake Sheehan's hand.

At her roadside uprising, Sheehan feels only muted satisfaction. Sitting in a van, momentarily insulated from followers and other reporters, she says more than once that she feels like a failure. Even if the troops came back tomorrow, it would still be too late for her son. "I really failed Casey. I really did," she says, tearing up. Throughout his childhood in California, Casey and his mother were close. An altar boy for 10 years, Casey enlisted in 2000 hoping to make a career as a military chaplain's assistant. He had decided to wait to have sex until he was married. "He took lots of heat for that in the Army. Pat and I always wondered why he would even tell anyone he was still a virgin," Sheehan wrote on TruthOut.org "but he did."

Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, less than a month after he arrived in Iraq as a humvee mechanic. He had gone out on a voluntary mission to rescue injured soldiers when his unit was ambushed. Six other soldiers died with him. Says his brother Andy: "He lived to help people, and he died helping people." On the day he died, Cindy saw a burning humvee on CNN and says she knew instinctively that her son was among the dead.

Sheehan's impulsive decision to come to Crawford--with five people, some chairs and no flashlights--has spawned a small phenomenon. A busload of counterprotesters, organized by a conservative radio personality in Dallas, arrived to sing God Bless America. A Japanese peace-activist group donated money for Porta Potties. Chad Griffin, a Los Angeles--based p.r. agent who worked in the Clinton White House, came up with the idea of cutting an ad featuring Sheehan's plea to speak with Bush. With $12,000 in donations, the ad is running in Crawford.

That's exactly the kind of move the White House hopes will play into its hands. Once Sheehan starts acting like a politician, say some Republicans and even some Democrats, she will become just another voice in the debate--easy, in other words, to neutralize. But until then, Bush's team cannot fire back hard, as it usually does when it is criticized. Sheehan must be handled, as an adviser to the President put it, "very carefully." And that's what it has been struggling to do. Top officials went out to talk to Sheehan but failed to appease her. The President acknowledged her obliquely last week in response to a question about Iraq, saying he shared her pain. The White House, quantifying his compassion, put out a list of the meetings Bush has held with families. (He has met with the relatives of 272 deceased U.S. soldiers so far.) A senior aide who was present at many of the meetings estimates that a little less than 10% of the relatives tell Bush their loved ones died in vain. "He's had a couple wives who were very upset," says the aide. "They didn't yell at him or hit him or anything like that. But on more than one occasion, they've made very clear their position."

And the White House noted that Bush met with Sheehan too, two months after Casey died. She had always had misgivings about the war, and she says she had mixed feelings about Bush's demeanor at the meeting, but she kept quiet. When more information came out about the planning for the war, however, she started to feel utterly betrayed.

But White House aides say they worry about the precedent, should Bush see Sheehan again. "If the President meets with her, does he have to meet with every protester who camps out in Crawford or in Lafayette Park [in Washington]?" asks a Bush aide. "Does he have a second meeting with every mother or wife who asks for one?"

A fair question. There is a risk, though, that Sheehan's ideas will never stop spreading down the road. In 1965 a group of just 25 antiwar protesters demonstrated outside President Lyndon Johnson's Texas ranch. Within a few years, the handful had turned into a movement. --With reporting by Amanda Bower/San Francisco, Jay Carney/Washington and Hilary Hylton/Crawford


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Bush Neighbor Suffers Protest Fatigue

Sunday, August 14, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas — Protesters outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch were starting their second week of demonstrations Sunday, leading one neighbor to demonstrate the first signs of protest fatigue.

Larry Mattlage (search) created quite a stir earlier in the day when he fired his shotgun over his property. The Crawford rancher told reporters he was practicing for dove season.

Mattlage expressed frustration about the ongoing anti-war protest taking place near his property, and said other neighbors are also getting aggravated by all of the protest activity on their quiet country road.

"You want something like this in your backyard? Huh, or your front yard? This is our yard right here. We just happen to, in Texas, have a bigger yard than they do in Maryland," Mattlage told reporters.

"I mean, would you like somebody invading your house for a long time and blocking your view and blocking your road? I wake up every morning [with] this crowd, and I go to bed every night with this campground down here on a public road, which I'm paying taxes to, the middle of this road," he said.

Mattlage has been watching throughout the past week as more and more protesters join Cindy Sheehan (search) outside the president's 1,500-acre ranch. Sheehan's son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. She says she wants U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq, and she will stay here until Bush speaks with her.

Bush has defended his decision not to meet with Sheehan, with whom he met once before.

''Whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job. And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life," Bush told Cox News Service during a bicycle ride on Saturday.

On Sunday, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean (search) said Bush should meet with Sheehan.

"Because the president sent her son to Iraq, her son lost his life. I think the president should meet with any parent who has sacrificed their son or daughter for the defense of the United States of America," Dean told a Sunday morning network talk show.

In 2004, Bush met with Sheehan and other grieving families. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who traveled with Bush the day he met with the families, described the president's mood afterward.

"I have seen him, I have seen his care, and I've seen him grieve. And I'm sure he wouldn't like to hear me say this, but I have seen him afterwards. He was very, very grieved," McCain told "FOX News Sunday."

After Sheehan was joined by other anti-war protesters, pro-Bush demonstrators also traveled to Crawford. One pro-Iraq policy demonstrator said those against the president are not from Texas. Others said if the anti-war protesters succeed in altering U.S. policy, it would put more troops in harm's way.

The increased traffic in Crawford did not affect Bush, first lady Laura Bush or Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as they traveled Saturday night from the ranch to the Baylor University campus in nearby Waco, where the three attended the Little League Southwest Regional championship game.

But Mattlage said he is frustrated by the traffic — and subsequent side effects of it — in his neighborhood.

"We got a battle of the port-a-potties. They first started going to the bathroom in a five-gallon bucket, then they moved a port-a-pottie and then they got two port-a-potties, and now we got three and if this keeps up they will be all the way down the road," he said. "The only people winning here is the person who cleans the port-a-potties."

Mattlage said he sympathizes with Sheehan, but the crowd that has developed is akin to guests that won't leave.

"When they first came out here, I was sympathetic to their cause, all right. They as American citizens have a right to march, to protest, but it's like company. If you had your brother-in-law in your house for five days, wouldn't it start stinking after a while? You're ready for them to go home."

Mattlage said he respects the anti-war protesters and he respects President Bush, but he is frustrated because both federal and county law enforcement told him they can do nothing to end the anti-war protest.

U.S. Secret Service and McLennan County sheriff's deputies went to Mattlage's home on Sunday afternoon to urge restraint, and the situation appeared to calm down a bit after Mattlage spoke with law enforcement and vented to reporters.

McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch said Mattlage didn't violate any law by firing his shotgun on Sunday.

"He's on his own property. He's getting ready for dove season he says," Lynch said adding that had Mattlage shot across the road rather than on his own land, he would have broken state and county laws.

"Everybody needs to use restraint in this situation out here. This is a situation that's taken all these folks by storm and impacted a lot of businesses out here. But so far everybody's been compliant and that's what we are here for, the deputies are here to make sure that this continues on in a peaceful manner. Folks need to comply with all the rules and regulations in the state of Texas and county and that's what we are here for this morning," the sheriff added.

Mattlage said he loves Bush because the Bible tells people to love their neighbors. But he said he is not a politician and is not interested in the president's business.

"All I know, when he gets done with his presidency, he is our neighbor and all of you all and all of this protest is out of here," he said.

FOX News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.


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