Nor is it her peace movement

T.A. Barnhart

The sad part about what's happened to Cindy Sheehan, apart maybe from attacks from people who should have been supporting her (and of course, the loss of her child), is that somehow she became synonymous with the peace movement. No matter how strong, capable or willing she or anyone else may be, that's simply too much of a burden for any one person. "Resigning" may be a sad thing, and it's making many people angry, but it's also a smart and necessary thing that will be good for both Cindy and the movement.

Like many in this country, I am amazed at how she handled her grief. If my worst fears about my son come true, I have no idea how I'll react. I imagine I'll crumble; that kind of loss is devastating. And yet she took her grief and got up and did something wonderful in her son's memory. Some idiots are saying that perhaps now she can heal, but I'm convinced her actions in confronting Bush — and the nation — were her healing.

But it's been nearly 3 years since Casey died, and she's been through an incredible amount since. She's angered the right, frustrated some on the left and center, but overall she's been a great voice, and face, for the peace movement. The simple act of standing outside Bush's Texas ranch and asking that he talk to her was almost as dramatic as the lone protestor facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square (and yes, I realize what I'm implying with that comparison). She has been put through so much since then, and she's born so much weight. This may well be a good time for her to take a break. Go and rest. God knows she's earned.

The thing I find regrettable is that she ever ended up in that position. Like so many others, I looked up to her and cheered her on — and really didn't do a whole lot to help her bear her burden. Yes, I busted my ass for Kerry, I've worked hard to get good people elected here in Oregon, and I'm dedicated to getting a competent president elected next year. But for the past three years, I've really not done a lot to force an end to the war. With the representation I have in Congress — every one of whom (the Ds) voted against the funding — it's never seemed like demanding they fight to end the war is very necessary. Does anyone think Peter Defazio's been wimping out? Ron Wyden?

But that's not a very good excuse. Today I finally called Wyden's Portland office — I had to leave a message because the phone was busy; tomorrow I'll try DC — and thanked him for his vote and implored him to do all he can to not let any more Oregon troops be sent over. This is of immediate and personal importance to me because now that my son has finished basic training with the National Guard, he's fair game for Bush's meat grinder.

And I feel ashamed it's taken me this long, and taken a personal threat, to get me to the point of making one stinking phone call. All these months when I could have been raising my voice weekly, and I've been silent. I've gone once to the daily Peace Vigil in front of the Benton County Courthouse; once. I've marched a few times, but I'm not sure a few hundred protestors in Corvallis have a lot of impact.

And now I sit here, thinking about Cindy Sheehan and what she's done, and I'm terribly abashed. I still disagree with her summary dismissal of the entire Democratic Party, but many people do agree with her — and many others agree with me. It doesn't matter. I believe that people who disagree strongly on something can still be productive partners. The Democratic Party will survive and flourish no matter what any person or group of people do; it's far too widespread and part of the fabric of American democracy and liberty to ever fail. Stumble, yes; fail, no.

Those of us who supported Howard Dean four years ago can recall clearly the way he ended every campaign speech: "You have the power! You have the power!" I still feel the excitement of those words, and I realize I've been squandering that power. Yes, the challenge is huge. As that insipid little "inspirational" card says, "The sea is so large and my boat is so small." But that's the wrong picture, and I've been silencing myself with that perspective. The truth is that I may be small, but I'm not alone. I surrounded by wonderful people who share my belief in peace and my sense of being overwhelmed. A lot of them get up and do good stuff despite those feelings (rock on, Leah & Bart Bolger). They just pick one thing to do, and they go and do it. I think about that and I feel like a total dope. That's hard to figure out?

So as Cindy Sheehan steps aside, I've finally gotten the message: It's my turn. Not to lead, just to do. This woman lost her child and tried to make good of that tragedy. In doing so, she's been personally abused by her own country people, including those who should have been allies. She's angry and hurt, and I don't blame her, but she never should have been in that position. I'm not arrogant enough to think I could have changed that by anything I could or should have done. But had I done my part all along, who knows what I might have been a part of. Maybe I could have brought one or two others along, and they one or two; how many people might have raised their voice if I had raised mine? And had this happened, perhaps we might have spared Cindy some of the grief she's gone through by demonstrating however effective she was, she was ever but one of the many faces of the movement.

Apparently the majority of Americans want this war to end. Some of those who voted in November voted to end the war; each week a few thousand tell pollsters they oppose the war. MoveOn collects signatures, Obama and Edwards (and Ron Paul) garner supporters. Wyden and Defazio and others hear from constituents. But the voice the peace movement has yet to be heard. Because that voice was not Cindy Sheehan, and it never could be. The voice can only be but one: the collective voice of the American people, not whispered among ourselves or to pollsters but loudly and in public. I'm still trying to figure out how to make my voice louder; I'm starting by calling one of my Congressional representatives every day, even those who really do work to end the war and not just give it lip service. I know there is more I can do, and whatever pissant excuses I've been feeding myself, it's long past time I got my ass in gear.

As I was responding to a commenter to my post yesterday, I remembered a Dr Seuss story that should inspire anyone who thinks he or she is just too insignificant to make any difference.

And, just as he felt he was getting nowhere,
And almost about to give up in despair,
He suddenly burst through a door and that Mayor
Discovered one shirker! Quite hidden away
In the Fairfax Apartments (Apartment 12-J)
A very small, very small shirker named Jo-Jo
was standing, just standing, and bouncing a Yo-Yo!
Not making a sound! Not a yipp! Not a chirp!
And the Mayor rushed inside and he grabbed the young twerp!

And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.
“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your towns darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
To come to the aid of their country!” he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “YOPP!”

And that Yopp…
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?…
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the smallest of All!”


(With my own debt of thanks to Cindy Sheehan for all she has done.)

  • David G (unverified)

    I think today you have given Cindy Sheehan the respect she deserves. Thanks for rethinking that.

    But I think your title is still wrong and doesn't jibe with the message you have written about. As you have elegantly and implicitly written, we are each an owner of the peace movement. Say and do what you can to make it happen.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    Makes a difference when you have "skin the games", doesn't it.

    I was at a meeting a while back when one of the participants was apologetic about getting emotional during his talk because he had three sons who were of draft age. When I got up to speak I said there was no reason to apologize, he should be emotional about it. I then said I get emotional about it because I have a billion children waiting for a better world. We all have a billion children counting on us. We all should be emotional about it. We must turn that emotion into action.

    If you want to get more involved, check out PDX Peace, a clearinghouse for the peace movement in Portland.

  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    Well done, T.A. You put a nice perspective on this. Regardless of how anyone feels about Cindy Sheehan, the following is most certainly true:

    1. She was vocally opposing this war long before a great many people
    2. Many more people are opposed to this war than when she first started speaking up and
    3. It makes it that much easier for others to stand up once someone else has already done it.
  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    No matter how strong, capable or willing she or anyone else may be, that's simply too much of a burden for any one person.

    She wasn't entirely alone. There were small groups supporting her, but the basic point is reasonably valid. The majority of people claim they want the war to end, but when it comes to doing something about it, all but very few are prepared to stand up, speak out and be counted. In other words, like Dick Cheney and other chickenhawks, they have other priorities - like going to the mall or playing with their toys or watching television. And these are the people the young men and women in the military are sacrificing their lives for?

  • Benton Co. Dem (unverified)

    Take a look at this clip of DeFazio on the floor. You may rethink that "wimpy" on Iraq comment Todd.

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    BCDem, i said Pete was not wimpy. the clip shows this. what's great about Pete is that he'll talk like this one-on-one, albeit in a conversational tone, with the same passion. he's more than a politician; he's the epitome, to me, of a public servant.

    this is why people wanted him to run for Senate.

  • Benton Co. Dem (unverified)

    Sorry TA. My mistake.

    And by the way, good luck to your son. We will be thinking about him in the coming months. Hopefully, the madness will stop before he is deployed.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    It may not have been Cindy Sheehan's peace movement (although she was a leading figure in it and it will be weaker without her) but it was and is the GOP's war and Democratic complicity that got us into it. This link may give readers cause to consider forgiving John Edwards his vote to sign Bush's blank check for war.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks for the eloquent reflections T.A.

    Anent misplaced criticism, for what it's worth, United for Peace and Justice (a broad national anti-war coalition) and Code Pink both sent out e-mails today thanking Cindy Sheehan for all she has done, acknowledging the personal toll on her, and calling upon the rest of us in the movement to step up our efforts.

    If "the voice of the peace movement has yet to be heard," it has a great deal to do with the refusal of the broadcast media and national print media to mediate the reality and scale of that movement. It has become the regular practice of such media to characterize "national" demonstrations with over a hundred thousand participants as "thousands of people demonstrated," likewise in covering Portland's disproportionately large demos (regularly in the 10s of thousands), even when local media acknowledge the reality. The NYT buried its story on one large NYC demo that drew people from across the country and probably had over 200,000 participants (organizers claimed considerably more if memory serves), certainly over 100,000, in the Metro-Regional section, again using the "thousands demonstrated" dodge.

    It is a bit hard to tell how much this is motivated by fear of being blamed by the right-wingers for "losing the war" as the press is said (ridiculously) to have done regarding the Vietnamese-American War, and how much is motivated by their own complicity (along with all too many Democrats) in uncritical acceptance of transparently false and duplicitous claims used to gin up our war of aggression. I think that in the early days the censorship of the anti-war movement was part of the complicity, and that today the fear of right-wing backlash factor may be more important.

    Anyway, the movement has been more than just "a few" people. Another interesting development is that numbers of elected officials are joining & addressing demonstrations; the last big one in Portland had Earl B., Tom Potter, & several state reps & senators (I only remember Carolyn Tomei for certain because she's my rep.) Likewis with the passage of local anti-war resolutions.

    None of this is to say that the movement doesn't need to figure out how to be more effective in mobilizing anti-war opinion, how to coordinate local events nationally and get them covered as a national phenomenon, and so on.

    As regards the Democrats, part of the standing up we need to do is to say, loudly and collectively, that we will not vote for anyone for president who is not committed to getting the U.S. out of Iraq in very short order after being sworn in. Personally I think we have to be willing to take that to the general election, not just the primaries. At present this rules out Clinton & the egregious Joe Biden, & Obama is pretty waffly.

    I also think we need to demand a commitment not to engage in adventurism against Iran. Unfortunately this appears at present to cut out virtually everyone except Dennis Kucinich, who seems to have little chance. For reasons best known to himself, John Edwards is quite hawkish on Iran. This is a pity from someone who has the intestinal fortitude not only to say "if I knew then what I know now," (a la Kerry, Clinton & many others) but "I could and should have known then" -- i.e. to admit that it's a lie that "everyone knew" Hussein had WsMD -- in acknowledging his mistake in authorizing the war powers that Bush abused.

    Unless that hawkishness changes, there's no way I can vote for Edwards. It is not enough that Bush leaves office. His imperial pretensions and claims a U.S. right to aggression, along with his assaults on our constitutional order, must be repudiated. Attitudes of aggression toward Iran represent a continuation of the imperial arrogance which daily makes the U.S. poorer and less secure.

  • Tracy Waters (unverified)

    When the election was STOLEN again in 2004 I became so depressed I was unfit for human consumption! But I awoke 1/1/05 with the dedication to let my elected officials know how I felt, weekly. I met that goal.(It's NOT that difficult. Post your reps' numbers at the bottom of your monitor & use them!) I decided it felt so much better to be a good citizen I set that goal for myself again in 2006, but with the intent to talk it up more. It still feels good. I've actually worked into perhaps 3-4 contacts a week now. I LOVE it when the phone folks at Earl Blumenauer's office say, "Oh hello Ms. Waters, what can I tell the Congressman today?" Of course we're all mighty grateful for Cindy Sheehan's leadership, but the truth of it is we each have the power! Let's mobilize & USE it! Wrapping your son, TA in the best Invisiblity Cloak I can muster so he'll NEVER have to go!

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    hi, Tracy, good for you! i called DeFazio's office yesterday and the woman there was so friendly and warm. enthusiastic, as if it mattered that i called -- and knowing Pete, it did! we are extraordinarily lucky to have some of the folks we have in Oregon.

    <h2>thanks for your kindness towards my son. i think that's what we need to share with one another: our good wishes, one to another, that our children will be safe and happy. peace.</h2>

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