Awaiting A Ruckus

    It all began after Cindy Sheehan’s 24-year-old son, Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004. When Sheehan camped outside of President George W. Bush’s vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005, the world watched as her demands to meet with the president were unheeded — and wondered whether her persistence was earnest mourning or media savvy. Regardless, her fight for combat relief has been folded into the global anti-war movement. On March 3, Sheehan shared her message with UCSD. At The UCSD College Democrats’ Day of Action, a peace rally to demonstrate opposition to the war in Iraq, Sheehan spoke at a panel discussion and shared her views with student and adult demonstrators.

    Greg Dale/Guardian

    Guardian: What, if anything, was your political involvement prior to the Iraq War?

    Sheehan: I wasn’t even involved until my son was killed on April 4, 2004. A couple of months after Casey was killed I started becoming involved in activism, writing, speaking, traveling, stuff like that. In January 2005 I founded Gold Star families for peace and then I became very busy.

    G: What exactly gave you the idea to go to Crawford?

    S: Well, on Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines were killed in one incident in Iraq. I was at home, I was on the computer, I was writing an e-mail on how frustrated I was that I’d been working over a year to bring the troops home and the violence was still going on. And while I was doing this, George Bush comes on — I guess I was watching CNN or something — and says we can rest assured that our loved ones died for a noble cause. He also said we have to continue the mission to continue to honor the sacrifices of the ones who’ve already fallen and I just snapped. I thought, I’m going down to Crawford, I’m going to ask George Bush, “What is this noble cause?” I thought, I’m going to drive up as far as I could go, I’m going to demand to meet with the president and ask “What’s the noble cause?”

    G: Did the president ever meet with you?

    S: No.

    G: How have your anti-war efforts progressed since Camp Casey in August 2005?

    S: I’ve just been really busy going all over the world. I’ve met with a president of a country, a vice president of a country, a foreign minister of another country and parliamentarians all over the world. And right now, everybody says to me in all these other countries, it seems like you’re the ambassador for peace from the United States. So I just go and I encourage all these leaderships of other countries not to support what our country is doing in Iraq. You can be our friend and you can be our ally without supporting the crimes against humanity that the United States is committing.

    G: What were your motives when you went to Crawford?

    S: My motive was to bring the troops home. To go down to Crawford, to ask, “What’s the noble cause?” I was going to sit there and stay there until the president met with me. I thought that it would get some attention but I had no idea how it would capture the attention of the world. I had no idea that would happen.

    G: What were your original criticisms about the U.S. invasion of Iraq? What are your criticisms about today’s situation in Iraq?

    S: Well, I didn’t think I could see people like Scott Ritter and Hans Blix saying that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We know that there’s been categorical proof that everything George Bush told us is a lie, and my criticism right now is that they’re leaving our kids in a situation where it’s chaos now and their very presence is fueling the insurgency and making things worse. Tens of thousands of people are dead, our soldiers are dying, and we know it’s a lie. We should bring them home.

    G: How do you think our presence affects Iraqis?

    S: Our presence is what fuels the insurgency. The insurgency is against an occupation, and our kids are occupying Iraq, and the people of Iraq want them to leave — 82 percent in the last poll. And 49 percent think it’s OK to kill Americans.

    G: How many times have you met with President Bush? Can you describe your encounter?

    S: Just once. It was right after Casey was killed in June of 2004. He was going to speak at Fort Louis, Wash., and they invited some families that had loved ones killed — and we happened to be one of those families. He came in and he was really disrespectful; he called me mom the whole time, he wouldn’t look at pictures of Casey that we brought, he was really rude to my oldest daughter. We don’t really know why he called us there to meet with him, except at the end of the meeting I said, “Why were we invited here? We’re not Republican, we didn’t vote for you, we didn’t vote for you in 2000, we’re not going to vote for you in 2004.” He said, “It’s not about politics, mom.”

    And then at the Republican National Convention, he started talking about how he meets with the families and how they say, “I’m praying for you, keep the mission going.” And that’s when I said, “Oh my god, that’s the only reason why you met with us. It was about politics.”

    G: What do you think would be the best course of action to end the war in Iraq amidst the political chaos?

    S: I think we have to order the generals to bring the troops home. Get our troops out of there as swiftly and safely as possible. We have to put in peacekeepers if the Iraqi people want them but not the Americans or British because they wear the uniforms of oppressors. No guns, just people going in to talk and solve th e problems that George Bush and his policies have caused. Make it a multinational force especially with an Arabic face, and don’t abandon the people of Iraq. Give them money for reparations but not money for killing.

    G: How do you respond to the parents of fallen soldiers who believe that your protests are demoralizing the troops?

    S: I know for a fact that I hear from dozens and dozens of soldiers that being in Iraq for no reason demoralizes them. So many came to Camp Casey and said, “Keep doing what you’re doing because you and the peace movement is the only way we’re getting out of Iraq.” And the rest tell me they’re too busy to really think about it. So I think sending them to fight and die and kill innocent people is demoralizing. Seventy-two percent of the soldiers want to come home, and 90 percent still think we’re in there for revenge of 9/11.

    G: How did the media affect you and the movement against the war?

    S: There were a lot of people in middle America who didn’t even know we had a peace movement but were against the war and against the president. People around the world realized that there was a very active and relevant peace movement in America. Other times it’s very disappointing, like at the rally in Washington, D.C., where we had at least 500,000 — and the media reported 100,000. Then they showed the counterprotesters, who were around 400. It seemed very one-sided.

    Of course, I’ve heard a lot of lies about me. Everybody who is for war focuses their attention on me like I’m the only one in the world that wants peace. So that was the negative effect of the media in Crawford — making me the story rather than the fact that our country is occupying another country for no reason.

    G: What is the political message that you wish to send to the college students of this generation?

    S: I’m not too into the political end of it, but you just have to look inside yourself and figure out what you believe in and what you want to stand for, and stand for that. Always wake up every day, like I do and think, “What can I do today to make the world a better place?” And try to do that. If everybody does that, and everybody really believes that they can make a difference, then we’d have no more war. We’d have no more starvation, or poverty or environmental problems. And we really all have to do our part in society or we’re not going to have one.

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