The Guardian 24 August, 2005

Showdown in Texas: "The end of
the occupation begins in Crawford"


Matt Parker

CRAWFORD, Texas: Cindy Sheehanís roadside vigil has reverberated in towns and cities around the nation and even through the gates of President Bushís ranch here. Vowing to trail the president back to Washington at the end of his vacation, this 48-year-old mother, whose son Casey died in Iraq last year, has voiced what a growing number of Americans are thinking, judging by the latest polls: Bushís Iraq war is a cruel failure, based on lies, and itís time to end it.


Sheehan rode down to Bushís Crawford ranch on August 6 on a Veterans For Peace bus from the veteransí national convention in Dallas. Since then she has maintained a vigil outside the presidentís ranch and refuses to leave until he personally listens to her demands to bring the troops home now. Her son and many of his comrades died in Iraq in 2004 attempting to save several ambushed soldiers. She believes that the best way to honour the fallen is to ensure that no more fall in the same way.

News of Sheehanís vigil reached national, then international proportions, as a growing number of military families and supporters flocked to join her.

Just outside Crawford proper, the one-lane roads, cow pastures and barbed-wire fences have new company. Parked cars crowd the ditches, and rows of small white crosses line the roads. Chants and songs fill the silence between birdcalls, while tears, smiles and straw hats pepper the tranquil landscape. The smell of sunscreen and mosquito repellent tingles the nostrils.

Some 500 people caravanned several miles out to Sheehanís vigil on August 13, after a rally at the Crawford Peace House. Among them were veterans and members of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families for Peace.

"Although I didnít expect it, Iím not surprised by the wonderful response we see here today", Sheehan told the Peopleís Weekly World.

"I knew the American people were with us." She encouraged Americans watching and reading about the vigil to get together and stand in unity against the war in Iraq. "This war can end, and I wonít quit my vigil until President Bush speaks with me ó here or in DC", she said.

The police had barricaded the public road a mile before the entrance to Bushís ranch. The vigil stopped just short of the barricade. Folk music and peace chants rang out as the caravan arrived. As the crowd grew, several military families against the war lined up to speak.

Bill Mitchell, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, likened the extraordinary turnout and caravan to the movie, Field of Dreams.

"If you build it, they will come", he told the crowd. "People will drive to Crawford and they wonít even know why. They will bring love and support." He told the audience about similar small camps and vigils popping up all over the nation as evidence of the growing movement they are all a part of. Bill Mitchellís son Sergeant Mike Mitchell died in Iraq with Cindy Sheehanís son in April 2004. Mike had only seven days left in his military service.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Sheehan gave a stirring speech to the crowd gathered to support her. "Who knew that the beginning of the end of the occupation would begin right here in Crawford, Texas?" she said.

"Sixty-two percent of the American people think the war in Iraq is wrong, and now they are letting their voices be heard", she continued. "What we have here in Crawford is hope and love. We do not have to be angry because we the people have the power, and we will exercise it and hold President Bush accountable for his actions."

Just the beginning

This vigil is just the beginning, she told the audience, declaring that it would continue on to Washington on September 1, when Bush returns to the White House from his vacation. President Bush will never again vacation in peace, Sheehan declared.

"I wrote a letter to President Bush on November 2, 2004", she said. "I told him that if he doesnít resign, I will work my butt off to impeach him. Hopefully after seeing the amazing movement today heíll take me more seriously."

She added, "I donít have a political machine; I donít have a Rumsfeld or a Cheney or a Rove. I have a broken heart. But we donít have to hide like him. We have the power, and we will overcome. For the last 16 months Iíd thought that America was cursed, but now, after seeing all of you here today, I can finally say, God bless America."

This movement canít stop when the occupation ends and the troops come home, she told the crowd. She said, "Americans must build a movement strong enough to make sure that our sons and daughters are never forced to fight and die again. We will stay the course. We will complete the mission. He may have started it, but weíre going to end it!"

Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth, Texas, had constructed a memorial for her nephew Sergeant Daniel Torres at the vigil. Daniel died in Iraq this February. She told the World she is committed to raising awareness about the war among the Hispanic community, and said she hopes to join in counter-military-≠recruitment campaigns in local high schools.

Al Zappala, a Gold Star Families for Peace member from Philadelphia, told the World about the organisation.

"Weíre an offshoot of Military Families Speak Out. Weíre the members of that organisation that have lost loved ones in the Iraq war." Zappalaís son, National Guard Sergeant Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq last year.

The corporate media tells America that these families view the death of their loved ones as a necessary sacrifice for democracy, Zappala said. Members of Military Families Speak Out formed Gold Star Families For Peace to challenge the corporate mediaís distortions and lies.

This reporter asked Zappala what message he had for all the Americans watching the events in Crawford unfold on their evening news. He said each person has to find workable ways of waging peace specific to their organizations and communities. This could include letter-writing campaigns to Congress, utilising the corporate media as much as possible, and supporting independent media. He stressed the importance of political work, and getting the Democrats in Congress off the fence. "As it stands, the American people are far ahead of the Democratic Party", Zappala said.

Voices of military families

By last week, over 40 military families have arrived in Crawford to join Cindy Sheehan. On August 12, members of Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out came together to share stories and reflections. The full report is on the web at http://www.mfso.org. These are excerpts:

Sherry Glover of Houston, Texas, came with daughter Katie, who is on Individual Ready Reserve, and her five-month-old granddaughter Dakota: "This is a historical event. Iím one of three generations of women here. With Dakotaís dad in Iraq, this is the time to participate. Iím so concerned about the future of my grandchild. What debt are we leaving her?"

Phil and Linda Waste of Hinesville, Georgia, new members of Military Families Speak Out, have three sons, a grandson and a granddaughter who are on active-duty military. Together, they have already spent a total of over 57 months on tours of duty in Iraq:

"[We] came to Crawford to support our troops ó really support our troops ó not just a sticker on the back of our car, or an empty phrase. We wanted to present ourselves in person to speak out and encourage the Bush administration to change their mind about continuing this war.

"This experience has been truly cathartic for me. By coming to Crawford, my wife and I are able to express ourselves. We hope that Americans out there will join our movement and help us in our endeavour to bring the truth to the American people."

Valarie Fletcher of Seymour, Montana, has a son in the Marines who will be deploying to Iraq at the end of this month: "Iíve talked to people, Iíve written to my reps, but this was the first time I could physically do something, and in fact had a responsibility to do something.

"This is hard work, but itís how we are going to end the war. Hiding behind silence is no longer an option."

Tammara Rosenleaf is from Belton, Texas. Her husband serves in the Army and will be deploying to Iraq this fall:

"Iím here because I believe that this country needs to take a look at the path that itís on and make an adjustment. I believe we cannot kill our way to peace.

"Iím here because I believe that this country needs to take a look at the path that itís on and make an adjustment. I believe we cannot kill our way to peace.

"I can be proud of my husband and ashamed of my government. The military says they offer support to families but they donít return calls. They gave me a book for surviving deployment. It had the nunber of a plumber to call in case your toilet gets stopped up. But they donít tell me who to call at 4 am when Iím worried that my husband is dead."

Lietta Ruger of Bay Centre, Washington, is sleeping in a tent in the roadside ditch. Her son-in-law and nephew have both served extended 15-month tours of duty in Iraq; they are both under stop-loss orders and due to redeploy to Iraq this fall: "But while Iím in there Iím thinking of Iraq soldiers sleeping in ditches. When I get bit by fire ants, I think of them getting bit by sand fleas.

"Iím using this experience to get a microcosm of what their day is like, to get a flavour of what theyíre doing. What that does is make my voice stronger on their behalf."

Jean Prewittís son Private Kelly Prewitt was killed in action in 2003 during the first few weeks of the war:

"I donít want to see other families go through what my family has gone through. I have lost respect for my president. I supported Bush in the beginning but I no longer can do that ó not just because my son died, but because we invaded a country with no plan.

Future at stake

"The military was not ready, no equipment. I want the war to end because it seems like weíve lost direction and itís snowballed into nothing but chaos and death. My son is worth more than that."

Sue Niederer is from Penn≠ington, New Jersey. Her son 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin was killed in action in Iraq in February. Sue is a co-≠founder of Gold Star Families for Peace:

"My son ó my pride, my joy, my best friend ó would never send his men out on a mission that he himself would not do. Why arenít the children of anyone on Capitol Hill who sent our kids over serving?

"This is bigger than Crawford Ėweíre trying to change the future."

Military Families Speak Out members in Crawford are asking for support vigils and demonstrations in front of congressional offices and federal buildings. They are also urging everyone to turn out September 24 in Washington, DC, to take the message to the politicians that the war must be brought to an end.

Peopleís Weekly World

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