Cindy Sheehan Goes to Washington

Peace mom takes her message to the president, Congress, and a lot of television crews

Cindy Sheehan brought her anti-war crusade to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, arriving with a caravan of three RVs and several cars ferrying about three dozen military families and Iraq War veterans on the final leg of their 21-day Bring Them Home Now tour.

The tour included members of Gold Star Families for Peace , which Sheehan helped found, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace. They set off from their encampment outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, on August 31 and covered 51 cities in 28 states in a hell-bent sprint to mobilize public opinion against the war in Iraq while building momentum for what they hope will be a 100,000-strong peace march in D.C. this Saturday.

The plan was to close out the tour by converging on the steps of the Capitol for a noon press conference, where they would lambaste Congress for continuing to fund the Bush administration’s misguided war. But the schedule was derailed by Capitol police, who blocked the lead RV Sheehan was traveling in, claiming they could not let the RVs pass until a bomb-sniffing dog had searched the vehicles.

Cindy Sheehan listens as former Army Specialist Cody Camacho of Chicago takes a turn.
photo: Sarah Ferguson
Cindy Sheehan listens as former Army Specialist Cody Camacho of Chicago takes a turn.

“RVs aren’t allowed on Capitol Hill,” said one of the officers. “That’s standard protocol. We aren’t allowed to let any campers through unless they’ve been previously authorized.”

“We were told we had clearance to drop people off,” said tour organizer Lisa Fithian, who spent several minutes trying to negotiate a way around the impasse. Police eventually detoured the caravan to a side street on the west side of the Capitol, where the peace campaigners were allowed to unload.

After the past two months, when they’ve seen their memorial crosses mowed down in Crawford and had the mic yanked away by the NYPD in Union Square, Sheehan and the other military families did their best to shrug off the road block as just the latest hurdle in their effort to get their message heard.

”No blood for oil!” and “Not one more!” they chanted, bearing posters of their lost children and other relatives as they marched onto the Capitol lawn. They were quickly mobbed by a scrum of TV camera crews battling for a shot of Sheehan—including one clumsy photographer who managed to topple the podium with all the mics attached before the show even got started.

Sheehan often sets off a media frenzy, and the questions thrown at her tend to be less about her cause and more about the latest slur cast by Rush Limbaugh and the Freeper clan. “Is it true that your tour is being funded and controlled by Michael Moore and MoveOn,” one rather aggressive cable broadcaster asked, shoving a mic in her face. (“No it’s funded by grassroots donations,” the peace mom responded.)

Another reporter queried: “Is this really the right time to demonstrate [against the war] in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Gulf Coast?”

“Nine Americans were killed in Iraq yesterday, and over 200 Iraqis died in the last week alone. There is still a war going on. It's still a story. Innocent Iraqis and innocent Americans are dying every day. This story isn’t going away, so it is absolutely the time,” Sheehan responded, with a note of exasperation.

Sheehan and the other family members say the devastation caused by Katrina is only more reason to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and redirect the billions of dollars going to the Pentagon and Halliburton contracts in Iraq into hemorrhaging cities back home. On the road, Sheehan’s posse and the two other legs of the Bring Them Home tour visited several areas damaged by Katrina, delivering food and water to evacuees at the Houston Astrodome and at makeshift clinics in Covington, Louisiana. “We were told by the people that it was the first aid they had seen,” Sheehan said of the desperation they found in Covington.

Until now, most of the anti-war movement’s ire has been focused on President Bush. By making Capitol Hill their first stop, Sheehan and other members of the Bring Them Home Now tour sought to turn up the heat on Congress, both for authorizing the war and then failing to act after all of the Bush administration’s rationales for the war have proved so patently false.

Saying she had been told by lawmakers for the last two years that it was not a “politically appropriate time” to demand that the troops come home, military mom Anne Roesler demanded: “I want to know, when it will be politically appropriate to end this war?

“I want to thank those few Congress members who stood by our side [to oppose the war], but it’s not enough,” charged Roesler, whose son is now serving his third tour with the 82nd Airborne Division. “I lay awake. I worry about my son," she said, adding, “It’s chaos there. By staying, they’re just a magnet for the insurgency.”

Former Army specialist Cody Camacho, who was on the ground at the start of the U.S. invasion, was even more blunt. “This is a message for Congress,” he said. “Get off you butts and do something!”

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