Mother of All Protesters

Talking with Cindy Sheehan, center of a rallying movement against war in Iraq

Cindy Sheehan, the superstar of the anti-war movement, will descend upon the White House on the day U.S. casualties in Iraq hit 2,000—a grim milestone expected any day now. Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year, will say a few words in protest, and then tie herself to the fence. She says she won't leave until she's arrested. Once she's out of jail, she promises, she'll go right back to the fence.

And when she's done with that, she intends to set up a new Camp Casey outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, hounding him throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.

She has also been hounding the Democrats—especially Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, Sheehan penned an article denouncing New York's junior senator as a "pro-war Democrat," calling her "a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys." Sheehan echoed the charge on Saturday, when she appeared at the Brooklyn Peace Fair, among other anti-war events in New York City. Delivering a speech to a crowd of 200-plus—many of whom shouted "We love you Cindy!" and "You're the best!"—she urged fellow anti-war activists to hold Clinton accountable when she runs for re-election next year. "It's time to call a war hawk a war hawk," she said, to rousing applause. "And if it hurts people politically, so be it."

The Voice caught up with Sheehan after her speech.

You've been credited with galvanizing a movement that had been in hibernation. Well, I think I was the spark. The movement was there, but it was like dry kiln. It needed a spark to catch on fire and, ever since, it has spread and spread and spread.

How have you seen this since the first Camp Casey, in August? I've noticed a total difference at anti-war events. I used to speak before crowds of a hundred, and sometimes 50. Now the crowds are larger; the enthusiasm is greater; the counter-protests are fewer. Even before Camp Casey, I was on the Alan Colmes Show. At first, callers were all hostile. But I was on the other night and callers were supportive. One caller respectfully disagreed with me. But he did say, 'Well, I have to agree with you on that point.' So I see the mood changing.

What sparked your article denouncing Clinton earlier this month? She was in California fundraising recently, and Code Pink went out to protest. They were passing out fliers on her voting record. I was going to go. But then one of her supporters, somebody I love, called me and asked me not to go. I said, 'Out of respect for you, I won't. Not out of respect for Hillary Clinton.' I challenged my friend, saying, 'How could you support someone who met with me yet still says this is not a good time to withdraw troops?' Senator Clinton has said she wants to make sure my son didn't die in vain. Don't use my son's death to justify continued killing in Iraq.

So should anti-war Democrats here abandon Clinton next year and beyond? I'm not going to support another pro-war Democrat. I made that mistake with John Kerry last year and I'm not going to do it again. While I've been here this week, I've seen tremendous support for this view. The majority of New Yorkers are against this war. So if the senator will start speaking out against the war and calling for withdrawal of troops, then support her. But if she is for more troops, don't.

Do you think New Yorkers would kick the senator out of office over one issue? Yes. It's the mood I get. It's more than dissatisfaction. People know this war is the most important issue, and they know it's not like bringing home pork for your state. It's life and death; it's flesh and blood. I'm challenging Senator Clinton to speak out, but I'm also challenging the people of New York to exercise their vote and force their senator to represent their values.

What have you learned as an icon for the movement? Politics are really frustrating. I realize that I have to work within the system but it's frustrating. Every decision a politician makes is weighed. They ask, 'If I do this, am I going to get re-elected?' This war is one issue where they should vote from their hearts, with courage and integrity. I've also learned that people have power and we're the ones who have to effect true change. Look back in history at the civil-rights movement, the women's suffragist movement, the labor movement. The grassroots forced change, and that's what the peace movement is doing.

You're going to the White House this week. What's the message you want to bring? We have to invest everything we have right now to ensure our children and their children have a future. I believe what the Bush administration is doing is harmful to our present but it will be more harmful to our future. It's contaminating a region with depleted uranium. It's depleting our treasury. And if it has its way, it'll wage an eternal war in the Middle East. We have to change this. I'm going to Washington with my sister, Dede, who was my partner in crime in Crawford. I'm going to relay this message, and get arrested. And when I get out of jail, I'm going to go back and do the same.

 
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