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Cindy Sheehan, a/k/a the "peace mom," probably never intended to sound like a candidate, but she did. Sheehan, the activist who became the face of anti-war sentiment after camping outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, last summer, had just mounted the podium at the Brooklyn Peace Fair on October 22. And already she was getting political.
"Maybe later we'll talk about your senators," she said, provoking a wave of booing and hissing from the 200-plus crowd. Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004, was referring to both of New York's "pro-war Democrats," as she calls them. But many in the audience assembled at the Brooklyn YWCA focused on just one: Hillary Clinton, the one who's up for re-election next year, the one who's believed to have her eye on the White House as well.
"Where is Hillary!" shouted an audience member from the back of the hall. The crowd, mostly members of local anti-war groups, went wild with applause, waving posters that read "Hillary Speak Out" and "We ♥ Cindy." Another audience member chimed in, "We love you, Cindy!"
They'd taken a cue from their newfound leader, Sheehan, who has plenty of fighting words for New York's junior senator these days. She first blasted Clinton for backing the Iraq invasion on October 16, writing a scathing article posted on several progressive websites. Sheehan described her as "a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys." Unless the senator pushes for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, Sheehan wrote, "I will resist [her presidential] candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."
Sheehan repeated these sentiments as she hopped from anti-war vigils to call-in radio shows during a week-long visit to New York City last month. In Brooklyn, she reminded the crowd of her efforts to "call out the pro-war Democrats," explaining, "Hillary Clinton is the leader of the pack."
She then offered up a challenge, urging activists to withhold their support for the popular senator unless she comes around. "It's time to tell your elected officials, 'If you're not with us, you're against us,' " Sheehan said, "and if you're against us, we'll vote you out of office. "
Five days later, New Yorkers who oppose the Iraq war began heeding Sheehan's advice. Some 70 activists gathered outside Clinton's midtown office on the day after American casualties in Iraq hit the grim 2,000 mark. The activists read names of the U.S. fallen and lit candles in their honor.
Carolyn Eisenberg, of Brooklyn Parents for Peace, which sponsored the peace fair, says the action represents just the beginning. "The peace movement here will be doing all it can to get in the senator's way," she adds. Already, there is talk of coordinating protests and sit-ins at all nine of Clinton's district offices. There is talk of seeking an anti-war candidate to take her on next year. There is even talk of drafting Cindy Sheehan, a bit of wishful thinking that, if anything, reflects the level of frustration.
"People are very frustrated that Senator Clinton isn't really addressing this war," Eisenberg says. And so, she adds, they aim to send her a message: "If she positions herself as a hawk, she will find her support among Democrats slipping."
That the anti-war movement has set its sights on Clinton is nothing new. New York activists have long tried to gain their junior senator's earlobbying aides, dropping off peace flyers, forming the occasional picket line. One Albany-based group known as Women Against War even took to making what founder Jeanne Finley calls "a cinema vérité film," featuring individual members enumerating why they oppose her position on the Iraq invasion.
Still, activists have not seen much response to their way of thinking. Instead, says Don DeBar, a veteran activist from Ossining, the senator has appeared out of step with most of her constituents. He notes that the majority of New Yorkers statewide consider the war a "mistake"by 64 percent to 31 percent, according to the latest polland argues that the senator has staked out positions that only further its existence.
Not surprisingly, activists take issue with her October 2002 vote to authorize President Bush to use military force in Iraq. And they find fault with votes the senator has cast ever since. She has backed every war appropriations bill, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. She has filed legislation calling for expanding the U.S. Army by 80,000 soldiers over four years. And she has yet to push for a firm timetable for American troop withdrawal.
Leaders in the anti-war movement brought their complaints to the senator last month, as part of a Capitol Hill lobbying effort. On September 22, Clinton met with the movement's superstar, Sheehan, in a well-publicized meeting. New York activists, by contrast, got some face time with a legislative aide four days later. Thirty or so people, representing organizations from Syracuse to Albany and Manhattan, showed up at Clinton's office. They crammed a tiny room, surrounding the aide so, in the words of Colin Eager of Buffalo, "he'd feel a little bit of pressure."