Cindy Sheehan, the rising star of the anti-war movement, remembers when people used to think of her as one of those crazy activists, speaking out for a cause, inconveniencing all who stumbled onto her path. She remembers, from her days camped outside President Bush’s ranch in Texas, how some drivers would shout out at her, “Get a job!”
Her response was always the same. “I’d say to them, ‘I have a job,’ ” Sheehan explained Monday night at the last of her New York events, at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “I’d say, ‘It’s a full-time job, and it’s to hold George Bush accountable.’ ” With that, the 1200-strong crowd of peace activists, war veterans, ministers, and high-school students went wild.
Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, has become the persistent thorn in George Bush’s side and, in the process, an icon for Americans angry with the way the president and his administration is handling the war. Monday night, she drew out the anti-war sentiment in New York, making her last stop in well-publicized three-bus Bring Them Home Now Tour launched from Crawford, Texas, on August 31. The tour has traveled to 51 cities in 28 states.
Audience members packed into the cavernous hall wearing T-shirts with block letters, that read: I SUPPORT CINDY SHEEHAN. BRING OUR TROOPS HOME. Others donned baseball hats, VETERANS FOR PEACE, or carried makeshift signs, CINDY, YES. BUSH, NO. They waited to hear the celebrity guest for an hour, listening to emotional stories of other military families. The message? Don’t keep our troops fighting a war based on lies. Instead, get on the bus and protest in Washington, D.C., the site of a three-day anti-war rally this weekend.
When Sheehan assumed center stage, she kept her focus on Bush, calling him “a liar” whose “reckless, callous, and moronic policies have made our country vulnerable.” Bush, she said, had proven himself a coward who cares little about the troops in Iraq.
“I hate to be harsh,” she said, “but we’re not accepting any excuses for not bringing our troops home.”
But Sheehan isn’t stopping her critique with Bush. On the contrary, she has begun to set her sights on Congress and the Democratic Party as well. When she spoke in Brooklyn on the night before, she took note of the fact that Senator Hillary Clinton voted to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq and– like most Senate Democrats–has done little to bring the troops home. Clinton, in fact, has filed legislation calling for more troops.
In an interview after her speech, Sheehan told the Voice she was “so frustrated” by leading Democrats like Clinton “who should be leaders on this issue, but are not.” Already, she has set up a future meeting with New York’s junior senator this weekend. And she plans to sit down with the state’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, too. “It’s time for them to step up and be the opposition party,” she said. “This war is not going to end unless the Democrats are on board with us.”
Local anti-war activists agree, and are busy strategizing on how to kick up the pressure. “There is a real push to put members of Congress on the hot seat,” says Bill Dobbs, of the New York City chapter of United for Peace and Justice. “It’s one thing to put the blame on Bush for this whole mess, but it’s Congress who has the power to stop it. We’ve got to make them pay a price for keeping this war going.”