Standing in the shadow of the Washington Monument on Friday, before a sea of white wooden crosses, Cindy Sheehan and about two dozen other military family members called out President Bush for proclaiming this Sunday National Gold Star Mother’s Day, after so adamantly refusing to meet with her and other mothers who oppose the war.
“We’ve been asking for this meeting since August 6,” said Sheehan, who rocketed to world fame by the simple act of staking out a patch of grass outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to insist that the president explain to her why this war was worth her son’s life.
“You would think if he really honored us, he would listen to us,” Sheehan charged. “We don’t want to have those little gold stars pinned on us like we’re Girl Scouts. We just want our kids home. We want our children home from Iraq so no other families can be torn apart like this. That’s how he can honor us.
“I challenge George Bush to meet with us,” the peace mom continued, with tears welling up in her eyes. “I want him to look at his daughters and his wife and thank God that she’ll never have to be a Gold Star Mom. She is one mom in America who never has to worry about it.”
Sheehan was echoed by Karen Meredith of Mountain View, California, whose only child, First Lt. Kenneth Ballard, was killed when his tank was blown up by an accidental discharge of a M240 machine gun. “He handpicked the families that agree with his policies,” Meredith said of Bush’s decision to ignore activists with Bring Them Home Now while paying tribute to the American Gold Star Mothers, an ostensibly apolitical group that’s more attuned to Bush’s notion of patriotism.
(That group will hold its annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday.)
“This is not a red issue or a blue issue, this is a red, white, and blue issue. We want our troops home now,” Meredith said. “We’re here to ask the legislators to remember who they work for, and we will remind them of this until the next election.”
Joining the American moms was Sheehan’s Scottish counterpart, Rose Gentle, a former cleaning lady from Glasglow who launched a similar campaign to demand that British prime minister Tony Blair meet with her after her 19-year-old son, Gordon, was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol with the British Army outside of Basra.
“I’m here today because my son was murdered . . . by Tony Blair and the lies of his government,” Gentle said. “Just as the same as Cindy, we’ve asked Tony Blair to meet with us for a full year. And Tony Blair has refused to do it. He says he won’t debate with a grieving mum.”
Gentle and other military families in Britain have petitioned the high court in London for a formal investigation of Blair’s handling in the war, spurred by the revelation of the so-called Downing Street Memo, a report from a British cabinet meeting that suggests the Bush administration misled the public about its intentions and manipulated evidence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
“Tony Blair says Iraq is safer now because of the war, but there is no water, no food, no electricity, no schools. How can that be safe?” Gentle demanded. “Now the troops don’t know who their friends are, they don’t know who their enemies are.” Gentle also voiced frustration with the media for relying on Pentagon press briefings and not reaching out military families like her, who, she said, have a better idea of just how chaotic things are on the ground in Iraq. “We get the phone calls, we get the e-mails,” she told the reporters.
Also speaking out was Maria Isabel Permuy, the mother of Spanish TV camerman Jose Couso, who was killed at the start of the invasion in April 2003 when U.S. forces opened fire on the Palestine Hotel, where he and more than 200 other international correspondents were staying—an act Permuy called a “war crime.”
When asked by a reporter whether she and the other anti-war moms planned any sort of counter-protest on Sunday, Sheehan conceded she hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. “This is a made-up-as-we-go-along movement, but it seems to be very effective,” she responded with her usual candor, adding, “We just want [Bush] to know that we’re still here.”
After delivering a letter to the White House on Wednesday and lobbying Senators from Hillary Clinton to Bill Frist yesterday, Sheehan and the other anti-war moms are now training their attention on Saturday’s massive peace march organized by United for Peace and Justice and the avowedly left-wing International ANSWER. Sheehan be speaking at the rally alongside Congresswoman Maxine Waters, other military family members, and Reverend Jesse Jackson, as well as survivors of Hurricane Katrina, who will call attention to the billions of dollars being spent in Iraq while Americans were literally drowning back home.
Sheehan’s initial one-woman showdown at Crawford this summer was instigated outside the orbit of these national anti-war groups, and her grassroots peace train has given the anti-war movement an much-needed shot in the arm.
But Sheehan is symbolic of a much broader shift in American opinion. For the first time, a majority of Americans support pulling the troops out right now, as opposed to previous polls, which showed a close majority of Americans favoring a pull-out over the course of the next year.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday found 59 percent of the public thinks launching the war was a mistake, and only 39 percent said the invasion of Iraq was necessary.
The test of the peace movement now is whether it can sustain the momentum Sheehan has helped create. That’s why Saturday’s march, which is expected to draw 100,000 people, is so pivotal—-and why counter-protesters and pro-war military families are now flocking to Washington to mute Sheehan’s thunder.