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2007-05-30

Cindy Sheehan, From Grieving Mother to Antiwar Leader

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Peace activist Cindy Sheehan has announced she is stepping back from her role as a leading campaigner against the Iraq War. We take a look back at how she helped galvanize the antiwar movement over the past two-and-a-half years following the death of her son Casey in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Cindy Sheehan, who has just announced she is stepping away from the antiwar movement after two years of being the nation’s most visible critic of the war in Iraq. She began speaking out against the invasion and occupation of Iraq after her 24-year-old son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in Sadr City on April 4, 2004. Cindy Sheehan made headlines around the world in August 2005, when she staged a camp out to pressure President Bush to meet her as he vacationed at his Crawford estate.

On Monday, Cindy Sheehan announced her resignation as the face of the antiwar movement. She said she’s stepping back in part because of hostility from Democrats, who she has criticized for supporting the war. Cindy Sheehan also cited repeated threats on her life, strains on our health and family, and divisions inside the peace movement. She wrote, "When I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'left or right,' but 'right and wrong.'"

In a few minutes, Cindy Sheehan will join us in Sacramento, but first we look back at how she helped galvanize the antiwar movement over the past two-and-a-half years. Her name was first mentioned in the national press a month before the 2004 election, when she appeared in a TV ad sponsored by the MoveOn PAC.

CINDY SHEEHAN: His sergeant said, "Sheehan, you don’t have to go," because my son was a mechanic. He was a Humvee mechanic. And Casey said, "Where my chief goes, I go." And he knew what had to be done. He died in his best friend’s arms in Iraq. I imagined it would have hurt if one of my kids was killed, but I never thought it would hurt this bad, especially someone so honest and brave as Casey, my son.

When you haven’t been honest with us, when you and your advisers rushed us into this war, how do you think we felt when we heard the Senate report that said there was no link between Iraq and 9/11?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute…

AMY GOODMAN: After President Bush was re-elected, Sheehan formed Gold Star Families for Peace with Celeste Zappala and other mothers. They traveled to Washington to protest President Bush’s inauguration.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, yesterday I was with Celeste when we tried to get a meeting with our secretary of defense, and we’ve been trying for weeks. We’ve been emailing, writing, calling. They finally stopped taking our calls. And I just saw all these people today cheering for them and their policies. And I think if I had like $25 grand, I would probably have access to everybody in this administration, but I’ve paid a price that is priceless. You can’t put a price on what I’ve given to this country. I gave them my only — my oldest son — not my only son, but my oldest son, and they don’t even have the courtesy to reply to us to say, "No, we’re not going to meet with you," or, "You know, maybe later," or "Would you like to meet with another aide?" They don’t even have the courtesy to meet with Gold Star Families.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan was ignored by the Bush administration and much of the corporate press. By August of 2005, she could no longer be silenced. Joined by a group of veterans and antiwar activists, Cindy Sheehan set up what became known as Camp Casey outside President Bush’s estate in Crawford, Texas. She said she would stay there until the president met with her so she could ask him a question: For what noble cause did my son die?

CINDY SHEEHAN: And if I have to stay out here all month in this heat, it’s not anything compared to what our soldiers are going through and what the people of Iraq are going through.

AMY GOODMAN: As hundreds joined Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, President Bush refused to meet with her.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, listen, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her — about her position. And she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position. And I’ve thought long and hard about her position. I’ve heard her position from others, which is "Get out of Iraq now." And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run, if we were to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan soon became the frequent target of media attacks from Bill O’Reilly and others.

BILL O’REILLY: I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this and also for the responsibility of other American families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq who feel that this kind of behavior borders on treasonous.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite the attacks, Camp Casey continued to grow. This is former State Department official Ann Wright.

ANN WRIGHT: We started with one car staying overnight — one tent, two tents, three tents. Now, we’ve got — I counted last night, we had 80 cars and about 40 tents that stayed the night here. And during the course of the day, we’ll be having probably 300 to 400 people that will be coming through from all over the country to spend a couple of hours, maybe a day or two. It’s a remarkable outpouring from America.

AMY GOODMAN: Nadia McCaffrey and other mothers who lost sons in Iraq also joined Cindy in Crawford.

NADIA McCAFFREY: I had to be here. I had to support Cindy. I had to support the mothers. I came because what she started is very important. I think it’s going to make history. This is the first time when we have some attention. I’m talking about the war, the Gold Star Families especially. And all the mothers must join, and we are doing it right now.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush left Crawford without meeting Cindy Sheehan, but by then she had become the face of the antiwar movement and one of the most famous peace activists in the world.

CINDY SHEEHAN: I can’t believe it. Everybody is coming up to me and saying, "Thank you for being here." Thank you for being here! If it wasn’t for the thousands and thousands of people that came to Camp Casey, if it wasn’t for the millions that supported us, I would still be sitting in that ditch. But you guys got me out of the ditch. You got us to our nation’s capital. And we mean business, George Bush. And we’re going to Congress, and we’re going to ask them how many more of other people’s children are you willing to sacrifice for the lies?

AMY GOODMAN: As the Iraq War intensified, Cindy Sheehan shifted her criticism to include the Democratic Party, as well.

CINDY SHEEHAN: We have basically right now in Congress a one-party system. We have very few Democrats who are speaking to our core values as progressive liberal Democrats. And they are rubber-stamping and bobble-heading everything that this administration wants to do. And it’s so urgent right now that we have an opposition party. And I believe if Democrats courageously spoke out to their core values, saying, "This war is wrong; if we voted for it, we shouldn’t have," and to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq, I believe that we could have a government that is run with integrity, and we could — the Democrats could have a landslide victory in November, if they would act different from the Republicans. And I’m supporting these candidates who are saying that this war is wrong, we need to bring our troops home, and we are not going to support the Republicans who are corrupt and who are leading our country down this path of destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: After the Democrats took control of Congress, Cindy Sheehan continued to pressure Democrats over the war and called for the impeachment of President Bush.

CINDY SHEEHAN: This is what we have to do. Right now, at this minute, we have to start calling the offices of John Conyers, Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, Steny Hoyer, Harry Reid, your congressperson, and start saying, "We want accountability."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, nearly two years after starting Camp Casey, Cindy Sheehan has announced she is stepping back from her role as a leader of the antiwar movement. When we come back from break, Cindy Sheehan joins us live from Sacramento, California, where she has gone home.

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