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“We Will Retool…and Come at It from a Different Direction”–Cindy Sheehan Says She Will Return After Stepping Back as Antiwar Leader

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Cindy Sheehan has been the face of the U.S. antiwar movement for the past two years. In August 2005, she set up Camp Casey outside President Bush’s Crawford estate in memory of her son Casey, who was killed in Iraq. Now Cindy says she is stepping back from her role as a leading campaigner against the Iraq War. In this Democracy Now! special, Cindy Sheehan joins us for the hour to talk about her decision. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 30, 2007Cindy Sheehan, From Grieving Mother to Antiwar Leader
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Cindy Sheehan, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. Her son Casey, killed in Sadr City in Baghdad, April 4, 2004. She has authored a number of books, including Peace Mom: A Mother’s Journey Through Heartache to Activism. Cindy Sheehan, welcome to Democracy Now!

CINDY SHEEHAN: Good morning, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. You have just flown home. Yesterday, you arrived in California. Tell us about your decision. On Memorial Day, many people around this country and the world read your painful letter, saying it seems, at least for now, goodbye to your active role as one of the leaders of the peace movement in this country.

CINDY SHEEHAN: It was not an easy decision, and it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision or a quick decision like going down to Crawford, Texas, was very, you know, spur of the moment and very, very not thought out well. But it turned out well. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it for a year, when I — after last summer, when I almost died, and I started thinking about pulling back a little bit. And after, you know, I regained some of my strength, I just went back into it full force. And it’s hard to work within this movement that is so divided, that is so — really has a lot of negative energy. It’s draining. It’s drained my energy. And I used to — you know, I still get so much support from so many people, but when people — our new left really is just barely right of center, but when people there start criticizing me and calling me the same names that the right has been calling me, I think it’s time to re-evaluate, pull back, you know, see what other direction we can come at this from.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy, I remember reaching you in the hospital last year, not even knowing that you were ill. But explain what happened.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, you know, I was having gynecological problems, and in less than 24 hours I lost almost half of my blood volume, so I had to go in. I had to have transfusions. I ended up having two emergency surgeries and then, you know, getting a really bad infection afterwards and having to go back to the hospital for a few days. So, you know, that was very symbolic, life-draining. You know, my lifeblood was draining out of me. So that was really touch-and-go there for a little while. And I’ve regained some of my strength, but that was serious surgery. And, you know, it’s my fault. I didn’t give myself enough time to heal physically from it.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy, can we go back — and I know this is extremely painful — April 4, 2004. Though you’ve spoken a great deal about it publicly in this country and around the world, let’s talk about your journey, the subtitle of your book, A Mother’s Journey Through Heartache to Activism. When did you learn that Casey was killed?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, he was killed, in California time it was a little before 8:00 in the morning. I woke up at 9:00 a.m. It was amazing. It was the first day since he had been gone that I felt any kind of lightness in my spirit. And I woke up. It was Palm Sunday. I went through my Sunday activity, cleaning house, doing laundry, shopping for the week, getting my clothes ready for the next week of work.

And my ex-husband and I, who, you know, I was still married to, Casey’s dad, we were sitting down, watching CNN and eating dinner. We had filet mignon that day. I remember what we were eating. And a report came on CNN. It showed a Humvee burning and said that eight soldiers had been killed in Baghdad that day. And I looked at Pat, and I said, “One of them was Casey.” And, you know, he got very upset. He goes, “Well, you know, he’s only been there a few days. You know, there’s hundreds of thousands of soldiers there. Chances are it can’t be Casey. You know, it’s statistically very slim that it was Casey. And we don’t even know where he is yet.” And I just said, “I don’t care what you say. One of them was Casey.” And about four hours later, my worst fears were confirmed by the U.S. military.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about your journey through that day. How did you cope?

CINDY SHEEHAN: You know, when I was walking my dogs, I came home. I saw them standing in my living room. You know, I immediately collapsed on the floor. I was screaming, screaming, screaming. And I think — you know, it’s — I don’t know how I coped. You know, people start coming over. The time starts to just become a blur. You do a lot of drinking. You do a lot of laughing. You remember the good times in that period. But I think the thing that gets you through that horrible period is an intense shock. It’s a physical, emotional kind of shock that envelops you.

And I remember I didn’t go to sleep that night. I didn’t go to sleep the next night, because I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to forget that Casey was dead and wake up and have to relive that experience. I was sitting on the porch swing about 6:00 in the morning on Monday morning, after we heard Casey was killed, and I’m watching people get up and go to work. And I just wanted to scream at them: How can you live your lives when my son is dead? And, you know, you’re mad at — you’re mad at the world for going on, when your life has been destroyed and your world, your very world, is destroyed. Your whole universe becomes a different place. And then, about eight or nine months later, the shock starts to wear off, and if you thought you were in pain before, that’s when the real pain settles in.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Cindy, how did you go from your private mourning to becoming more public, to speaking out? When was the first time that you spoke out after Casey died?

CINDY SHEEHAN: It was on the 4th of July, 2004, exactly three months after Casey was killed. I went to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Berkeley, California, to support another Gold Star mom, Jane Bright, whose son Evan Ashcroft was killed in Iraq in July of 2003. I went to support her, because she came up to speak to their congregation. That’s when I first physically met Bill Mitchell, whose son Michael was killed in Iraq the same day in the same incident Casey was killed in. And I didn’t go there to speak, but I was compelled to speak. And since then, I haven’t shut up. So that was the first time, and it was, you know, very meaningful, I think, that it happened on Independence Day, that I found my voice. And I found really my independence from this country that is so destructive to so many people.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy, when you went to Crawford and established Camp Casey in memory of Casey in August of 2005 and said you wanted an hour of the president’s time, coming from that Dallas Veterans for Peace convention, you had met with the president before. Describe that meeting. Where did it take place? What happened there?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, a couple months after we buried Casey, we were invited to go up to Fort Lewis, Washington state, to — what we were told — have a sit-down with the president, so he could express, you know, the good wishes of a grateful nation. And so, our entire family went up there. We went to the post hospital. We had to go through some very intense security screening. And we sat down in this little tiny room, in one of the hospitals’ waiting rooms. And we sat there. The president came in.

We brought about four or five pictures of Casey from the time he was a baby until he was a soldier. We wanted him to see the pictures of Casey. We wanted to talk about Casey. We decided as a family that we weren’t going into any kind of political discussion with him. We wanted to use the short time we had with him to describe what a marvelous person was taken from our family. He didn’t look at the pictures. He didn’t want to talk about Casey. You know, he kept calling Casey “the loved one,” you know, to depersonalize Casey as much as he could. He didn’t even say “him” or, you know, he, of course, didn’t use his name or his rank. He called me “Mom” the entire time. Right before George Bush came in, they made us take off all our name tags. So he called me “Mom,” Casey “the loved one,” and just acted like it really — we were at a tea party.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you say to him, the president of the United States?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, he came up to me and he took my hand and he looked in my eyes, and he said, “Mom, I can’t imagine losing a loved one in a war, whether it be an aunt or an uncle or a brother or a sister.” And, you know, I stopped him before he can go through the whole litany of how Casey could be related to me, besides being my son. And I said, “Wait a second, Mr. President” — that’s when I still called him “Mr. President” — “Casey was my son, and you have children. Imagine one of your children being killed.” And he didn’t say anything. And I said, “Trust me, you don’t want to go there.” And he said, “You’re right. I don’t.” So that was about the one-on-one contact that we had. Then he talked about how Casey was in a better place and things like that.

AMY GOODMAN: You have written in your letter, the letter that you sent out on Memorial Day, that you have come to the conclusion that Casey died for nothing. Can you explain how you came to this conclusion?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, I set out on this quest really to make Casey’s death count for something, to make it meaningful, not to be, you know, counted as death and destruction, as occupying a country that was no threat to the United States of America, not for lies. I didn’t want to think that he died for lies, that he died because my government is callous and has no regard for human life or human suffering. I wanted his death to count for peace. I want it to count for love. I want it to count for justice. And, you know, in this system we have, it’s ruled by the corporations, it’s ruled by the corporate war profiteers. They use people like they’re things and not people.

And I am just really devastated and frustrated with an American population, you know, not counting the people who listen to your show or who watch your show, an American population that doesn’t give the Iraq War one, you know, bit of attention, doesn’t think about it, doesn’t have to think about it. They don’t want to think about the death and destruction and the pain that’s being caused by the government that they’re giving their tacit support to by their silence. You know, we care more about who’s the next American idol, what was in Anna Nicole’s refrigerator when she died, than the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives that have been sacrificed for the greed for power and money that this country is always on the prowl for. So it just makes me think that Casey is going to go down in a long line of people who have been sacrificed to the corporate war machine in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Cindy Sheehan, lost her son Casey, April 4, 2004, founded Camp Casey, where thousands have come almost on a kind of pilgrimage outside the estate of President Bush in Crawford. Since that time, Cindy has actually bought property in Crawford. Can you talk about your decision to buy the property, Cindy? And now, in your letter that you wrote on Memorial Day, saying you’re putting it up for sale.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, after we left Crawford in August of '05, the McLennan County supervisors passed an ordinance that there's no camping or parking or sleeping along the sides of Prairie Chapel Road. And, you know, we think that was a direct, specific and targeted ordinance against free speech, against the First Amendment, really, which gives you the right to petition your government for redress of wrongs and gives you the right to peaceable protest. And no matter what anybody says or any criticism they can have about me or Camp Casey, the protests there have always been very peaceable and always been very positive. So I decided if we wanted to keep having these gatherings in Crawford, Texas, we would have to own property. So I purchased five acres. It’s right inside the town of Crawford.

And I really think now that this part of my activism is over and that I think Camp Casey has served its purpose. And I think I have gone as far as I can right now in the movement. I’ve come to a road block. I’ve come to a dead end. I’ve come to a brick wall. And then, of course, I have, you know, decimated all of my resources, my monetary resources, on this activism, on this cause, in the movement, that I need, you know, resources to just be able to survive. And so, that’s why I decided to sell Camp Casey.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy, yesterday, after your letter came out on Memorial Day and we announced that you would be on the broadcast for the hour, we were inundated with email from around the country and around the world. In the next part of the show, I want to read some of it to you, but one of the people who wrote, Marguerite from Santa Fe, said that they wanted to financially help you, describing a Cindy Sheehan retirement-from-the-peace-movement fund. What is your response?

CINDY SHEEHAN: We have gotten — in any way people can reach me, we’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails — and, you know, very few negative ones — offering support, offering emotional support, offering places I can go to rest, offering financial support. And I’m very overwhelmed, again, by the good-hearted nature of Americans. But I think that we have to realize that if you’re going to put so much pressure on one individual, that person has to be supported continually, not get to the point where I did, where I just had to throw my hands up and say, “I give up. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t have any more energy. I don’t have any more money. I don’t have any more stamina. I have to go away.”

And there are so many people, there are so many worthy organizations who are struggling financially, who could do so much, who have people who can be effective voices, that aren’t supported by the peace movement or people in America, the millions of people in America who oppose George Bush and who oppose the war. If they aren’t physically able to get out and do the work, then I think that they — and if they have the financial resources — should be supporting people in the movement who can do this.

AMY GOODMAN: As you talk about cash-starved organizations, I think about the tens of millions of dollars that the candidates are raising, who are running for president in 2008, that money — majority of it, of course — going to the major corporate networks for advertising.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Right. You know, it’s an obscenity. I can imagine people in Third World countries looking at, you know, someone like Hillary Clinton raising $35 million for her presidential campaign that goes to really, you know, nonproductive means, and they see that, and they just — it’s just really immoral, I believe. And we’re spending $12 million in Iraq. How many people could that help, not only around the world, but in our own country? You know, it’s very immoral and obscene what we do with our resources.

AMY GOODMAN: There was a time when you said you would run against Hillary Rodham Clinton for her stance supporting war.

CINDY SHEEHAN: I never said I would run against Hillary. I was heavily recruited or drafted, or people were — from the state of New York just really wanted me to run against her for her Senate seat in New York. I did say — I threatened to run against Dianne Feinstein here in California, though.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, I’ll read to you some of what our listeners and viewers and readers have written from around the world, and I also want to ask you more about your family. As you wrote in your Memorial Day letter saying you’re stepping back from the antiwar movement, you talked about sacrificing your 29-year marriage and wanting to come home to your children. We’re talking to Cindy Sheehan. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Joan Baez singing “Joe Hill” at Camp Casey, August 24, 2005, a few weeks after Cindy Sheehan established Camp Casey, where ultimately thousands of people came, many of them who lost loved ones in Iraq — sons and daughters, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers. Cindy Sheehan joining us in Sacramento. She just flew home yesterday, after releasing a letter on Memorial Day called “Good Riddance, Attention Whore.” Why did you call your letter that, Cindy?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, that was one of the last slurs that I read before I decided that I had, you know, had enough. And it was Memorial Day when I read that slur against me on a so-called left blog, a left-wing blog. And it was Memorial Day. I was in Crawford, Texas, and I thought — I had just also talked to my oldest daughter, who had just been to the cemetery to put flowers on Casey’s grave. And I thought, what am I doing here? Why aren’t I home with my children?

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your 29-year marriage. At the time you were establishing Camp Casey, making international headlines, your marriage was crumbling. And your children, your surviving son and daughters, talk about them.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, I have a daughter Carly — she is in university right now; she was Casey’s next youngest sibling — and then a son Andrew, who is a land surveyor in the Bay Area — he’s doing really great — and my youngest daughter Janey, who’s a massage therapist. And it was a struggle when I first started doing this. And when they saw their mom and dad — it ruining their mom and dad’s marriage, it was, you know, a lot. They had just lost their brother, and their mother went on this mission, this passion to end the war and to hold somebody accountable for their brother’s death. And they’re just — they’re so strong. I dedicate my book to them, because they have gone through a lot. And they get stronger every day. They get more capable every day. And we went from a family, where even though mom worked full-time, she did everything for the kids. My children were the center of my life. We were involved in every aspect of their lives. And it was very hard for them to adjust to the new life without their brother, their mom and dad divorced.

You know, they thought that they were going to be, you know, a family that was together forever, but, you know, April 4th, our entire universe changed. And, you know, the members of my family, they wanted to go back to April 3rd, before he Casey was killed, and I knew we could never do that. I knew we would have to move forward and forge a new life together, a new family together, without Casey there, because our family was never going to be the same.

And it was a struggle with my children, but, you know, we have regained a very solid relationship. I want to now, instead of spending quality time with them, I also want to spend quantity time with them. I want to be able to alleviate some of their physical stress that they have, to be there for them. Carly, this is her last quarter at university, and she’ll be graduating. You know, I want to be there for her to help her through this. She’s majoring in history. I majored in history. It’s very exciting to be with her and to have conversations, mature adult conversations, with her. So, you know, I want to get to know my kids as adults, and I want to be there for them, you know, help forge this new relationship that we have and give it a good foundation. You know, it’s been a relationship that’s been very inconsistent because of my travel. And I now share a home with my two daughters. And now, when I go away, I miss them even more than I did before.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy, headlines around the world this week. Guardian of London: “Sheehan quits as face of US anti-war fight.” Xinhua News Agency, China: “Activist Cindy Sheehan ends her anti-war campaign.” Alalam News Network, Iran: “Anti-war mom gives up campaign.” Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia: “Grieving mom walks away.” Ontario Now, Canada: “Cindy Sheehan throws in the towel.” Your response? And are you concerned your decision could deflate some of those in the antiwar movement? What words do you have to say to them, and especially families who have lost loved ones in Iraq, soldiers who are in Iraq, soldiers who have come home?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, you know, I have — in those hundreds of emails I’ve gotten in the past couple days, there’s been many from soldiers in Iraq, there’s been many from family members who have loved ones in Iraq and from people all over the Muslim world, telling me, please, please don’t give up, don’t abandon us. And I just want them to know I’m not. I’m just — I’m pulling back. I’m, you know, getting some rest. I’m trying to restore my health. I want to come back stronger, but I’m not coming back the way I was before.

We’re going to seriously re-evaluate our place — and when I say “our,” I’m talking about Gold Star Families for Peace, I’m talking about the Camp Casey Peace Institute, my skeletal staff. We’re going to — and my sister Dee Dee, of course. We’re going to just hunker down and find a way that we can be more productive, that we can be more useful to humanity. Like I said, I’ve come to a dead end in what I’m doing now. We’ve found a chink in the armor. We exploited that chink. Now, most of the country is on our side. I don’t think we can work with the politicians. When we come back, we won’t work with or against politicians, but we’ll work with humanity.

Well, since I’ve been traveling the globe, I’ve met so many people who have been encroached upon or damaged or their families damaged by this corporate military imperialism of the United States. We want to help them. And we’re hoping by helping our brothers and sisters around the world struggle against the imperialism of the U.S. military and the U.S. corporations, that it will have a residual effect in helping America. We don’t want to abandon our soldiers there in the field like the Democrats did. You know, last night I was on Air America. Laura Flanders calls it to sacrifice the troops, instead of support the troops. We don’t want to leave them abandoned in the field. We don’t want to give the impression to the people of Iraq that they have no hope.

But I just want to let you know that I was just a small cog in this movement. It’s a large movement. And I think that this will encourage people to step up to the plate. And I sacrificed too much for this movement, and I’m not blaming anybody except myself. I was a willing participant. And I would be willing to keep sacrificing, if I thought we were making progress, if I thought my sacrifices could help. But I don’t think that it’s helping anymore, so we’re going to pull back and figure out how we can help. But, you know, people need to step up now. And everybody in America is going to have to sacrifice something. We have too much. We work too much to get things that we don’t even need, while 24,000 people a day die of starvation in the world. So everybody is going to have to sacrifice a little bit. If everybody sacrifices a little bit, you know, a few people wouldn’t have to sacrifice so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, I asked you about messages to people here — of course, then there’s the Iraqi people, and people do know of your activism there. What would you say to Iraqis?

CINDY SHEEHAN: You know, I would say that we are still there trying to help you, trying to end this horrible occupation, that my new organization that’s going to be humanitarian in nature will do everything we can to help alleviate your suffering. And I just hope that the people of America finally come to the realization that you are our brothers and sisters — we all share one beating heart of humanity — and that we cannot allow our leaders to do what they’re doing anymore. And, you know, it’s very important for people in America to struggle against our system, to hold the Democrats to the same standard of accountability that we were trying to hold the Republicans to, and to force an end to this occupation. And that — I’m not going to work, you know, in this political system anymore, because I don’t have the energy to do that anymore. But it’s very important that everybody keep up the struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to read a few of the comments of our listeners and viewers and readers around the world that came in at democracynow.org. On electoral politics, Gordon Brown, a teacher in Switzerland, asked, “Who do you believe would make the best next president of the United States?” Leslie Bonnet of California writes, “Will Cindy join the Green Party, which has steadfastly advocated for peace and against the invasion of Iraq? Will Cindy consider running as a presidential or vice-presidential nominee with the Green Party?” Barbara and Graham Dean said, “What can all of us in the peace and justice movement do now to give you back your hope that we can indeed change the dangerous course this government has forced upon this country?” And they ask, “Would you consider running for Congress?” Paul said, “Given what you’ve described as the corruption and deception that exist in both the Republican and the Democratic political parties and how the huge appropriations of money for defense contractors have become such a force in the U.S. economy, do you have any hope we will return to being a nation that stands for right instead of being a nation that has to have something to fight?” And another listener/viewer, John Stauber, says, “What is your opinion of MoveOn and the role it played in the recent congressional debate over war funding?” Take your pick.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, of course, I’m not going to run for election. I don’t — you know, I’m very disillusioned with our political system. If we don’t wake up in America and realize that we have to vote out of our courage and integrity for candidates who reflect our own beatitudes, and not the beatitudes of the war machine and the corporations, we are — we’re doomed. And if we don’t get a viable third party — or some people say second party; you know, the Democrats and Republicans are so similar, and their pockets are lined by the same people — we are — our representative republic is doomed, where George Bush has assumed all the powers to himself and Congress has given him those powers. And we really need an opposition party in this country. But we vote out of our fear. We go and we vote for the lesser of two evils, and we always end up getting somebody evil. And, you know, I say “evil,” not in the Christian sense of the word. But, you know, I do believe that.

I’m not going to join any party. If I do vote again and if I do become, you know, politically active, it will be independent. I’m not going to, of course, run for anything, be in the system. I have been asked by the Green Party to run for president, but, you know, that’s not anything that I want.

And I know John Stauber. He has been struggling against MoveOn. I was really upset with MoveOn, and plus with the corporate media, who were characterizing MoveOn as the antiwar left in America, which was just really, for people who are on the inside know how hilarious that is. So I think that MoveOn has a lot of resources, and they should be trying to represent — truly represent the opposition to, instead of being, you know, so tied in with the Democratic Party, to really represent the views of the left.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, what do you think are the greatest successes of the peace movement so far, and then, of course, what you want to see changed?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, you know, I think that we did an incredible job of educating America about — causing a debate really in this country about the Iraq War that didn’t exist before August of '05. It didn't exist in a public way before August of '05. And the shift in the country has been enormous, you know, to being against George Bush and against the war, when it was overwhelmingly in favor of it. And we thought we were doing something good when we elected Democrats. We thought that we were electing them to change the way things are going, not for this, to keep the status quo. And I think that we've been very successful in raising awareness.

Where things have to go now — and, you know, I’ve been saying this for a long time — is that we have to be willing to put our bodies on the line for peace and justice, that, you know, we can’t work on short-term band-aids. We need true solutions to the problem, to this corruptness, to the stranglehold the corporations have on our government. And we can’t just put band-aids on them. Like, ending the Vietnam War was major, but people left the movement. It was an antiwar movement. They didn’t stay committed to true and lasting peace. And that’s what we really have to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, we have 15 seconds. I have the sense, as you talk, that you’re not actually leaving, even as a public face of the movement, but stepping back perhaps for a few months, a few weeks, to regroup. Is that accurate?

CINDY SHEEHAN: Well, what I like to think about is like, we’re closing down the factory, we’re going to retool, and we’re going to open up, and it will be a new and improved version of it. But we are definitely going to come at it from a totally different direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, I want to thank you for being with us.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, speaking to us from, well, near her home. She’s in Sacramento, California.

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Cindy Sheehan, From Grieving Mother to Antiwar Leader

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