Mother Turned Activist
By Matt Kiernan and Melissa Traynor
Peace and social justice activist Cindy Sheehan, mother of slain U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, spoke Monday about her path since his death and the impact of individuals against war.
“I know for sure that if I don’t try to make a difference, I won’t make a difference,” said Sheehan.
Her son Casey was killed in action in Sadr City Baghdad in the Iraq War on April 4, 2004. Her grief was expounded by the fact that he was fighting and killed in a war that she did not agree with.
A few weeks later, after she saw former President George W. Bush on television, proclaiming that troops were dying for a noble cause, it inspired Sheehan to take action.
“I used to promise him, ‘you’ll never go to war,’” Sheehan said.
She decided to go to Crawford, Texas, where Bush’s vacation ranch was located, and sit outside his home with six others and established her station as “Camp Casey” in order to protest and demand that she get an appointment with the President. She wanted to know exactly which noble cause he had spoken of earlier.
“He’s our employee and we need to give him a performance evaluation,” Sheehan recalled thinking.
She didn’t know that sitting in the middle of a road with lawn chairs, an ice chest full of water and one flashlight would prompt thousands of people across America to join her.
“We never know when some single, simple act will turn into something big,” said Sheehan.
Her inboxes filled with thousands of e-mails from supporters and 15,000 people later, Sheehan was looking at a huge demonstration.
She felt that she needed to make her son’s death mean something and make an attempt at saving other people’s lives.
“I haven’t made the difference I want to make yet, though,” said Sheehan in reference to her wanting all troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Movement Rolls On
With the last five years behind her, when Sheehan grieved for her son, protested and ran for Speaker of the House, Sheehan is evaluating the current situation and what can be done for the future.
A panel discussion of five, including Sheehan and moderated by former Connecticut State Legislature representative William Dyson, was held Monday to discuss that status of the anti-war movement in America. Panelists from around CCSU and the community remarked on the languishing morale of the troops, motivation of anti-war activists and their own firm beliefs against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jeff Bartos, a former U.S. Army Sergeant and current CCSU student, said the way in which the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are being fought is cowardly.
“You want to talk about courage?” Bartos asked. “It’s not courageous for people to walk around in a country you don’t belong in with full armor, weapons and armored vehicles and telling people ‘we are here to liberate you from yourselves.’”
Much of the discussion was centered upon existing problems with the anti-war movement and the drawn-out Sheehan pointed out that here have been no major anti-war demonstrations on Washington since President Barack Obama’s election. She said when Democrats began rallying for Obama, the anti-war movement ended.
Sheehan said the elected Democrats aren’t carrying out what they were put in office to do and accused them of ignoring their base.
Bartos added that the situation of the troops only exacerbates the problem.
“I’d say morale is at a pretty low point in the U.S. military,” Bartos said. Other criticisms of the U.S. military’s handling of troops and returned veterans include lack of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric problems.
Sheehan also said that the mainstream media now label anti-war activists with what she calls “dangerous rhetoric.” She said that the media are now beginning to call on sources that suggest a loss for the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq would be due to Americans’ lack of support, or blaming activists.
“We’re already starting to be painted with this brush of failure,” Sheehan said, and added that Americans against the war who speak out are labeled as “radicals.”
Looking for ways to improve turnout and effectiveness of anti-war demonstrations and grassroots organizations, Marissa Janczewska, a CCSU student and leader at the campus’ Youth for Socialist Action spoke on behalf of students.
She made comparisons to the movements to end the Vietnam War, when she said student protest were influential enough to help end the war. She cited the Kent State incident during which four students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard. Janczewska said that universities across America responded.
“After Kent, schools shut down and became anti-war machines,” Janczewska said.
CCSU political science professor Ghassan E. El-Eid recommended that student educate themselves and “become activists for knowledge.”
Panelists also discussed the impact of an apathetic population who will be difficult to move and motivate. Sheehan and El-Eid affirmed that the United States is a sleeping giant, relatively unaffected by the wars. They argued that in order to stimulate people into action, a measure similar to the draft installed in the war against Vietnam in the late 1960s. By avoiding a draft, which in turn would provoke public outrage, they believe, American leaders could further wars without direct objection by the people.
Panelist Stephen Vincent Kobasa, journalist and political activist, said that one of the misconceptions about the anti-war movement is that people initially believe the war is wrong, which is not true. He argues that even if they reached the mutual consensus against the war, it doesn’t mean they have the power to change it.
“Prodding people into a shared sense of brotherhood and sisterhood is difficult,” he said.