A Mother's Texas Vigil
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
[Editor's Note: The audio for this interview is also available from AlterNet. Follow this link to listen and download the interview.]
Cindy Sheehan is a woman standing vigil in the eye of a gathering storm. This grieving mother -- who lost her son in the war on Iraq -- has been waiting outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch to meet face-to-face with the commander-in-chief.
Her vigil is receiving widespread media coverage, and on Tuesday, 16 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter requesting Bush to meet with her. Sheehan has also launched a Web site, Meet With Cindy, to help promote her cause.
Even as other members of military families, activists and ordinary citizens rally to her cause, the right-wing attack machine has already kicked into gear, questioning her motives and distorting her statements. But it's to little avail -- Sheehan remains undaunted, even while facing threats of imprisonment.
She spoke with AlterNet on the phone from Crawford.
Let me first start and ask you about what everyone's most concerned about, which is the news that you might be arrested if you don't leave by Thursday as a national security threat. Who did you hear that from?
A Texas state legislator for Crawford called us and told us that yesterday I believe.
But you are planning to stay?
Oh yeah, there are only three ways I'm going to leave: If I meet with George Bush, if it's the end of August [and he leaves Crawford], or if I get arrested.
How do you feel about the prospect of getting arrested?
I'm ready, I'm doing the right thing. What are they going to arrest me for, being right?
As you must know, the right wing media has been in full attack mode, and they're suggesting that you're just a patsy, someone who's deluded, who's been brainwashed, a patsy for the anti-war movement. What is your response to that?
My response is "baloney." I'm not a patsy for the anti-war movement: War is wrong, this war is wrong, and our kids need to come home.
One of the things they're saying most recently is that you already met with President Bush. What was that first meeting like, what was going through your mind? Because I know in the full news report it came out that you did have reservations about the war already, even at the time of the first meeting.
Right, I did have reservations about the war before Casey was killed. But also, in that first meeting, I was in shock. We just buried Casey barely two months before. I think it's really ironic that they're so willing to assiduously scrutinize the mother of a war hero, a grieving mother, a mother filled with shock and grief, but they won't even scrutinize a president when he says Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, when everybody else is saying, "No, he doesn't." If the mainstream media and the right-wing media hadn't been such propaganda tools for Washington D.C., my son might still be alive.
What did the President say to you during that first meeting?
He first got there, he walked in and said, "So who are were honoring here?" He didn't even know Casey's name, he didn't, nobody could have whispered to him, "Mr. President, this is the Sheehan family, their son Casey was killed in Iraq." We thought that was pretty disrespectful to not even know Casey's name, and to walk in and say, "So who are we honorin' here?" Like, "Let's get on with it, let's get somebody honored here."
So anyway, he went up to my oldest daughter, I keep calling her my oldest daughter but she's actually my oldest child now, and he said, "So who are you to the loved one?" And Carly goes, "Casey was my brother." And George Bush says, "I wish I could bring your loved one back, to fill the hole in your heart." And Carly said, "Yeah, so do we." And Bush said, "I'm sure you do," and he gave her a dirty look and turned away from her.
Did he talk to you directly?
Yeah, he talked to me directly, do I have to say what it is or can you read it somewhere else? [laughs] He came up to me, and he said, "Mom, I can't imagine your pain, I can't imagine losing a loved one, whether it be an aunt or an uncle, or a cousin," and I just stopped him and I said, "It was my son, Casey was my son. I think you can imagine it, Mr. President, because you have children. Imagine if one of your daughters was killed in this war. Trust me, you don't want to go there." And he told me, "You're right, I don't."
Now you're waiting to meet him for a second time. Have you gone through it in your mind? Are you optimistic it's going to happen, do you have any hope?
So you haven't even imagined what might go down if it did happen by some miracle?
If it did happen, by some miracle, I would ask him what noble cause did my son die for. I would say to him, if the cause is so noble, has he encouraged his daughters to serve? And I would also ask him to quit using my son's sacrifice to justify his continued killing, when [Bush] says we have to complete the mission to honor the sacrifices of the loved ones. I want him to honor my son's sacrifice by bringing the troops home.
Let's talk about the good stuff now, the support you're receiving, I hear the Gold Star Families of Peace just announced their intention to send some of their members to join you in Crawford. So in a sense what started out as a very personal vigil has turned into a real ...
[interrupts] Hold on a second ... [talks away from the phone] what did he say? No way!
You're just asking me about support, and [I just found out] Crawford Peace House has $5,000 in their PayPal account right now, because I've been asking people to support them. Gold Star Families for Peace has been getting donations so we can bring some of our members out to Crawford, people have been coming by with food and water and sleeping bags and tents and other camping equipment. Anything that we ask for, we get.
There's been so many organizations, and so many people who are wealthy and famous who are donating all kinds of money and support to us, but the American people are rallying around us. They are so happy to finally have a voice, they're so happy that somebody who has their same views is speaking out for them, and we've gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails and phone calls from all around the world, people saying, "Keep on doing what you're doing, you're doing the right thing, your son would be proud of you."
It just is amazing to me that this one little idea I had last Wednesday has snowballed into this major, major action for peace, and everybody in the country, well not everybody, but so many people in the country are so willing to work for peace. And I really think this is historic and it's going to have a major effect on our attitudes, the way our country thinks. Because a majority of people want our troops home, the majority of people want people. And if we can keep the pressure and keep that up, maybe our young people will never be used so despicably again.
So what's your next step -- if the President continues to refuse to meet you, I heard that you might go to the White House, to follow him there?
That's right. If he doesn't meet with me in Crawford, then we're going to organize a permanent vigil in front of the White House until he meets with me. And we might even change it to instead of meeting with me, just bringing the troops home. I can't be there all the time because September is really busy for me, I'm going to be gone out speaking almost the entire month, I'm going to be in Italy for a week, and I have almost the entire month.
But I'll be back in D.C. on September 24 for the United for Peace and Justice big action there. So if we can have a permanent vigil in front of the White House, it could be something like it is here, we can have people, people can sign up to be there, so it will always be manned.
Well all I can say is everyone is very, very proud of the work you're doing and you're an inspiration for all of us.
Lakshmi Chaudhry is the former senior editor of AlterNet.