Cindy Sheehan made public two letters this weekend. The first letter announced her resignation from the Democratic Party over the agreement by the Democratically-controlled Congress to unconditionally fund the misbegotten war in Iraq that killed her son Casey along with some 3,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
In the second letter, coming a day after the first, Sheehan announced that she would no longer be active in the peace movement. The reason for her first letter is self-evident. Why did she feel compelled to write the second one?
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Sheehan has been the target of endless threats and attacks by pro-war groups, right-wing talk radio, and the corporate media. But they haven’t been the only attackers. As Sheehan stepped up her criticism of the Congressional Democrats' complicity in the war, she came under attack, some as venomous and personal as any right-wing Republican attack, by some who insist that the antiwar movement must be limited to protesting against Bush and the Republicans. Some of the same forces, who are closely tied to the Democrats, were happy to use Sheehan as long as she limited her criticism to Bush, but then turned on her after she announced her resignation from the Democratic Party over the war.
Cindy Sheehan came to the conclusion that she was pushed out of the antiwar movement, and it’s not hard to understand why she feels this way. She feels pushed out by the betrayal of the Democrats on the war funding. She feels pushed out by the isolation and hostility not only from the “right,” but also from many in the orbit of the Democratic Party that Sheehan had once considered allies. She feels pushed out by the failure of various coalitions in the antiwar movement to put aside egos and narrow agendas in the interest of forging a mass movement powerful enough to shut the war down.
Some good can come from this, if the antiwar movement takes this as a turning point. Many of us demanded that Congress cut off all war funding and end the war this spring. Some of us did this, not based on any expectation that Congress would actually end Bush’s war, but to clearly expose the Democratic Party and to demonstrate that they are as much of a pro-war party as the Republicans. If the antiwar movement can absorb this reality, as painful as it is, than it will be all the much harder for the movement to be pulled off the streets and made an appendage of the Democratic Party. What we have learned from Cindy Sheehan is that we can’t depend on our “leaders” in Washington to end this war. The real lesson is that when the people lead, the leaders will follow. And the people are determined to end this endless occupation of Iraq.
The rank and file of the antiwar movement stand with Cindy Sheehan, not with those who are beholden to the Democratic Party. It takes courage for a mother, catapulted into the world spotlight after camping out in Crawford, Texas to protest the death of her son in Iraq, to stand up to and openly break with powerful politicians who are all too willing to provide her a platform with all the perks if she simply toes the line.
It is my hope that after Cindy Sheehan has taken the time to re-unite with her family, and do whatever she feels necessary to repair the toll that all of this has taken on her family and herself, she will once again be a leading voice against war and for justice at home and abroad.
But while she is gone, there are many others who are ready to stand for peace in her stead. Cindy Sheehan is not only Casey’s mother. She is, in a very real sense, a “mother” of the peace movement who has given birth to millions who are committed to ending this war that never should have begun.