DUMMERSTON, Vt. — Last May, I wrote a column about the experience of going to the Ritz-Carlton in Boston to interview Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
While my 20 minutes with Rice was surreal, I got a good column out of it. Even better, I got a letter from antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan thanking me for writing it.
Writers always appreciate feedback, and when a woman as busy as Sheehan took time out to praise my work, it was worth more to me than a Pulitzer Prize.
On Sunday night, I finally got a chance to meet her. She came to Brattleboro on the last stop of a 12-town tour of Vermont to drum up support for a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Last year, my hometown of Dummerston joined Newfane and several other communities in passing an impeachment resolution at our annual town meetings. This year, the number of towns that voted on impeachment totaled more than 30.
About 300 people showed up for the impeachment event at the Brattleboro Union High School auditorium, including a group of about a dozen pro-war protesters who lined one of the side aisles.
Several of the protesters apparently had been following her all day. They carried flags and signs with messages such as "In It To Win It," "We Won't Betray Our Troops," "Support The Mission" and "One Nation Under God." They periodically grumbled, hissed and heckled the speakers, but they mostly behaved themselves. Nonetheless, their presence brought an extra bit of tension to the event.
Sheehan reflected that tension, as well as the exhaustion of three days running around Vermont on little food and even less sleep. She directed her remarks at the protesters.
"I see a sign that says 'One Nation Under God,'" she said. "All nations are under God. And my God said 'Thou Shalt Not Kill.' He didn't say 'Thou Shalt Not Kill unless George Bush wants your oil.' He said 'Thou Shalt Not Kill. Period. The end."
"'Support The Mission.' What mission? Even George Bush doesn't even know what the mission is anymore," she said, also pointing out that if President Bush were standing where she was, the protesters would be two miles away in a "free speech zone."
"I was arrested seven times because I believe that this is America and every inch of this country is a free speech zone," she said.
Sheehan spoke of how the war in Iraq destroyed our nation's standing in the world and caused others to view us with fear and hatred. A women's voice from the line of protesters rang out loudly through the auditorium. "You're a traitor!"
That's when Sheehan lost her cool, and I didn't blame her one bit for doing so. "You're all traitors to our nation, to our soldiers, to our Constitution," Sheehan shot back. "You want to abandon our soldiers in the field. I say, no quarter for people who support murder!"
It looked as if something bad was about to happen. Then the situation was diffused by another woman's voice from the opposite side who yelled, "We love you, Cindy!" The crowd erupted in cheers and the threat of violence passed. Sheehan later apologized for not keeping her temper in check.
Considering how much abuse she has taken since that day in August in 2005 when she pitched a tent near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and demanded to hear from him the reason why her son Casey had to die in Iraq, it's surprising she doesn't do it more often.
Vermont is friendly ground for Sheehan, and it's telling that several of the hecklers were imported. They included a man by the name of Phil Kiver, a former Army journalist and Iraq veteran, who wrote a book called "182 Days In Iraq."