Cornered in Crawford

Crawford, Texas, Aug. 27

"I almost feel sorry for [President Bush] because he can't come out of his ranch without going over us in his helicopter," Cindy Sheehan said at her last big rally Saturday at Camp Casey 2 near Bush's house outside Crawford, Texas. "He doesn't want to come down the road because he knows if he does he'll have to see thousands of us who disagree with him," she said.

In remarks to a crowd estimated at 2,000 that broiled despite a tent on the errant acre adjoining Bush's estate on Prairie Chapel Road, Sheehan said she came to Crawford to ask Bush "what noble cause" her son, Casey died for in Iraq in 2004, but she stayed "for every child in this world." She noted that Bush famously told the rest of the world, "If you're not with us, you're against us." She got a standing ovation when she replied, "We'll, Mr. President, we're against you.

While Bush supporters drove past on the road outside, taunting Sheehan and her supporters with vile epithets, the devout Roman Catholic mother from Vacaville, Calif., said, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more. And I want to tell the pro-war people and the pro-killing people that have smeared me and have smeared my family, these alleged Christians, that we know our Lord doesn't stand for killing. I know my Lord doesn't. And yet they want to say we're not moral enough...."

Sheehan, a founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, said she never would have thought when she arrived in Crawford on Aug. 6 that her protest would draw thousands of people to the acre that some dubbed "Turdstock." She started out from a Veterans for Peace conference in Dallas literally with a lawnchair in a ditch two miles down the road, under the stars. "We didn't even have a flashlight. That's how well-organized we were," she said, in response to Republican claims that she was sent there by Democratic benefactors. Some veterans brought a tent and provided an escort.

After she got there, groups such as Code Pink and MoveOn.org pitched in with the downtown Crawford Peace House, which was founded in 2003, providing the base of support. Donations from more than 7,000 supporters, mainly online, had raised more than $160,000 and defrayed more than $100,000 in expenses through Aug. 27, the Waco Tribune Herald reported. Peace House co-founder John Wolf said most of the money came in the form of small donations, and the largest was about $2,000. He said the Peace House hasn't received any significant donations from national liberal groups. “My prayer is that we don't have to go into debt,” he said. “If we break even, we're happy.”

After the first Camp Casey, which was set up on a cramped public right-of-way, disrupted neighbors, who urged local officials to shut down the camp, a landowner let Sheehan use an acre adjoining the Bush property. Now, the camp is outfitted with a trailer generator, portable bathrooms, first-aid stations, a kitchen that can feed 3,000 and a travel trailer on loan for Cindy. Saturday's food, which was prepared by volunteers, included salads, pasta, corn on the cob, chicken fajitas and beef barbecue, as well as bottled water. There was no charge except for free-will donations.

Dubya was invited for the barbecue, but he never showed.

Despite the intense heat and the resistance of some of the locals, Sheehan said she grew to appreciate the Texas veterans and others who showed their support for her cause. And while she plans to put Crawford in her rearview mirror on Wednesday, she will be taking Camp Casey on the road, with the first stop Wednesday evening in Austin, and eventually she'll show up in Washington, D.C. "We're going to take Camp Casey to Congress," she said, "and we're going to ask them the same questions George Bush refused to answer ... and our first stop is Mr. Tom Delay." (See MeetWithCindy.com for details.)

The crowd was entertained by performers such as Joan Baez, who led a chorus of "Amazing Grace," concluding, "Christian Right, eat your heart out." Later she returned for "We Shall Overcome," "Joe Hill" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Other performers included James McMurtry, who noted that Bush's estate is erroneously referred to as a ranch when "he doesn't ranch it," since there are no livestock, not even a pygmy goat, to qualify it for a Texas ag-use exemption. Singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix of San Marcos observed, "Spiritual people inspire me, but religious people frighten me."

Meanwhile, a crowd estimated at 2,000 showed up at the high school football stadium for a "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy," pro-war rally. Some pro-war activists left the rally and went to Camp Casey 1, where they removed the names of dead soldiers from some crucifixes at the camp that had been erected by Sheehan supporters in memory of the GIs. The Austin American-Statesman reported that a fight nearly broke out at the pro-Bush rally in the afternoon when a small group that seemed to be party-crashing peace activists appeared with signs, such as "No War Unless a Democrat is in Office." But after the "peaceniks" were hustled off by police, Bill Garrett of Dallas, who is with a group that infiltrates leftist events with signs meant to embarrass the organizers, told the Statesman it was all a big misunderstanding. "I wish we could tell them we're on the same side, he said. "Our signs aren't very good. I apologize for that."

While many veterans were mustered at the pro-war rally to attack the patriotism of the war protesters, back at Camp Casey 2, one recently-returned Iraq vet told the crowd, "This is the welcome home I dreamed of." The mother of a slain serviceman said she was not afraid of counterprotesters. "I'm not afraid anymore. I faced my worst fear -- my son dying," she said.

Sean O'Neill, who served two tours in Iraq as a Marine corporal, told the group, "If I was in Iraq right now in my batallion, I'd be proud of you." He said Sheehan is "every soldier's mother, in a way," and added, "I swore to protect the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and although I'm out of uniform I'm still doing it -- and so are you." -- JMC

8/29/05 UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reports that Bush has "four or five" cows on his property. In other words, enough to qualify for an ag use exemption. But not enough to qualify the 1,600-acre estate as a "ranch," under most reasonable definitions of the term. Warren Vieth of the Times noted that Secret Service agents outnumber the cattle. And although Vieth didn't bring it up, others have noted that they have never seen Bush on a horse.

See also reports from The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford.

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