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Bush passes protesters but doesn't stop
Vacaville woman's vigil in Texas takes on festival-like feel; opponents appear.
By M.S. Enkoji -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, August 13, 2005
Story appeared on Page A20 of The Bee
CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush saw Cindy Sheehan on Friday. Probably.
Taking him to a midday fundraiser, Bush's motorcade breezed by Sheehan as she stood along a country road, clutching a white cross with the name of her son who was slain in Iraq. Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville has been camping near Bush's Texas ranch since last Saturday in hopes of meeting with the president to deliver her personal protest about the war.
Camp Casey, as Sheehan has dubbed it, evolved quickly Friday afternoon from a tight group of like-minded veterans, peace promoters and grieving mothers into an almost Woodstock-like festival with salsa music blaring from a car stereo and a woman from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a skimpy lettuce outfit.
Ministers conducted an impromptu church service, using a piece of plywood on a plastic garbage can as an altar. Other mothers knelt and wept as they prayed with the religious leaders.
The first of a measurable opposition also began to roll into the camp, setting up their own base and sending local authorities scrambling to keep the peace. News of a busload of people from Dallas, led by conservative syndicated radio talk show host Mike Gallagher, roused the anti-war protesters to line up with banners.
Bush, who is at his ranch for a monthlong vacation, rode by in a caravan of black sport-utility vehicles, police cars and an ambulance to a nearby ranch. Passing by the encampment of about 100 of Sheehan's supporters, the vehicles moved briskly on the two-lane road. Dark, tinted windows hid the presidential party from protesters, who were kept about 30 yards back.
Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in April 2004 just a few days after he arrived in Iraq, didn't expect Bush to pull over, she said.
"I didn't want him to stop," Sheehan said after Bush's entourage disappeared around a bend. "This isn't the time or place. We wanted to show him there are people in the country who oppose him, and I think we accomplished that."
Nearly a week into her vigil, Sheehan continued to ignite widespread empathy and indignation.
Sheehan's motivations have been fodder for radio and television talk shows and Weblogs. Her vigil is being documented by divergent media from Fox News to Rolling Stone.
Opposition has been heavily focused on remarks Sheehan made after she and her family were invited to meet with Bush in 2004, along with other slain soldiers' families. At the time, her public remarks appeared to be less critical of Bush.
Sheehan said Friday her position has not changed, but more information about the war has been revealed since then, and she's a different person.
"That's a different meeting," she said. "He called that one. I'm calling this one. I don't want sympathy; I want answers."
Sheehan has also been criticized by relatives who have lambasted her in online messages for not supporting her son or the president. She said they are in-laws who have always disagreed with her politically. She is separated from her husband but said the two agree on her effort.
In Friday's sweltering heat, Miriam Tidwell of Columbus, Ga., popped out of a rental car with a sign reading: "Your son is a hero; not a victim."
Tidwell, 50, who canceled a New York City trip to fly to Texas, said she also plans to camp until Wednesday. She doesn't necessarily support the war or the president's position but wants to emphasize her gratitude for U.S. soldiers who have died, she said.
"I'm here to honor her son," said Tidwell, who stood her ground alone as Sheehan supporters closed in. Undaunted, she hung her banners on a barbed-wire fence and clutched her sign. Before long, she was joined by a few others, who toted signs of encouragement for Bush.
Sheehan never talked to Tidwell, and McLennan County sheriff's deputies peeled her banners off the fence after a property owner complained.
But the spirited Tidwell was soon joined by the busload from Dallas. Deputies kept them on the opposite side of the road from Camp Casey.
As riders streamed out of the bus, Gallagher addressed them with a bullhorn, leading them in a prayer and song.
"We're on the right side in the ditch," the conservative radio commentator said, joking.
"Not every parent of an injured or killed soldier believes President Bush is wrong," he said to cheers from the bus riders.
W.C. Kendrick, 69, came from his suburban Dallas home for the bus ride because he wanted to raise another voice.
Kendrick said he isn't a Gallagher fan, but he believes the protesters in Camp Casey encourage the enemy in Iraq, he said.
"There needed to be a counterdemonstration for support of Bush," he said.
Within an hour, the bus riders got back on their bus and left.