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'Camp Casey' vigil has grass-roots origin

Carlos Guerra: Mom says she's no pawn, 'Camp Casey' vigil has grass-roots origin
Web Posted: 08/14/2005 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News

CRAWFORD — At least 200 people were at "Camp Casey," at a country crossroads four miles from President Bush's ranch by 8 a.m. Saturday. It has become a national gathering place for war opponents — and fewer Bush supporters.

The spot is as close to the ranch as the authorities would let Cindy Sheehan get when she arrived a week ago asking to meet with Bush. She now sees the growing encampment as a tribute to her son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, who died on Palm Sunday 2004 while searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, five days after arriving in Iraq.

She won't leave without meeting with Bush, she says. But the closest she has gotten was Friday when his motorcade whizzed by twice as the president was whisked to and from a $2 million GOP fundraiser as she held a sign asking: "Why do you have time for donors but not for me?"

Sheehan's quiet determination has focused attention on Bush's latest vacation, galvanized the anti-war movement and activated Bush defenders while fomenting a national debate on Iraq.

Neither she nor the other parents of war dead who have joined her expected the growing support — and scorn — they are receiving. Nor are most of these "Gold Star Family Members" new to anti-war activism.

"We've been saying this and saying this, and the media is finally reporting it," says Dan Mitchell, adding: "My son Sgt. Mike Mitchell died with her son Casey in the same battle."

Sheehan opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, she says, and was surprised when her son enlisted. And when he died, she thought the form letter Bush sent was callous and impersonal. So, when she and her husband — from whom she has separated — were invited to join other families of fallen soldiers to meet Bush at Fort Lewis, Wash., they agreed, expecting something more.

Their hometown paper, the Vacaville (Calif.) Recorder, reported on their presidential audience, including some Sheehan quotes about Bush that are, at best, cordial. But those quotes have been cherry-picked by Bush apologists to make the case that she is a distraught, misguided mother who has become a liberal pawn.

Never mind that the story also quoted her as saying, "We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled. The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."

One year later, she now likens how Bush greeted the families to "a tea party," and recalls that, unable to recall their names, he kept calling her "Mom" while parroting scripted answers to her questions about her son's death.

Understandably, she and the other parents bristle at questions about who engineered the attention they are getting and masterminded their strategy.

"This is a strategy that is sometimes minute-to-minute, it's totally spontaneous," she says, "and miracles are happening because it's all driven by grass-roots disgust with what is happening with this war."

Their movement isn't a Machiavellian intrigue, she says.

"This is not about politics, it's about right and wrong and life and death, and we're not going to let the White House throw up smokescreens," she says softly. "This war was wrong to begin with, and it's wrong to stay there. Let's end it now before any more families join us, more Iraqis are killed and before your babies have to go fight it."


To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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