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A mother's plea evolves into a cause

Antiwar activists join woman whose son died in Iraq
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post | August 14, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas -- Cindy Sheehan vaulted into national consciousness this month on the power of her story as the grieving mother of a fallen soldier.

But what began as a solitary campaign to force a meeting with President Bush by setting up camp along the road to his ranch has quickly taken on the full trappings of a political campaign. Sheehan is working with a political consultant and a team of public relations professionals, and now she is featured in a television ad.

Sheehan began her protest in Crawford on Aug. 6 after crisscrossing the country for more than a year demanding answers on why Bush continues to wage what she calls an unjust war in Iraq. After her son Casey Sheehan, 24, was killed in Baghdad last year, she founded Gold Star Families for Peace, an antiwar organization that labored largely in obscurity -- until now.

Sheehan's case has echoed as her grievances merged with what polls indicate is growing dissatisfaction with the war. But her cause has also been aided by political organizers who mobilized around her -- recognizing an opportunity to cause acute discomfort for a vacationing president and put a powerful emotional frame around the antiwar movement.

No one watching cable television news last week, dominated by coverage of Sheehan's crusade, could doubt that they largely achieved their aim.

Sheehan's Crawford encampment has swollen in the past week, as other antiwar protesters have flocked to Texas. Members of CodePink, a women's antiwar organization, have pitched their tent near Sheehan's.

TrueMajority, an antiwar group founded by Ben Cohen -- one of the creators of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream -- hired Fenton Communications, a Washington public relations firm that has worked intermittently with Sheehan over the past year to coordinate media coverage.

With this help, Sheehan has courted coverage from the traveling White House press corps with a news conference. A schedule of when relatives of other military casualties in Iraq are expected to join Sheehan in Crawford was distributed to reporters. Her team coordinated an antiwar rally attended by hundreds in Crawford yesterday.

Sheehan also launched a television ad campaign yesterday, hoping to achieve what her roadside vigil so far has not: a second chance to directly tell Bush about the devastation she has experienced since her son's death.

''Mr. President, I want to tell you face to face how much this hurts," Sheehan says in the ad, which will air in Waco, the nearest broadcast market to Bush's 1,600-acre ranch. ''How many more of our loved ones need to die in this senseless war?"

Bush has been publicly respectful, telling reporters that he has thought ''long and hard about her position," even though he disagrees with her about the war.

''Withdrawing our troops from Iraq prematurely would betray the Iraqi people, and would cause others to question America's commitment to spreading freedom and winning the war on terror," Bush said in his weekly radio address yesterday. ''So we will honor the fallen by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, and by doing so we will ensure that freedom and peace prevail."


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