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Cindy Sheehan's Symbolism

Published on Friday, August 19, 2005 by the Seattle Times

The daily image of a grieving mother protesting the death of her soldier son by standing in the withering sun outside President Bush's Texas ranch is a poignant symbol. Bush would do well to pay attention to the image and the woman behind it.
Cindy Sheehan is not a foreign-policy expert. She does not hold the key to an Iraq war exit strategy. Sheehan is a mother driven to act by the death last year of her son, Casey, who was stationed in Iraq. What Sheehan has done is use her grief to fuel a passionate, visible anti-war movement.

Until this one mother's protest, the public lobby against the war was displayed largely through yard signs and bumper stickers. People dared not outwardly disdain the war for fear of being accused of not supporting the troops.

But Sheehan has served as a catalyst for various groups with their disparate views of the war and of the military. At least for now, these groups are largely under one umbrella. Wednesday night, thousands across the country and abroad held candlelight vigils — including 3,000 people in the Puget Sound region — to support Sheehan.

Presumably, those Americans had many choices for activities as the sun set on Wednesday. But they chose to go outside and light candles to bolster Sheehan's two-week-old Texas vigil.

Advisers and supporters of the president have tried to ignore Sheehan or downplay her protest as a mother's unseemly grief. This is both wrong and a mistake.

So far, 1,853 Americans have died in Iraq. The cost of the war, in lives and dollars, will only grow. Sheehan is the human face behind the daily toll. She has become the symbol of growing frustration over the war.

America's purpose in Iraq is over. The soldiers should be brought home. It can be done, as has been proven in Vietnam, Somalia and other places. When and how it is done is not Sheehan's call to make, nor should it be.

In the minds of many Americans, the tide of the war has turned. Sheehan didn't turn the tide. She is a symbol of the sea change. Expect this symbol to grow in significance and importance.

Whether Bush meets again with the mom standing sentinel in Crawford is not the point. The point is that the president must understand what this mom represents.

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