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Texas protest pressure point

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, in Crawford, Texas

Hundreds of protesters have now come to Crawford

At the end of a long line of white crosses, each bearing a name of a soldier killed in Iraq, is a small, open tent set up like a shrine.
Inside the tent is a photograph of Casey Sheehan, surrounded by flowers and candles.

The 24-year-old died in Iraq last year, and two weeks ago his mother, Cindy, set up "Camp Casey" and caught the nation's imagination.

To begin with just a few people drifted along to join her - just a couple of miles down the road from where President George W Bush is spending his summer vacation.

Suddenly people started hearing about the woman who wants to meet the president face-to-face and to ask him why her son died, and that's when the television trucks started to arrive.

Hundreds have now come here, some Iraq veterans or families of those killed in the fighting, others just wanting to support her point of view.

'True patriots'

Cindy Sheehan is now probably the most talked about woman in America, leading the news bulletins over the last couple of days and reinvigorating the anti-war movement in the States which has been struggling to find a voice.

They're a bunch of idiots

Man at Crawford's cafe
Those opposed to President Bush's policy in Iraq have been painted as unpatriotic, and criticised for "letting our boys down".

But the protestors here say they are the true patriots - it's an issue that's starting to polarise American opinion.

The one-woman show which has generated so much momentum is, however, in danger of running out of steam as Cindy Sheehan's mother had a stroke and she returned to California to be with her.

It was a tearful farewell to all those who had supported her from their small line of tents and shades and the promise was that she'd be back, as soon as possible, to continue the protest.

"She was the lightning rod for the media of course," said one of those left to keep the camp running.

"But we came here to support Cindy and that's just what we'll do. Everyone is staying because we owe it to her. I'm not leaving until she comes back."

As Cindy left, a large group of women walked as far as they could towards the Bush ranch and handed secret security men a pile of letters to pass on to the president.

All of them talk of a determination to keep the pressure on, but the longer Cindy is away the more the media hype will die down and the momentum could run out.

Divisive issue

But if it continues to grow, some say this could be a tipping point of public opinion and another bomb in Iraq killing a large number of Americans could fuel that further.

She's a grieving mother with a right to protest, and I think President Bush should talk to her

Woman at the Coffee Station

A few miles down the road in Crawford itself there's a "peace house" where bloggers work around the clock, a production line for meals and camp supplies is up and running and a small group of women cut, bolt and paint more white crosses to take up to Camp Casey.

And just across the road is the Coffee Station, a little restaurant which is busier than it has been for a long time.

Opinions there are divided as much as across America.

"They're a bunch of idiots," said one man. "If I had a front-end loader I'd get rid of them."

And on the next table support for a woman who has certainly touched the hearts of many.

"She's a grieving mother with a right to protest, and I think President Bush should talk to her."

If Cindy does come back here she could embarrass the president further and he will have to be very careful how he deals with the situation.

But whatever happens, she's already helped the anti-war voice to be heard louder than it was before.

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