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Sheehan Breakthroughs, Unbridgeable Divides, and Taboos Unbroken

By David Swanson

The Washington Post today wondered out loud whether Cindy Sheehan might be a "catalyst for a muscular antiwar movement." In translation, this is an assertion that Cindy Sheehan has already become an accepted reason for the corporate media to finally acknowledge the existence of, and consequently help to build, the antiwar movement. There has, of course, been a major anti-war movement longer than there has been a war. And Cindy Sheehan has been speaking eloquently at anti-war events for many months. What has changed is primarily the media.

A website called Blue Oregon noticed this yesterday and wrote: "the Oregonian appears to be using Cindy Sheehan as cover to mention the lies upon which the war was justified." Yes, the Oregonian used the L word:

"The misty scrim that obscured our view of the war -- wishful thinking, distortions, outright lies -- is rapidly dissolving. Americans increasingly see the war as it is, and know it's going badly. Little wonder that when a gold-star mother parks herself inconsolably in Crawford, Texas, asking hard questions and spurning glib answers, she strikes a nerve."

But it's not been two months since the media, still refusing to call lies lies, was pretending that evidence of lies (like the Downing Street Memos) was "old news." Now, it's new news, thanks to Cindy. And thanks, also, to the polls, which show public opinion of the war sinking very low. But, most of the thanks goes to the Cindy Sheehan media phenomenon. The media should not base its coverage of presidential lies on public opinion that has managed to form despite the media's silence. And, in fact, comparison with other issues suggests it really doesn't; in many cases strong public opinion is not enough to generate coverage.

When Cindy became a story, many anti-war activists put in hundreds of hours debating and strategizing how to make the "message" focus on lots of families who lost kids in the war and want it to end, rather than just one mother. But for all the framing and messaging attempts, non-reporters (other than Cindy) had very little control over what happened with this story.

Then, when Cindy left to visit her ailing mother, some worried that the media, notoriously unable to cover a movement, would drop the ball and move on to celebrities or sex in some other town. The greatest measure of what Cindy has done is that this has not happened. Cindy has not only left behind her in Crawford and around the country a growing and inspired movement, but she has left behind an ongoing news story about the movement.

On Friday, Reuters' article began: "Supporters of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan on Friday vowed to stay near U.S. President George W. Bush's Texas ranch in her absence…." And the Associated Press's article began: "Although their leader had just departed because of a family emergency, anti-war demonstrators here didn't miss a beat, marching closer to President Bush's ranch to deliver handwritten letters."

The Rocky Mountain News on Saturday began an article with the headline "Coloradans to join war protest camp near Bush's ranch," and this opening paragraph: "Karen Trietsch squatted in her living room Friday, finishing the lettering on her neon-pink sign that proclaimed: 'Bush lies, Thousands die.' 'We can no longer view this war as a Nintendo game on CNN,' said Trietsch, 37, who leaves today for Crawford, Texas, with more than a dozen friends."

Of course, people have made similar remarks since before the war started, but they haven't been in lead paragraphs.

The movement has a lot of work to do, and as plans are formalized this week for events in Washington on September 24, 25, and 26, we will see how well it is done. And, of course, the media has very far to go. For one thing, it still gives disproportionate coverage to supporters of the war.

However, there still are supporters of the war in considerable numbers around the country. And there appears at first glance to be an unbridgeable divide between them and us. An AP story from Crawford on Saturday began: "A patriotic camp with a 'God Bless Our President!' banner sprung up downtown Saturday, countering the anti-war demonstration started by a fallen soldier's mother two weeks ago near President Bush's ranch. The camp is named 'Fort Qualls,' in memory of Marine Lance Cpl. Louis Wayne Qualls, 20, who died in Iraq last fall. 'If I have to sacrifice my whole family for the sake of our country and world, other countries that want freedom, I'll do that,' said the soldier's father, Gary Qualls, a friend of the local business owner who started the pro-Bush camp. He said his 16-year-old son now wants to enlist, and he supports that decision."

Opponents of the war recoil from this in horror. "God Bless Our President" is a little too theocratic for most of us. A man sacrificing his family is a little too patriarchic for us. (How about leaving it up to the wife and kids to decide whether to sacrifice themselves?) But the big divide here is not one of values or patriotism or courage or malice or racism or empire. The big divide here is between those who believe the war was based on good reasons and those who believe it was based on blatant lies that have been extensively documented. I'd sacrifice my life for the sake of the world. Many people would. But I believe this war is driven by imperialism propped up on fearmongering falsehoods. Gary Qualls would probably insist on protecting his family from being slaughtered to enrich an oligarchy that plays him for a fool. But he believes the war is protecting his family and everyone else's, or at least everyone else he knows and thinks about.

I don't want to discount self-deception. Those who want to support a war will turn a blind eye to exposure of the lies that launched it, just as those who oppose a war will be more tempted to cook up wacky theories about its architects that pile imaginary treasonous plotting on top of the solid case already established. But it does seem to me that the most effective way to change opinion about this war is to educate people about the evidence that the war was launched on the basis of lies.

Public opinion polls show a majority believing that Bush lied about the reasons for the war – and a near majority wanting impeachment proceedings begun. They also show a growing percentage of Americans wanting to end the war, and another large slice of the public wanting a gradual withdrawal begun. These numbers – belief that Bush lied and belief that the war should end -- have risen together, the former staying ahead of the latter.

But here the media has played another trick on us. The desire to end the war, while lower in the media's own polls, has become a respectable position in the media's news stories. Meanwhile the belief that the president lied about the war and should be impeached for it, while stronger in the media's own polls, has been almost taboo in news stories. Certainly the I word is completely forbidden in public (that is, corporate controlled) discourse.

And this way of thinking has been accepted thoughtlessly by most Democrats in Congress. While 58 percent of Democrats favor impeachment (Zogby), most progressive Democratic congress members are afraid of the idea. They and their staff members recite the same mantra endlessly: "That would allow the Republicans to attack us." If you don't believe me, call up your congress member. Even call up some of the most progressive members of congress just for kicks. Ask them why in the world they haven't introduced articles of impeachment. They will say the following words: "That would allow the Republicans to attack us."

But what could be better for a Democrat than to be attacked by Republicans over this war? This war is going to drag its supporters down, and any remaining faith in our governmental system along with them, unless an anti-war party develops.

Democrats say they can't attempt things because they are in the minority. But if they do not attempt things that people want, they will stay in the minority.

The case for impeachment is overwhelming. The evidence is compiled at The congress member who speaks up first will be the hero of a muscular anti-war movement.


David Swanson is creator of, co-founder of the coalition, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997. His website is

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We know the truth. That makes it our responsibility to stand with the people who truly represent us. Since we know the lying tactics used by these chickenhawks, what doesn't kill us will make us stronger.

Your article, it seems to me, makes two essential points:

But it does seem to me that the most effective way to change opinion about this war is to educate people about the evidence that the war was launched on the basis of lies.

While 58 percent of Democrats favor impeachment (Zogby), most progressive Democratic congress members are afraid of the idea.

While agreeing entrirely with those points, what seems to be missing from this analysis (indeed, from almost all of them) are the obvious conclusions about a horribly broken system of governance in the United States of America that allows the interests of politicians and their manipulators to prevail over the public interest.

Impeaching one president, evicting one administration, or even stopping one war, won't solve the underlying problem of lies and deceptions that go much deeper within the system itself and that give rise to these circumstance in the first place.

The public education you speak of must go beyond the superficial symptoms of a life-threatening disease.

David, I think you captured the essence of what we should be focusing upon:

"But it does seem to me that the most effective way to change opinion about this war is to educate people about the evidence that the war was launched on the basis of lies."

How can we narrow the focus and intensify the beam? I like the letter writing campaign that John Conyers is promoting. Is there anything going on in ad campaigns that concentrates on the common assumptions (lies) that continue to be passed on like urban myths?

The president is given free rein to catapult the propaganda during his weekly radio address. I have to admit that I have not been listening the Democratic rebuttal, but the audience for that already knows the truth. We need a more effective way to spread the news to the unconverted!

Gary Qualls puts party before family. Sounds familiar.........Oh yes, John McCain.

Obviously the father has no concept of the meaning of love.

Maybe he sees this whole thing as a critisim of his son.



I am not sure who this guy is but I am going to quote below a part of his article on the National Review today which I think is absolutely another truth to refute the reasons why we are in Iraq..particularly the last sentance. I have never understood how the Bush administration so cleverly morphed McCarthy's a) and b) statements into this need for an Iraq democracy. I think at this point I might agree that getting rid of Sadaam was worth a few lives and some resources but we could have easily done that in a few months (which we essentially did) WITHOUT bombing the crap out of their country. Then we could have said we'll stay if you want us to or we will withdraw back to Kuwait and truthfully proclaimed "Mission Accomplished". But NOOOOOO (Rumsfeld mr never had video games as a child but now I have a whole army to play with) blew the crap out of all the their infrastructure with MSM sponsored (the war brought to you by Viagra!!) embedded journalists reporting on the victorious liberators. Now over 2 years later what do we have a QUAGMIRE that makes Vietnam look like childs play. Less electricity, water, oil exports, stability. More deaths both US and Iraqi, billions of US taxpayers dollars wasted (a mere few million could have gone to my state Arizona to help with border issues) and for what!! Cocked eyed propaganda that fighting terrorists "over there" will keep us safe? Sadaam and Bin Forgotten in Bed together? (At least they were not seen holding hands like the Saudi prince and his "bitch"!) What kind of insane logic is this??? And why are so many Americans continuing to be hoodwinked by these idiots? Maybe Lincoln was wrong, he should have said " YOU CAN ALWAYS FOOL JUST ENOUGH PEOPLE WITH JUST THE RIGHT LIES TO SAY IN OFFICE".

David I implore you to use the power of your coalition to join with Moveon and any others to make the Sept 24 protest the biggest anti-war demonstration the world has ever seen. Please try to coordinate with all the other antiwar groups in other countries of the world. Remember how much protesting was done overseas in the run-up to the invasion that was barely even mentioned over here? Those people will come out of the woodwork to help and you know that the MSM will have a field day with this as they love a big story. Who cares whether they believe in our cause, the important thing is that they report it. Trust me as one who was on the street in 1969 the issues ( ie the DSM) have helped wake up a lot of sleeping Democrats but the only way the lemmings following George Bush will ever change their minds is by what they see on Fox news. If they see millions of people demonstrating on Sept 24th maybe then they will wake up and say what the f** is going on and then maybe enough of them will join us to fight out the battle in Congress to get rid of these mf**ers. IMPEACHMENT is the only way we are going to get rid of them. IMPEACHMENT IS THE ONLY ANSWER!!! IMPEACH NOW!!

I sincerely believe that if we don't take advantage of this situation in the next 30-45 days(don't forget the Fitzgerald investigation)they will win, we will have to bend over and take-it-you-know-where, and PNAC will cement victory with the declaration of martial law (to get of all the civil unrest) and all of Cindy's efforts(as some commentators are suggesting) will just fade away. As for me I think I will begin looking for property in Mexico or some other latin American country where at least you know where your dictator stands

Bill Keyes

Quote from article

"There is grave reason to doubt that Islam and democracy (at least the Western version based on liberty and equality) are compatible. But that is an argument for another day. The argument for today is: the American people were never asked whether they would commit their forces to overseas hostilities for the purpose of turning Iraq into a democracy (we committed them (a) to topple a terror-abetting tyrant who was credibly thought both to have and to covet weapons of mass destruction, and (b) to kill or capture jihadists who posed a danger to American national security). I doubt they would have agreed to wage war for the purpose of establishing democracy. Like most Americans, I would like to see Iraq be an authentic democracy – just as I would like to see Iran, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, etc. be authentic democracies. But I would not sacrifice American lives to make it so."

I agree, it would be great if the protests the weekend of Sept 24 could be organized by a concerted effort of all the groups so that we can have an overwhelming show of support to end the war. The way the vigils of Aug 17 were organized so quickly and resulted in such a large turnout was phenomenal.

I was also wondering if any group is doing anything to counter the Freedom March on Sept 11 that is being organized by Rumsfeld. How can they use tax money to do this? How can they be allowed to continue to imply that the war in Iraq is justified by Sept 11?

Bush wanted to be known as a 'war president. He invented , propagated and laid groundwork here so he could accomplish Just exactly That for himself and his Regime. Iraq is only one other stepping stone on their way towards world domination. Positively, he does NOT want this "war he started on a bunch of fabricated lies, to End. His desire is that it continue. He was not expecting opposition to be raised , or that his Lies would come out ...nor was he expecting the Iraqi people to put up much opposition. After all, 'This maneuver was not instigated against the Iraqi peoples..per se. but merely to Remove that Horrible Dictator Ruler they Had ! sic) ...Wrong.... That was a pretext used simply to get this countrys` Military fully involved and intrenched there.. Next Stepping stone ...Syria ? Egypt > Iran ? Your guess is as good as the next one. His design will fail. Taking Democracy to The Muslims is like Them attempting to Bring Islam to US...and force-feeding the Koran down our throats. Do you think WE would sit still for That to happen to Our Country ? Then by the same token, Whatever possessed This Bush Regime to Believe There would be acceptance to an invasion ( Preemptive at that) without Fighting back... tooth and nail, to repel our presence from Their Land ? Poor fore planning... or No amount of planning would have prevented this 'undertaking " from becoming a disaster, from start to finish. " Staying the Course, blah, blah' is simple and plain, empty retoric that is being fed to this country...So We will not Demand our Service men and women who have been put in harms `way .. to be Brought Home. Where is Our Congress in all this ? Wrong is wrong, and to Continue along this present, ill-fated nothing but Disaster for our Country. Too many people have died because of his lies and deceit. Impeach this president..and Expose All of his lies..and All who Propped him up in them . NOW. Nevermind the 'title' Republican...or Democrat... Or Whatever. Do the Right thing. Take a stand to turn this country back to the People where it Belongs. And to Be a strong Country that is worthy of being respected..(the way it Used to be.) Military might does not make us Worthy of Respect. Think about this...and ACT. ( YOU Representatives of the people who Trusted you to do just That when they elected you.) Don`t continue in your silence..and ineptitude because you are afraid of the consequences from the neo-cons who Might try to destroy you. Act..Before it is too late. Do your Job . Demand Answers from this Guvmt. Now. V G F

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