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Blogging in the Crawford Heat
By David Swanson
I came to Crawford today, and it's a little different from DC in several ways, but mostly it's hotter. I've been to both Camp Caseys, and am blogging this from the cool of the Crawford Peace House. At Camp Casey 1, I went across the road and talked to the half-dozen pro-war protesters. (There are police in the middle who have declared that there must be no interaction, but I didn't ask their permission.) I asked the pro-warers what they would tell Cindy Sheehan her son died for. Some of them couldn't come up with any reason for the war. A couple of them came up with this: Saddam Hussein would not have allowed Cindy Sheehan to protest on his road, and the war is being fought to protect that right in the US.
That's it. That was the best they could do. I didn't ask them what other countries we should attack to protect such rights, even as the Bush administration chips away at such rights. I didn't ask how bombing countries that lack rights protects rights in countries that don't. I felt I'd strained them enough. It seemed clear they hadn't been asked before to justify the war. When I left to drive back here, a newscaster from Channel 25 in Waco was putting on lipstick in her van, preparing to report the news.
The pro-war folks were friendly, as are the residents of Crawford (probably all 705 of them) and the surrounding area. But the inhabitants of Camp Casey are like a loving family. They're welcoming of everyone and tolerant even of diverse opinions on the war. At Camp Casey 2 today, long after the morning's big press conference was over, around 100 or 150 people hung around, mostly talking about the war. Many have inspiring stories about how they got here. Some canceled major plans to come. Some came after hearing another's story on the radio, and then met that other person here.
I've met today dozens of people I'd only known by voice and Email. Almost every person here who didn't know me, wanted to hug me when someone told them I worked on AfterDowningStreet.org. It's quite amazing to realize that virtually every person in the middle of this hot Texas field has gotten their news on the internet. In fact, you can get on the internet and plug into electricity at Camp Casey 2. The wireless connection went down today (I blame Karl Rove), but will no doubt be fixed. There's also free food, free drinks (non-alcoholic), free medical care, and free solidarity with people from all over this country who support Cindy's demand to speak with Bush.
Barbara Cummings, who came from San Diego and is managing parking at the Peace House, is full of good stories. Her son, a Republican, recently came around to opposing the war, saying that he had to place right-or-wrong above politics. Barbara also spotted a man leaning over his pickup truck crying, near the Peace House. He told her that when he'd gone out to Camp Casey he'd fallen on his knees and realized that he would have to go home to Dallas and tell his colleagues and friends and wife to oppose the war. He was composing himself before coming into the Peace House to make a large donation.
The largest presence at Camp Casey is of military families and veterans. At the press conference this morning, which I arrived too late for, Cindy introduced newly arrived families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Ann Wright, the career diplomat who resigned over the war, has been managing Camp Casey from the get go. She described this morning's events to me while being constantly interrupted with cell phone calls about where people could camp, how many tables were needed, food, crosses, messages…. She was also keeping a constant eye out for people hanging new banners or promoting new agendas. Today a man walked out the long road to Camp Casey 2 carrying a full-sized cross. Unlike Jesus, he didn't have strong opinions on things and said he was apolitical. The other day a woman showed up from PETA wearing nothing but four lettuce leaves.
Today's press conference was focused on the Eye's Wide Open campaign of the American Friends Service Committee. They brought 50 pairs of boots of soldiers killed in Iraq, including the boots of Casey Sheehan. The boots are displayed beside crosses in front of the tent of Camp Casey 2. There are also still crosses along the road at Camp Casey 1.
Members of the "mainstream" media are in bad graces at Camp Casey at the moment, because they've trampled on the crosses. They did so last night, and again today. Last night, after Jeff Keys played Taps, Cindy knelt down beside a cross to place flowers. Members of the media, who have been so relaxed about covering the lies that sent Casey Sheehan to his death, didn't let the crosses of other soldiers stop them from hurrying to get a good shot of Cindy.
"Everyone was horrified," Ann said, who noted that there are Iraq War veterans here with all the signs of post traumatic stress syndrome. This morning, after the press conference, Cindy led a mother named Melanie, and her baby, to a cross, and the media did it again.
New arrivals continued to show up today at Camp Casey 2, and so did two more boxes of boots. In fact, you can send supplies and best wishes directly there to the following address: Peace Camp #2, Secret Service Site #2, Crawford, Texas.
The 800 crosses were brought by Arlington West, and Ann said that one of the people who brought them was coming back. I met numerous people today who have traveled long distances more than once to get here. "Once you've been here, you can't stay away," says Ann.
And a lot of people are expected back, along with newcomers, this weekend. Last Saturday there were 1,000 people, and last Sunday about 800. Everyone expects a larger crowd this weekend. And the pro-war folks claim they'll have a big crowd too.
"We want big crowds," Ann said. "It will be miserable but wonderful. Everyone ought to endure a little misery, just like our troops are doing in Iraq. Physically you'll be miserable, but emotionally you'll be at the highest point." – as Ann clearly is, herself. She's amazed by the efforts people have made to come. Four women from Monterey, California, came after their community raised the money to send them. Another told a taxi driver she was coming here, and he got out of the cab and gave her a kiss.
The one guy who hasn't been around is Bush, who flew off to Utah and Idaho. He can't get in or out of his ranch by land when he comes back, because both entrances have become protest camps. He can travel by helicopter though. Ann said there was also a helicopter landing area at Camp Casey 2 in case Bush wanted to use it, and that he's invited to the BBQ on Saturday. "We're good neighbors," she said. "He hasn't even sent us a cup of lemonade. We've been waiting."
A new small tent was set up today next to the enormous one at Camp Casey 2. It will serve as a base for organizations that have joined this effort but are not the central focus of it. The focus, of course, is on veterans and military families who want answers from Bush about why this war was fought.
Ann Wright, a career diplomat, said "Every diplomatic skill I have ever had has come into use," in the work of including disparate groups and a range of issues without diluting the powerful focus on Cindy's demand. "But it's been wonderful," she said. "Everyone is here because they support this woman's action and want this war to end."
Ann and I had to stop chatting when the ice truck arrived.
I wanted to jump in the swimming hole in Crawford, but never made it, because I went back over to Camp Casey 1 and talked to the two groups on two sides of a road and two sides of a war.
On the pro-war side, I spoke to a woman named Betty Grant. She said her grandson was headed for Iraq next February. (Not if we end the war first!) "I'm trying to show that we're proud," she said. "I hope to make him as proud of me as I am of him."
Grant said that Bush has a job to do and should not take time to meet with Sheehan. She said she was sympathetic with Cindy for her loss, but wondered "where would we be today if people had her attitude when Hitler was around?"
Grant said, "My Granddaddy's generation would have known how to handle [Sheehan's protest]." I asked her to be more explicit, and she said "Well, they wouldn't have made the president go talk to her."
A man to Grant's right jumped into the conversation uninvited to say "My brother is over there now." He pointed to his brother's framed photo hanging on the wire fence. The man's name was Steve Silvas of Temple, Texas, and his brother Sandy Silvas.
Steve said he'd gotten an Email from his brother last night saying that morale was high among his troops. He'd already asked his brother's permission to display his photo and tell his story. His brother, he said, had told him to do it as close as possible to the anti-war protesters, and to "make sure they spell my name right."
Sandy Silvas, Steve said, is a Sergeant First Class at Forward Operation Base War Horse, and has been in Iraq since Thanksgiving.
I asked Steve Silvas what he would tell Cindy Sheehan her son died for. He hesitated, and then said "I would tell her I support the President."
I asked again what reason he would give for the war that Casey Sheehan died in. "He knew what he was getting himself in for," Silvas said.
Grant said, "I would ask her what her son would say."
"Or, what the people in his unit would say," added Silvas.
Then Silva asked me whether, if Cindy were an Iraqi mother whose son had died, anyone would care. I replied that the media clearly would not, since so many thousands of Iraqi sons had been killed. But he missed my point, as I had missed his. He went on:
"Would Saddam have talked to her? Would she have been allowed to camp out in front of his palace? There are rights we take for granted. That's the reason we're over there. If you can't support the troops, how can you call yourself an American?"
But, Silvas added, "I support their right to do what they're doing.