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AP: "Core group Keeps Anti-war Protest Running"


ANGELA K. BROWN
Associated Press

CRAWFORD, Texas - Thousands of war protesters have come and gone since a grieving mother started camping off the road leading to President Bush's ranch three weeks ago, from business executives to young parents and their children spending a few hours or days for the cause.

But for more than a dozen people, their home for much of the sweltering month has been the makeshift campsite of tents and portable toilets in ditches and anti-war banners hanging from trees.

"It's staggering what's happened," said camp leader Ann Wright, who resigned her post as a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia in 2003 in protest of the war with Iraq. "I would say between 8,000 and 10,000 people have wandered in and out since the beginning. Every single day you never know what's going to come up."

Wright, 59, was among dozens at the Veterans for Peace convention in Dallas who went to Crawford Aug. 6, the day after Cindy Sheehan spoke at the venue and announced her plans to descend on the president's adopted hometown and demand answers about the war that claimed her son Casey's life.

Wright and others had to return to the convention that night, but she went back to Crawford on Aug. 7 and hasn't left. The former Army colonel has become the "camp commander," sleeping in a tent each night and overseeing daily operations as the camp has grown to about a hundred each day, up to 1,000 on weekends.

Wright lives in Honolulu and has spent much of her time speaking to groups since she resigned her government post, but she never expected to be away from home this long. She only brought a few outfits, which she washes at the Crawford Peace House a few miles away in town. That's where she takes showers almost every day, too.

"Handi Wipes are great," she said, smiling.

Tammara Rosenleaf, 47, also was at the Veterans for Peace convention and joined the Crawford protest a couple of days later, after going home to pay rent and other bills.

Rosenleaf had just moved to Belton, near Fort Hood where her husband was recently stationed, to spend time with him before he is deployed to Iraq in November.

"People ask how can I justify not spending this time with him, but I can hardly justify not doing it if my being here can keep him from having to go," Rosenleaf said Friday. "He's proud of me and says this is where I need to be."

Rosenleaf's job search has slowed a bit, but she's been able to apply for some jobs online during down time at the protest camp. Friends gave her money for her rental car and to board her two dogs in a kennel.

Attorney Buddy Spell, 48, left his criminal defense practice in Franklinton, La., to be part of the demonstration, making sure protesters' First Amendment and civil rights are not violated.

Spell and his wife, Annie, also his law partner, have spent each Wednesday through Sunday at the Crawford camp, sleeping in a tent, while their paralegal runs the office. Spell, who already knew Sheehan, has protested for other causes but not for this long.

"The judges and district attorney have been very supportive - not necessarily about what we're doing but about my right to be here," Spell said.

More than a dozen relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq have stayed at the camp or at the Crawford Peace House several days at a time, leaving their jobs and families.

Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., said the protest will end Wednesday. She had vowed to remain until the end of the month, coinciding with Bush's ranch vacation.

Bush has said he appreciates Sheehan's right to protest and understands her anguish but will not change his schedule to meet with her. His vacation is to end Sept. 2.

Sheehan and other grieving families met with Bush about two months after her son died last year, before she became a vocal opponent of the war.

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To Ann Wright, Tammara Rosenleaf, Buddy and Annie Spell, soldiers' relatives and other "core group" members who have dedicated your time and yourselves to sustaining the Camp Casey phenomenon through these past three weeks: We owe you more than can ever be repaid with our simple thanks.

Yours is the selfless spirit and sacrifice that made America what it once was and can be again: a true beacon of freedom and hope for the world. May God bless you and your shining efforts for peace.

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