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Portrait of Cindy Sheehan also a Picture of Democracy

Published on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 by the Portland Press Herald (Maine)
By Victoria Mares-Hershey

Maine artist Robert Shetterly, creator of the "Americans Who Tell The Truth" portrait series, has started a painting of Cindy Sheehan.
His analysis of getting to the truth in painting a portrait sounds much like getting to the truth of what a democracy really looks and feels like.

Click above for full-size version.
Cindy Sheehan © Copyright 2005 by Robert Shetterly.
All rights reserved.

"After one has been painting for awhile, it's not really that difficult to reproduce the correct slope of the eyes, the idiosyncratic architecture of a nose, the subtle topography of that crevice between the nose & the upper lip . . ." he wrote in his online journal.

Words about democracy are easy to reproduce. Among the Bush administration's shape-shifting reasons to be in Iraq is to bring the country freedom and democracy. Last winter's elections in Iraq were sold as a symbolic justification for the war and how close Iraq was getting to democracy.

As the daily Iraqi death tolls continued to rise, and American soldiers were dying faster than ever, the administration worked at convincing all factions to paint an Iraqi democracy by the numbers they were given. But when we got a look last weekend, the Iraqi constitution looked like the foundation for a theocracy.

"The challenge," wrote Shetterly, "is not to accept a likeness that coarsens the individual or caricatures her, that merely is emblematic of the person the way the word 'tree' is emblematic of a real, living particular oak."

Cindy Sheehan looks like democracy. Brash, starkly direct, given to emotional outbursts, rabble-rousing and doing it in the street, she disturbs the people's comfort zone and rationalizations, keeping democracy alive.


Brutally honest, irritatingly persistent, "sugary icing on a cake of steel," as Shetterly described her voice, she camps at the commander in chief's front door and asks him to be accountable. She is not about a democracy as painted by numbers. She is about the democracy that Casey Sheehan signed up to defend.

Politicians, journalists and political analysts have vilified Sheehan as everything close to a mad housewife, hysterical feminist, naïve peacenik and political opportunist, disgracing her country and the memory of her son.

The emotional viciousness of the criticism, even as our soldiers die in a war for Iraqi freedom, gives warning that American women may be sitting in the front of the bus, but it doesn't mean there are not lot of people who would prefer us in the back.

In the count down to the Iraq constitutional deadline, with the Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle Eastern specialist with the CIA and author of "The Islamic Paradox," told America from an NBC news show last week that he would be "thrilled" if the Iraqis developed a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s.

"I mean," this American Middle East specialist said, "women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy," perhaps exposing one of the sources for Bush's failings in Iraq, a willingness to settle for a constitution that gives half the population, Iraqi women, less freedom.

Gerecht's take on democracy damages America's image as a champion of equal justice and civil rights, and plays into the devaluing of a Cindy Sheehan and importance of her questioning, protest and vigil to the survival our democratic system.


As Crawford, Texas, hosted on-going protests against the war or against Cindy Sheehan, the bloodbath in Iraq continued. While talks forging the Iraqi constitution were at critical points, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's convoy was attacked and his two bodyguards killed.

Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and his militia, which conducted pitched battles with American forces last year, fought with the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and attacked offices of Dawa, the party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Leaders continued to be afraid to speak out candidly on the constitutional process under the duress of assassinations around them and the deadly influence of opposing religious leaders.

A cleric like al-Sadr could end up with a seat in the Supreme Court, passing judgment on whether legislation by elected leaders conflicts with Islam, even though he hasn't exhibited an ability to stop battling other clerical leaders in the street and killing Iraqis whose opinions or religious affiliations are not to his liking.

The current draft of the constitution looks a theocracy dressed up in the clothing of democratic rhetoric. The Bush administration calls it progress. Here lives democracy the word, not democracy the life.

How is that Cindy Sheehan, American soldiers and their families and the Iraqi people have paid so dearly to receive so little?

Cindy is a woman holding up a mirror to America and saying, as difficult as it may be, it's time to "tell the truth."

Victoria Mares-Hershey is director of development at Portland West. She also is a member of the Maine Arts Commission and is a founder and the director of the Institute for Practical Democracy.

© 2005 Blethen, Maine Newspapers, Inc

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