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A Hero's Welcome


Anti-war Activists Greeted Heartily
The Capital Times
September 5th, 2005
By Samara Kalk Derby

Had Cindy Sheehan been with them, they might have needed Camp Randall Stadium.

As it was, a group of eight anti-war activists aligned with Sheehan drew more than 800 people to the Barrymore Theatre Sunday night, filling it to capacity, for a Bring Them Home Now Tour.

The standing ovations began before the visiting activists even took the stage.

When popular jazz musician Tony Castaneda, whose sextet warmed up the audience and who is a member of Military Families Speak Out, called for bringing down "this corrupt, murderous, lying, inept George Bush administration," the crowd was on its feet cheering in a show of solidarity that would be repeated dozens of times throughout the evening.

The delegation received a hero's welcome.

The activists are part of a movement that started when Sheehan, whose soldier son Casey Sheehan was killed in the Iraq war, set up camp outside of President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in a futile effort to get the vacationing president to come out and speak with her.

Since her crusade began in August, Sheehan has become a household name, jump-starting a flagging peace movement. A black and white banner beneath the Barrymore stage pleaded: "Bush, talk to Cindy."

Three buses left "Camp Casey" Wednesday and will reunite Sept. 24.at an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. Sheehan herself is traveling on a bus touring Southern states.

Karen Meredith of Mountain View, Calif., stood in for Sheehan. Her only child, Lt. Ken Ballard, 26, was killed in Najaf, Iraq, a year ago.

"Get them out of there, get an exit plan and get them to New Orleans where they are needed badly," she said about the country's citizen soldiers, many of whom are in National Guard units that otherwise would have been available to respond to Hurricane Katrina, which obliterated much of the Gulf Coast.

"It is patriotic to hold our government responsible," Meredith said.

Besides the emotional grief the war has wrought, Meredith delineated its financial toll: It has cost the federal government $192 billion, Wisconsin $3.2 billion and the city of Madison $110 million, she said.

As the country suffered war fatigue, one mother dared to ask the president "Why?" Meredith said. "Cindy Sheehan put the war back on the front page where it belongs."

Patrick Resta of Philadelphia was one of two Iraq war veterans traveling with the group.

Resta said President Bush was unprepared for Sept. 11, he was unprepared for the war in Iraq, and he was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina.

"Well, three strikes and you're out!" he shouted, to loud applause.

"We're not wanted in Iraq, and if we were I can assure you Iraqis would be getting interviewed on Fox News every five minutes," said Resta, a medic with the North Carolina Army National Guard, who served in Iraq the better part of last year.

Madison was the fifth stop for the traveling activists. The three-bus tour plans to visit 42 cities in 26 states.

Tour member Al Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was the first Pennsylvania National Guardsman to die in combat since World War II, urged the crowd to write letters to congressional representatives and talk to neighbors.

Then he caught himself.

"We're in Madison. I don't know if you have many neighbors who disagree with you."

E-mail: skalk@madison.com

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