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About Cindy Sheehan
Introduction of Cindy Sheehan, Recipient of Pacifica Radio's Unvarnished Truth Award
By David Swanson
I came to know Cindy Sheehan in May, and – like most people – I immediately loved her. She is a very friendly and loving person, and you cannot work on a project with her without being constantly reminded of what it is all about, how important it is, how right it is.
Cindy does not talk about peace movement strategy as if she were working on any old project. She talks about the urgent need to end the vile crimes of the greedy bastards who sent her son to die so that they could grow rich on his flesh and blood. This is Cindy's language that I am repeating.
Cindy's directness is – for many people -- not off-putting when she speaks it, because it is so recognizably honest. She presents her personal story and her analysis of the war with absolutely no fear. She gives us, in fact, the truth without varnish. And last month she proved that even the corporate media can be attracted to such confrontational truth in a way that it never is attracted to the sort of moderate muddle more often counseled by PR pros and political advisors.
Early on during her protest in Texas, Cindy had a reporter tell her that her story was only taking off because it was a slow news week. She asked whether they thought two dozen American kids dying in Iraq was slow news. "Well, you know what I mean," came the response. "No, I don't," said Cindy. And she didn't, and she didn't want to learn to.
Cindy's son, Casey, was killed on April 4, the same date on which the person Cindy quotes more than any other was assassinated: Martin Luther King, Jr. Like King, Cindy asks us to refuse to be comfortable with accepted and respectable crimes against humanity. Cindy does not ask politely why the war isn't run better. She asks why Bush does not encourage his daughters to go.
The first place I heard Cindy give a speech was at the University of DC on June 3rd. She said then, that while 5 Republicans had voted for Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's amendment calling for an exit strategy, 40 percent of the Democrats in the House had not. Woolsey asked one why they didn't vote with her, Cindy said, and they told her that they voted 'No' out of respect for those (Americans) who had died.
"That's the talk of the bastards who got us into this war," Cindy said. Cindy spoke calmly and deliberately, but always referred to the president as "the lying bastard."
"The evidence is overwhelming," she said, "that the lying bastard lied about the justification for invading Iraq. Now that the smoking gun is burning in our hands, we need a vote for articles of impeachment."
We still don't have that, but on June 16th, Congressman John Conyers held hearings, and we activists held a rally at the White House to call attention to the Downing Street Memo, to which Cindy was referring. One of the four witnesses to testify at that hearing was Cindy Sheehan. She spoke powerfully of how it felt to see clear evidence that Bush had lied about the reasons he sent her son to die.
That moment in mid-June was a high-point in media coverage of questioning of Bush's war lies, but it didn't come anywhere near what we dreamed of. It didn't approach the sort of saturation coverage that is generally reserved for a Michael Jackson trial or a missing teenage white girl. Action progressed in Congress, but the media turned away. The Washington Post published an article mocking Congressman Conyers' hearings and editorialized that the Downing Street Memo showed nothing new. Thousands of people Emailed and phoned to complain, and some held a protest at the Post's offices. The Post reversed course and printed a front page article. The leader of the protest down on 15th Street was Cindy Sheehan.
Two months later, what we'd all dreamed of happened: an unprecedented progressive breakthrough into the mainstream echo chamber. This came when Cindy decided to walk up to Bush's ranch and try to get herself arrested. This was Cindy's idea. Various organizations that were later accused of manipulating her would have certainly advised against this. She dragged a number of them into clearer opposition to the war, and then produced for them the largest events they'd ever been part of. She drove the agenda, not the other way around. And she and those inspired by her created in Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, a community of activists who returned to their communities around the country ready to work as passionately as Cindy to end this war.
And when the fame came, the only thing Cindy lost was the cursing. She took advice, but she stuck to her guns. And she gracefully handled a flood of unsolicited recommendations and proposals, bitter petty rivalries, right wing smear campaigns, family emergencies, and grueling hours. Through all of this she became the leader of a movement, and did so in a way that few others could have handled. Cindy demanded in a voice loud enough for the nation to hear that the war end immediately. And Cindy is able to do this without seeming irrationally impatient: she makes clear that she does not want a single additional mother to go through what she has.
While working the corporate media, Cindy has never stopped criticizing it, and has never dropped her focus on the value of independent and progressive media on the radio and internet. Cindy's combative approach has forced the anti-war movement onto the radar of major media conglomerates that profit from war. If they give honest coverage to the events of this coming weekend, much of the credit for that must go to Cindy Sheehan.