Saturday, August 13, 2005
New Jersey Media Group
By SONI SANGHA
Laura Bush lowered the window of her car on Friday, catching a glimpse of the crowd gathered outside the Bush compound in Crawford, Texas.
"She actually had the window opened," said Sue Niederer of Mercer County. "She saw us."
The last time Niederer and the first lady met - last November - Niederer, then a lone protester at a central New Jersey campaign rally, was led away in handcuffs. This time, she was left alone, along with hundreds of others who had joined Cindy Sheehan in a makeshift camp in ditches off a lonely road leading to the Bush home.
Niederer and Sheehan have much in common. Both lost sons in Iraq last year. Both are founding members of anti-war group Gold Star Families for Peace. Both want to make their opposition to the war known.
"This is the reality," Niederer said by phone, describing a memorial that leads from the camp to town. "There are hundreds of crosses and Stars of David for all the soldiers that have been killed. This is what is happening and it has to stop."
Army recruiters first talked to Niederer's son, Seth Dvorin, when he was a junior at South Brunswick High School. Dvorin joined the Army after graduating from college in May 2002. In September 2003 he left for Iraq. He died in February 2004 while trying to disarm a bomb.
Hundreds of protesters were already in Crawford on Friday, with possibly hundreds on the way for a rally today, followed by a caravan to the protest camp.
Yet it all began with the determination of one woman, Sheehan. She had just spoken at a Veterans for Peace convention in Dallas before arriving in Crawford.
"She said she would stay there until [Bush] meets with her," said David Cline, a Jersey City resident and national president of Veterans for Peace.
Members from his group have come from all over the country, said Cline, a Vietnam veteran who arrived on Thursday, along with Niederer.
"Some people think she's a saint," he said of Sheehan, with a chuckle. "She's quite spiritual, determined and very friendly."
Sheehan's son, Casey, joined the Army in 2000. Five days after he arrived in Iraq last year, the 24-year-old was killed in Sadr City.
Sheehan spoke with Bush in June 2004, but she said she wants to meet with him again, in light of information since then discrediting the war rationale that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Bush had said Thursday that he sympathized with Sheehan but believed it would be a mistake to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
On Friday, the president's motorcade passed the growing camp of war protesters outside his ranch without incident. As he headed to and from a political fund-raiser, law enforcement officers blocked two intersecting roads where the demonstrators have camped out all week. Officers required the group to stand behind yellow tape, but no one was asked to leave.
The motorcade didn't stop.
Sheehan, a Vacaville, Calif., resident who has slept under a tent since arriving, held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"
But Niederer, who lives in Pennington, said a car that drove in tandem with the president's obscured the protesters.
On Friday, Bush arrived before noon at a neighbor's ranch for a barbecue that was expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee.
About 230 people attended the fund-raiser at Stan and Kathy Hickey's Broken Spoke Ranch, a 478-acre spread next to Bush's ranch.
All have contributed at least $25,000 to the RNC, and many are "rangers," an honorary campaign title bestowed on those who raised $200,000 or more for Bush, or "pioneers," those who have raised $100,000 or more.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, and a deputy White House chief of staff, talked to Sheehan last week. The meeting, which she called "pointless," lasted 20 minutes, she said. The White House said it lasted 45 minutes.
If White House officials aren't responding to them directly, protesters are getting a tremendous reception from sympathizers.
"I can't believe people all over the country coming here," Niederer said. "You see it at the rallies, but the outpouring here is different. It's regular Joe Schmoes finally saying, 'You know, I have to think twice about this war and what it is costing us.'"
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . The article contains material from The Associated Press.