By Jeff Norman
U.S. Tour of Duty
Now that I'm in Crawford, I realize the situation here is even more remarkable than what I had been hearing and reading. In terms of scope, energy, and organization, Cindy Sheehan and her supporters are making history.
I arrived in Austin yesterday afternoon at about the same time as Gold Star mom Karen Merideth did, so we drove to Crawford together. Our first stop in President Bush's hometown was the Crawford Peace House, which is adorned with a multitude of anti-war signs that can't be missed by anyone who drives by. Gold Star brother Dante Zappala picked us up and took us past Camp Casey I (the infamous ditch) to Camp Casey II on a ranch owned by the cousin of a man who fired a shotgun last week in a manner nobody interpreted as inviting. On the way we saw various pro-Bush signs on residential and commercial properties. The most prominent and most mixed message is across the street from the Peace House at a gift shop dominated by Bush memorabilia called the Yellow Rose. Its propietor has placed pro-war slogans on a monument with the ten commandments, including, of course, "Thou shalt not kill."
By now most people have heard that Camp Casey II is only a mile away from Bush's highway, but what's even better is that a huge tent with a raised stage and impressive sound system have been installed just a few feet away from a Secret Service checkpoint. I wonder how the officers there feel about listening to a relentless barrage of criticism directed at the man whom they are guarding. Maybe I will ask them.
I said a quick hi to Joan Baez backstage before she performed a well-received 30-minute solo acoustic set for the crowd of families, veterans, and supporters gathered in the tent. When she had trouble seeing her lyric sheet, she quipped, "At least I want to read." Although the audience laughed at her reference to Bush's notorious aversion to the printed word, Baez explained that since she found out about the president's traumatic childhood, she generally refrains from mocking him. Generally.
After Baez's performance, U.S. Tour of Duty's own Jeff Key played "Taps" on his bugal at the edge of the street, immediately adjacent to hundreds of crosses that have been erected in memory of our fallen soldiers. The entire audience momentarily left the tent to gather around him, with Baez standing at Jeff's side. Baez, who's life has been devoted to anti-war activism nearly as much as it has been devoted to music, described the brief ceremony as one of the most moving experiences of her life.
The effort to engage Americans in a meaningful discussion about the war in Iraq is expanding throughout Texas and elsewhere, starting tonight in Dallas. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, whose credibility is now more irrefutable than ever, is flying in to support the military families, and to remind us all of a very simple but important fact: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Jeff Key (Iraq Veterans Against the War) and Karen Merideth (Gold Star Families for Peace) will also speak, and slam poet Genevieve Van Cleve - who opened for Baez last night at Camp Casey - will deliver a spoken word performance. "Caught in the Crossfire," an extraordinary 16-minute film by Mark Manning about the U.S. bombardment of Falluja, will be screened. This U.S. Tour of Duty event will begin at 7:00 PM, and will be held at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center on the campus of SMU. Admission is free, but donations to U.S. Tour of Duty will be accepted at the venue and online at www.ustourofduty.org .