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Home on the range
A visit to Camp Casey, where one mother has set off a vibe that tempers even the most rabid Iraq-war backer

CRAWFORD, TEXAS — There’s mercy in the August breeze in Crawford. It brings relief from the ever-present malevolent heat and humidity at Camp Casey, the makeshift settlement named in honor of Cindy Sheehan’s son, whose life is among the thousands that have been wasted in George W. Bush’s politically pornographic Iraq war/occupation.

Crawford was the last place I ever expected to find a sense of community. I had no interest in visiting the vacation retreats of evil nincompoops. Having just returned from the Voting Rights March in Atlanta, I was plum (peach?) tuckered out. But my absolute abhorrence of the war prompted me to accept Randi Rhodes’s request that I travel to this particular end of the earth as the Camp Casey correspondent for her Air America Radio show.

I was to go for only a few days, but like many US military personnel I found myself pressed into extended service in a stop-loss program. In this case the loss that needed stopping was that of thousands of lives in Iraq. As tough as it is on the ground in Crawford, I’d be much more uncomfortable anyplace else. When you get to know Cindy and other Gold Star Families for Peace, abandoning them to the untender mercilessness of the fire ants, scorpions, water moccasins, rattlers, and Bush functionaries that slither about the president’s prairie playground becomes an unattractive option.

Besides, I haven’t had this much fun in years. Thanks to Mrs. Sheehan, some exceedingly friendly enzymes have been introduced into the Belly of the Beast. When you arrive in Crawford, right before the main railroad crossing where the gate comes down several times a day to allow the speedy passage of freight trains hauling bales of war cash to Houston, you cannot miss the Crawford Peace House. The CPH, opened by Texas peace activists on Easter Sunday 2003, is the nerve center of the staging operation for Camp Casey, which is seven miles farther into the rolling hills. At these two locations, the aforementioned Gold Star families and other organizations, such as Veterans for Peace, Iraqi Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out, coalesce with hundreds of people from across Texas and every state in the union, as well as from Japan, Australia, Iraq, and several European nations. Collectively, they are taking what is becoming the most fabled stand in these parts since the Alamo.

If Fox News had had a turnout as large and thoughtful as this one a few months back in Florida, the Terri Schiavo protest would have looked like Woodstock. The corporate media have minimized Cindy’s large crowds while somehow implying that Bush’s supporters are nearly as prevalent. The fact is that pro-war types have been consistently outnumbered by at least 10 to one, and that’s only during peak times when a few dozen of them arrive simultaneously. Generally they only last long enough to appear on TV.

On Friday, August 11, a reactionary radio blabber tried to sponsor sending several buses of Dallas Metroplex Bush supporters to Crawford. He was able to fill only one. In the most Republican major city in the nation, in the president’s home state, barely enough people could be mustered to fill one bus. Even Cindy would be hard-pressed to make a more compelling argument about the lack of popular support for this war.

On Saturday, several Bush backers were drawn to the most compelling feature of Texas’s newest frontier settlement — several hundred white roadside crosses bearing the names of American soldiers slain in Iraq, a project called Arlington West sponsored by Veterans for Peace. At first they thought they’d show up the protesters by driving American flags into the ground next to the crosses, but American flags were already distributed throughout. Bush’s pilgrims were greeted with a polite welcome and encouraged to respectfully place their flags in appropriate spots. As they read the names and the real human cost of the war hit them, several were reduced to tears. The liberal residents at Camp Casey did what came naturally — they comforted the afflicted. And if minds weren’t changed, seeds of doubt were planted.

Maybe these people will think twice the next time they hear the inane and scurrilous charges the Bush attack machine levels at Sheehan with the same unconscionable malice it’s employed against everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Ambassador Joe Wilson. As ever, the target of its venom is guilty of nothing more than standing for truth. But with the machine’s most rabid attack dog, Karl Rove, busy fighting off Traitorgate, this particular target — Cindy Sheehan, a mother of a soldier slain in a war that the nation suddenly sees as misguided and futile — has become Crawford’s Teflon Resident.

When Sheehan first arrived in town to demand that Bush articulate the "noble cause" he claims her son and more than 1800 Americans have died for, he had a perfect chance to unleash his doctrine of pre-emption — effectively, this time: a quick meeting with her would have defused the situation. Instead he chose to use his Crawford neighbors as human shields behind which he rides bikes, clears brush, and covers up scandals. In the process, he did once again what he does best: he committed a historic blunder.

He compounded his error when he drove past Camp Casey in a motorcade for the one reason he found compelling enough to come within shouting distance of the protest — money. Bush whizzed by Cindy, the Gold Star families, and the crosses in a limousine with enough armor to safely hold a road rally in Fallujah. After raising two million dollars for the cash-strapped Republican Party, back he came, once again failing to stop and meet with Cindy.

Bush has always wielded Crawford as a weapon for punishing the press corps — certain that the anus of the Bible Belt is a place that only he and a few tough Texans could long withstand. But while he’s lollygagged at his air-conditioned ranch during a vacation so long that it really should be called a sabbatical, Cindy Sheehan and hundreds of dedicated activists have not just survived the searing temperatures and creature discomforts, they have thrived on them. In the process they have forced George W. Bush and his Republican cohorts to make the ludicrous case that motherhood is somehow a dangerous feminist plot. And now the whole world will watch until August 31, when Bush leaves and Camp Casey’s residents go back to the place its namesake and so many others should never have left: home.

Barry Crimmins can be reached at bfcrim@barrycrimmins.com.

Issue Date: Agusut 19 - 25, 2005
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