On The Road With Cindy Sheehan





This is my first demonstration ever. I am just sick of this war,” a 35-year-old
African American woman said. She had taken a train from Montclair, New
Jersey to Washington, DC to join Cindy Sheehan and 300 others at Arlington
National Cemetery for a walk to the House of Representatives, there to
persuade House Judiciary Committee member John Conyers, a long-time ally,
to enter a motion for the impeachment of George Bush. 


“It’s my first demonstration, too,” said a middle-aged white man. “I’m
so fed up, as soon as I heard about it I bought a ticket to DC.” He had
just arrived by train from Buffalo. 



This was July 23, the climax of a caravan that began in Crawford, Texas
on July 10, making its way from town to town, greeted by supporters, meeting
with local peace groups, and appearing at rallies demanding accountability
and calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. This was the day for
a scheduled meeting with John Conyers and it was also the deadline that
Sheehan had given for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to introduce a
motion to impeach, or face Sheehan in the November 2008 elections. 



The hastily assembled caravan was called a Journey for Humanity. The caravan,
comprising 5 to 6 cars and 20 to 25 people, traveled east via New Orleans,
then north, stopping at motels and supporters’ homes. We would pull into
a town, often just in time for a rally organized by local supporters. Hecklers
were a feature at most of these rallies and maintain a presence at many
of Sheehan’s public appearances. They are physically threatening and protection
for the caravan by local police varied from town to town. 



I joined the caravan in Charlotte, North Carolina, hub of the NASCAR industry,
the second largest banking center in the U.S. (after New York), and birthplace
of Billy Graham. The thugs were so threatening there that Sheehan decided
not to speak, which caused them to gloat (on the Internet) about their
victory, and call for massive counter-demonstrations at other stops on
our itinerary. Interestingly, for the rest of the journey they weren’t
able to muster more than 20, usually many fewer. 



Besides Sheehan, I was privileged to travel with other wonderful people
on the caravan, most of whom had spent time with her at Camp Casey, including
Carlos Arredondo, whose Marine son Alex was killed in Iraq and who drives
around the country in a pickup truck with a flag-draped coffin in the bed,
his son’s photo and uniform (and the Marine prayer) hanging from the back,
and an American flag flying over the camper shell with the words “My son
KIA Iraq” written on the side. 



When the Marines came to inform Carlos of his son’s death, he strode out
to their car, poured gasoline over the seats, then torched the car, burning
himself severely. On his release from the hospital he began his odyssey.
On the highway, drivers linger behind the shrine to absorb what they’re
seeing. Some pull up and ask if they may take a picture, or to make a sign
of sympathy and solidarity. 



When the caravan would stop for the night, in a private ceremony, Arredondo
would fold the flag and put away his son’s uniform and picture. In the
morning, before resuming the journey, with equal solemnity and tenderness
he would unfold the flag over the coffin, spread out the uniform and picture
of his son, and open the gate to the sanctuary. 



When the caravan reached Manhattan, I was riding with Arredondo. Near Times
Square traffic was moving slowly and we saw a cop standing in the parking
lane. Arredondo signaled me to roll down the window and leaned over. 


“How are you, officer? I want to thank you for your work,” he said with
heartfelt sincerity. 



“What?” 


“Thank you for your service. We remember 9/11.” 



“I’m glad somebody does.” Pause. “You lost a son in Iraq? Where?” 


“Najaf.” 



“I was in Najaf. When was he killed?” 



“August 25, 2004.” 


“I was there then.” 



“He was Marine from Camp Pendleton with the 1st Expedition, the Raiders.” 


“I was with the Marines, too, from Camp Lejeune.” 



He reached into the truck and shook Arredondo’s hand. 


“I’m sorry about your son.” 



Another fellow traveler was Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of the
Hip Hop Caucus in Washington, DC, a reserve Air Force officer, former chaplain
at Arlington Cemetery, and veteran of the Iraq war who faces a discharge
for “behavior inconsistent with interests of national security.” At the
same time he has been threatened with being sent back to Iraq. Yearwood
says, “This is the lunch counter moment of the 21st century…a time when
we the people can end racism, poverty, and war.” 


In July we reached the House Office Building where Sheehan, the Rev. Yearwood,
and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern were to meet with Rep. Conyers. More
than 300 people lined the halls outside Conyers’s office. After introductions
and opening statements, Conyers told the delegation, “If I introduce a
motion to impeach, Fox News will laugh at me.” 



“Who cares what Fox News thinks?” Sheehan returned. 


“Wait until after the election, when we have a Democrat in the White House.” 



“How many soldiers, how many Iraqis, will die before then?” she asked. 


Conyers declined to introduce a motion for impeachment. In response, Sheehan
and her companions, as well as 40 people in the hall, staged a sit-in and
were arrested. 



As she was being led away in handcuffs, Sheehan announced to the crowd
and to the press that in the next election she would challenge Nancy Pelosi
for her House seat representing California’s 8th District, which includes
most of San Francisco. 



When everyone was accounted for and out of jail, the caravan headed north.
After a large, enthusiastic reception in Allentown, Pennsylvania, this
chapter of our journey ended on July 31 with a small gathering under threatening
clouds in New York’s Central Park. Two days before, Sheehan had traveled
out to Randall’s Island for a rock concert with the band Rage Against The
Machine. She said: “Before Casey was killed, I did not rage against the
machine that has been grinding up our soldiers and murderously oppressing
other populations for generations…Rage, rage, rage against that machine. 



“I will be formally announcing my Independent candidacy for Congress in
San Francisco on August 6, which besides being the day the machine dropped
a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, is the two year anniversary of the day we
went to Crawford, Texas, and established Camp Casey.” 



It took another three days. On August 9, anniversary of the atomic bombing
of Nagasaki, at a news conference at San Francisco’s Presidio with Daniel
Ellsberg beside her, Cindy Sheehan formally issued her challenge to Nancy
Pelosi. 


Calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, for universal
health care, for affordable college available to all who want it, and for
refining the ethics of a corrupt Administration and Congress, she dedicated
her candidacy “to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan…to my children and
unborn grandchildren and all the children of the world…and to my hero,
Casey, who always stood up for what he believed in, even if it wasn’t popular.” 



Z 



Paul Bloom is a long-time activist for social justice.