Sheehan Strategy

The strategy employed by Cindy Sheehan to hold President Bush accountable needs to be examined for its effectiveness.  I believe her effectiveness is rooted in something that Martin Luther King pointed to as an essential feature of any effective non-violent action and that is the use of “confrontation” to make “the invisible visible.”

Recall, first, the Birmingham campaign of 1963. The campaign itself was dubbed Project Confrontation. “Instead of submitting to surreptitious cruelty in thousands of dark jail cells and on countless shadowed street corners,” King strategized, the non-violent resister “would force his oppressor to commit his brutality openly – in the light of day – with the rest of the world looking on.”

The purpose of this type of confrontation, King believed, was to “dramatize the gulf between promise and fulfillment…to make the invisible visible.”

“We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. Injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates…. Non-violence is effective,” King summarized, “if it’s militant enough, it’s really doing something.”

By positioning herself outside the ranch of a vacationing president in the broad light of day, Sheehan is using a non-violent tactic that is both militant and confrontational. She is creating tension and conflict. She is using provocation. She states, “We will force him to answer to us.”  And of course, with the rest of the world looking on, his failure to answer is equally as revealing. 

And so with tens of millions following the story, Bush finds time each day for his trainer but not an hour to respond to a Gold Star Mom’s simple request that he explain to her what he means by the words “noble cause.”   Before a national audience, Bush’s motorcade zooms past Cindy on the way to a 2 million dollar barbeque fundraiser, literally leaving her in the dust. The arrogance of Bush, which is still invisible to many, is thus rendered palpably visible. The invisibility of his contempt for people like Cindy, for dissent – for citizenship, is not only made visible, but the gulf between the Bush promise of family values and accountability and their fulfillment has been explicitly laid bare.

Perhaps as we plan future actions, we too can create further situations where provocative and non-violent confrontation forces the powerful to commit their crimes in the light of day, in full view of a national audience, with the rest of the world looking on.


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