Monday, September 26, 2005

Cindy Sheehan: Dissent or Descent?


Jason Reed/REUTERS

"Ahhhh, I love the smell of Patriotic Dissent in the afternoon! We are out here in force today to take our country back and restore true democracy and sanity to our political process. The time is now, and we are here because we love our country, and we won't let the reckless maniacs destroy her any further." Cindy Sheehan, Speech at the United for Peace and Justice Rally, September 24, 2005

Cindy Sheehan has become ...how can I put this?... mainstream. And not, I'm altogether sure, in a good way. I have been and remain a fervent supporter of her righteous and imperative cause to see an end to the War in Iraq. And of her anger at President Bush for his lies and misdeeds in getting America into this unholy mess.
President Bushwhacker, Bush Can't Shake Cindy Sheehan, War Gets Personal in Crawford, Anti-War, The American Way, Friday Wrap Up: War and Death.

But somehow in Sheehan's evolution from a single voice crying out in private pain to the media darling of organized Public Outrage, she lost something. Her credibility? No. Her son is dead. Nothing is worse than that. Nothing. Her humanity? No. She's a True Believer in the antiwar crusade and a Gold Star Mother. Her innocence? Closer. She's learned how to play the game. How to get those sound bites front and center. How to arouse a crowd. And how to make headlines.

She's become so adept at it, her singularity is diminished. She was, in the beginning, a symbol of Real America. Everywoman. A mother from a small town in California whose son was killed in Iraq. With her confidence in her country shaken and a simple goal to find an outlet for her justifiable outrage, we could relate, on a visceral level, to her personal tragedy and to her courage in bucking Big Government.

But she's part of an orchestrated effort now, an antiwar movement with some real Power, or at least it appears that way. She's not really savvy enough to know which photo ops to seek -- and which to avoid. Which gives her detractors plenty of grist for their mudslinging PR machines. They call her Shrill. Pushy. Unpatriotic. And, if you can believe this, a
communist.

Antiwar Democrats are beginning to distance themselves from her. Howard Dean, John Kerry, Russ Feingold and a long list of liberal dems avoided Saturday's rally. Even feisty Hillary Clinton was forced to
equivocate. “I don’t believe it’s smart to set a date for withdrawal. I don’t think you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy so they can await you,” she said after meeting with Sheehan's Gold Star Families for Peace and--to cover her bases--with Sheehan's opposite numbers, the pro-military American Gold Star Mothers.

Those of us who came of age during Vietnam know that protest is powerful but can also be perilous. We didn't know then how to manipulate the media, and through them, the public. We just went out there, willing to take the slings and arrows ... and baby, they came at us hot and heavy in the 60s. But just by persevering in spite of them, through sheer force of Belief in the Cause, we pulled it off. And the alliances we made were easier then, much less complex, because the lines were pretty uncomplicated: Us against Them. So we came across as exactly what we were: Unsophisticated. Committed. Sincere. Determined. Right.

Times have changed in a big way. It's not enough simply to stand up for your beliefs. You have to negotiate. With the Devil. Who assumes many forms -- and has political agendas now. Who often masquerades as One of Us. And when he claims our innocence, he also takes away our clout.

So is dissent truly Patriotic? Or has it descended, sadly, into Political?

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2 Comments:

Blogger David Goldenberg said...

Good points, Sally. Here’s the problem with questioning Sheehan’s “locus.” It doesn’t matter, because she represents the right side of the issue. The fine line you draw between “innocent” and “mainstream” is valid, but the cause is more important than its elements, and those of us who back it will continue to do so regardless of its leadership, which is SORELY thin right now. Even your well-chosen quote of Hillary shows the non-direction of the democrats, as is also visible with the lack of unity on the Supreme Court justice vote.

Another issue that separates the Vietnam War protest with the Iraq War protest, is that there was no attack on the US that got us into Vietnam, even though the Gulf of Tonkin gunboat incident, which was later learned to be fabricated, was used as the reason. And while we know the 9/11 attack was not connected with Iraq, because it was on our homeland, it offers the pro-Iraq War factions the blessing of a “justifiable” reaction, and a continuing, though misguided, way to beat down the protest movement. This is all the more reason Sheehan should not be questioned by her fellow protesters at this point.

You are right to keep us on our toes, but I would rather hammer away non-stop against the immoral and lying criminals who are running this outrageous, costly, and ultimately self-destructive occupation on foreign soil for narrow, greedy, and unjustifiable motives. The sooner politicians like Hillary and her ilk realize how important it is to establish Iraq exit dates, and get the impetus to getting out of Iraq going, the sooner we the people can hope, as a country, to get our international policies back on track for the mutual benefit of
everyone.

Cindy Sheehan knows this, and hopefully won’t falter in her message due to any doubts in the air.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Jerry Lobdill said...

I don't think "mainstream" is a word I'd use to describe her status. I'd say she has become the icon of this anti-war movement--a figurehead who just happened, the right person who appeared at the right time. Somehow you seem to be suggesting that her surprising success at getting the attention of progressive organizations that want to see this immoral war ended has tainted her.

You seem to suggest that she should have ignored all the help she got as soon as she hit upon the magic idea of camping on George's doorstep and asking her simple question over and over. I went to Crawford four times to help support Cindy. I have been waiting for a catalyst like her for a long time. I was there for the march in DC. Every successful populist movement in US history has had some catalyzing event, some icon. Cindy just happens to be the catalyst now.

Things have changed since Vietnam. I was there too. As a reservist I barely missed being called up for that war. I don't know why my unit wasn't called. We had all gotten our shots, prepared our wills, and gone to summer camp prepared to ship out. Why we were not called was never explained. In those days the corporations had not seized control of government to the extent they have today. Today the media are owned by five megacorporations that all serve Mammon just like Halliburton and all major corporations that own our government. The media pretty successfully ignored the 300,000 of us there protesting last weekend. It is no wonder that all political organizations trying to end the war have banded together behind Cindy. We need all the cohesiveness we can muster.

If our effort is orchestrated, it is orchestrated by individuals who have to work together to pull off a march like that. It is a movement that has leaders who have percolated up in their various organizations rather than being installed by some overarching clique of elites. This is more like the American Revolution than anything that has happened since.

Let me give you an example. Take Ann Wright. You probably don't know who she is if you haven't been involved with Cindy. Ann just appeared in Crawford as a volunteer. It turns out that she was a Lt. Colonel in the Army and served in one of the Iraq wars (not sure if she served in the current one). After she retired she was ambassador to Afghanistan for a while. The entire management of the Camp Casey/Peace House phenomenon was a kluge of volunteers from all over the US--people who just wanted to help. The leaders just percolated up from the masses by dint of their leadership ability, their willingness to take responsibility, their passion. Ann organized the logistics and the security for Camp Casey, and it was absolutely amazing how smoothly everything worked. This is like a guerilla war.

We live in a world today where most Americans have the attention span of a five year old. If you don't have effective sound bites you get nowhere. So...there are people in the anti-war movement that can craft those sound bites. God bless them.

Now, I really have to object to your list of anti-war Democrats. Howard Dean was never an anti-war Democrat. I know because I worked for his election from May of 2003. Noone in the Democratic Leadership Council is anti-war. That includes John Kerry, Hillary, Joseph Biden, and a host of others (not Howard Dean!). These people are not Democrats. They are Republican lites. They have sold out to the corporations that got behind Bill Clinton to get NAFTA passed and have been bleeding America ever since.

And when you complain that the Republicans are getting plenty of grist for their PR machine because Cindy doesn't know which photo ops to seek, I have to disagree. The right wing propaganda machine manufactures their issues out of thin air. Remember Atwater's Willie Horton campaign? We have to learn how to do what needs doing in spite of their lies. And I think Cindy is doing a good job of that.

As you say, times have changed in a big way. But we cannot be wimps in the face of liars and psychopaths.

By the way, were you at Crawford or in DC? If not, I hope you will join us next time. It's exhilarating to be doing something to bring down the worst president in history.

4:27 PM  

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