Cindy Sheehan: Dissent or Descent?
"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?
Labels: Warring with War