An Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

Dear Cindy,

We have never met but I am one of the millions of people whose heart was stuck in their throat when you first arrived in Crawford two long summers ago asking a single simple and heartbreaking question. And even though I have no right to ask this of you, I hope that you will read this letter to the end.

I along with every other American with a brain and some humanity was moved by that simple, authentic and powerful question that managed to reach beyond the prejudices that so many Americans still had at that time toward anyone who was protesting the president's war. Without calculation, without "strategy," you introduced millions of us to the cost of this war and challenged us to join you in asking that question on behalf of all the Casey's who were serving in this war -- and whose families had the right to know why they had become part of the collateral damage of the Bush entourage's political war games.

I also watched as the purity of your message was blended with the more historically familiar activist voices of the anti-war movement. I have never said this publicly -- but I felt at the time that everyone should have just left you alone; not alone in the sense of not supporting you; not alone in the ditch without bringing you food, drink, flowers and even counsel. And certainly not alone in the sense of not rallying around you and standing with you in Crawford and across the country as you carried your message and remained focused on your mission to receive an answer to your question. But alone in the sense that I hoped that the wisdom of this ever-growing crowd would just want to keep you safe and focused on your singular mission and not try to bring you into their fledgling agenda.

Okay, I will just say it straight: I have long felt, rightly or wrongly, that many in the anti-war movement viewed you in those early days in Crawford as an opportunity for them to co-opt your message for their own gain -- and not only did that make me sad and angry but I strongly believe this cannibalistic tendency masquerading as camaraderie is one of the fatal flaws of the progressive movement. I digress here a little but let me try to explain precisely what I mean by that: It would have taken a lot of self-discipline to see that your voice and what you represented at that crucial moment needed to be given the space to expand authentically. This is a form of discipline I think is lacking on the left.

In a perfect world, which we are woefully far from living in, the loose confederation of activists, organizations, elected officials, grassroots and netroots organizers, journalists and artists and any other category that I might have left out, would-from time to time -- be willing to function like a well-oiled holistic business. Not a traditional business with the watchful eyes of accountants and CEOs guarding a bottom line or the way the Bush administration rolls out their product calibrated to hit when they can make the most of an opportunity to solidify their Brand and blow all competition out of the water. No. Not that kind of business model. But rather a model that has its eye on the prize. That can truly work together toward common goals. With patience. Without fear that this will be the last chance to make their case. With faith in the idea that all boats can be lifted if we take turns leading the Armada. Without feeling that one successful idea or action sucks all the air out of the room for the rest of us, instead of realizing that if seen strategically, each can create more oxygen for more good ideas and actions.

Now I know you don't know me. And this is not the appropriate place to show you my resume and tell you that most of my friends and others who do know me would say that I am a progressive first and a Democrat second. That I have never been shy about telling Democratic leaders when I don't feel that they are living up to their promise or their promises. I have marched against this war from the beginning. And I cried when you announced that you were stepping down as the face of the anti-war movement and leaving the Democratic Party in late May, not because I thought you were doing the wrong thing. But because it seemed that your original mission -- and you yourself -- had been put through the wringer from all sides, and that still you had not received the answer to your basic human question and that you could no longer stand the feeding frenzy you had been living through and with for over two years.

However, your announcement on July 8th that you would challenge Nancy Pelosi and run against her as an independent in California's San Francisco based 8th district unless she moved to impeach President Bush by July 23rd struck me as yet another perfect example of turning righteous anger and well-earned disgust into a self-destructive enterprise.

Nancy Pelosi is not perfect. But she is bold and passionate and I believe committed to ending this war; and committed to stripping the Bush administration and its agents-of-destruction of the power to continue to wage this war with a blank check and the empty threat that disagreeing with staying the course in Iraq is not supportive of our troops.

As far as I can remember, she was among the first, if not the first congressperson, to say that the president was incompetent on network television in the aftermath of Katrina. And when she backed Jack Murtha to be elected to House Majority Leader I believe she did that because she felt she needed to take a stand with the one man who went out there alone to say this war is wrong and that the Bush administration had lost it's way -- even though she likely knew that he wouldn't have enough votes in the House. She led by doing what she thought was right even if it meant she was going to lose and even be momentarily weakened by not wining her first battle as Speaker.

Oh yeah, and Nancy Pelosi is not just the Congresswoman from the 8th District. She is the first woman Speaker of the House. And I would argue strongly that she has proven she is worth fighting for and with. I would argue that she does want this administration to be held accountable. And that your running against her in 2008 will siphon off time and energy campaigning against you that will be better spent fighting in Washington against this war, for our environment, against spying on ordinary Americans and for the education of our children and for the countless other issues in desperate need of her full attention.

And as long as I am at it, I would also say that you marginalize your own voice and your own power by picking this fight -- because I am sure you know that you will be attacked from all sides as a left-wing crazy who has lost her way, and Cindy, that is the real tragedy in all of this. Because you have already achieved more than any politician could ever accomplish. With your one simple question two long summers ago from a ditch on the side of the road, you were able to turn that ditch into a mountaintop from which we all heard your voice and in an instant you shifted the national conversation. No one else has done that.

So why not use that power to help Nancy Pelosi find her mountaintop. I believe she has earned that and that you have earned the right to help show her how to climb it.


Julie Bergman Sender