Here's the first thing you need to know about Cindy Sheehan, she's not crazy. It's true that she referred to Iraqi insurgents as "freedom fighters" and eleven days after Katrina she talked about "liberating New Orleans." And the pundits have had a field day with her. Bill O'Reilly has swift-boated Cindy Sheehan to death. I had heard so many bad things about Cindy Sheehan that by the time I met her I thought she must be crazy, but she isn't.
She's tall with a heavy face and broad shoulders. She stands upright and speaks directly. She's not an academic. She takes things at face value. And when someone tells her the government is lying about something she tends to believe them because the government lied to her once and her son, Casey Sheehan, died as a result.
Casey died in the uprising in Sadr City in an ambush set by the followers of Moktada al-Sadr. Many point to this uprising as the beginning of the insurgency.
Cindy wears her grief in her eyes and her cheeks but they don't hide her basic decency. She's a mom first. She's your friend's mom and you go over to your friend's house and she's happy to see you and maybe she makes you sandwiches and then she leaves you alone. She's a good mom, you can tell. Firm, no-nonsense, but with a sense of humor. She's not polished, she's not a politician, she doesn't weigh her words. When she talks she makes sense and you know where she's coming from, even if you don't agree with her.
I meet Cindy at A Clean Well Lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. There are two hundred others in attendance. It's an older crowd from way out there on the left coast. I came to the bookstore to interview Cindy and hear her read from her new book, Not One More Mother's Child. I might have gone somewhere else, if there was a protest, some more mainstream opposition to the war. But Cindy Sheehan has emerged as the only celebrity in the anti-war movement, the only game in town. And the fundamentals and simplicity of her argument have come to appeal to more mainstream liberals like myself: It's time to pull our troops out of Iraq.
Me: So you have this book out, Not One More Mother's Child How's your book tour going?
Cindy: I haven't really been on book tour. I'm still working for peace, and that's a full time job. The war's not over yet. I'm very busy still doing that stuff, protesting, working to end the war in Iraq, so it's hard to arrange things like readings. My publisher wants me to do more readings but it's hard to find the extra time. I'm doing a reading at Book Passage tomorrow then I'm off to Italy to join a peace coalition there. The Italians want to get out of Iraq. I'm also going to address the European parliament. Then I fly to Venezuela, and D.C. Then I'm going back to Crawford again to start Camp Casey back up.
Me: Do you have help?
Cindy: Gold Star Families for Peace has only one staff member, my sister. She tries to help with my traveling and scheduling. We don't have the funds. I don't get paid for this.
Me: You do all this traveling alone?
Cindy: I like traveling alone.
Me: How do you finance all your travel?
Cindy: Usually the people who invite me to speak pay for my expenses. And then, about every six weeks, I do a paid speaking engagement, which more than covers my personal expenses. Before Camp Casey I used thousands of my own money, which was Casey's insurance money, to pay my travel and bills.
Me: What was the genesis of your book?
Cindy: The book is mostly things I had already written. There were all my blogs from Camp Casey. Arnie, the publisher, put them together with some speeches and interviews I'd given. Then I wrote the final chapter and some of my friends wrote forwards and introductions. (Forwards and introduction were written by Congressman John Conyers, Tom Hartmann, and Jodie Evans I'm writing another book right now. It's going to be called Peace Mom, One Mom's Journey From Apathy to Activism. Cindy Sheehan, the untold story (laughs). The purpose is to show people that if everybody just did one thing everyday who knows the kind of changes we could make?
Me: You've gotten a lot of flak for your protests. It seems like you've been given the Swift Boat treatment in spades.
Cindy: They still are swift boating me. They still persist with the thing claiming that I said that all the terrorists are freedom fighters. It's not true but once people hear something like that it's hard to get it out of their mind.
Me: You were especially hammered regarding your comments on New Orleans when the military was sent in there after Hurricane Katrina.
Cindy: I went down to New Orleans about ten days after the hurricane and it was a military occupation and I wrote an article and I said that we had to end the military occupation of New Orleans and Iraq. It was like they were training for martial law. I know some order needed to be restored but a lot of the time the military in New Orleans were used to prevent people from getting aid to other people. When I was down there they had their weapons drawn and there were machine gun nests and it was frightening.
Me (putting words in Cindy's mouth): You don't care if they're Democrat or Republican, if they're pro-war they've got to go.
Cindy (Letting me get away with it): That's right. We have a Camp Casey in Los Angeles outside of Dianne Feinstein's office because she's pro-war. There should be a Camp Casey outside her office her in San Francisco. The leading dispensable Democrat who needs to go is Joe Lieberman. We have to work for Senate candidates who for peace. Someone needs to run against Hillary Clinton.
Me: How about you?
Cindy: Not me.
Me: What are your demands?
Cindy: U.S. out of Iraq, that's the immediate goal. We need to remove all of our military presence from the Middle East. But we also have to make sure that the people of Iraq aren't abandoned. We need to help them peacefully once we take our troops out. We have to realize that all the children of the world, the Sudanese, the Iraqis, they are all our children. The anti-war movement is going to become a peace movement. We're going to change this country's paradigm. We have huge goals and we're going to need a cast of thousands. I mean millions. I'm going to work for peace for the rest of my life.