Starting with the Mothers

‘When I nursed him, I promised him that I would never let him go
to war. I broke that promise to him. I can’t bear for another
mother to go through the pain that I’m going through. And that is
the only reason that I’m doing what I’m doing.’ — Cindy
Sheehan, August 24, Crawford, Texas

I went down to Crawford because, like everyone else I
encountered, I had to be there. When Oliver, my 19 year old son,
heard I was going, he said he had to be there, too.

The first person we met was Teresa, from Ohio, whose 20 year old
is in Iraq. ‘We’re here so that you — pointing to Oliver — don’t
have to go.’ Second was a Wisconsin couple whose son is scheduled
to be deployed in October. Then a guy in a shiny truck with a
roofing company sign leaned out his window, ‘I may work for him —
gesturing back over his shoulder — but I’m with you.’

Cindy returned that afternoon from being with her mother who had
had a stroke. At the end of the day, under the big tent, Joan Baez
performed for everyone who was left after the press circus, after
the donated dinner served by volunteers, after the medics had
treated the fire ant bites and cactus spines and sunburn and heat
exhaustion. Joan had come to perform a few days earlier and
couldn’t bring herself to leave. The same thing happened to Jeff
Keyes, a 6’5′ Marine, who said he found himself bawling as he
reached the car rental return at the airport and had to turn around
and return to Camp Casey. He played Taps each night and slept on
what had become sacred ground next to the white crosses, each
bearing a name, age, and circumstances of death, some with flowers
and the boots worn by that soldier. Over 100 mothers of soldiers
who have died in Iraq, as well as wives and children, passed
through Camp Casey. And countless vets found sanctuary there.

Joan Baez sang a song in Spanish that she had learned from women
in Argentina. She said it was a song sung by the mothers of the
disappeared, a song of joy and gratitude, very much in keeping with
the spirit of Camp Casey. Very much in keeping with the spirit of
Casey himself who, when his mother tucked him into bed, Cindy told
us that night, always said, ‘Thank you, Mom. This was the best day
of my life.’

After Joan sang, Cindy pulled a chair to the front of the
makeshift stage. She talked about the attacks she had been under
and said they didn’t bother her. ‘If I was a media whore,’ she
said, lifting a hank of utilitarian-looking hair, ‘Do you think
maybe I’d get myself fixed up?’ The only thing that disturbed her
was the suggestion that she was dishonoring her son.

‘Look what Casey has started. I see and feel him in all of your
eyes. We are going to make sure that our kids are never again sent
to fight a war for power and greed. We are here because we want
these deaths to stand for peace and love. I’m not ashamed to say
that Camp Casey is a place where you can come and feel love. We
will be able to say that this is the place where the occupation of
Iraq ended. We are not going to stop ever. We are millions of
people strong and the mothers are saying, NO, I AM NOT GIVING MY

Oliver volunteered to take the 12:00AM – 2:00AM security shift
with another guy. He was hanging out after his shift when Cindy
appeared. She couldn’t sleep and they talked until dawn.
Afterwards, Oliver said, ‘Of course, this is a media circus, and of
course, there are a lot of agendas going on, but at the heart of
this is a mother who lost her son. She’s here for the right

When Cindy spoke to us, she speculated that if the job had
really been done properly during Vietnam, we wouldn’t be in Iraq
now. And if we do it right now, we won’t be facing another Iraq in
40 years.

About a year and a half ago, Oliver said something to me that
has haunted me. When I asked him why kids his age weren’t taking
more initiative in opposing the war, he said, ‘This time, it has to
start with mothers.’

In the words of Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 Mother’s Day
Proclamation, ‘We women of one country will be too tender of those
of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure

It started with one mother. And now we can’t be contained.

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