Cindy Sheehan says she will
return after stepping back as antiwar leader
30 May 2007
interview with Amy Goodman)
Cindy Sheehan has been the face of the US antiwar movement for the past
two years. In August 2005, she set up Camp Casey outside President
Bush's Crawford estate in memory of her son Casey, who was killed in
Iraq. Now Cindy says she is stepping back from her role as a leading
campaigner against the Iraq war. In this Democracy Now! special, Cindy
Sheehan joins us for the hour to talk about her decision. [includes rush
We turn now to Cindy
Sheehan, who has just announced that she is stepping away from the
antiwar movement after two years of being the nation's most visible
critic of the war in Iraq.
She began speaking out against the invasion and occupation of Iraq after
her 24-year-old son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq
on April 4, 2004.
Cindy Sheehan made headlines around the world in August of 2005, when
she staged a camp-out to pressure President Bush to meet her as he
vacationed at his Crawford estate.
On Monday, Sheehan announced her resignation as the face of the antiwar
movement. Sheehan said she is stepping down in part because of hostility
from Democrats, whom she has criticized for supporting the war. Sheehan
also cited repeated threats on her life, strains on her health and
family, and divisions inside the peace movement.
She wrote, "When I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same
standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started
to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs that the
right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the
issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of 'right
or left', but 'right and wrong.'"
Cindy Sheehan joins us from Sacramento, California.
co-founder of Gold Star Families For Peace. Her son Casey was killed
in Baghdad on April 4, 2004.
transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us
provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV
broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
We turn now to Cindy Sheehan,
co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. Her son Casey, killed in
Sadr City in Baghdad, April 4, 2004. She has authored a number of books,
including Peace Mom: A Motherís
Journey Through Heartache to Activism. Cindy Sheehan, welcome
to Democracy Now!
Good morning, Amy. Thank you.
Itís very good to have you
with us. You have just flown home. Yesterday, you arrived in California.
Tell us about your decision. On Memorial Day, many people around this
country and the world read your painful letter, saying it seems, at
least for now, goodbye to your active role as one of the leaders of the
peace movement in this country.
It was not an easy decision,
and it wasnít a spur of the moment decision or a quick decision like
going down to Crawford, Texas, was very, you know, spur of the moment
and very, very not thought out well. But it turned out well.
Anyway, Iíve been thinking
about it for a year, when I -- after last summer, when I almost died,
and I started thinking about pulling back a little bit. And after, you
know, I regained some of my strength, I just went back into it full
force. And itís hard to work within this movement that is so divided,
that is so -- really has a lot of negative energy. Itís draining. Itís
drained my energy. And I used to -- you know, I still get so much
support from so many people, but when people -- our new left really is
just barely right of center, but when people there start criticizing me
and calling me the same names that the right has been calling me, I
think itís time to reevaluate, pull back, you know, see what other
direction we can come at this from.
Cindy, I remember reaching
you in the hospital last year, not even knowing that you were ill. But
explain what happened.
Well, you know, I was having
gynecological problems, and in less than twenty-four hours I lost almost
half of my blood volume, so I had to go in. I had to have transfusions.
I ended up having two emergency surgeries and then, you know, getting a
really bad infection afterwards and having to go back to the hospital
for a few days. So, you know, that was very symbolic, life-draining. You
know, my lifeblood was draining out of me. So that was really
touch-and-go there for a little while. And Iíve regained some of my
strength, but that was serious surgery. And, you know, itís my fault. I
didnít give myself enough time to heal physically from it.
Cindy, can we go back -- and
I know this is extremely painful -- April 4, 2004. Though youíve spoken
a great deal about it publicly in this country and around the world,
letís talk about your journey, the subtitle of your book, ďA Mother's
Journey Through Heartache to Activism.Ē When did you learn that Casey
Well, he was killed, in
California time it was a little before 8:00 in the morning. I woke up at
9:00 a.m. It was amazing. It was the first day since he had been gone
that I felt any kind of lightness in my spirit. And I woke up. It was
Palm Sunday. I went through my Sunday activity, cleaning house, doing
laundry, shopping for the week, getting my clothes ready for the next
week of work.
And my ex-husband and I, who, you know, I was still married to, Caseyís
dad, we were sitting down, watching CNN and eating dinner. We had filet
mignon that day. I remember what we were eating. And a report came on
CNN. It showed a Humvee burning and said that eight soldiers had been
killed in Baghdad that day. And I looked at Pat, and I said, ďOne of
them was Casey.Ē And, you know, he got very upset. He goes, ďWell, you
know, heís only been there a few days. You know, thereís hundreds of
thousands of soldiers there. Chances are it canít be Casey. You know,
itís statistically very slim that it was Casey. And we donít even know
where he is yet.Ē And I just said, ďI donít care what you say. One of
them was Casey.Ē And about four hours later, my worst fears were
confirmed by the US military.
And talk about your journey
through that day. How did you cope?
You know, when I was walking
my dogs, I came home. I saw them standing in my living room. You know, I
immediately collapsed on the floor. I was screaming, screaming,
screaming. And I think -- you know, itís -- I donít know how I coped.
You know, people start coming over. The time starts to just become a
blur. You do a lot of drinking. You do a lot of laughing. You remember
the good times in that period. But I think the thing that gets you
through that horrible period is an intense shock. Itís a physical,
emotional kind of shock that envelops you.
And I remember I didnít go to sleep that night. I didnít go to sleep the
next night, because I didnít want to wake up. I didnít want to forget
that Casey was dead and wake up and have to relive that experience. I
was sitting on the porch swing about 6:00 in the morning on Monday
morning, after we heard Casey was killed, and Iím watching people get up
and go to work. And I just wanted to scream at them: how can you live
your lives when my son is dead? And, you know, youíre mad at -- youíre
mad at the world for going on, when your life has been destroyed and
your world, your very world, is destroyed. Your whole universe becomes a
different place. And then, about eight or nine months later, the shock
starts to wear off, and if you thought you were in pain before, thatís
when the real pain settles in.
And, Cindy, how did you go
from your private mourning to becoming more public, to speaking out?
When was the first time that
you spoke out after Casey died?
on the Fourth of July, 2004, exactly three months after Casey was
killed. I went to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Berkeley,
California, to support another Gold Star mom, Jane Bright, whose son
Evan Ashcroft was killed in Iraq in July of 2003. I went to support her,
because she came up to speak to their congregation.
Thatís when I first physically met Bill Mitchell, whose son Michael was
killed in Iraq the same day in the same incident Casey was killed in.
And I didnít go there to speak, but I was compelled to speak. And since
then, I havenít shut up. So that was the first time, and it was, you
know, very meaningful, I think, that it happened on Independence Day,
that I found my voice. And I found really my independence from this
country that is so destructive to so many people.
Cindy, when you went to
Crawford and established Camp Casey in memory of Casey in August of 2005
and said you wanted an hour of the President's time, coming from that
Dallas Veterans for Peace convention, you had met with the President
before. Describe that meeting. Where did it take place? What happened
Well, a couple months after
we buried Casey, we were invited to go up to Fort Lewis, Washington
state, to -- what we were told -- have a sit-down with the President, so
he could express, you know, the good wishes of a grateful nation. And
so, our entire family went up there. We went to the post hospital. We
had to go through some very intense security screening. And we sat down
in this little tiny room, in one of the hospitalsí waiting rooms. And we
sat there. The President came in.
We brought about four or five pictures of Casey from the time he was a
baby until he was a soldier. We wanted him to see the pictures of Casey.
We wanted to talk about Casey. We decided as a family that we werenít
going into any kind of political discussion with him. We wanted to use
the short time we had with him to describe what a marvelous person was
taken from our family. He didnít look at the pictures. He didnít want to
talk about Casey. You know, he kept calling Casey "the loved one,Ē you
know, to depersonalize Casey as much as he could. He didnít even say
ďhimĒ or, you know, he, of course, didnít use his name or his rank. He
called me "Mom" the entire time. Right before George Bush came in, they
made us take off all our name tags. So he called me ďMom,Ē Casey ďthe
loved one,Ē and just acted like it really -- we were at a tea party.
And what did you say to him,
the President of the United States?
Well, he came up to me and he
took my hand and he looked in my eyes, and he said, ďMom, I canít
imagine losing a loved one in a war, whether it be an aunt or an uncle
or a brother or a sister.Ē And, you know, I stopped him before he can go
through the whole litany of how Casey could be related to me, besides
being my son. And I said, ďWait a second, Mr. PresidentĒ -- thatís when
I still called him ďMr. PresidentĒ -- ďCasey was my son, and you have
children. Imagine one of your children being killed.Ē And he didnít say
anything. And I said, ďTrust me, you donít want to go there.Ē And he
said, ďYouíre right. I donít.Ē So that was about the one-on-one contact
that we had. Then he talked about how Casey was in a better place and
things like that.
You have written in your
letter, the letter that you sent out on Memorial Day, that you have come
to the conclusion that Casey died for nothing. Can you explain how you
came to this conclusion?
Well, I set out on this quest
really to make Casey's death count for something, to make it meaningful,
not to be, you know, counted as death and destruction, as occupying a
country that was no threat to the United States of America, not for
lies. I didnít want to think that he died for lies, that he died because
my government is callous and has no regard for human life or human
suffering. I wanted his death to count for peace. I want it to count for
love. I want it to count for justice. And, you know, in this system we
have, itís ruled by the corporations, itís ruled by the corporate war
profiteers. They use people like theyíre things and not people.
And I am just really devastated and frustrated with an American
population, you know, not counting the people who listen to your show or
who watch your show, an American population that doesnít give the Iraq
war one, you know, bit of attention, doesnít think about it, doesnít
have to think about it. They donít want to think about the death and
destruction and the pain thatís being caused by the government that
theyíre giving their tacit support to by their silence. You know, we
care more about whoís the next American idol, what was in Anna Nicoleís
refrigerator when she died, than the hundreds of thousands of innocent
lives that have been sacrificed for the greed for power and money that
this country is always on the prowl for. So it just makes me think that
Casey is going to go down in a long line of people who have been
sacrificed to the corporate war machine in this country.
Weíre talking to Cindy
Sheehan, lost her son Casey, April 4, 2004, founded Camp Casey, where
thousands have come almost on a kind of pilgrimage outside the estate of
President Bush in Crawford. Since that time, Cindy has actually bought
property in Crawford. Can you talk about your decision to buy the
property, Cindy? And now, in your letter that you wrote on Memorial Day,
saying youíre putting it up for sale.
Well, after we left Crawford
in August of í05, the McLennan County supervisors passed an ordinance
that thereís no camping or parking or sleeping along the sides of
Prairie Chapel Road. And, you know, we think that was a direct, specific
and targeted ordinance against free speech, against the First Amendment,
really, which gives you the right to petition your government for
redress of wrongs and gives you the right to peaceable protest. And no
matter what anybody says or any criticism they can have about me or Camp
Casey, the protests there have always been very peaceable and always
been very positive. So I decided if we wanted to keep having these
gatherings in Crawford, Texas, we would have to own property. So I
purchased five acres. Itís right inside the town of Crawford.
And I really think now that this part of my activism is over and that
I think Camp Casey has served its
purpose. And I think I have gone as far as I can right now in the
movement. Iíve come to a road block. Iíve come to a dead end. Iíve come
to a brick wall. And then, of course, I have, you know, decimated all of
my resources, my monetary resources, on this activism, on this cause, in
the movement, that I need, you know, resources to just be able to
survive. And so, thatís why I decided to sell Camp Casey.
Cindy, yesterday, after your
letter came out on Memorial Day and we announced that you would be on
the broadcast for the hour, we were inundated with email from around the
country and around the world. In the next part of the show, I want to
read some of it to you, but one of the people who wrote, Marguerite from
Santa Fe, said that they wanted to financially help you, describing a
Cindy Sheehan retirement-from-the-peace-movement fund. What is your
We have gotten -- in any way
people can reach me, weíve gotten hundreds and hundreds of emails --
and, you know, very few negative ones -- offering support, offering
emotional support, offering places I can go to rest, offering financial
support. And Iím very overwhelmed, again, by the good-hearted nature of
Americans. But I think that we have to
realize that if youíre going to put so much pressure on one individual,
that person has to be supported continually, not get to the point where
I did, where I just had to throw my hands up and say, ďI give up. I
canít do this anymore. I donít have any more energy. I donít have any
more money. I donít have any more stamina. I have to go away.Ē
there are so many people, there are so many worthy organizations who are
struggling financially, who could do so much, who have people who can be
effective voices, that arenít supported by the peace movement or people
in America, the millions of people in America who oppose George Bush and
who oppose the war. If they arenít physically able to get out and do the
work, then I think that they -- and if they have the financial resources
-- should be supporting people in the movement who can do this.
As you talk about
cash-starved organizations, I think about the tens of millions of
dollars that the candidates are raising, who are running for president
in 2008, that money -- majority of it, of course -- going to the major
corporate networks for advertising.
Right. You know, itís an
obscenity. I can imagine people in
third world countries looking at, you know, someone like Hillary Clinton
raising $35 million for her presidential campaign that goes to really,
you know, nonproductive means, and they see that, and they just -- itís
just really immoral, I believe. And weíre spending $12 million in Iraq.
How many people could that help, not only around the world, but in our
own country? You know, itís very immoral and obscene what we do with our
There was a time when you
said you would run against Hillary Rodham Clinton for her stance
I never said I would run
against Hillary. I was heavily recruited or drafted, or people were --
from the state of New York just really wanted me to run against her for
her Senate seat in New York. I did say -- I threatened to run against
Dianne Feinstein here in California, though.
When we come back, Iíll read
to you some of what our listeners and viewers and readers have written
from around the world, and I also want to ask you more about your
family. As you wrote in your Memorial Day letter saying youíre stepping
back from the antiwar movement, you talked about sacrificing your
twenty-nine-year marriage and wanting to come home to your children.
Weíre talking to Cindy Sheehan. Weíll be back in a minute.
Joan Baez singing ďJoe HillĒ
at Camp Casey, August 24, 2005, a few weeks after Cindy Sheehan
established Camp Casey, where ultimately thousands of people came, many
of them who lost loved ones in Iraq -- sons and daughters, husbands,
wives, mothers, fathers. Cindy Sheehan joining us in Sacramento. She
just flew home yesterday, after releasing a letter on Memorial Day
called "Good Riddance, Attention Whore." Why did you call your letter
Well, that was one of the
last slurs that I read before I decided that I had, you know, had
enough. And it was Memorial Day when I read that slur against me on a
so-called left blog, a leftwing blog. And it was Memorial Day. I was in
Crawford, Texas, and I thought -- I had just also talked to my oldest
daughter, who had just been to the cemetery to put flowers on Casey's
grave. And I thought, what am I doing here? Why arenít I home with my
You talk about your
twenty-nine-year marriage. At the time you were establishing Camp Casey,
making international headlines, your marriage was crumbling. And your
children, your surviving son and daughters, talk about them.
Well, I have a daughter Carly
-- she is in university right now; she was Casey's next youngest sibling
-- and then a son Andrew, who is a land surveyor in the Bay Area -- heís
doing really great -- and my youngest daughter Janey, whoís a massage
therapist. And it was a struggle when I first started doing this. And
when they saw their mom and dad -- it ruining their mom and dad's
marriage, it was, you know, a lot. They had just lost their brother, and
their mother went on this mission, this passion to end the war and to
hold somebody accountable for their brother's death. And theyíre just --
theyíre so strong. I dedicate my book to them, because they have gone
through a lot. And they get stronger every day. They get more capable
And we went from a family, where even
though mom worked full-time, she did everything for the kids. My
children were the center of my life. We were involved in every aspect of
their lives. And it was very hard for them to adjust to the new life
without their brother, their mom and dad divorced.
You know, they thought that they were going to be, you know, a family
that was together forever, but, you know, April 4th, our entire universe
changed. And, you know, the members of my family, they wanted to go back
to April 3rd, before he Casey was killed, and I knew we could never do
that. I knew we would have to move forward and forge a new life
together, a new family together, without Casey there, because our family
was never going to be the same.
And it was a struggle with my children, but, you know, we have regained
a very solid relationship. I want to now, instead of spending quality
time with them, I also want to spend quantity time with them. I want to
be able to alleviate some of their physical stress that they have, to be
there for them. Carly, this is her last quarter at university, and
sheíll be graduating. You know, I want to be there for her to help her
through this. Sheís majoring in history. I majored in history. Itís very
exciting to be with her and to have conversations, mature adult
conversations, with her. So, you know, I want to get to know my kids as
adults, and I want to be there for them, you know, help forge this new
relationship that we have and give it a good foundation. You know, itís
been a relationship thatís been very inconsistent because of my travel.
And I now share a home with my two daughters. And now, when I go away, I
miss them even more than I did before.
Cindy, headlines around the
world this week. Guardian
of London: ďSheehan quits as face of US anti-war fight.Ē Xinhua News
Agency, China: ďActivist Cindy Sheehan ends her anti-war campaign.Ē
Alalam News Network, Iran: ďAnti-war mom gives up campaign.Ē
Melbourne Herald Sun,
Australia: ďGrieving mom walks away.Ē
Ontario Now, Canada: ďCindy
Sheehan throws in the towel.Ē Your response? And are you concerned your
decision could deflate some of those in the antiwar movement? What words
do you have to say to them, and especially families who have lost loved
ones in Iraq, soldiers who are in Iraq, soldiers who have come home?
Well, you know, I have --
in those hundreds of emails Iíve
gotten in the past couple days, thereís been many from soldiers in Iraq,
thereís been many from family members who have loved ones in Iraq and
from people all over the Muslim world, telling me, please, please donít
give up, donít abandon us. And I just want them to know Iím not. Iím
just -- Iím pulling back. Iím, you know, getting some rest. Iím trying
to restore my health. I want to come back stronger, but Iím not coming
back the way I was before.
Weíre going to seriously reevaluate our place -- and when I say ďour,Ē
Iím talking about Gold Star Families for Peace, Iím talking about the
Camp Casey Peace Institute, my skeletal staff. Weíre going to -- and my
sister Dee Dee, of course. Weíre going to just hunker down and find a
way that we can be more productive, that we can be more useful to
humanity. Like I said, Iíve come to a dead end in what Iím doing now.
Weíve found a chink in the armor. We exploited that chink. Now, most of
the country is on our side. I donít think we can work with the
politicians. When we come back, we wonít work with or against
politicians, but weíll work with humanity.
since Iíve been traveling the globe, Iíve met so many people who have
been encroached upon or damaged or their families damaged by this
corporate military imperialism of the United States. We want to help
them. And weíre hoping by helping our brothers and sisters around the
world struggle against the imperialism of the US military and the US
corporations, that it will have a residual effect in helping America.
We donít want to abandon our soldiers there in the field like the
Democrats did. You know, last night I was on Air America. Laura Flanders
calls it to sacrifice the troops, instead of support the troops. We
donít want to leave them abandoned in the field. We donít want to give
the impression to the people of Iraq that they have no hope.
But I just want to let you know that I was just a small cog in this
movement. Itís a large movement.
And I think that this will
encourage people to step up to the plate. And I sacrificed too
much for this movement, and Iím not blaming anybody except myself. I was
a willing participant. And I would be willing to keep sacrificing, if I
thought we were making progress, if I thought my sacrifices could help.
But I donít think that itís helping anymore, so weíre going to pull back
and figure out how we can help. But, you know, people need to step up
now. And everybody in America is going to have to sacrifice something.
We have too much. We work too much to
get things that we donít even need, while 24,000 people a day die of
starvation in the world. So everybody is going to have to
sacrifice a little bit. If everybody sacrifices a little bit, you know,
a few people wouldnít have to sacrifice so much.
Cindy Sheehan, I asked you
about messages to people here -- of course, then thereís the Iraqi
people, and people do know of your activism there. What would you say to
You know, I would say that we
are still there trying to help you, trying to end this horrible
occupation, that my new organization thatís going to be humanitarian in
nature will do everything we can to help alleviate your suffering. And
I just hope that the people of America
finally come to the realization that you are our brothers and sisters --
we all share one beating heart of humanity -- and that we cannot allow
our leaders to do what theyíre doing anymore. And, you know, itís
very important for people in America to struggle against our system, to
hold the Democrats to the same standard of accountability that we were
trying to hold the Republicans to, and to force an end to this
occupation. And that -- Iím not going to work, you know, in this
political system anymore, because I donít have the energy to do that
anymore. But itís very important that everybody keep up the struggle.
And I want to read a few of
the comments of our listeners and viewers and readers around the world
that came in at democracynow.org. On electoral politics, Gordon Brown, a
teacher in Switzerland, asked, ďWho do you believe would make the best
next president of the United States?Ē Leslie Bonnet of California
writes, ďWill Cindy join the Green Party, which has steadfastly
advocated for peace and against the invasion of Iraq? Will Cindy
consider running as a presidential or vice presidential nominee with the
Green Party?Ē Barbara and Graham Dean said, ďWhat can all of us in the
peace and justice movement do now to give you back your hope that we can
indeed change the dangerous course this government has forced upon this
country?Ē And they ask, ďWould you consider running for Congress?Ē Paul
said, ďGiven what youíve described as the corruption and deception that
exist in both the Republican and the Democratic political parties and
how the huge appropriations of money for defense contractors have become
such a force in the US economy, do you have any hope we will return to
being a nation that stands for right instead of being a nation that has
to have something to fight?Ē And another listener/viewer, John Stauber,
says, ďWhat is your opinion of MoveOn and the role it played in the
recent congressional debate over war funding?Ē Take your pick.
Well, of course, Iím not
going to run for election. I donít -- you know, Iím very disillusioned
with our political system. If we donít wake up in America and realize
that we have to vote out of our courage and integrity for candidates who
reflect our own beatitudes, and not the beatitudes of the war machine
and the corporations, we are -- weíre doomed. And if we donít get a
viable third party -- or some people say second party; you know, the
Democrats and Republicans are so similar, and their pockets are lined by
the same people -- we are -- our representative republic is doomed,
where George Bush has assumed all the powers to himself and Congress has
given him those powers. And we really need an opposition party in this
country. But we vote out of our fear. We go and we vote for the lesser
of two evils, and we always end up getting somebody evil. And, you know,
I say ďevil,Ē not in the Christian sense of the word. But, you know, I
do believe that.
going to join any party. If I do vote again and if I do become, you
know, politically active, it will be independent. Iím not going to, of
course, run for anything, be in the system. I have been asked by the
Green Party to run for president, but, you know, thatís not anything
that I want.
And I know John Stauber. He has been struggling against MoveOn.
I was really upset with MoveOn, and
plus with the corporate media, who were characterizing MoveOn as the
antiwar left in America, which was just really, for people who are on
the inside know how hilarious that is. So I think that MoveOn has a lot
of resources, and they should be trying to represent -- truly represent
the opposition to, instead of being, you know, so tied in with the
Democratic Party, to really represent the views of the left.
Cindy Sheehan, what do you
think are the greatest successes of the peace movement so far, and then,
of course, what you want to see changed?
Well, you know, I think that
we did an incredible job of educating America about -- causing a debate
really in this country about the Iraq war that didnít exist before
August of í05. It didnít exist in a public way before August of í05. And
the shift in the country has been enormous, you know, to being against
George Bush and against the war, when it was overwhelmingly in favor of
it. And we thought we were doing something good when we elected
Democrats. We thought that we were electing them to change the way
things are going, not for this, to keep the
status quo. And I think that
weíve been very successful in raising awareness.
Where things have to go now -- and, you know, Iíve been saying this for
a long time -- is that we have to be willing to put our bodies on the
line for peace and justice, that, you know, we canít work on short-term
band-aids. We need true solutions to the problem, to this corruptness,
to the stranglehold the corporations have on our government. And we
canít just put band-aids on them. Like, ending the Vietnam War was
major, but people left the movement. It was an antiwar movement. They
didnít stay committed to true and lasting peace. And thatís what we
really have to do.
Cindy Sheehan, we have
fifteen seconds. I have the sense, as you talk, that youíre not actually
leaving, even as a public face of the movement, but stepping back
perhaps for a few months, a few weeks, to regroup. Is that accurate?
Well, what I like to think
about is like, weíre closing down the factory, weíre going to retool,
and weíre going to open up, and it will be a new and improved version of
it. But we are definitely going to come at it from a totally different
Cindy Sheehan, I want to
thank you for being with us.
Thank you, Amy.
Co-founder of Gold Star
Families for Peace, speaking to us from, well, near her home. Sheís in