Wednesday, September 28, 2005


September 28, 2005

Casey Sheehan is dead. If you are looking for indisputable truth, there's a good place to start. One-hundred thousand people marched on Washington, D.C. this Saturday with that understanding, though they may not have been able to agree on much else.

Such crisp and stifling reality has that effect on The People; it makes them restless and liable to be shaken, if only for a late summer weekend, from a normally docile existence. In the swirling throngs—the direction of the march often a mystery—there was a freak show of socialists, communists, labor activists, Falun Gong, College Democrats, Anarchists, and pimply high school and college kids. There were few beautiful people, in the traditional sense, in attendance on Saturday, a fact that stood as a testament to the event's dreadful genesis.

This is not to say that Cindy Sheehan is ugly. From a face-structure and body-frame standpoint, she nears good-looking-older-woman potential. But the past two years have weathered her, so from up-close her skin is leathery and her color-treated blonde hair looks burnt yellow. Saturday's pallid, mournful sky did nothing to gleam over the wrinkles. Her life is a fucking misery, and it shows.

The speech? Not much better. Sheehan's background is clear when she talks. The voice of a suburban housewife does not jive well with microphones and loudspeakers. A high-pitched, perhaps cute voice can sound shrill and whiny. Any heightening of emotion in the course of the speech will makes the words almost impossible to absorb without a cringe. If you came here for soulful rhetoric, it'd be best to sit out Cindy's talk. Maybe wait for Jesse Jackson, he's here, somewhere.

It's easy to knock Sheehan, and Republican slag teams wasted no time in enlisting even her relatives to join the party. But her occasionally clumsy and bitter public commentary only strengthen her position. This is not a politician.

To the part of the Peace Movement that would only dream of being characterized as its radical fringe element, the emergence of Sheehan is a godsend. She is shockingly regular considering the hubbub that has surrounded her recent prominence. If you are an 18- to 24-year-old male and want to know what your mother would like and how she would act with 200 media vultures poking microphones in her face, just watch Sheehan. When one college-age man asked the Peace Movement's heroine out for a couple drinks, she rolled her eyes and chirped wildly, "Yeah, we'll go out for a couple brewskies." Then she shadow-chugged a cold one for the crowd.

As the month of August unfolded among the dirt, heat, and uncleared brush of President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, the story that was "Camp Casey" steadily gained momentum as a point of political contention. Slain soldier Casey's mother, with the help of a now well-developed operation stepped to the forefront of the Anti-war movement.

Two years earlier, a demonstration on a similar scale to Saturday's that preceded the "Shock and Awe" phase of the second Iraq War went by barely noticed by the mainstream press, which was tangled up in the process of determining the coolest units with whom to embed. By the middle of August, 2005, though, these same press wizards had set up a Jackson Trial-worthy tent city beside Sheehan's roadside ditch encampment.

The development marked a "sea change" for already active elements of the Anti-war lobby, like self-proclaimed "Badassed Commie Schoolmarm" Heather Cottin, who helped organize buses from Long Island, New York, for the trip south. It's an apt title for Cottin, 62 years old and now teaching a pointed take on American History at Queens College in New York City, whose squeaky, small voice doesn't hide for long her dogmatic, seething and occasionally optimistic worldview.

Cottin credits Cindy Sheehan for channeling the growing, though seemingly clichéd phenomenon of "mounting public discontent" (Pop News's term, not hers) with American foreign policy and this war.
"Sheehan got to them," Cottin says, them being the mothers that filled her buses for the trip to D.C., "and taught us not to be afraid, that courage is a rare and human thing, worthy of emulation. To be a worthwhile human, one needs to be brave, and if one is not one is hypocritical."

It's a stirring image the lady paints; the idea of an often vague and inwardly contentious movement coalescing around the mother of a dead soldier. The populist undertones are important as well, especially for a social and political group that is often rejected as wonks and elitists.
But through her optimism, Cottin still noted the fractures in the movement. "I think everyone had their own march," she said late Sunday night, "I only saw a lot of mostly white people, except in my Katrina Contingent."

Her assessment—honest, not bitter—seemed to be emblematic of the willingness of the Far Left to meet more cautious, but well-intentioned people with a less leery eye. In the context of a country that re-elected its trigger-happy president less than a year earlier, it is entirely necessary. Lefties are notorious in-fighters—the Leninists and Trotskyites of the Fifties' Greenwich Village were known to bloody each other regularly—so any preliterate, shared drive is important, and uncommon. Sheehan's story provides this.

Squirming through the hordes at the intersection 15th Street NW and Constitution Avenue on Saturday, though, the course was harder to make out. It was impossible to see for more than a couple feet in any direction. Still, the scene managed to stay oddly tranquil considering the dynamic pace and flow of the march. And at any moment a drumbeat would materialize from somewhere and the crowd would begin to roll up the street only to be halted or de-railed by the stalling packs ahead. The noon-time speakers, mostly tactless congressional types, spoke from a stage on the infield, but their faces were obscured by countless large, often clever signs.


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