Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan: We need you now more than ever
from the Campus Antiwar Network
We remember first hearing about you standing up to Bush in Crawford, Texas with admiration and hope. Just months before he had been re-elected, not because the majority of people supported the war, but because John Kerry offered us nothing for which to vote. He provided no alternative to the neocon strategy of more war and barbarism.
Instead, you did.
Since then, larger and larger numbers of people have turned against Bush and the war, in constant search for more ways to resist. Bush now has an approval rating lower than Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
It was disheartening to read your decision to leave the antiwar movement because of how you were treated and slandered by Republicans, and now liberals. They may see you as a pawn on a chessboard but we see you as a courageous woman who took a stand when it was the hardest. You have sacrificed so much, particularly your health and precious time with your children, in the struggle for a better world and on behalf of the student antiwar movement: thank you. The revival of the antiwar movement today is in debt to you.
You remind us of Rosa Parks. When you camped out at Camp Casey, you also embodied the history of ordinary people in this country sitting in and standing up until their voices were heard. You decided to keep fighting because those who are most affected by Bush’s war for oil and empire often have no other choice: family members who have lost children, Iraq veterans and active duty soldiers who now oppose the mission for which they were sent, and the people throughout the Middle East who have witnessed decades of economic sanction and military occupation. Iraq is now experiencing the largest refugee crisis in the world. Close to a million Iraqis are now dead. Thousands of US soldiers have died, many of whom turned against the war. The vast majority of Iraqis, Americans and US soldiers oppose the continuation of war in Iraq.
Who will put an end to it?
Your anger at the failure of the Democratic Party to end the war is justified. The November election was a referendum on the war in Iraq and since then, not only has the Democratic Party refused to call for an immediate withdrawal of US troops, but they have decided to remove mention of a timetable from the most recent legislation.
The Democratic Party has no intention of ending the war, only continuing it by other means, most recently to the tune of $120 billion dollars. This is why the Campus Antiwar Network and Iraq Veterans Against the War in Madison, Wisconsin decided to stage a sit-in at Senator Kohl’s office. This is why the Campus Antiwar Network in San Francisco sent a delegation to Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand an end to the Democrat’s funding of the war.
Antiwar politicians do not continue to fund wars.
The fact that the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, continues to use us as cannon fodder for their war means we need to build an antiwar movement independent of both. Our demands must no longer be shaped by what they deem “reasonable” or what will make them “electable”. We must not only put forward our own demands but build the type of grassroots organization that can see them through.
The Campus Antiwar Network in New York City recently participated in Iraq Veterans Against the War’s “Operation First Casualty”, a moving street theatre that conducted raids and set up check points throughout the city in order to bring the war home. This was inspired by similar actions that were taken during the Vietnam War. Similar to today, the White House and Pentagon dragged out an increasingly savage and hopeless slaughter as long as possible, and refused to acknowledge even being affected by the antiwar movement. This was disorienting to activists who had faith in American democracy. Many dejectedly concluded that protests are ineffective. Yet they were part of a movement that proved just the opposite! Congress, dominated by the Democrats, complained more loudly each year about the war, but it never stopped funding it. The war might still be going on today if it were left up to them. Fortunately, it wasn’t.
Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting what he termed the “broken promises” of liberal politicians. The civil rights movement made a decision to abandon the idea of negotiation and instead demand power through direct action. King stated in a letter from Birmingham jail that “moderates…paternalistically believes he can set a timetable for another man’s freedom…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”
We have a lot of work ahead of us. We live in the belly of the beast – a beast founded on slavery and imperial ambition, with no human price too high. But we also have the majority of people on our side, in this country and around the world, who want to see things change. And because of this, the beast is wounded.
What we need now is a new strategy. One based on self-activity, not reliance on the Democrats, similar to your stand in Crawford nearly two years ago. Similar to the sit-ins that are taking place in Democratic offices, similar to the decision of hundreds of students, faculty and staff at UMass-Amherst to disrupt their commencement ceremony to demand Andrew Card not be given an honorary degree, and similar to the recent refusal of Oakland longshoremen to cross an anti-war picket line demanding an end of arm shipments. The yearning for freedom and justice are manifesting itself before our eyes everyday.
It is still time for the “antiwar chorus to start singing” and now is not the time to give up, but instead raise the cost of war at home. We hope you can come back soon, because the movement needs you now more than ever.
Leia Petty, Brooklyn College
Katrina Yeaw, San Francisco State University
Charles T. Peterson, UMass-Amherst
Chris Dols, University of Wisconsin – Madison
CAMPUS ANTIWAR NETWORK