Cindy Sheehan – Give your Heart

Keynote Speech for the Omaha Peace and Justice Expo
Cindy Sheehan

If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.
Arabian Proverb

I recently discovered an incredible woman: Jeannette Rankin. She was the first Congress woman, in 1916…she was from the state of Montana and besides beginning the debate on the 19th Amendment to finally give women our long overdue right to vote, she was an uncompromising and sassy peace activist (like me) for her entire life. In her Congressional roles, she voted “Nay” on World War I and II.

As a peace activist during Vietnam, she led a rally at the nation’s capitol in 1968, when just 10,000 of the 58,000 American soldiers who ended up being needlessly killed in that illegal and immoral conflict, were gone. She said: “If 10,000 mothers would be willing to be arrested, this war would stop.” Many women descended on the Capitol, calling themselves the Jeannette Rankin Brigade. I agree with Ms. Rankin…10,000 people surrounding the Capitol, risking arrest would have a big impact on public policy. On May 14th, The Camp Casey Peace Institute and Gold Star Families for Peace are urging fellow Americans to join us in Washington, DC to call for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney as a necessary prelude to the end of the conflict in Iraq.

I understand that coming to DC, especially on a Monday, is an inconvenience and a sacrifice—but I believe ending this war and making a true and lasting change in the world will entail such sacrifice from us all. We ALL need to sacrifice from our substance…our subsistence, and not just our plenty. I know many of you do an incredible amount of work for peace and justice—but how many of you sleep in a different bed every night? How many of you have slept in drafty attics, stuffy basements, floors, jail cells, or lumpy couches in search of peace? How many of you have spent every last penny you have on this cause? How many of you have been physically uncomfortable for a prolonged period of time—like camping in a ditch in 105 degree heat for 26 days? Or staging a sit-in in freezing cold weather for any amount of time? How many of you have done any of these things mourning a needlessly and prematurely killed child? How many of you know anyone in Iraq right now, whether American or Iraqi?

I have done, and do all of these things, some on a daily basis. My son was used as sacrificial cannon fodder by the military industrial complex and the Bush Crime family to line their pockets. Every cell in my body aches for Casey every second of the day—I have been smeared, slandered and libeled and my life physically threatened, but I push on—why? Because I don’t want anyone else on this planet to have to sacrifice the way my family was required to.

We can all do more. The war machine has a stranglehold on this country, our economy, our elected officials, our educational system and our young children that will not be broken unless every one of us looks into our hearts and figures out what more we can do. If you are financially comfortable, donate to peace groups like mine that are actually in the vineyards doing the work—if you aren’t, then your heart has to become involved. I have a feeling each and every one of us can do with less to make sure every other human has enough physical comforts and security and safety.

There is another aspect to this sacrifice issue. I know many of you are able to remember our country and what it was like during World War II—not every resource that we had at the time was poured into the Pentagon—or Department of War back then. My mom and dad and grandmother would tell me and my sister and brother about the sacrifices that their family had to make. My uncle, Dale, was in the merchant marines. My grandmother worked packing and repairing parachutes. Their family had to ration sugar, butter, gas, meat—just about every consumable. And on top of all this, they bought war bonds and participated in rubber and scrap metal drives…war widows and grieving mothers were taken care of—not discarded after the funeral of their loved one like today. Back then, even if you were fortunate enough to not know or have a loved one in the action—there was a sense of shared sacrifice. Every one did something for the effort (even Bugs Bunny), and it was mostly done with patriotic resignation, if not pride.

Today—we consider that we have sacrificed if we turn off our TVs and go to a local rally or march—if we head all the way back east to DC—we consider that a major sacrifice. All of these things are good and necessary, but where is the shared sacrifice of our mutual history? Where is the sense of moral outrage and searching for effective ways that we can alleviate the suffering of our soldiers, their families and the people of Iraq? Our soldiers have little choice but to leave their families and communities and go and suffer in a foreign hostile country in temps sometimes in excess of 135 degrees—and who are often time rationed to two bottles of water a day. The Iraqi people did not ask to be liberated from a horrible tyranny which was replaced by an even far deadlier one…the people of Iraq have no choice but to wake up in a dangerous, Bush-torn country with no hope, but us, to save them.

I honor everything that you all do to make true and lasting peace—but ask you to look into your hearts and suck it up and pull out a little more—we can all do it, even me—and I pledge to work harder for the soldiers, their families and the people of Iraq.

It is our duties as humans to sacrifice until it hurts for our brothers and sisters in Iraq who are suffering on a daily basis for the crimes of our President—our nation’s policies, and yes—we must own them, and then do everything we can to repudiate those deadly policies and work to do everything we can to end them.

Albert Einstein said that “Only a life lived for others is worth living.” Make your life a living sacrifice for others—and I guarantee you the universe will bless you and your efforts and you can go forward knowing that your life has meaning.

Another great prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, said: “The greatest love is this: that a man lay down his life for a friend”—Casey gave what Abraham Lincoln said was the “last measure of devotion,” an unspeakable sacrifice that he made and our family made when we buried him before his 25th birthday.

I am here to honor you for what you do, but encourage you to do more. I don’t and can’t even ask you to pay the same kind of price my family did—and don’t be offended when I ask you to do more. I am not asking you to do anything that I wouldn’t do, and probably haven’t done already.

It is important to stop this war: but it is even more important to stop future wars and to stem the tide of creeping American imperialism. Until we learn to share our resources and our hearts, true change will never happen.

Thank you.

Please go to The Camp Casey Peace Institute for more info on the 10,000 Mother of a March.

Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spc. Casey Sheehan who was killed in Bush’s war of terror on 04/04/04.
She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and The Camp Casey Peace Institute.