Elayne Clift


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The Importance of Cindy Sheehan's Vigil

Elayne Clift is teaching in Thailand this year. 
She can be reached at

From Chiang Mai, Thailand, 22 August 05

From where I sit, which is about 6,000 miles away from the United States, Cindy Sheehan is right up there with Karen Silkwood, Erin Brockovich and Lois Gibbs. 

Karen Silkwood was the union leader who blew the whistle on Kerr McGee back in the 1970s for its spills, leaks, and missing plutonium, and most likely lost her life because of it.  (She died in a car accident on her way to turn over critical documents to a union health expert and New York Times reporter.)  Erin Brockovich (of Julia Roberts movie fame) exposed PG&E for dumping carcinogens in California, and Lois Gibbs, mother of two, revealed that Love Canal in upstate New York was essentially a chemical dump back in 1978.

Sheehan, the woman who lost her son in Iraq and is now camped out in Crawford, TX waiting for President Bush to speak to her about bringing the troops home, has been widely covered in the International Herald Tribune.  An outrageous opinion editorial by Edmund Morris, Ronald Reagan biographer and a die-hard Republican, drew letters of ire from readers.  In his piece “Conservative Compassion,” (August 18, 2005), Mr. Morris referred to the bereaved and courageous activist as an “emotional predator” who “has gotten more time with the president than most grieving mothers.”  He also accuses her of acting out in “a cry for attention.”

Morris should be ashamed of himself and Republicans everywhere should be ashamed of him too.  In the spirit of Latin America’s Madres, who protested the disappearance of their children, and of women of resistance everywhere, Sheehan set up her vigil aimed at bringing American kids home and saving the lives of Iraqi children as well.  Camp Casey, as her stakeout is called in memory of her son, has inspired many others to stand up and speak out against the insanity of the U.S. in Iraq: More than 1600 candlelight vigils across America were a direct result of  Sheehan’s act.  And acts such as hers go down in history as enormously significant.  They change public opinion and public policy.  They end wars.  They bring down presidents.

Maybe that’s why Mr. Bush tried to trivialize her when he met Ms. Sheehan last June and insisted upon calling her “Mom” throughout their brief conversation.   But surely he knows by now that the majority of Americans think his war was a mistake.  Fifty-six percent of them think things are going badly and want at least some of the troops withdrawn, 57 percent say they feel less safe now, and a significant 61 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of the war.  Despite the media blackouts, they know that nearly 2,000 of our service personnel have been killed, more than 13,000 more have been gravely wounded, and untold numbers of innocent Iraqis have died or been maimed.

As one report put it, “It’s not clear whether Sheehan’s effort is the start of a lasting antiwar movement or a fleeting summertime event…[but] Republican party leaders are worried that Sheehan has brought long-simmering unease over Iraq to a boil by galvanizing anti-war activists.”

That in itself is enough to put Ms. Sheehan in my good books along with the heroic women before her who have all taken a stand against harmful and irresponsible acts.  Cindy Sheehan’s act is one of courage.  Talking, and listening, to her would be another.