On Prairie Chapel Road,
The Last Weekend of the Crawford Vigil
by Leigh Saavedra
(formerly writing as Lisa Walsh Thomas)
Sunday night, August 28, 2005
"May God protect our troops;
May God forgive George Bush."
The past three days have been solidly divided among making the four-hour
round trip to Crawford, watching and interviewing at Cindy Sheehan's Camp
Casey, trying to put a myriad of facts, rumors, and emotions into words, and
finally falling into sleep, peppered nightly with imaginary voices reading
from cardboard signs, such as the one referenced above, that have most
scratched at my heart and conscience. I awoke too many times each night,
grateful for my air-conditioning, marveling at those loyalists camping out
in the humidity and heat of Crawford, pained for those victims of power in
the hot desert half a world away, afraid of where we were going, terrified
that what was happening in Crawford, Texas might not end the nightmare.
There was nothing to do but move, hour by hour, in the same pattern.
This sign immediately visible from the main intersection in
My third drive up to the semi-barren, inhospitable area where George Bush
spends a large portion of his time (he has recently broken the record for
taking the most vacation days of any president in U.S. history) was marked
by one initial change. I'd been taking my 13-year old son Bryndan, who has
-- for me -- become an icon of awakening, an image of what positive energies
used to fight negative actions can do to a neutral person. This Friday,
though, I took along my 4-year old Abbie-Hoffman, a longhaired white
American Eskimo (dog) definitely not bred for 100+ degree weather. It was a
bad judgment call, as were some of my other decisions on this long weekend.
First noticeable change was that we were no longer allowed to drive to the
camps but had to park near the Crawford Peace House and go by shuttles, vans
driven by volunteers. Because of Abbie and my not wanting to have him take
up shuttle space, the camps were not an option on Friday, so I spent most of
my short day around the Peace House, from which all Cindy Sheehan activities
emanate. I arrived there, emotionally unsteady.
Several miles back, at a service station, a woman -- seeing my "America
Supports Cindy" tee-shirt -- had asked me why I was going. I tried as
politely as I could to brush off both her questions and glares. "I didn't
want to get into this war," she said, too loud, pointing her finger so close
to my nose that in my farsightedness I couldn't tell whether her nail was
sharp or not, "but you don't get in like we did and then pull out."
Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course. If I ever swallow poison
I'm going to forego Ipecac and think those three words over and over. If her
fingernail scratches my nose, I thought, averting my eyes from the woman,
does it mean I should go ahead and cut off the entire nose? I didn't have to
suffer a further response, as one of the two women behind the counter, arms
folded across their chests, told us to "take it outside." Sounded
frighteningly close to pre-fight words in a bad movie, so I left the small
bit of change I was due from my twenty for gas and hurried back to my car,
where the engine was still running, blowing cool air on my uncomplicated
Abbie-Hoffman. Behind me, I heard the first woman scream out, "All she's
doing is causing a traffic jam!"
Nothing, really, had happened, and yet it left me disturbed for twenty
minutes, even as I passed the sign for "Rattler's Hill Road," my cue that
Crawford is right over the hill. Stay the course? Would I have dared ask
her, "Stay the course? So we made a terrible mistake but now we have to stay
and finish off the victims while they kill a few hundred (or thousand) more
of our remaining army?"
The next glitch, of course, was my realization that it was stupid to have
brought a cold-weather dog to a place where daytime temperatures soar above
a hundred. Before crossing the street to the Peace House, I met John Warren,
Director of "Unconditional Theater" in Berkeley. His people are working on a
documentary dealing with activism. Good talk; spirits lifted. So Abbie and I
delivered the supplies (water and Gatorade) we had brought and made our way
to the tent in the side yard.
Under the large awning we heard the announcement, supposedly straight from
CNN, that Bush's approval rating had dropped five more points in the past
two weeks. The crowd cheered, and I took notes from the rumor mill, always
confusing, sometimes delicious. "Willie" was coming. I presumed they meant
Willie Nelson, but no one was sure. I'd have to go inside to find out. But
there beside me was my very long-haired, very shedding pal, who would leave
clumps of fur inside. I could find out about Willie later. Martin Sheen will
be here this weekend, someone else told me. There was an arrest, an angry
pro-war person taunting a peace activist. Joan Baez had not left after the
concert last Sunday but was still around.
I had ordered anti-war paraphernalia from
thinking to sell it as a mini-fundraiser for Cindy's vigil and coming trips.
Red tape to do so abounded, even here, and when one woman advised me to
please not charge for it, as no one here had any money left, I began giving
it away. Mostly, it was "In Crawford with Cindy, August 2005" buttons made
by daughter Rose. I gave those to the people actually camped in Crawford and
ran out within five minutes.
While this was going on, I was able to listen to an interview being
conducted for radio's "The Brad Show," where veteran Nicholas Perzibel, who
had served in Afghanistan, was talking about the outdatedness of Donald
Rumsfeld's terms, how many were still red-baiting, still referring to the
Cindy Sheehan supporters as "communists." He talked about the media's
manipulation of facts, their downplaying numbers of protesters.
All the time I was listening for info in the Peace House tent, there was
rising awareness of how much more packed Crawford was getting by the moment.
A pro-Bush group, to show its support for the war, had erected "Fort Qualls"
next door to The Yellow Rose, a very vocal pro-Bush gift shop. People were
arriving there and at the pro-war camp out close to Camp Casey I and at
other sites I never saw. At the same time more people were arriving to
support Cindy's stance. A large number of the people I talked with were not
camping but had come from distant states, California to Vermont, and were
staying in motels in nearby towns, predominantly Waco.
The real talk was of tomorrow, the thousands expected on Saturday. Concern
was strong that with so many people from both the peace camps and the
pro-war camps and with the temperature rising, trouble might be unavoidable.
From the beginning, we were constantly reminded to ignore taunts, to just
smile and move on. A workshop on peacekeeping was scheduled at Camp Casey 2
for later in the afternoon in the hopes of avoiding confrontations.
Medical facilities had been expanded since my last visit. I had called in
for a friend, a doctor in San Antonio who had said he would come if needed,
and had learned that most medical problems had been heat-related. Now on
Friday there were two new volunteer RNs on hand, and word was that a
cardiologist was available.
Cindy had given a press conference before Abbie and I arrived. She had kept
it on-theme: "How many more must die?" Three fathers who had lost sons in
Iraq were among those who had spoken.
But tomorrow, Saturday, was going to be the big day, at least in terms of
numbers. Thousands were expected in this little town with a population of
705 and no hotel.
The temperature was rising fast as Bryndan and I made our way north again.
By now I was very familiar with the landmarks. We filled the car with gas
before leaving so as to avoid any confrontation along the way. If I was
going to be slammed in the head, I at least wanted to know I had gentle
folks around to bury me. We passed the Moody Dairy Queen where Abbie and I
had guiltily stopped for ice cream the day before. Then by the time we
reached the tiny turn to Rattler's Hill Road it was evident that today was
THE traffic day. A few cars were parked over to the side of the Hwy 317
going into Crawford. Most had "Support the Troops" signs, making it
difficult to know which side they were on, since both sides claim to be
supporting the troops.
A note: For a couple of years, anti-Bush people, even before he invaded
Iraq, felt that the right wing had stolen the flag. An American flag
fluttering in the breeze usually meant self-righteous conservatives in favor
of George Bush. Somewhere in the growing battle, that changed. Now every
camp in Crawford was colored by American flags and other red, white and blue
steamers. Spotting the enemy was becoming harder.
We had called the Crawford Peace House before leaving, and Bryndan had been
promoted from grunt garbage collector of the weekend before to a traffic
director. Parking areas filled quickly, and cars had to be stopped, told
they couldn't block other cars but had to go on further down the road to the
next parking area. Forgetting the resilience of youth, I wondered if Bryndan,
at age 13, was going to be able to handle it. Later that night he would tell
me how some of the pro-war people ignored his directions and how one even
swerved close to him with a boy glaring out the window as if to say, "Next
time we'll get you."
While the internet reported 101 degrees in Crawford on Saturday, we saw a
thermometer eight miles down the road that was registering 108 degrees, and
I suspect that everywhere packed with asphalt and people was closer to the
108. It was clearly the hottest of the now four days I'd been there. Under
the large tent-like covering in the Peace House yard, "Walkin' Mary" from
Arizona, camped in the yard for two weeks, strolled around spraying us with
invigorating water mist. I suspect even now that she was part angel.
I soaked up all the water I could and sat at a table for some time talking
to Su and her daughter Chelsey from Tacoma, Washington. They had flown in on
Thursday and were staying in Waco until Tuesday. Su's dad was a Vietnam
veteran who "died a bitter man" from his experiences in that war. His
bitterness affected Su from an early age. She had seen him, a hundred
percent disabled, unable to get the help he had expected from the military.
Her mom had assured her that the nightmare of Vietnam would never happen
"But it did," Su said, 17-year old Chelsea nodding in agreement. "That's why
I talked to others camped right in the yard of the Peace House. Several I
spoke with hadn't brought camping supplies but had managed to get their
vehicles to the original camp or maybe Camp 2 and were sleeping in their
The numbers of people grew as we talked, and the buses hadn't even arrived
yet. I was told that 2,000 Bush supporters were being bused in for just a
few hours and that the Camp Casey rally was expecting another 1500 peace
activists to offset them. I'd received a call the night before that several
anti-war buses were coming from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
Getting restless in the tent and not sure where Bryndan was now trying to
help with the parking, I decided to take a deep breath and make my way down
to Fort Qualls. From the car, on entering Crawford, it appeared to be a
colorful setup, neat and orderly, but with fewer people than I'd expected.
Still, I knew backup was on its way, and I wanted to catch whatever glimpse
I could of the pro-war people before thousands landed.
I spread half a tube of sunscreen on my face, longed for a hat, and headed
toward the main drag, The Yellow Rose, and Fort Qualls, named for a Bush
supporter's son, another soldier who had died in Iraq. I was wearing a blue
tee-shirt with a large American flag on the front, beneath which are the
letters, "This American Patriot opposes the corporate-controlled George
Bush." Dana Moore and I had designed the tee-shirt in 2001 after I attended
a rally in Austin and was shuttled off to a "first amendment zone." We had
the shirts made with the first amendment printed in white across the back.
I'd vowed then never to allow myself to be herded into a "first amendment
zone" again. But this time I secretly hoped that the large flag would simply
make me somewhat invisible.
As I crossed the railroad tracks I began to feel a bit lightheaded, and a
long swig from my thermos alleviated very little of it. But straight ahead
was the "fort." I entered, attracting no attention. There were probably a
hundred people milling around and watching a cowboy-hatted man who sat on a
horse (seriously, he was sitting on a horse), asking for volunteer speakers.
I listened, and it seemed I was getting icy stares, but nothing threatening.
People came up to say a few words, and the common theme was badmouthing
Cindy Sheehan. Unlike the young people racing down the streets and screaming
descriptions of Cindy as "the bitch in a ditch," the most common lines in
the fort were, "Who does she think she is?" and "What makes her think she
knows more than our president? He knows EXACTLY what he's doing." They were
far more tame than the roadside screams rich with four-letter words and
crude insults to Cindy, absurdities, claims that she slept with Osama bin
Laden, that kind of thing. But here in the fort, the focus was on one thing
-- the "stupidity" of the peace activists. Over and over, the speakers
repeated, "They don't remember 9-11?"
The myth may go on forever that Iraq was involved in 9-11. This was not the
place, however, for me to try some on-the-spot education, i.e. robust
disagreement, especially as the lightheadedness was growing rapidly. I found
myself staring at the man on the horse in awe, wondering why he was sitting
on a HORSE, and then I realized suddenly that my thinking wasn't clear, that
I was close to laughing. Time to go! Fast!
I left, hearing the cowboy's words behind me, "You chastise your leaders who
are trying to save you. The terrorists can NOT defeat our military." I hoped
the "you" wasn't me. I was hotter than ever and then, almost back at the
Peace House, I wasn't hot anymore. I heard rumors that Air America and Randi
Rhodes would be there soon. I thought I could still hear the cowboy. And the
next thing I knew I had been led into the tiny air-conditioned front room of
the Peace House, being handed a bottle of Gatorade and told to sip it very
It didn't help, and when someone went for Bryndan and he returned, blood red
in the face, I knew we were going to have to miss the rally, forego the big
barbecue, miss a repeat of Joan Baez, and whatever other surprises were
there. It was the Moody Dairy Queen and its ice cream that I needed, having
learned long ago that nothing cooled the body faster than ice cream. That's
not supposed to be medically sound, but it works for me.
We left as hordes of people began to arrive, people offering to help me to
the car as they talked about pro-war people gathering at the civic center
and the football field.
Damn. We were going to miss it all. I was very frightened that Bryndan had a
severe sunburn despite all the sunblock I had unloaded on him. He had been
given a hat, a cowboy hat, from his mentor at the Peace House, who saved
them for people who made especially needed donations.
We half-crept out of Crawford, the only people leaving as thousands arrived.
By the time we got to the Moody Dairy Queen and ordered large milkshakes,
the red on Bryndan's face was gone, letting me know it was heat, not
sunburn. But my own face was still red and raw. And despite the immense
relief of the milkshake, two hours later, home again, and in bed, I was
still sick. Another damn.
www.repentantrepublicans.org -- A Website Worth
One of the prankster gods decided to pull something personal on Sunday to
make it as memorable as Saturday, but neither Bryndan nor I had any idea of
this when we left home. We headed back to Crawford, my fifth trip, his
fourth, in great spirits.
I hadn't planned to return, as I'd continued to have reactions from whatever
heat ailment struck me on Saturday throughout the night. But suddenly,
dwelling on the frustration of not having made it to the camps yesterday, I
called Bryndan, grabbed the camera and notebook, tricked Abbie into the
laundry room, and left, all within the space of twelve minutes.
We stopped once, to buy homemade pies for the ongoing buffet in the big tent
of Camp Casey 2. Bundles of imagined efficiency, we signed in at the House
and immediately got in line for a shuttle to Casey 2.
The gremlin in the skies grinned, and when we were climbing aboard the
large, very high van -- I'm not too agile about climbing up into those big
vehicles anyway -- my foot slipped and I fell backwards. But for one young
man's strong grip on my hand that broke the fall, I might have broken a few
hundred bones. As it was, the only fracture, if any, was in my tailbone, and
I knew that even if there was a fracture there that nothing could be done
about it. Knowing of no one who had ever died from a cracked tailbone, I
tried to look brave.
And despite some memorable pain, not to mention the embarrassment of falling
as I did, there was much to marvel about. Probably thanks to Hurricane
Katrina, a cold front had struck Crawford. We knew it when we saw the Moody,
Texas thermometer: 88 degrees. In 88 degrees we could deal with the angriest
of the pro-war people. Besides, most of them had gone home last night.
Milling around as we got out of the van (and grateful that I had managed to
get out without falling again) we began to soak up the rumors. Two
congressmen had declared their support for us. Joan had sang Amazing Grace
the day before, had then left. Willie didn't make it. Two pro-war guys had
been arrested (I later verified only one arrest, but he WAS from the pro-war
side). Two young men had gone into Fort Qualls carrying signs that read,
from the top, "No war" and were immediately besieged by hot Fort Qualls
supporters who began to tear their signs to shreds until the two young men
were able to tell them that they were on THEIR side. Beneath "No war" on the
signs, they had written "Except with Democratic presidents."
I didn't quite get it then, and the longer I think about it the more
convinced I am that my heat exhaustion is still in effect. I'm grateful that
I don't have to pretend to be nonbiased, but I do try to be fair, and I'm
incapable of understanding how "No war" is "fightin' words." But never mind;
that was yesterday, and today, with its cooler air and fewer people, would
Good premonitions: Sunday was glorious! We had been too late to hear Al
Sharpton, but there were more good things awaiting us. Except out on the
road, where pro-Bush people drove by constantly with their four-letter
admonitions to Cindy and their shouts that we were "hippies" and
"communists," it was peace and love almost reminiscent of the sixties.
Enormous amounts of roses had been donated, and people were using them to
mark the white crosses of Arlington West, the roses being symbolic
condolences for the mothers of the dead. More people were exchanging hugs
than the day before.
Arlington West -- 200 crosses, each representing ten fallen
As was the case every day I was there, Veterans for Peace had a large
contingent. On Sunday, though, I noticed the growing ranks of IVAW (Iraq
Veterans Against the War). They had their own tent, their own tee-shirts,
and plenty of presence.
I spoke with Tina Garnanez, who had joined Cindy for the earlier press
conference. Tina had been in Iraq from July to December of 2004, a member of
the regular army. She had been quietly opposed to the invasion of Iraq in
March of 2003, not knowing she would be sent there. She said she was like
most of the people she knew, full of questions but not really sure what was
going on. They believed, she explained, that they were there to find the
weapons of mass destruction.
The first day she was there, there had been three mortar attacks; she knew
some who had died during her five months in Iraq. She repeated several times
the terror that she constantly felt. As for flowers by welcoming Iraqis, she
never saw them. She didn't see anyone but some kids throw stones, but she
certainly knew nothing about flowers. She was a new member of IVAW, Iraq
Veterans against the War.
IVAW had their own tent, and I saw a lot of people wearing IVAW tee-shirts.
I was struck by the IVAW Mission Statement: "Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)
is a group of veterans who have served since September 11th, 2001 including
Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are committed to
saving lives and ending the violence in Iraq by an immediate withdrawal of
all occupying forces. We also believe that the governments that sponsored
these wars are indebted to the men and women who were forced to fight them
and must give their Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen the benefits that
are owed to them upon their return home."
I find myself wondering how the pro-war people can call themselves
supportive of the troops when so many former troops are coming forth against
the invasion and occupation of Iraq. I was told many times that a soldier
has to stay in the Green Zone, attached to the outside world only through
Fox News, in order to continue to believe the B.S.
Some mothers are speaking in pro-war rallies about the good their sons are
accomplishing in Iraq at the same time that mothers like Cindy Sheehan, Amy
Branham, and Jane Bright are talking about the need to bring our soldiers
home. On Saturday, in the parking lot of the Crawford High School football
field, pro-war speakers veered far from the message of Cindy Sheehan and her
followers. Howard Kaloogian, founder of "Move America Forward," which
financially sponsored the pro-war appearance in Crawford intended to offset
the attention drawn by the peace movement, told a crowd of Bush supporters
that the anti-war movement was fueling the Iraq insurgency. He told his
followers that the terrorists were watching Cindy Sheehan's movement,
believing that it might topple the Bush administration. Vietnam all over
again. I remembered being told that our demonstrations then were giving aid
and comfort to the enemy.
With Mr. Kaloogian was Deena Burnett, whose husband was on the plane that
crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Mrs. Burnett said, "Our
troops are promoting a better quality of life for the people in Iraq. I
commend them for that and I thank them for their service to America and the
on the other end of the spectrum were the words of a Marine who served two
tours in Iraq. Corporal Sean O'Neill, on the same weekend that Mrs. Burnett
told a crowd that American troops are bringing a better quality of life to
Iraq, spoke at Camp Casey 2 to explain his reasons for now opposing the war
in which he fought. He stated:
"My second tour in Iraq brought more education when I saw children starving
in Al-Qaim and Fallujah, when I would go into our chow halls and see
all-you-can-eat buffets, soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines
stuffing ourselves where a mile away just outside the wire, children are
dying from diphtheria and anything else that could be cured just by a normal
healthy diet. When I saw that we werenít doing anything, that all we did was
pave over our own supply routes and exclude the Iraqis when we didnít build
schools and hospitals and things that they needed, we werenít there for
them. We were just taking care of our own interests."
On a brighter and certainly less contentious note, the highpoint of Sunday
afternoon for many of us was the wedding of Genevieve Van Cleve and Peter
Ravella, two activists who chose Camp Casey 2 for their marriage ceremony
after spending the weekend of August 20-21 there, meeting the military
families who had assembled in Crawford. We were all asked to join in humming
the traditional wedding march. We didn't do too bad.
The newlyweds issued this statement regarding the military:
"We ask that they be called to a higher mission, one that will reduce the
propensity for terror and violence in the world, instead of a war that has
and will increase it.
"We support freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people but doubt the wisdom
of an American military invasion as a means to accomplish that goal.
"We honor the courage of the 'Gold Star Families' and 'Military Families
Speak Out' who seek the end of our misguided venture in Iraq. We respect
their willingness to stand up for their principles -- our principles -- in
the face of criticism and even ridicule.
"It is these values we seek to affirm in our wedding. We embrace life, love
and hope and openly acknowledge the public statement we are making as we
join those who oppose the war in Iraq.
"In Peace Peter & Genevieve Austin, Texas"
The couple asked their friends, in lieu of gifts, to please join them in
donating to 'Gold Star Families for Peace' and 'Military Families Speak
As Bryndan and I headed back to look for a shuttle, it seemed I began to
recognize half the faces I saw. Later I would read that 7,000 people
descended upon Crawford this weekend, but for those few minutes, I was
surrounded by old friends. John Warren of Unconditional Theater appeared
beside me, asking where Abbie-Hoffman was. The lady from Georgia, from the
first shuttle, was suddenly there, holding a white rose, telling me she was
taking it back to Georgia to a man who had lost his son in Iraq. A man with
a long beard came up to hug me and thank me again for his "In Crawford with
Cindy" button from the day before. They compensated well for our missing
* * * * *
I am not an unbiased journalist, haven't been since 1989, and don't wish to
be. I am a writer stating events, making observations, and trying to
synthesize them into a few images that explain why I am writing about them.
In the five visits I made to Crawford during Cindy Sheehan's vigil I have
never been more convinced that, for me, it is the way to write. To cover
these very life-and-death matters, a war that has left over 100,000 humans
dead, with no bias is not something I can comprehend. I would not want the
passionless ability to coldly state places, names and figures.
Most certainly, I learned a lot more than I taught in ambling through the
Peace House, the camps, the opposition camp at Fort Qualls, even the small
town stops made along the way. I saw nice pro-Bush people, and I saw some
very ugly pro-Bush people. I saw unfriendly and officious anti-war people,
but never once, not ONCE, did I encounter any ugliness in the people
throwing themselves into the pleas for peace. I asked over a hundred people
if I might take their photo or their child's photo. Once, only once, did I
receive a "no," and it was polite. Even if he was CIA, he was polite.
I learned about toughness and conviction. With all my own complaints about
the heat, feeling that I would pass out, grumbling about a minor injury from
an awkward fall, knowing that I couldn't sleep on the hard Texas dirt with
the miniscule insects that own the land, I felt true awe and respect for
those uncomplaining people who transcended all my own complaints. I think
the awe made both me and my son better people.
In the end, the most frightening thing that I learned in these two weeks is
a warning which I hope I and those close to me will heed and remember: The
communist who hid under my bed when I was a child, the one with a
walkie-talkie to the others that hid in the bushes beneath my window screen
-- I know now that he wears a turban, reads the Koran.
May God forgive us when our complacency allows powerful men to use boogeymen
to manipulate and control us. I am grateful for having met dozens and dozens
of people in Crawford, Texas who probably cannot comprehend such
Stay the course, Good People.
Leigh Saavedra, writing until May, 2005, as Lisa Walsh Thomas, has published
poetry and fiction for over thirty years. Though she has been a civil rights
and peace activist all her life, she did not begin political writing until
the year 2000. A collection of her political essays, "The Girl with Yellow
Flowers in her Hair," is available through
Leigh appreciates comments at
On Prairie Chapel Road, the Second Visit
by Leigh Saavedra
(formerly writing as Lisa Walsh Thomas)
August 23, 2005
(The first report directly below. Eds.)
Sunday night in Crawford was dazzling magic for anyone who
was seriously around in the sixties, when so many of us were marching FOR
civil rights and AGAINST the Vietnam War. The salient reason: Joan Baez, or
Joanie as many still call her.
I had been in Crawford the week before, but this time, the minute my 13-year
old son and I pulled up to the Peace House, from which the activities around
Cindy Sheehan's vigil all begin, we could see the difference. In just seven
days, everything had become bigger, noticeably so, and all this despite
Cindy's temporary absence. In the yard of the Peace House were two large
U-Haul trailers, providing backdrops for all the signs related to Cindy's
insistence that Bush speak with her. Posters saying "For What Noble Cause?"
remind the first-time visitor that Cindy began this history-making
encampment by hearing Bush say that our soldiers who are dying in Iraq are
doing so for a noble cause. She has asked Mr. Bush to explain truthfully the
noble cause that took her son Casey's life last year.
The volunteers are now able to park cars on a vacant lot next door and
across the street from the Peace Center, something unavailable to them a
week ago. Still, the good luck fairies must have been with me, as we pulled
into literally the last parking space anywhere near the House.
Several people have brought vans to use as shuttles between the Peace House
and Camp Casey I, of which I wrote last week, and the new second camp, Casey
II. They go back and forth from the house to the camps every few minutes.
We brought the people at the house a fifty-quart Coleman chest filled with
ice and bottled water, a never-ending need in this hot, humid spot that must
have produced enough sweat by now to fill a dozen dry Texas gulches. The
services of the medic volunteers have been required several times for
Soon after our signing in at the Peace House, I was ready to board a shuttle
and head for the new camp, Casey II, where there would be speakers and
entertainers, featuring Joan Baez, a lifelong peace activist herself. I'd
never met Joan Baez, but her music had been wound thoroughly through my life
in the not-so-long-ago past. For years all it took to make me want to leave
all possessions behind and go lose myself in California's Big Sur were a few
lines from "Don't Think Twice" or "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You." My young
husband from back then had joined her on stage once in Chicago to provide a
second guitar. The story was our trophy. To say I had made the drive up to
Crawford this time with a strictly altruistic motive would have added a full
two inches to my nose.
Bryndan, my 13-year old son, opted to stay at the house and do badly needed
grunt work, picking up empty cups and wrappers from the ground and cleaning
whatever needed to be cleaned. He also helped out at a table with
tee-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. They were there for a "donation." Bryndan
told me later that night that they had found a hundred-dollar bill in the
The first things I saw as we pulled up to the new camp were large, rather
formidable signs on the road to George Bush's place. It they weren't
successful in letting us know that we couldn't set foot behind them without
"proper" ID, the police cars up the road to the ranch were.
Standing there in the unmoving air as I looked down the road toward the
go-no-further warning signs gave me one of those inexpressible moments, the
feel of history rumbling beneath my feet. On one side of me was a huge tent
beginning to fill with people eager for a world famous singer who had
traveled to an inhospitable town to do her part, as she had thirty years
ago, to end another war. On the other side of me was the dirt road that
turned off Prairie Chapel Road toward an air-conditioned house where
decisions that determine the fate of the world are made. Somewhere in Iraq,
I thought darkly, there is a child who will have or not have a little sister
next month, depending upon what the people who meet in that house decide.
Somewhere in America, I continued, there is a child who will have or not
have a father next month, but may instead come with his mother to Camp Casey
to look for the small white cross listing death number 1891.
The very thought of being within shouting distance of so much power was
chilling. Tonight, I dared to think, I could spit and my DNA would find root
in soil that belongs to a man who could either transform the Mideast into a
democratic paradise or lead the world into irreparable destruction.
I don't know if the Bush people at the ranch can hear the cries and songs
and chants, but the proximity to this decision-maker in whose hands lie so
many life v death choices reminded me, for the hundredth time, of the power
of people. It's simply a matter of peeling back the comfort of complacency
and putting one foot in front of the other, then finding that you're
marching. And when the march is loud enough, people can move things that
Especially knowing that I would be hearing Joanie in a few minutes, I
reminded myself, again for the hundredth time, that if we took Vietnam into
the American living rooms, we could do it with Iraq. If we stopped the
killing in Indochina thirty years ago, we might stop the killing in the
Mideast this time.
Yes, everything was clearly bigger. There were at least fifteen clean, new
portable outhouses, medical facilities, things that probably never entered
Cindy Sheehan's mind as she landed in Texas a couple of weeks ago.
Back inside the tent, there was a buffet -- salads, lasagna, vegetables,
deserts, many choices. This was my second buffet in Crawford and I still
don't know who prepares the food, but it's very good. I looked around as I
fought the heat by eating cold melon and mango and noticed the absence of
piled-up food, abandoned on tables in so many buffet restaurants. Another
way that this was different.
There were other entertainers and speakers besides Joan Baez, too many to
mention here. Happily, I was able to hear Austin songwriter and folksinger
Steve Brooks, known for, among other things, writing an original topical
song based on the news for the nationally-syndicated Jim Hightower show
throughout 1998, a new one every week. When Steve broke into the Woody
Guthrie classic, "This Land is Your Land..." it was not just the more
seasoned music lovers come to hear Joanie who got to their feet. The tent
was electric with youth.
Among several people contributing to the program was 85-year old Liz
Carpenter, who paved the way for Helen Thomas by going to Washington DC in
1943 and staying as a member of the White House Press Corps through the
tenure of Jimmy Carter. She brought down the tent when she told us, "I knew
the Dead Sea when it first got sick."
I would happily have listened to Ms Carpenter for hours. Her wit and wisdom
alone would have been worth a long drive to Crawford. Best anecdote of her
speech: When she worked for Lyndon Johnson, she once heard him tell his
speechwriters, "I want SHORT sentences. I want sentences that EVERYBODY will
understand." Later, when a speechwriter gave him a speech with a quote by
Aristotle, Johnson apparently shouted, "No. There are people who won't even
know who Aristotle is. This is NOT what I want." Ms Carpenter listened
carefully to Johnson's next speech, when he told the audience, "As me old
Pappy used to say..." and there were Aristotle's words, straight out of old
In the end, of course, she was dead serious. She reminded us that we've been
getting in and out of wars for as long as she could remember, that she'd
been through it all from FDR to Carter and that "this is the worst shape we
have EVER been in." She concluded with a simple thought. "What is
diplomacy?" she had once asked an unnamed senator. His answer should have
been given a lot of thought in 2003. "Keeping the conversation going."
time came the star, Joan Baez. Rarely have I felt so happily back in "the
old days." She asked us what we wanted, and we called out for "Joe Hill,"
then "Diamonds and Rust" and others. Before one song she made a dedication.
"This is for those who are -- I love the euphemism 'in harm's way,'" she
said, bending her head as she tuned her guitar, "'harm's way' meaning
nothing more than sitting ducks."
There were an estimated 600 to a thousand people in and around the tent, and
when Joan concluded with "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," the young woman
sitting next to me, too young to have watched many wars, even on TV,
unabashedly let tears stream down her face.
When it was time to go, to return to the Peace House, I was still trying to
separate an amalgam of people, looking for a few words to describe what KIND
of people were there. In a nation where having any views to the left of John
Birch allows your opponent to dismiss anything you do or say as being
"liberal," (meaning too often that you have no morals, that your hair is
long, that you secretly hate God, and that you probably are not anguishing
over the fact that Clinton, for God's sake, told a LIE), it becomes relevant
to answer the question, "Who ARE these people?"
Except for noticing an extremely high percentage of Caucasians, I couldn't
get anywhere with it. There were middle-aged ladies who look like those our
Republican mothers play bridge with. There were young men with long
ponytails. There were people on the other side of seventy-five, and there
were many, many more people who appeared to be in their twenties than I've
seen in recent demonstrations. But as for who they are, I can't give a
pictorial answer. I saw people who didn't look as if they would come to any
kind of rally, but on the other hand there were old familiar faces. The guy
driving the van I rode in back to the Peace Center was active in Veterans
for Peace. It turned out that he was in a convoy taking supplies to
Nicaragua in the winter of 1989, the same time when I first took medicines
down to Managua. Ships in the night; it's always fun to blink with the
inexorable thrills of happenstance.
Later this week I hope to get a more concrete handle on the people who are
sleeping in tents up there, night after night. I get so hot while I'm there
that I can't hold all the water I need; I get so itchy that it takes three
showers to stop suspecting that some new breed of viperous paramecium has
been unleashed on us and that it is crawling around just beneath the skin.
When the Veteran for Peace let me off at the Peace House I was focused on
that, just WHO these people are who would be willing to give up every
comfort to breathe in air that is over a hundred degrees, to forego
electricity, to constantly be smiling and upbeat. I knew only that they were
saints and that I wasn't.
Inside the Peace House to retrieve Bryndan, I was tossed a doozy of a
question: "Hey, can I spend the night? I already asked, and they said fine,
it's up to you, and there's a lot of work to be done in the morning." Guilt
hit me like a hot, sticky syrup. Deep in my heart I was salivating over a
nice gin and tonic in a quiet, air-conditioned place with soft music.
Who ARE these people? I wondered again.
"No. You have to go to school tomorrow."
"Well, are we coming back?"
Who ARE these people? Has my son become one of them? Has he forgotten his
cushy bed with the large air-conditioning vent over to one side?
And then there was a woman beside me, thanking us, thanking me for bringing
HIM. He'd been an IMMENSE help to them, she told me adamantly.
Yeah, we'll be back again in a few days. That will be the day I figure out
who these people ARE. Meanwhile, heading south again, I had the lyrics of
one of Joan Baez' sweetest songs doing waltzes in my mind.
"May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young."
A Day on Prairie Chapel Road
(formerly writing as Lisa Walsh Thomas)
August 16, 2005
Last Sunday, limping noticeably from combined age and injury and using my
13-year old son's arm for support as we made our way down Prairie Chapel
Road in Crawford, Texas, a carload of young people swerved teasingly near
us. One young woman, early twenties, sun-bronzed and in a halter top, leaned
out of the back car window only inches away from us and sneered at me: "Get
For an instant, it was almost funny. The absurdities -- a broiling sun, jobs
I'd held long before the young woman was ever born, my damned aging knees,
but mostly the look of frightened offense on my son's young face -- changed
my first reaction. It wasn't funny for more than a few seconds. Hate is
We had come to Crawford to offer support to Cindy Sheehan, the mother of
Casey Sheehan, a 24-year old soldier who was killed in Baghdad on April 4,
2004. The soft-spoken Cindy, a bereaved mother now camped out in the
sweltering Texas heat two miles from where George Bush is spending a
five-week vacation, has asked for a face-to-face meeting with him. She
demands that he tell her for what "noble cause" her firstborn died. When the
White House ignored her request, Cindy pitched a tent by the side of the
road and says she will stay until she is answered, or until Bush finishes
The White House has still not responded to her request, and the closest
Cindy has been to Bush or a member of the administration since making her
demand occurred recently when a presidential cavalcade drove down Prairie
Chapel Road, within a few yards of Cindy and the others who have joined her,
on their way to a Republican fundraiser. George Bush was behind the tinted
glass of one of the SUVs.
So, after a stunned moment standing silent by a ditch on Prairie Chapel Road
on Sunday, watching the young people speed on down the lane toward the
famous ranch, I climbed into our car, where Bryndan and I gulped down water
that was now almost too hot to drink. I thought of the get-a-job young woman
who had yelled at me, in awe that someone so young could show such venom to
those opposed to the killing machine that the invasion of Iraq has launched.
The night before, arriving home after a 550-mile drive, I came online to
catch up on the news I'd missed in the past week of vacation, and there was
news of Cindy Sheehan's vigil everywhere. Reading of all the people joining
her, from all parts of the country, so inspired me that it was tempting to
drive to Crawford and extend our support as well. But I'd just driven for
twelve hours and was a week behind in everything. When I read on, it was not
the uplifting story of people's support for Cindy that made me decide to go.
Rather, it was the ugly that always picks up the scent of the sublime and
slithers toward it.
In awe, I saw that Cindy is perceived by people like those in the car as
something between Satan and whatever term now replaces "dirty rotten
commie." There are rightwing bloggers who see Cindy Sheehan's actions as
being treasonous, people who set up websites specifically to attack not only
her actions but her character as well (selling overpriced t-shirts and
stickers at the same time). Someone had posted on a memorial site,
addressing Casey, "I am sorry your mother has chosen to use your heroism as
a platform to denigrate your sacrifice." Instead of reading all the
information of what was actually happening in Crawford, I became riveted to
the horrors of what the "opposition" was saying and writing. Some people
seemed to take pleasure in the separation of Cindy and her husband following
Casey's death, as if a "bad things come to bad people" philosophy might
justify their anger at someone refusing to march in lockstep with the Bush
So in the end, it was to bear witness and continue the battle against
mainstream media's disinformation that we loaded the car with water and made
the drive. Countering the ever-reluctant media's hesitations to provide us
with accurate and fully-rounded facts is, for me, the first requirement to
take back our country. I wouldn't have the right to denounce a statement
that Cindy Sheehan was simply a pawn in the hands of our enemies without
seeing her, hearing her, being there. The same logic has sent me to some
interesting places, and the "being there" has always served me well.
And it did in that seemingly insignificant incident on Prairie Chapel Road.
By the time the young woman in the fast car yelled at me, we had already
been to the Crawford Peace House and heard Cindy and two Iraqis speak. There
was a fine buffet lunch, middle east fare, and we arrived in time to eat
before anyone spoke. Bryndan and I were flanked on one side by a young man
wearing a tee-shirt that said, "Iraq veterans against the war" and on the
other side by an older man whose shirt said, "Vietnam Veterans against War."
Bryndan counted over 250 people sharing lunch under tents and milling around
outside the covered area. I saw faces I recognized, and I was grateful that
we had made the drive.
Cindy spoke first, in a soft voice. The audience, in total silence, allowed
us to hear every word, as she explained that she had been fighting
"falseness" for well over a year now. She summarized her own activities by
saying that she had in no way started a movement, that the movement was
already here and she simply spoke with it. She talked about the roots of
terrorism and the lies that have been used to shore up this invasion and
occupation through which billions of dollars are being made for a select few
When addressing her specific action of camping at Bush's doorstep, she said
the decision was made earlier in the month when fourteen marines were killed
in one day. "I felt like a failure for not having made a difference," she
told us, her voice faltering for a moment, her "Support Our Troops"
tee-shirt bright in the hot sun. So strong was her reaction to feelings of
helplessness, she explained, that she determined it was necessary to
confront the top decision-maker responsible for these fourteen deaths as
well as the killing of Casey and the other 1800.
It hasn't be easy, she promised us. "They are scrutinizing everything I've
ever said and done. Why can't they [ed: mainstream media] pound on Bush as
they pound on me? I don't have a thick skin and the attacks hurt me."
But after she finished, the one sentence that resonated over and over with
me was her simple comment that "What we're doing is good and what they're
doing is ugly." And no one in our audience doubted who the "they" referred
An Iraqi speaker whose 14-year old nephew had been kidnapped and beaten
before release for a $50,000 ransom told us of conditions in Iraq now. One
of the greatest changes in Iraq today, the speaker told us, is the shortage
of oil. In this land that holds the world's second largest oil reserves, in
this land where temperatures reach higher than a hundred and twenty degrees,
there is a scarcity of oil and very little refrigeration.
"What we hear is straight from the Green Zone," he explained. "Those in the
Green Zone know nothing of what's happening OUTSIDE the Green Zone."
Thus, our nightly news. Thus, the fault and guilt of ignorance. We are not
told of the obscene amount of money flowing through Iraq, or that the
country under occupation cannot provide the necessary water and electricity.
An Iraqi woman spoke next, describing the devastation the U.S. imposed upon
Iraq through ten years of sanctions. "All," she said emphatically, "because
of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist." She repeated three times
that Iraqis had done NOTHING to the United States.
Before the speeches, I asked a coordinator of the program if Cindy would
have interview time available in the afternoon, and the woman told me no,
that every single second was filled, that her schedule was totally packed.
Understanding how tired she must be, I decided against even going up to meet
her. It was hot, and bodies crushed together don't do well in this kind of
humidity. But as I prepared to leave and drive to Camp Casey, some distance
from the Peace House, I saw that Bryndan was gone. I looked over toward
Cindy just in time to see her embracing my son, not a quick perfunctory
embrace but a gesture with feeling, prolonged for many seconds. My eyes
stung. Was she remembering Casey at age 13? Was she hoping that her work
would spare THIS 13-year old from ever being shipped home in a flag-draped
Afterwards he met me at the car and explained that he'd wanted to take her
the gift we'd brought along. "And I thanked her for all she's doing," he
added. And silently, I thanked HER for finding the time for a young boy
determined to get a small gift to her.
Perhaps things are better organized by now, but on Sunday parking was a
nightmare. All the best intentions in the world can't create space. Because
I have a handicap card, I was directed to a place that said "no parking" but
which, I was told by a member of the Peace House, was not going to be
ticketed. "Shhh," she reminded me. She had a policeman's word on it. I was
the second car there, and when we reached our car after lunch there were
eighteen more vehicles, all unticketed.
Down the street from the Peace House is what appears to be the town's main
intersection, dominated by a gift shop called "The Yellow Rose." Outside the
Yellow Rose are large cement tablets on which are carved the Ten
Commandments. To either side are the usual signs, "Freedom isn't free," "We
support our president," etc. Ten or so people stood outside. I needed
directions to Camp Casey, where those staying with Cindy were pitching their
camp. I glanced over at the folks standing outside the Yellow Rose, and
though I saw no overt signs of belligerence, I opted to call my daughter in
California to look up directions for me rather than stop for directions.
A bit later we reached the camp. The most noticeable thing upon driving down
Prairie Chapel Road, as the road to the Bush ranch is named, passing near
Cindy's Camp Casey, is what seems to be endless rows of white crosses, one
for each American soldier who has been killed in Iraq. Many have flowers;
some have photos and other memorabilia. At one end is a large placard
containing a thousand photographs, the first thousand American soldiers to
die in Iraq.
Signs abound over and between the several dozen campsites, my favorite
being, "Clinton would have talked with Cindy."
I was moved by a hundred things, the generosity of people sharing water, the
prime commodity on a day like this one, people in intense discussion, people
finding time to laugh, people refusing to respond to a couple of taunts from
a dozen or so Bush supporters standing idly on the other side of Prairie
Chapel Road. Mostly, I was moved that anyone would be willing to sleep in
this inhospitable climate, on the ground or on a cot, in an area where they
were neither respected nor welcomed, where there was no pizza delivery
service within miles, and even less refrigeration at hand than is found in
We talked to dozens of people of every age, from children to a few who were
pretty old during the Vietnam War. I half-promised myself to return in a few
days. But life at home, the start of school, finally pulled us away, and it
was upon leaving that the car of young people swerved close to me, the young
woman telling me to get a job. In the context of all I saw in those few
hours, I can now only shake my head at her complete lack of comprehension.
Parts of the day had been almost surreal, the no-bones-about-it supporters
of "staying the course" who watched us at the intersection from The Yellow
Rose, the rumor that someone had seen a rattlesnake in the field behind the
camp, beautiful trees forming near-arches in some places on the road to the
now-famous ranch and to the almost-famous Camp Casey, Cindy holding my son,
the memory of the car coming so close to me.
We headed home, both Bryndan and I silent for several minutes. Then, as
Crawford disappeared behind us, I realized what it was that was making me
want to stay, making me want to be a part of what was going on. It was the
possibility of what this might mean.
Occasionally an ordinary person, without ever daring to dream of such
bigness, actually changes history. Rosa Parks comes first to the minds of
many of us. Today, it's possible that Cindy Sheehan, out of sheer
determination to have her son's death explained, is waking up enough
Americans to completely alter, possibly bring to a loud halt, the neocon
plans for control of the entire mideast.
It cannot be ignored that people from across the country, Seattle to Maine,
have flown and driven to Crawford to express their solidarity with this
plainspoken mother who has transformed her grief into actions designed to
spare other mothers the pain she lives with. Some have even pitched tents
and joined her in the broiling sun. Some mothers of other soldiers killed in
what many are calling "the Bush War" have gone to Crawford to join her. In a
world where people like flags and apple pie and baseball, mothers carry
clout. Mothers whose sons have died as a result of lies carry enough clout
to force even the corporate-driven mainstream media to deal with Cindy
Sheehan's vigil. And when the mainstream media is forced to show its hand,
viewers ask questions.
After we reached home and were preparing for bed that night I looked at
notes I'd taken the night before. I'd copied words from one especially angry
site: "Cindy Sheehan has made a mockery of her son's death."
No, I don't think so. Bryndan was young and not unusually well informed, and
I moved around with a very tired limp, but we were there. We were
insignificant and we didn't make speeches and I never even talked to Cindy
herself, but we were there. We saw the white crosses memorializing each
soldier who had been killed in a war that has yet to be justified. Without
Cindy Sheehan, those memorials would not exist. The woman who took the time
for a long, long embrace with my young son isn't the type to make a mockery
of anything. I know. I could see her face.
Leigh Saavedra has written poetry, short fiction, and
political essays for thirty years under the name Lisa Walsh Thomas. In 1989
she became aware of the irresponsibility marking our mainstream media when
reports over both broadcast news and print media portrayed the young
revolutionaries of Nicaragua as communists. She went to Managua and spent
that winter and the next in Nicaragua, finding the value of "being there."
She is the author of an award-winning book of fiction ("So Narrow the Bridge
and Deep the Water", Seal Press, out of print) and a book of political
essays ("The Girl with Yellow Flowers in her Hair", Pitchfork Publishing).
She appreciates comments at saavedra1979 yahoo.com.