I spent three weeks in Crawford, Texas. The heat was unbearable; bugs were everywhere, including fire ants crawling into my keyboard. But I wouldn’t have traded Camp Casey for any other story that I have ever covered.
I remember the frigid cold of January in Washington DC, when millions around the world said no to the war in Iraq. We covered the Democratic and Republican conventions, I went to Iowa and New Hampshire to cover the primaries. These were all stories that I will not forget, but what happened this August in Crawford, Texas, was historic.
Twenty years from now, social studies classes will be studying the impact that Cindy Sheehan, Camp Casey, and the September 24th March on Washington had on George Bush’s Iraq policy.
There were several moments in Crawford when I thought to myself, “I am witnessing history.” Cindy Sheehan was the spark plug, and has emerged as a leader of the anti-war movement. Other leaders also emerged at Camp Casey; it is not that they were new to protesting the war, but Cindy’s stand gave them the national stage that they were unable to gain access to before.
I remember the first press conference that I attended, Day 6 of the camp. Cindy opened with her emotional plea for answers, and many other family members followed, letting the world know that she was not alone.
I remember Bill Mitchell and Dante Zapalla in tears as they placed flowers on their loved ones’ crosses. It was the first day that the crosses from Arlington West were set up at Camp Casey. Veterans for Peace had been setting those crosses up for over a year – now they were on the national stage.
I remember when Larry Northern mowed those crosses down with his pickup truck. I was at the Crawford Peace House, typing my blog report; Cindy was a few feet away typing her daily blog post. The phone call came, letting us know that the crosses had been mowed down. A few minutes later, a volunteer sitting behind us shouted “No!” At first we thought she was just learning about the crosses, but she had just learned that her pen pal was killed in Iraq. Cindy immediately comforted her. Cindy Sheehan has an amazing gift for connecting with people individually. Everywhere she goes now, people want to meet her, and while others would probably be uncomfortable, Cindy with a hug or a word of encouragement connects with them all.
I remember the candlelight vigil the night that tens of thousands of people around the country held vigils in their communities. Aidan Delgado, a veteran of the war in Iraq, gave an impassioned plea for us to make sure that our military is never used again until all other means have been exhausted.
I remember Hart Viges, another Iraq War vet, talking about how hard it is for him to deal with the knowledge that he killed people defending their homeland. And Charlie Anderson speaking after learning that his wife had left him. Cody Camacho explained that his own wife left him because she didn’t recognize him when he returned from Iraq.
Marine Jeff Key played taps at dusk every day, and one night invited the counter protesters across the road to join Camp Casey for a vigil honoring our fallen soldiers. Jeff came back across the street carrying a huge pole with the American flag on top, followed by the counter protesters, who sang and vigiled with Camp Casey.
Ann Wright, who, after decades in the military and diplomatic corps resigned in protest of the Iraq war, was the Camp Casey Commandant. Her leadership kept things organized and from descending into chaos.
Beatriz Saldivar, Dante Zappala, Mimi Evans, Celeste Zappala, Tamara Rosenleaf, and dozens of other family members of fallen or deployed soldiers also emerged as leaders of the anti-war movement.
Grammy Award-winning musician Steve Earle put it best: “It wasn’t the fact that I opposed the Vietnam War that stopped it … It was when my father came to oppose the war that it ended.”
With Cindy, Beatriz, Ann, Dante, Mimi, Charlie, Jeff, Aidan, Cody, Celeste, Tamara, and the thousands of others who got their voice at Camp Casey leading the way to Washington this week, more mothers and fathers will begin to oppose this war.
On April 24, 1971, Vietnam Veterans Against the War were among the leaders of 500,000 people who converged on Washington to end the Vietnam War. On September 24, 2005, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans for Peace will be leading another huge march against today’s war. As the call goes out far and wide to gather in the nation’s capitol, history stands to be made again.