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Why I traveled to Camp Casey

August 26, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7

LORETTA CAPEHEART is a member of Gold Star Families for Peace and the International Socialist Organization in Chicago. She and several friends made the trip to Crawford, Texas, last weekend to show their solidarity with the antiwar vigil started by Cindy Sheehan outside George Bush's vacation ranch.

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THE MORNING after our 17-hour drive from Chicago to Crawford, we went to breakfast at a local chain. The owner of the diner, we later learned, had spoken at a pro-Bush rally the night before, stating that antiwar visitors weren't welcome to eat at his establishment.

Unaware of this, and wearing our antiwar buttons and T-shirts, we were nevertheless welcomed by our waitress--who told us that she was with us and worried about a friend of hers currently serving in Iraq.

On the way to Camp Casey, we stopped at the Peace House in Crawford, near the town's single-stop light. The house serves as a place for activists to check in, leave messages, and get directions and other information.

A woman from Tucson, Ariz., greeted us, and explained that she's the "worst nightmare" of military recruiters. She has been active in her 15-year-old son's school since a recruiter asked her son to distribute recruitment material to his friends and was called a "pussy" by the recruiter when he refused. Others at the Peace House, from Salem, Ore., and Concord, Mass., explained that they were happy the movement was back, and hopeful that it would keep moving forward.

At the check-in table, a woman told me a story about a truck driver who was unable to go to the camp, but had asked that all other truckers going through Crawford give a honk and wave to the Peace House. She said that when trucks of all sorts honk and wave, it "really makes you feel connected."

Leaving the Peace House, we drove out the winding country road to Camp Casey II. The road is lined with crosses bearing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq--a graphic display of the cost of the war to military families in the U.S.

We drove past Camp Casey I, where Cindy Sheehan started her protest. Activists were still holding the ground and attracting many supporters. The second camp, on donated private land, is housed under a large tent, with a few smaller tents out front.

Members of Gold Star Families for Peace had set up in a couple smaller tents. I was welcomed by another Gold Star Family member whose brother was killed in Iraq--leaving a wife and small child, as well as his parents to mourn him. I was introduced to a Gold Star mother from South Carolina, who said that Camp Casey was bringing her new hope for an end to the war.

This was my first direct meeting with other Gold Star Family members since my nephew was killed in Iraq. The communal outrage at the war, extending from profound personal loss to the political expression of Camp Casey, was at once emotionally overwhelming and empowering.

For myself, Camp Casey was the most inspiring antiwar expression since we shut down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on the day the war started.

The main tent was a huge construction, decked out with a stage and professional sound system. Dozens of round tables were variously occupied with supporters. A chow line kept supporters well fed with catered fresh foods and drinks.

Various groups displayed banners and engaged in discussions with people as they walked around inside the tent. Iraq Veterans Against the War had members present. Code Pink, Not in Our Name, the GI Rights Hotline and the International Socialist Organization were also represented. A variety of supporters had sent messages to the camp. A display of artistic banners brought by a supporter from Homer, Alaska, lined a corner of the tent.

People were anxious to engage in political discussion, about the war and beyond. Inside the larger tent, I met people from all over the country who had come to Camp Casey to support the movement.

Some locals explained that although they had been against the war for some time, they weren't sure what to do about it until Camp Casey came to the area. They were excited to finally have something to be a part of and now that they now see what is possible.

A few speakers took to the stage, explaining why they were at Camp Casey. One was a former Bush supporter, many were members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), and some were musicians and poets.

An MFSO couple talked about their son, who they had heard from the day before--he had asked them to thank the Camp Casey supporters for standing up against the war. A musician performed "Sons and Daughter," a song that questioned why only the poor are sent to slaughter, and advising Bush to check his facts because we've got Cindy's back.

Camp Casey has brought many activists back into the antiwar movement, with new ideas about how to move ahead. It has also attracted many from around the country and in Texas to the first sign in a long time that something can be done to stop the war. Looking forward to September 24, the energy coming from Camp Casey can push the movement forward and bring the troops home now!

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