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"We're taking Camp Casey to Washington"
U.S. out of Iraq now!

September 2, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2

CINDY BERINGER reports from Crawford, Texas, on the final weekend of Cindy Sheehan's antiwar vigil outside George Bush's ranch.

THEY CAME by the busload.

They came to Camp Casey on its final weekend in Crawford, Texas, to hear the woman who started it--Cindy Sheehan. They also came to hear all the other family members--who've lost sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.

But mainly they came because they wanted to be a part of a movement that started under the blazing sun of central Texas skies and has grown beyond anyone's imagination. Some 2,500 or more antiwar protesters crowded into this one-stoplight town August 27--including actor Martin Sheen and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Meanwhile, pro-war forces attempted to push back by mobilizing people to Crawford. For weeks, war supporters and right-wing pundits have attacked Cindy personally, and the "You don't speak for me, Cindy" bus tour that originated in Cindy's hometown of Vacaville, Calif., timed its arrival in Crawford for the weekend's events. But the right wingers couldn't match the size of the antiwar crowd.

Three days later, antiwar activists and volunteers packed up and began their own tour--the "Bring Them Home Now Tour" with stops in some 35 cities. Buses following three different winding routes from Crawford will converge in Washington, D.C., days before the September 24 antiwar demonstration there. The bus tour will take the message of Camp Casey on the road, asking people along the way to make the trip to Washington also.

Meanwhile, British antiwar leader and member of parliament George Galloway will begin a "Stand Up and Be Counted: No to War and Occupation" tour of eight U.S. cities. Galloway will be joined along the way by actress Jane Fonda, folksinger Joan Baez, Iraq War resister Camilo Mejía and Veterans for Peace national president Dave Cline, among others.

However large the turnout on September 24, there's no question that the antiwar movement has become newly energized since Cindy Sheehan decided to hold a vigil on the side of a hot and dusty road near Bush's ranch August 6.

On that first day, Cindy and her supporters were thrilled when a dozen cars wound their way up the road toward Bush's ranch. No one figured that weeks later, this same country road would be clogged with thousands of cars, and that Sheehan supporters would be waiting in line to be shuttled to and from parking lots in Crawford and other surrounding towns.

Last weekend, as the temperature broke the 100-degree mark and the thick humidity made breathing difficult, the danger of heat exhaustion was real. But no one was complaining. There was a sense of history in the making.

"We've had enough," said Cindy during her brief speech at the rally. She had traveled to Crawford seeking an answer to a simple question--what noble cause did Bush send her son to Iraq to die for?

"I finally figured out what the noble cause is," Cindy said. "He wants more American soldiers killed because American soldiers have already been killed. Before your illegal, immoral invasion/occupation, you always said if you're not for us, you're against us. Well, Mr. President, we're against you."

In addition, Cindy confronted her critics who came to Crawford that day, saying that she wanted to ask the "pro-war, pro-killing people who have tried to smear me...How many more are you willing to sacrifice for lies and deception and bull-crap?"

Other speakers were equally powerful. There was Iraq veteran and Marine Corp. Sean O'Neill, who talked about the contrast between the huge buffets awaiting U.S. soldiers at their camps--and the starving children of Falluja on the outside. "They are dying of diphtheria and anything else a good diet could cure," O'Neill said. "We weren't doing anything to help them. We're there for our own interests."

There was Joan Baez, who had come to sing the weekend before and never left. There was Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement, who told the crowd that they were "participating in the crumbling of this military empire."

The father of a soldier whose son died in Iraq walked among the crowd. He wore a T-shirt with a picture of his son--and the words "Bush lied, my son died." Few people who looked into this father's eyes will forget the impact of "Number 1063," the only identification printed on the shirt.

Speakers at the rally made it clear that this movement wasn't going away. Amy Branham said she had been "so afraid to speak up"--until "I marched on Crawford in a ditch with Cindy." She said that her son, Jeremy Smith of the U.S. Army Reserves, "would be so mad that he died for a lie."

After weeks of enduring the growing turnouts at Camp Casey, the Bush administration finally mobilized its base to Crawford. Headlines across the country warned of "dueling" protesters, somehow equating both the numbers and the morality of the two sides. But in the end, the confrontation promised by the media failed to materialize.

Shuttles on the way to Camp Casey had to pass 15 to 20 war supporters at Camp Qualls, set up at the Yellow Rose Gift Shop by a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. Ironically, the yellow rose is a "cherished" Texas symbol of the Battle of the Alamo, which was fought to steal Texas from the Mexicans and insure that slavery took root on Texas soil.

With Camp Casey hitting the road, activists across the U.S. will shift their attention to mobilizing as many people as possible for the antiwar protests in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco on September 24.

With support for the occupation and Bush's approval ratings plunging to new lows, we have to seize the moment. All out on September 24! Bring the troops home now!

Eric Ruder contributed to this report.

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