VERMONT - Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan isn't from Vermont, but her three-day barnstorming tour here this week will be a homecoming of sorts. There aren't many places in the United States as sympathetic to her cause of bringing the troops home from Iraq as soon as possible, or for launching impeachment hearings against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Sheehan has become the iconic face of the American antiwar movement. She first gained international attention during her extended peace vigil in August 2005 near Bush's private ranch outside of Crawford, Texas. There she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a personal meeting with Bush to ask why her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Since then, the 49-year-old mother and founder of Gold Star Families for Peace has been a regular visitor to "Camp Casey," a parcel of barren land she now owns near Bush's ranch.
From March 2 to 4, Sheehan is scheduled to speak in nearly a dozen Vermont towns and cities - including at a Vermont Senate hearing on Friday - to lend her support to some 20 Town Meeting Day resolutions calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Another resolution, on the agendas of at least 23 towns and cities, calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to open impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney for lying to the American people about the justifications for war, for condoning torture, and for approving illegal spying on U.S. citizens.
Sheehan spoke to Seven Days by phone last week from her home in California. She's excited about visiting Vermont, she said, because she sees here the kind of grassroots democracy needed to finally bring an end to this war.
"I've been calling for George Bush's impeachment since two days after he was 'elected,'" Sheehan said. "In Congress, there's nobody right now who's willing to do that. Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) says it's got to come from the people, so that's what we're doing, rallying the people."
Sheehan was dismissive of the White House's attempt to spin the announcement last week by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the UK is withdrawing most of its forces from Iraq by the end of this year. Bush's characterization of that withdrawal as "a turning point in the war" is "a joke," she said. "The only turning point that George Bush wants is more death and disaster," Sheehan said.
These days, Sheehan devotes much of her time to counter-recruitment efforts, speaking to young people, particularly students in high school and college, about what she called the "underhanded, manipulative and sneaky" methods of military recruiters. One big, untold story of this war, she added, was the class divide between those who pound the drums of war and those who go off to fight and die in them.
"People say there's no draft in this country, but there are all sorts of ways to draft people without doing it in a forthright, upfront way," Sheehan said. "You can have a poverty draft. You can have a backdoor draft, by holding soldiers over past their enlistment, which was going to happen to my son."
Sheehan wasn't dismayed that much of the early activism against this war came from older veterans of previous wars and earlier peace movements, and from parents who've lost children in Iraq or Afghanistan. In her estimation, the American peace movement is now becoming younger - last week, she pointed out, students walked out of classes at 20 campuses across the country. Moreover, she noted that the anti-Vietnam War movement didn't start in earnest until the war had been going on for at least four years.
Sheehan's fame has come at a price; she's a lightning rod for attacks by right-wing bloggers and talk-show hosts. One website - http://www.targetofopportunity.com - actually calls for her assassination. In Vermont, John McClaughry, of the conservative Ethan Allen Institute, has objected to Sheehan being granted permission to present what he calls "her impeachment circus" in the Senate Chamber.
Sheehan remains unfazed. "I really don't care what they're saying about me," she said. "Some things I say are considered radical at the time, but eventually the rest of the country catches up with me."
Friday, March 2
Statehouse Lawn, Montpelier, 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. Free. Info, 476-3154. Kirk Alumni Center, Middlebury College, 4 p.m. Free. Info, 443-5626. Campus Center Theater, Billings Student Center, UVM, Burlington, 7 p.m. Free. Info, 863-2345.
Saturday, March 3
Hazen Union High School, Hardwick, 10 a.m. Free. Info, 472-5472. St. Johnsbury School, noon; Middle Earth Music Hall, Bradford, 2:30 p.m. Free. Info, 222-4748. Fine Arts Center Auditorium, Castleton State College, 6:30 p.m. Free. Info, 779-3578.
Sunday, March 4
Unitarian Universalist Church, Rutland, 9:30 a.m., Manchester Village Picture Show, noon. Free. Info, 394-7814. Unitarian Meeting House, Springfield, 2:30 p.m. Free. Info, 603-542-6124. Brattleboro Union High School, 6 p.m. Free. Info, 257-7777.