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Between the Lines: Interview with Celeste Zappala

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media
for release Aug. 22, 2005

Cindy Sheehan's Vigil at President's Texas Ranch Sparks Powerful Antiwar Activism Among Soldiers' Families

Interview with Celeste Zappala, mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, cofounder of Gold Star Families for Peace, conducted by Scott Harris

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What began as a lonely vigil in front of President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch by Cindy Sheehan -- the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq -- has transformed into a powerful expression of the growing anti-war sentiment among Americans. Hundreds of peace activists, veterans and families of service men and women killed, wounded or currently serving in Iraq, have converged on Crawford to support Sheehan's call for a face-to-face meeting with the president to ask the question, "What noble cause have our soldiers died for in Iraq?" Supporters of the president have organized counterprotests in Crawford. One 46-year-old man used his pickup truck to run over hundreds of white crosses, each painted with the name of a fallen U.S. soldier. The crosses were placed near the ranch entrance by peace activists.

The unscripted spontaneous movement that Sheehan sparked comes as public opinion polls find increasing opposition to the war. A poll conducted by CNN/ Gallup/USA Today found that Americans by a 55-44% majority believe that the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. Fifty-six percent of those polled say some or all U.S. troops should be withdrawn now.

Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia traveled to Crawford to stand for several days outside the president's ranch with Cindy Sheehan and hundreds of other supporters. Her oldest son, Pennsylvania National Guardsman Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Baghdad in April 2004. She is a co-founder, along with Cindy Sheehan, of Gold Star Families for Peace. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Zappala about the power of the Crawford protest and why she advocates a quick withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

CELESTE ZAPPALA: I feel that Cindy's stand is important, it's really important. And it's important that the world and the president recognize that Cindy is raising the voice, and there are many of us who have that voice too.

Those of us who have lost kids, who have decided that the war was not a noble cause and not something that you could justify, need to have a place that we can speak about that. And as other families who have members who are serving are in great fear about what's happening to them and think that the war is wrong. Sometimes it takes somebody to open the door, and then there are many people who will come through. And I wanted to help be one of the voices that's there to speak and to give Cindy support and try to add another perspective.

I understand that this is quite a phenomenon and I understand that people will continue to try to just make it a "he said she said, Cindy did this, Cindy did that" -- and that puts a lot of pressure on her. And it's a struggle, it's hard.

But we can't lose sight of the fact that the war is going on. That every day more people are dying, either Americans or Iraqis. And we have to find a way out of this. We've got to find a way to bring our troops home. We've got to find a way to craft a different kind of foreign policy that doesn't treat our soldiers and other populations as expendable resources. And I want to protect other people from losing their kids and going through this experience that we've gone through, even if they don't agree with me. I want their kids to be whole and safe.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Celeste, how do you explain the power of what's happening in Crawford, Texas? Given that there are certainly some critics, but I think by and large there's a lot of respect for what Cindy Sheehan and hundreds of others are doing to demand some answers from our president at his ranch in Crawford Texas.

CELESTE ZAPPALA: I've been thinking about this, and I think it's because it's made up of real people whom others can look at and say, "Yeah, if that was my son -- I'd want to know, too." You know when you see the talking heads on CNN or Fox, and you listen to the celebrity folks, and people sort of say, "Ah, well you know that's what they do for a living." But this is real different. This is the real people. We're the people who have actually buried our kids. We're the people who wait for phone calls every night to make sure that their kids are not the next ones down. And they're just ordinary, common people -- and maybe that's what stirs people, that they can identify. That they can be awed by Cindy's courage to go and do this outrageous thing, but maybe they can really identify too, that she's been on this journey since her son died. She's been seeking honest answers and now she's got the courage to go to the most powerful place in the world and say, "Why?" And she's just a regular person. She was not a ce

BETWEEN THE LINES: Celeste, as you look to the future, what are your plans to advocate for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, as I know you are advocating?

CELESTE ZAPPALA: Well, I'll try to be vocal, I'll talk to everybody I can. I'm also a church person, so I'm involved with the religious community. And I am trying to focus a lot of my attention on the religious community to try to help people find their voices there.

We’re also planning for the demonstrations in Washington on the third week of September – Sept. 24th, there will be people from all over who will come to Washington and seek answers. We might be doing a bus trip that will take military families and Gold Star families and Iraq Vets to various small towns in the country to engage in dialogue.

Part of what I think is exciting and a little bit of a miracle, is that I think we have started a national conversation that really needs to happen about what we're doing in Iraq. And, maybe, people will be reluctant to turn away and pretend that they don't know what's going on or they don't have to care about what's going on. They do need to care even if they're not directly affected. Even if their children are not directly there; this is their fellow citizens. This is being done in their name. They're paying a billion dollars a week for it.

And so, if we can bring that home to people, that it could have been you, but it happens to be me in this situation. But it's important that in the future it can be your kin, and what are you going to do about it? How are you going to make sure that you don't allow this war to continue to the slaughter and utter catastrophe of the world with no purpose, with no plan, with nothing that makes any sense at all.

I guess that's what I ask people: "What are you going to do about it?" When Sherwood was little -- not little, but he was a young man -- and something would happen and he would hear some political outrage or something would go wrong in the world, and he would call me on the phone and he'd say, "Mom, what are you going to do about it, what are you going to do about this, mom? And I hear his voice all the time, "What are you going to do about it? And I'm doing everything I can … everything I can.

For more information on the Crawford vigil, visit the Gold Star Families website at

Related links:

* Meet with Cindy * Code Pink * Military Families Speak Out * United for Peace and Justice

Norman Solomon is syndicated columnist and author of "War Made Easy, How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death." Read portions of the book online at

Related links:

* Norman Solomon's column, "Media Beat" at

Related links on our website at


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Aug. 26, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.



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