David Swanson Blogs From Camp Casey, Crawford TX
David Swanson Blogs From Camp Casey, Crawford TX
Three blog entries from afterdowningstreet.org's David Swanson at Camp Casey, Crawford Texas.
Blogging in the Crawford Heat
By David Swanson
26 August 2005
I came to Crawford today, and it's a little different from DC in several ways, but mostly it's hotter. I've been to both Camp Caseys, and am blogging this from the cool of the Crawford Peace House. At Camp Casey 1, I went across the road and talked to the half-dozen pro-war protesters. (There are police in the middle who have declared that there must be no interaction, but I didn't ask their permission.) I asked the pro-warers what they would tell Cindy Sheehan her son died for. Some of them couldn't come up with any reason for the war. A couple of them came up with this: Saddam Hussein would not have allowed Cindy Sheehan to protest on his road, and the war is being fought to protect that right in the US.
That's it. That was the best they could do. I didn't ask them what other countries we should attack to protect such rights, even as the Bush administration chips away at such rights. I didn't ask how bombing countries that lack rights protects rights in countries that don't. I felt I'd strained them enough. It seemed clear they hadn't been asked before to justify the war. When I left to drive back here, a newscaster from Channel 25 in Waco was putting on lipstick in her van, preparing to report the news.
The pro-war folks were friendly, as are the residents of Crawford (probably all 705 of them) and the surrounding area. But the inhabitants of Camp Casey are like a loving family. They're welcoming of everyone and tolerant even of diverse opinions on the war. At Camp Casey 2 today, long after the morning's big press conference was over, around 100 or 150 people hung around, mostly talking about the war. Many have inspiring stories about how they got here. Some canceled major plans to come. Some came after hearing another's story on the radio, and then met that other person here.
I've met today dozens of people I'd only known by voice and Email. Almost every person here who didn't know me, wanted to hug me when someone told them I worked on AfterDowningStreet.org. It's quite amazing to realize that virtually every person in the middle of this hot Texas field has gotten their news on the internet. In fact, you can get on the internet and plug into electricity at Camp Casey 2. The wireless connection went down today (I blame Karl Rove), but will no doubt be fixed. There's also free food, free drinks (non-alcoholic), free medical care, and free solidarity with people from all over this country who support Cindy's demand to speak with Bush.
Barbara Cummings, who came from San Diego and is managing parking at the Peace House, is full of good stories. Her son, a Republican, recently came around to opposing the war, saying that he had to place right-or-wrong above politics. Barbara also spotted a man leaning over his pickup truck crying, near the Peace House. He told her that when he'd gone out to Camp Casey he'd fallen on his knees and realized that he would have to go home to Dallas and tell his colleagues and friends and wife to oppose the war. He was composing himself before coming into the Peace House to make a large donation.
The largest presence at Camp Casey is of military families and veterans. At the press conference this morning, which I arrived too late for, Cindy introduced newly arrived families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Ann Wright, the career diplomat who resigned over the war, has been managing Camp Casey from the get go. She described this morning's events to me while being constantly interrupted with cell phone calls about where people could camp, how many tables were needed, food, crosses, messages…. She was also keeping a constant eye out for people hanging new banners or promoting new agendas. Today a man walked out the long road to Camp Casey 2 carrying a full-sized cross. Unlike Jesus, he didn't have strong opinions on things and said he was apolitical. The other day a woman showed up from PETA wearing nothing but four lettuce leaves.
Today's press conference was focused on the Eye's Wide Open campaign of the American Friends Service Committee. They brought 50 pairs of boots of soldiers killed in Iraq, including the boots of Casey Sheehan. The boots are displayed beside crosses in front of the tent of Camp Casey 2. There are also still crosses along the road at Camp Casey 1.
Members of the "mainstream" media are in bad graces at Camp Casey at the moment, because they've trampled on the crosses. They did so last night, and again today. Last night, after Jeff Keys played Taps, Cindy knelt down beside a cross to place flowers. Members of the media, who have been so relaxed about covering the lies that sent Casey Sheehan to his death, didn't let the crosses of other soldiers stop them from hurrying to get a good shot of Cindy.
"Everyone was horrified," Ann said, who noted that there are Iraq War veterans here with all the signs of post traumatic stress syndrome. This morning, after the press conference, Cindy led a mother named Melanie, and her baby, to a cross, and the media did it again.
New arrivals continued to show up today at Camp Casey 2, and so did two more boxes of boots. In fact, you can send supplies and best wishes directly there to the following address: Peace Camp #2, Secret Service Site #2, Crawford, Texas.
The 800 crosses were brought by Arlington West, and Ann said that one of the people who brought them was coming back. I met numerous people today who have traveled long distances more than once to get here. "Once you've been here, you can't stay away," says Ann.
And a lot of people are expected back, along with newcomers, this weekend. Last Saturday there were 1,000 people, and last Sunday about 800. Everyone expects a larger crowd this weekend. And the pro-war folks claim they'll have a big crowd too.
"We want big crowds," Ann said. "It will be miserable but wonderful. Everyone ought to endure a little misery, just like our troops are doing in Iraq. Physically you'll be miserable, but emotionally you'll be at the highest point." – as Ann clearly is, herself. She's amazed by the efforts people have made to come. Four women from Monterey, California, came after their community raised the money to send them. Another told a taxi driver she was coming here, and he got out of the cab and gave her a kiss.
The one guy who hasn't been around is Bush, who flew off to Utah and Idaho. He can't get in or out of his ranch by land when he comes back, because both entrances have become protest camps. He can travel by helicopter though. Ann said there was also a helicopter landing area at Camp Casey 2 in case Bush wanted to use it, and that he's invited to the BBQ on Saturday. "We're good neighbors," she said. "He hasn't even sent us a cup of lemonade. We've been waiting."
A new small tent was set up today next to the enormous one at Camp Casey 2. It will serve as a base for organizations that have joined this effort but are not the central focus of it. The focus, of course, is on veterans and military families who want answers from Bush about why this war was fought.
Ann Wright, a career diplomat, said "Every diplomatic skill I have ever had has come into use," in the work of including disparate groups and a range of issues without diluting the powerful focus on Cindy's demand. "But it's been wonderful," she said. "Everyone is here because they support this woman's action and want this war to end."
Ann and I had to stop chatting when the ice truck arrived.
I wanted to jump in the swimming hole in Crawford, but never made it, because I went back over to Camp Casey 1 and talked to the two groups on two sides of a road and two sides of a war.
On the pro-war side, I spoke to a woman named Betty Grant. She said her grandson was headed for Iraq next February. (Not if we end the war first!) "I'm trying to show that we're proud," she said. "I hope to make him as proud of me as I am of him."
Grant said that Bush has a job to do and should not take time to meet with Sheehan. She said she was sympathetic with Cindy for her loss, but wondered "where would we be today if people had her attitude when Hitler was around?"
Grant said, "My Granddaddy's generation would have known how to handle [Sheehan's protest]." I asked her to be more explicit, and she said "Well, they wouldn't have made the president go talk to her."
A man to Grant's right jumped into the conversation uninvited to say "My brother is over there now." He pointed to his brother's framed photo hanging on the wire fence. The man's name was Steve Silvas of Temple, Texas, and his brother Sandy Silvas.
Steve said he'd gotten an Email from his brother last night saying that morale was high among his troops. He'd already asked his brother's permission to display his photo and tell his story. His brother, he said, had told him to do it as close as possible to the anti-war protesters, and to "make sure they spell my name right."
Sandy Silvas, Steve said, is a Sergeant First Class at Forward Operation Base War Horse, and has been in Iraq since Thanksgiving.
I asked Steve Silvas what he would tell Cindy Sheehan her son died for. He hesitated, and then said "I would tell her I support the President."
I asked again what reason he would give for the war that Casey Sheehan died in. "He knew what he was getting himself in for," Silvas said.
Grant said, "I would ask her what her son would say."
"Or, what the people in his unit would say," added Silvas.
Then Silva asked me whether, if Cindy were an Iraqi mother whose son had died, anyone would care. I replied that the media clearly would not, since so many thousands of Iraqi sons had been killed. But he missed my point, as I had missed his. He went on:
"Would Saddam have talked to her? Would she have been allowed to camp out in front of his palace? There are rights we take for granted. That's the reason we're over there. If you can't support the troops, how can you call yourself an American?"
But, Silvas added, "I support their right to do what they're doing.
Cindy Meets the Media
By David Swanson
26 August 2005
There's a press conference at 10:30 a.m. CT every day at Camp Casey 2 near Crawford, Texas, and today was no exception.
PHOTO OF PRESS CONFERENCE: http://tinyurl.com/coayr
Seven military family members and veterans spoke very briefly, then Cindy Sheehan spoke, and then Cindy answered questions from the assembled representatives of our (private) public communications system. The whole thing took 20 minutes. Then it took me 20 minutes to drive back to the Crawford Peace House, another 20 minutes to do an interview for Pacifica Radio about it, and another 20 to 30 minutes to talk to people on the way to my computer, which is the great thing about being in Crawford. So, this live blog is live in a delayed way.
First to speak at the press conference was a woman named Tina (I missed her last name), a veteran of the Iraq War. She spoke in favor of peace and in support of the soldiers and of Cindy's request to meet with Bush.
Next was Willie Adams, a veteran who said, "The best thing we can do for veterans is not make any more."
Then Steve DeFord of Salem, Ore., spoke about his son, who was killed in Iraq.
A woman named Tamarra from Military Families Speak Out said that she was very grateful for Camp Casey because on many military bases there is a culture of silence and fear, and it is difficult for people to speak about the justifications for war (or lack thereof).
Vince George from West Virginia said that his brother is in the National Guard. "Supporting the troops," he said, "means bringing them home safe."
Teresa from Ohio, also with Military Families Speak Out, described her reaction when she saw Bush's slideshow presentation of himself searching for weapons of mass destruction in his office. "As a military family member, I found that insulting," she said.
Jeff Keys, an Iraq War veteran said that military parents see someone die and think "That could have been my child," but that he sees the Gold Star families and thinks "That could be my parents." He said he was here to stand for Cindy. "And, I know that if the roll was reversed, Casey would be standing here for my parents."
Next to speak was Cindy who announced that a bus tour will travel from here to Washington, D.C., leaving here on the 31st and arriving there by September 24, the day of the massive anti-war demonstration. Cindy said that she would be on the bus tour for the first two days, but that after that she had other engagements that had been scheduled before Camp Casey began. But, she said that she would join everyone in DC on the 24th.
Tomorrow, Cindy said, a huge crowd is expected at Camp Casey. And pro-war demonstrators are expected too. Cindy said that she and those with her are not looking for any trouble and are here in peace and are cooperating with the sheriff's department and the Secret Service.
Cindy issued a public invitation for any Gold Star families from the other side to come to a private meeting with her tomorrow evening at 5:30 p.m. CT, "not to debate anything, but to have a dialogue….We all have the same pain," she said.
When asked what she thought of the counter demonstrators, Cindy said that it was their right to demonstrate. She said that she actually preferred the current situation to the one of apathy that existed some months back. "Those who have been on the fence – at least most of us have fallen off on one side. People are putting their money where their mouths are….Democracy only works if people participate."
Another reporter asked "Do you think the President should be influenced by protests or should make his own judgment."
"No," said Cindy, "I think the President works for us." This remark was followed by laughter and cheers. Cindy went on to point out that polls show a majority of the country agreeing with those at Camp Casey.
"What I wanted when I came out here," she said, eliciting more laughter from the press, "was just a performance review for the president."
Another reporter asked Cindy to compare this anti-war movement to that during the Vietnam War. She replied that she had been in elementary school then, but that she knew that this one had started much sooner.
And she stressed that it needs to end now. "How many more soldiers have to die? We don't want to see any more flag-draped coffins." Cindy described the conditions under which soldiers are working in Iraq, with poor food, insufficient supplies and armor. "They're creating injured soldiers and closing veterans' hospitals," she said, "and we're being accused of not supporting the troops!"
A reporter asked whether Mr. Qualls, the man who started the pro-war camp in the town of Crawford (which generally has about 2 people at it), was invited to the meeting tomorrow evening.
Of course, replied Cindy. She said they'd had one congenial meeting already and that there were pictures on the internet of the two of them hugging. "So, I don't know how he turned into the anti-Sheehan overnight."
Asked about bus-tour destinations, Cindy let it be known that a likely first stop was Congressman Tom Delay's office.
Asked why, she said, "Because the president is not going to meet with us. I mean, there's always hope. But, we need to start influencing our congressional representatives."
The last question asked was what Cindy would say to Iraqis who want the US in Iraq. Cindy replied that we did not need the military presence.
PHOTO OF PRESS CONFERENCE:
The Calm Before
By David Swanson
27 August 2005
It's very, very early morning on Saturday, August 27, in Crawford, Texas. The roads are as dark as Dick Cheney's heart, and the stars as numerous as W's lies. All hell has not yet broken loose and may or may not do so later today. But the police are telling the media that they're preparing for trouble. And Camp Casey 2 ran a workshop yesterday on how to nonviolently respond to hostility. (Watch video on Truthout.org.)
Huge numbers of supporters of Cindy Sheehan are expected here today, along with a rumored crowd of pro-war activists (whether it will be of any size remains to be seen). And then there's the rumor that local military recruiters will work the crowd if it materializes at the high school stadium. This is one of those rumors that makes a little too much sense to seem true. What, after all, does it mean to be a pro-war activist if not to sign up and engage in the war?
Tonight at Camp Casey 2 there were a couple of hundred people around through the evening. We ate and enjoyed the performances of some extremely talented musicians and singers. Then we all gathered 'round as Cindy did an interview from the middle of the tent with Bill Maher on his HBO show. I hope to upload at some point a video we taped of the event that does not show what Maher said (we couldn't hear him), but does include shots of the crowd, which Maher could not see (we were all behind the camera), but which he clearly heard – there were deafening shouts and cheers after each of Cindy's best remarks.
From Cindy's statements, it was easy enough to tell what she was being asked. She insisted more than once that Bush KNEW he was lying about the reasons for the war, and she cited the Downing Street Memo. She said the word "lies" more often than it's probably been printed in the past year by the New York Times.
She was also clearly asked about ending her campaign, because she replied that the anti-war movement has a life of its own, and that she couldn't stop it if she wanted to.
Following the Bill Maher taping, we watched a three-giant-screen film presentation called "Artists Against the War," which told the story of the anti-war movement from the war on Afghanistan through to the War on Iraq.
As this presentation made clear, there has been an understanding of the lies that drove this war since before the war was launched, a serious analysis of the real motives, and a massive movement of resistance, all unbeknownst to the common consumer of corporate news.
But the movement that is busy being born at Camp Casey is something new and more inspiring than anything we've seen before. It raises hopes that we may make future wars far more difficult in this country. And I'm inclined to think that even pro-war activism will help in this change – for the reason that Cindy gave so brilliantly at her press conference yesterday morning: democracy thrives on participation.
If one of the motives for war is to diminish (through fear) political involvement on the domestic front, both anti- and pro-war activism work against that calculation. And if war becomes less attractive to the powerful in this country, it may be that we can turn their focus to sports or some other means of distracting people from their lives.
But another motive for war is to justify Pentagon spending. And if we are going to end wars, we must end that insane level of unaccountable waste. This is a step that is not found in any of the competing petitions and proposals that I have seen for an "exit strategy."
Unless we have a vision for massive investment in the economy through something other than the Pentagon, such as renewable energy, mass transit, education, health care – unless we have a vision for a world that can handle peace, then we're going to have a hard time ending wars.
But we may not have as hard a time ending this current war as many now think. A movement is building. And it is setting its sites on demanding action from Congress. And already in Congress we are seeing movement in the right direction, perhaps most notably in the growing support in the House International Relations Committee for a Resolution of Inquiry into pre-war lies (H Res 375).
The movement born in Crawford will metamorphose into a series of bus tours targeting key congressional districts on the road to Washington, D.C., between now and September 24. For details on where the buses are going, see: