Candlelight vigils calling for an end to the war in Iraq got underway Wednesday night in a national effort spurred by one mother's antiwar demonstration in Crawford, Texas, outside President Bush's ranch.
The vigils were urged by Cindy Sheehan, who has become the icon of the antiwar movement since she started a protest on August 6 in memory of her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year. Sheehan says she will remain outside the president's ranch until he meets with her and other grieving families, or until his monthlong vacation there ends.
More than 1,600 vigils took place nationwide, according to the organizers, MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America. A large vigil at Paris' Peace Wall, a glass monument near the Eiffel Tower, also drew thousands of people. And in Crawford itself, an estimated 200 protesters lit candles and gathered around a wooden, flag-draped coffin at Sheehan's growing camp, about a mile from the Bush compound.
While debating conservative pundit David Horowitz on Ron Reagan's MSNBC show the other night, I was struck by the desperation with which supporters of the war have turned their fury on Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq who has been trying to get an audience with President Bush.
Horowitz, the former left-wing zealot who is now a right-wing zealot, described the woman who has camped out near Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch as "hateful," accused her of dishonoring the memory of her son and promised that if Sheehan and other anti-war activists succeed in bringing an end to the occupation of Iraq then "rivers of blood" will flow in the streets of America. It was a remarkable performance, so much so that even Horowitz admitted that he was "emotional" about the subject.
Of course, Horowitz is wrong, on every point. But it is difficult to get angry with him, or even to take his ranting seriously. When Reagan asked me if I wanted to "dignify" Horowitz's comments with a response, I declined, except to express a measure of sympathy for Horowitz and other true believers who have become so frenzied in their need to defend the Iraq imbroglio that they feel they must attack a grieving mother who wants to make sure that no more parents will have to bury their sons and daughters as a result of the Bush administration's arrogance.
A campaign is being launched this week by a host of groups including Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action and others to demand an exit strategy from Iraq. A central part of these efforts is a new petition which lays out a way to get out of Iraq and will be presented to Congress in mid-September.
This comes at what could be a tipping point moment. The country is waking up to the truth that Bush's decisions have led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 1,800 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while making the US, the world and Iraq less secure. A majority of Americans now understand that we were deliberately misled into war; a majority recognize that the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq; and a majority believe that no matter how long US troops remain there, they will not be able to establish a stable, democratic government.
Cindy Sheehan's dignified and defiant stance in Crawford has highlighted the callousness of a President who lacks the compassion to grieve or mourn for those he sent into battle. As E.L. Doctorow wrote last year, "I fault this president for not knowing what death is...He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be."
One need not be a student of Tom DeLay's dirty dealings to recognize that the corruption of Washington is very nearly complete. Occupied by a president and vice president who are oilmen first and statesmen last, a Congress where Republicans and Democrats delay their votes until they have checked their campaign fund-raising receipts and a judiciary that is rapidly being packed with "bought" corporate lawyers such as Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, the nation's capital often seems completely beyond redemption.
It is not quite so true in the nation's 50 state capitals, however. Despite the ugliest efforts of corporate America -- via a lobbying frontgroup, the American Legislative Exchange Council -- to warp the process from Augusta (Maine) to Sacremento (California) as thoroughly as it has in Washington, there are still openings for progressive policymaking at the state level. Those openings are the target of the new Progressive Legislative Action Network (PLAN), a coalition developed to provide reform-minded legislators with strategic and research support as they seek to address the pressing economic and social issues that are left untended in a time of corporate hegemony.
"The goal is to bring as diverse a coalition together as possible so that our side has a cohesive agenda in the states," says David Sirota, the veteran progressive activist who has helped organize the network. "For too long, conservatives have been able to use huge sums of money to push the most radical right-wing policies through state legislatures. PLAN is committed to putting together the necessary resources and necessary coalitions to help progressive legislators stop this unchecked extremism, and start passing legislation that makes state governments work for ordinary citizens, not just monied special interests."
This past weekend, thousands of activists gathered at Los Alamos and other prominent nuclear facilities across the country to mark the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan. As demonstrators chanted "No more Hiroshimas! No more Nagasakis!," President Bush chose to honor the anniversary in another way: by proceeding with his plans to build newer, even more powerful nukes.
Last month, the Senate approved Bush's initial request of $4 million for research on a "robust nuclear earth penetrator" (RNEP)--a bomb that George Monbiot of the UK Guardian writes, has "a yield about 10 times that of the Hiroshima device." For all Bush has done to condemn the global proliferation of WMD, his actions are almost single-handedly destroying the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pact signed by nearly 200 nations.
But Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey--co-chair of the recently revamped Congressional Progressive Caucus--is taking a stand against Bush's hypocrisy. On July 20th, she introduced a resolution calling for the president to fulfill his obligation to the Non-Proliferation Treaty by beginning "verifiable and irreversible reductions in the United States strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems." "There will be no security for America or our world," Woolsey says, "unless we take all steps necessary for nuclear disarmament."
George Bush is on vacation in Crawford, Texas, taking the same August-long break that he did in the summer before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The appeal of Crawford appears to be that it provides the President with an opportunity to put aside all the troubles of the world and to focus on fixing fences and clearing brush. After all, it was during his previous vacation that Bush ignored an August 6, 2001, briefing document titled: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."
Bush's inner circle, a collection of neoconservative ideologues with an agenda of their own rather than an interest in what is best for the United States, made no effort in 2001 to steer the President's attention toward pressing matters of national security. And they remain determined to keep the woefully disengaged chief executive focused on busy work around the ranch rather than life-and-death questions of how this country should position itself in a complex and dangerous world.
But this summer, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq named Cindy Sheehan is making it harder for Bush to ignore the truth that his decisions have led to the unnecessary deaths of more than 1,800 Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, while making both the United States and Iraq more vulnerable to violence.