Schenectady County

Activist Cindy Sheehan urges change in nation

When Cindy Sheehan made a detour to Crawford, Texas, in 2005, she only intended to ask President Geo

When Cindy Sheehan made a detour to Crawford, Texas, in 2005, she only intended to ask President George W. Bush to explain the “noble cause,” the term he used to describe the objective her son Casey and scores of other soldiers died for in Iraq.

Though the grieving mother never received an answer from the president in her month camped outside his ranch, she inadvertently vaulted herself into the forefront of the international peace movement. And in some sense, she found her own noble cause.

“If you think the country is off track, then you should do everything in your power to get it back on track,” she told a group of more than 100 students and area activists gathered in the auditorium at Union College’s Reamer Campus Center. “My mission is to make America that place they said my son died for.”

Sheehan, an independent candidate for Congress and prominent among the founders of Gold Star Families for Peace — families who have lost a member to war — urged the crowd to become involved in the political process in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. But more important, she asked them to stay active and true to their beliefs, long after the election cycle has run its course.

“True democracy happens between the election,” she said,

Sheehan visited the Capital Region this week as part of the Peace and Sustainability Conference this weekend in Albany. She was invited to Union by Campus Action, an organization that aims to support the growth of social change at the school and within society.

Casey Sheehan joined the Army in 2000 as a way to pay for college, his mother said. Though recruiters told him his job as a Humvee mechanic would keep him out of combat, Sheehan said he ended up fighting within his first week in Iraq.

The soldier’s convoy was ambushed by a Shiite militia on April 4, 2004. Sheehan, 24, was among eight soldiers who died after their vehicle was hit with rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire.

The following summer, Sheehan was attending a Veterans For Peace rally in Dallas when she decided to visit the Bush ranch outside of Crawford. Her initial group of six activists captured the attention of the media and grew to eventually incorporate more than 15,000 anti-war activists.

But Sheehan said the momentum that grew out of her movement wasn’t organized effectively and didn’t last as long as she had hoped. She said the dissipation of the movement’s strength at that point in time was disappointing.

“Everybody was just relying on one voice instead of being their own voice,” she said.

Sheehan announced she would cease her activities with the anti-war movement in May 2007, but didn’t stay out of the spotlight for long. On her 50th birthday in July, she announced she would run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, a Democrat she faulted for perpetuating the failed policies that led to the war in Iraq.

“This is a historic race because we’re running against the speaker of the House,” she said. “We’re running against everything that is the status quo in this country.”

Sophomore Hyma Kavuri, the president of Campus Action, said Sheehan’s visit was intended to motivate Union students into becoming more organized and involved with the world around them. She said Sheehan’s experiences in activism might give pause for others to reflect upon their own reasons for speaking out against the war.

“A lot of us can say we’re against the war, but some of us don’t know why,” she said.

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