In Texas, A Time to Circle the Minivans
Sunday, August 14, 2005
CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 13 -- Barbara Cummings was home in San Diego Monday, listening to an Air America radio broadcast, when she heard the tale of a woman who was coming here to join Cindy Sheehan in her growing protest against the war in Iraq.
The woman on the radio had a son who had signed on for a second tour of duty in the Army after losing his job. In two weeks, he is scheduled to ship out to Iraq. Cummings jumped on the phone and called her friend, Gloria Polk. "I asked her, 'Are you following the Cindy Sheehan story?' And she was."
The next day, the two retirees hopped in a rented minivan for the 22-hour drive to the heart of Texas.
Today, Cummings found herself in front of the Crawford Peace House, a gathering place for protesters, holding a hand-lettered sign. She was directing a stream of cars descending on this normally sleepy town to a dirt parking lot adjacent to a nearby high school football field.
Polk, meanwhile, was at the wheel of her blue Dodge Caravan, shuttling protesters up to the roadside campsite near President Bush's 1,600-acre ranch where Sheehan has been holding her defiant vigil for more than a week.
"We're both here because of our grandchildren," Cummings explained. "It feels like a word-of-mouth thing. Everybody I meet is saying they had to be here."
While the antiwar activists buzzed around the Peace House preparing for a scheduled rally, more than 150 flag-waving marchers made their way toward Sheehan's camp to show their support for the war. Also, a lone demonstrator drove a pickup truck blaring country music with a large American flag flying from its bed. A sign on his door read: "Texas Is Bush Country."
James Vergauwen and his wife, Wynell, preferred to stay put next to their Harley to make their point. "I'm just here to let the president and the troops know that there are people here who do support them," said James Vergauwen, who wore a cap emblazoned "The price of freedom is not free."
"I don't agree with the president about everything. I just wish Cindy Sheehan could spend one hour in the president's shoes making tough decisions."
Several hundred antiwar protesters converged on Crawford today, and many of them had similar stories. They believe that Sheehan, a 48-year-old mother from Vacaville, Calif., whose son was killed in Iraq last year, has magically ignited a struggling peace movement with her quiet, but defiant protest.
"It's just a miracle what's going on here," said Bill Mitchell, who lost his son, Michael, in Iraq on April 4, 2004 -- the same day that Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed. Along with Sheehan, he has protested the war for more than a year and helped organize other military families in support of their cause. But often it seemed that no one cared. "We've worked so long and hard to get our message out," he said.
Ray McGovern, a former intelligence official turned antiwar activist, came down from Virginia to support Sheehan. "I think Cindy has lit a spark where Americans can identify with the human costs of the war," he said.