Mother's Iraq Protest Plays to Smaller Crowd

Cindy Sheehan waits for people at her book signing near the president's ranch in Crawford, Tex., where she spoke to a crowd of about 100 people.
Cindy Sheehan waits for people at her book signing near the president's ranch in Crawford, Tex., where she spoke to a crowd of about 100 people. (Evan Vucci - AP)

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005

CRAWFORD, Tex., Nov. 26 -- Dancing to reggae music and hugging her supporters, Cindy Sheehan led an anti-Iraq war rally Saturday at a one-acre campsite adjoining the ranch where President Bush is spending his holiday weekend.

As in August, when she galvanized attention and made headlines for days with similar protests, there were songs and speeches and demonstrators holding signs reading "Bring the Troops Home" near the main entrance of the 1,600-acre ranch where Bush has been vacationing since Tuesday.

Unlike then, when hundreds came from all over the country for major events at the two campsites named after Sheehan's son, who was killed in Iraq, Sheehan found herself addressing a crowd of only about 100 Saturday afternoon. The large tent where supporters had erected a stage hung with the banner "Speak Truth to Power" was only partially full. In the morning Sheehan signed copies of her new book, being published this week, for an even smaller crowd.

The weather did not help. Rain fell hard in central Texas in the early morning before afternoon sunshine but perhaps not before some potential protesters concluded the field and the narrow roads leading to it would be a muddy mess.

But there was a clear sense even among organizers that this holiday weekend was not destined to match the drama or national attention of the 26-day vigil Sheehan and her allies led as they camped at this site last summer. Since then, the protesters have traveled the country, and some were arrested while protesting in front of the White House.

Meanwhile, as polls show many Americans are souring on the war, attention has shifted to Congress, where some Democrats have begun to push for the withdrawal of troops.

Sheehan said she was pleased with the crowd, given that the event coincided with the holiday weekend.

"It's a pretty good turnout," she said. "It is Thanksgiving weekend. People spend it at home with their families or shopping, getting ready for Christmas."

Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in protest of the war and now organizes antiwar events in Crawford, said many of those who support the cause are in New Orleans, helping to lead efforts to clean up the city after Hurricane Katrina.

"What was important for us was to have a symbolic presence here now," she said. "Numbers are not important -- the numbers are out in the country."

"It's pretty obvious what's been happening since August," Sheehan said. "It's miraculous. The American people were on board. Now it seems like more of our leadership are getting on board."

As before, Sheehan's opponents also are out -- similarly in modest numbers. About a dozen gathered Saturday next to downtown Crawford's one intersection, holding signs reading "Cindy Go Home." That group has coalesced around Gary Qualls, from nearby Temple, Tex., whose Marine son was killed in Fallujah last year. On Saturday, he called for a new law that would bar antiwar demonstrators from using the names and images of troops killed in action without the permission of their families.

"Leave our fallen heroes out of this," he said. "Do what you must, but leave them out."

In his weekly radio address, delivered from Crawford, Bush thanked military personnel for their service and made special note of families who have lost loved ones in Iraq.

"The military families who mourn the fallen can know that America will not forget their sacrifice, and they can know that we will honor that sacrifice by completing the noble mission for which their loved ones gave their lives," he said.

Sheehan said she does not plan to return to Crawford for Christmas, but said she plans to be back for Easter. By then, she said, she hopes the political landscape will have shifted further.

"Bush's position is already very tenuous," she said. "I hope by then it is so tenuous that he'll have to start bringing the troops home as Congress starts to demand it."


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