Elizabeth Bauchner

(WOMENSENEWS)–The Crawford Peace House sits on a small plot of land just a few miles from President Bush’s vacation ranch. It was purchased in 2003 by two men, who wish to remain anonymous, because they felt Crawford needed a home devoted to peace.

Whoever they are, their foresight was 20/20.

When Cindy Sheehan first plunked down her lawn chair in front of Bush’s ranch on Aug. 6, and demanded a meeting with him to explain what noble cause her son, Casey, died for in Iraq, the Peace House became the epicenter for scores of organizers and volunteers on behalf of Cindy and her supporters.

On Aug. 27, it drew me, and my children, as well.

When we arrived at the Peace House that Saturday, a friendly volunteer told us we could pitch our tents in the yard. There we camped for three nights.

Others stayed in nearby hotels or campgrounds. Some camped at Camp Casey I, the roadside ditch near President Bush’s ranch where Sheehan had been holding vigil for three weeks. Others slept at Camp Casey II, an acre of private land that one of Bush’s neighbors graciously lent to the campaign. I don’t know how many people attended the events that weekend, which included a Texas-style barbecue, an interfaith mass, two weddings, and visits from Al Sharpton and Martin Sheen.

But before I left, a volunteer told me that more than 8,000 people had signed in over the past couple of weeks.

For me, it was pretty much of a spur-of-the-moment decision to go.

I had hosted a vigil for Sheehan in Ithaca, N.Y., on Aug. 10 through MoveOn.org, hoping that a dozen or so people might come. Nearly 500 showed up. I felt buoyed by the turnout and energized about anti-war activism. I’m now making arrangements to attend the peace march in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 24 with my family.

When I made my sudden travel arrangements, I believed my three children–ages 14, 7 and 4–should also be a part of this historical event that was so integrally about the ties that bind mother and child.

In our name, mothers and their children in Iraq are being slaughtered by the thousands. In our name, our sons and daughters are arriving home in flag-draped coffins. As a mother, I feel it is of utmost importance to follow Sheehan’s leadership and to stand up against the war in Iraq. And I want my children to see that we have a right, even an obligation, to protest our government’s actions when they blatantly go against our values.

Whether or not my children adopt my anti-war sentiments, I want them to see dissent as a viable option to complacency.

Greeted by Thunder

The morning after we arrived, we awoke before dawn to a thunderstorm and a stream of water running through our tent. The kids were soon covered in mud.

In the yard, a large white canopy had been erected to feed the volunteers, staff, visitors and supporters. Volunteers kept coffee brewing, kept two tables filled with snacks and offered hot breakfasts each day.

The kids played outside in the shady gardens of the Peace House, and walked a stone labyrinth created by volunteers to offer a quiet place for peaceful meditation.

After we cleaned up and ate breakfast, we took a ride to Camp Casey II, where most of the day’s activities, such as the interfaith mass, had been planned. The man who drove us is Juan Torres, and he told me that he lost a son in Afghanistan. He believes his son was murdered by U.S. servicemen for reporting drug abuse among his fellow soldiers at Bagram Air Base.

Torres told me that the Pentagon is refusing to investigate his son’s death, and he’s frustrated with the current administration’s lack of empathy and compassion for the troops they are sending off to war.

In the back seat, a woman named Beatrice Torres–not related to Juan–told me she lost her nephew in Iraq. She said that even though he was her nephew, it was like he was her son. Like Sheehan, Beatrice Torres wants to know what noble cause killed her nephew.

Roses on Crosses

One of the more moving and memorable events of that weekend was a “rose drive” organized by Working Assets, the San Francisco-based long distance company.

Mothers from across the country purchased 4,500 roses that were trucked in for a memorial ceremony honoring the casualties of war. Family members of the fallen placed roses on rows of white crosses outside of the tent. Several of the crosses also contained the dog tags and combat boots of the fallen.

Many people shed tears for the immense loss of human life. My kids helped place roses on the crosses, quietly moving through them. They seemed to intuitively sense the solemnity of the event.

Later, when my youngest daughter woke up from a nap, she said to me, “Mom, we have to just think and think, even in our sleep when we dream, we have to just think and think of all those boys who died.”

Throughout the weekend, my kids entertained themselves in the shade, ate snacks and wandered around meeting people. They put up with intense heat, fire ants and lack of sleep due to loud train whistles at night.

Cindy Sheehan has mobilized anti-war activists across the nation, indeed, around the world. And for this she’s been called all sorts of things, including a “tool for the left” and a “political icon.”

But for me, she has put a parent’s face on the harsh realities of war. Cindy, Beatrice, Juan. All of these people who have lost loved ones–children who should never have been sent to this war–and over 1,800 others.

When I asked Sheehan during a press conference under the tent at Camp Casey II, how we could avoid sending our sons and daughters to war, she started to say, “By raising our children . . . ” And then she stopped herself.

She began a second time by saying that she never told Casey his country might misuse or abuse him. She made a plea that all mothers explain this to their children because Casey never believed his commander in chief would misuse him.

That commander in chief has made it clear he will not speak with Casey’s mother, so Cindy has moved on to pressuring Congress for answers to her questions.

When all is said and done, perhaps her greatest accomplishment will not be to force President Bush or Congress to explain the Iraq war, but to mobilize mothers such as me to stand up against it.

Sheehan’s courageous leadership deserves all the following she is getting.

Elizabeth Bauchner is a freelance writer in Ithaca, N.Y. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child magazine, Teaching Tolerance and on this Web site.

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