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Ditch-slapping Bush

By the time you read this article, Cindy Sheehan and her friends might be in the county jail nearest Crawford, Texas.

This week, Sheehan, mother of Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan, killed in Iraq at the age of 25, has planted herself in George W. Bush's way, on the road to his ranch, demanding that he speak to her about her son's death and the deaths of more than 1,800 other American soldiers, about the Iraq war and our government's true intentions there.

Sheehan arrived in Crawford on Aug. 6, after addressing the national convention of Veterans Against the War in Dallas. At the end of her speech, Sheehan asked who among those assembled would like to ride with her to Crawford.

Plenty of them did, so a bus was chartered. On Sunday, the town of Crawford, population a little more than 700, found itself with more than 100 protestors on hand, sleeping in tents and cars, all quietly demanding an audience with President George W. Bush.

In Philadelphia on Monday, Aug. 7, Celeste Zappala, Cindy's friend and colleague in the activist group Gold Star Friends for Peace, was packing her bags to join the demonstration in Crawford.

Zappala's son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, died last year in Iraq protecting the Iraq survey group, made up of officials searching for weapons of mass destruction.

As we all know now, no weapons of mass destruction were found. On her office window, Zappala keeps a running tally of casualties in Iraq.

"Our main goal is to try and meet with President Bush," said Zappala in a phone interview on Monday. "We want the administration to understand what the real sacrifices have been for American families. We want to know why they're building military bases over there when we're supposedly planning to pull out, why the military is saying we'll be there for the next two decades at the same time they're saying they want to reduce troops by next year."

Down in Crawford, Diane Wilson of Seadrift, Texas, joined Cindy Sheehan on the side of the highway. A professional shrimp fisherwoman best known for going after the chemical company that was polluting the waters she fished for a living, Wilson is a founding member of Code Pink, a group of women opposed to the war in Iraq.

On Monday, Wilson said things were heating up, both literally and figuratively, in Crawford.

"It's gotten real intense," said Wilson. "Things have escalated. Word is out that they're probably going to try to evict us or arrest us on Thursday [when Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are scheduled to arrive in Crawford]. They're cutting us off, saying we're trespassing.

"We're fighting for the ditch."

The protestors were told by local sheriff's deputies on Sunday that they had to move off the road because they presented a "national security risk." Secret Service swarmed the area, she said, and helicopters buzzed overhead all night long.

The group retreated to a ditch on the side of the road, swarming with fire ants and openly accessible to rattlesnakes, then were told that the ditch was on private property and that they were trespassing. Since Texas law says that all land within 8 feet of either side of a highway is public property, Wilson says they decided to stand, or sit, their ground.

Joining Wilson and others in the ditch was Ann Wright, a former intelligence specialist who served 29 years in the Army and 16 years in the diplomatic corps. A government servant under seven different administrations, Wilson resigned in March 2003 in protest over what she calls George W. Bush's "illegal" war in Iraq.

"I believe it is entirely appropriate for the president of the United States, who has gotten us into a bad war, an unjust war, to acknowledge the feelings of the families of those who have lost their lives," said Wright, when asked why she's in Crawford. "In a broader sense, an ever-growing number of Americans want to bring the troops home.

"To get out of this war, it's going to take the American people rising up to say, 'You all have done us a very grave disservice.'"

Listening to these women, my throat aches and my ears begin to burn. My son returned safely from Iraq a little over a month ago, uneasy talking about what he saw there. Our family celebrated. We stuffed our opposition to the war into a compartment of silence.

Listening to these women, there's nowhere I'd rather be than in a fire ant-infested ditch in West Texas, waiting for President Bush to pass by on the road.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that silence is betrayal," said Celeste Zappala when we talked. "I believe silence is complicity as well."

-- kathryn@csindy.com

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