Cindy Sheehan and Keeping the Faith

“It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most.”

I was relieved to hear Cindy Sheehan say this morning on Democracy Now that she does not plan to retire from the struggle for peace and justice. Instead, she will be taking a well-deserved and needed break to reconnect with her family, deal with serious economic and health issues and figure out how she can best utilize her skills and talents going forward.

She also made it very clear that she has had it with the two-party system, or “what some call a one-party system,” and she was crystal clear that it is corporate rule that is the ultimate root of the problems we face in the US and the world.

Thank you to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now for this important interview.

Like many others, I have been concerned and confused for a couple of days. I was confused when on Memorial Day I saw first one and then another statement from this courageous and self-sacrificing woman, both circulated over the internet around the same time.

The first statement was entitled, “Why I Am Leaving the Democratic Party.” It ended with a call for people to join with her in Philadelphia on July 4th “to try and figure out a way out of this ‘two’ party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives. As for myself, I am leaving the Democratic Party. You have completely failed those who put you in power to change the direction our country is heading. We did not elect you to help sink our ship of state but to guide it to safe harbor. . . We gave you a chance, you betrayed us.”

Having been part of organizations working to build an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans for 32 years, this was good to see.

However, later on the same day came a second statement which was more disturbing. This is the one which received much wider circulation and which was picked up by the corporate media. That mass media portrayed Sheehan as announcing to the world that she had left the anti-war movement for good.

A close reading of the second letter, however, especially in the light of the Democracy Now interview, reveals a different story.

It is clear that Cindy Sheehan has been under tremendous pressure, and not just because of her constant traveling, speaking and organizing against the war. She refers to her “hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) [that] are in collection.” She explains that she has “spent every available cent I got from the money a ‘grateful’ country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then.”

Let me be among the first to volunteer to make a contribution to a “restore Cindy” fund to let her know that many of us are grateful for what she has done and want to help in a concrete way.

It is also clear that Cindy Sheehan, for hopefully a short period of time, has lost hope in the possibilities of change in the USA. She writes, in reference to the reality of US society, that it is “a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable and rigidly mendacious marble.” And the end of the letter concludes by saying, “Good-bye America. . . you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it. It’s up to you now.”

If I were a close friend of Cindy’s, this is what I would most want to talk with her about.

I appreciate her feelings; I have had them myself. There are days, or parts of days, where I keep going not because I feel like we have a chance of turning around this destructive “paradigm” but because I feel it’s my duty to keep plugging away. I know that I need to give as much as I can to the struggle for a new world. I believe, I deeply believe, that our purpose on this earth is to try to depart it having done as much as we could to make it a better and more hopeful place for those coming after us.

But it is just not accurate to believe that all is lost, that the country is not changing, that there is no hope. The unwillingness of the Democratic Party, once again, to stand up for what is right is in no way an accurate indicator of what is happening at the grassroots of U.S. society, all over the country, in every single state.

How could George Bush be at 30% in the polls if there was no change of substance in the country?

How could the Republicans have lost control of Congress six months ago?

And even this: how could the Democrats have gone through the motions of pretending to stand up to George Bush, forcing him to veto a very, very weak war appropriations bill, if it were not for polls showing that close to 2/3rds of the country wanted them to try to stop the war?

The problem is not the people. The problem is a corporate-dominated political and economic system that shuts us out and that tries to make us feel hopeless, unable to “fight City Hall” and win.

There’s no question that we are up against a formidable enemy, but there is also no question, history proves it without a doubt, that if we are organized and united, a powerful people’s movement can turn around our current reality, and a lot more quickly than we might think.

Not being “organized and united”–this was the other big issue Cindy raised in her letter. She referred to her “work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. . . It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.”

Yes, personal egos and divisions are within our movements. This is not a new problem. Many good and wonderful people have been lost to the progressive movement because they experienced just what Cindy has experienced. How can we say that we are about a new and different society and then interact with others also working for that new society in a way which is little different than the corporate, individualistic culture?

Eight years ago I wrote in my Future Hope book that a “cultural transformation process must be an integral part of a new political movement in this country.” I went on to say that “we need to learn how to work in a collective and cooperative way, a way which is distinctly different than the aggressive, me-first culture that is dominant in U.S. society today. We need to show by example, by the way the movement functions, that we have grown and learned beyond the old, destructive patterns of personal interaction. When one of us has a serious personal problem, an injury, an illness, a death in the family, or emotional distress, others must be there to provide support and assistance. We must be known not just for our good ideas about how to re-make society and our work on issues but by the way we interact with each other and with other people on personal levels.”

I hope that Cindy Sheehan’s “resignation as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement” will stir those of us who have been moved by her brave witness and leadership to appreciate and internalize her anguished cry for a new kind of movement. It is within our reach, I do believe. I see signs of it, despite the obstacles, with one of the best examples being the success of the organizing process for the U.S. Social Forum a month from now in Atlanta.

And Cindy, know that you are loved and appreciated. The progressive movement for justice and peace is not dependent upon you, but we want you back, when you are ready.