What is to give light must endure the burning. — Dr. Viktor E(mil) Frankl
On the day after Memorial Day, Cindy Sheehan, the soldier’s mother who gave momentum to the anti-war movement, announced that she will no longer be its public face. In her “resignation letter” she stated “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.”
At the end of her close to three-year involvement,, the mother who media made the public face of the anti-war movement was tired, disappointed and heart broken. She gave all she had, including a 29-year marriage, to a movement that in her view, “Often puts personal egos above peace and human life.”
Her genuine involvement in the anti war movement was rooted in love for her fallen 24 year-old son. Her first encounter with the media was in June, 2004, when she met with President Bush and expressed her and her family’s unhappiness with the way the war had been handled. In January, 2005 she and eight others founded Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization that seeks to end the occupation of Iraq and to provide support for the families of fallen soldiers.
The peak of media attention to Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war activities was in August, 2005, when she spent 26 days camped outside Mr. Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch. This long vigil brought her both local and global media attention. In July, 2006, with $52,500 in insurance money she received after her son’s death, she bought five acres of land for a permanent protest site and named it “Camp Casey” after her son.
In May, 2007, the month that the US had the third highest casualty rate in the occupation of Iraq , and on Memorial Day, when America honors those who lost their lives in military service, she resigned as the public face of the anti-war movement, put Camp Casey up for sale, and told America , “It’s up to you now.”
Cindy was a mother who directed her anger and sorrow toward energizing the anti-war movement and became an agent of change by inspiring millions of people in the US and around the world. She was a sincere activist who fearlessly spoke truth to power. She bravely questioned the role of corporate media in this war and held them accountable.
As the public face of the anti-war movement, Sheehan wrote on her Daily Kos blog that, “I have endured a lot of smears and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called ‘Face’ of the American anti-war movement. And since I renounced any remaining ties I have with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed. Being called an “attention whore” and being told “good riddance” are some of the milder rebukes.” The political structure disappointed her and she lost faith in the ability of people in power to bring peace and justice.
In reflecting on Cindy Sheehan’s experience and her “resignation letter”, I realize that her experience in the anti- war movement is not an isolated one. The history of social movements globally provides many cases of women devoting their energy, time and resources to social justice, but receiving neither the recognition nor the appreciation they deserve for their contributions, nor their fair share of resources and representation.
The case of Cindy Sheehan, as well as that of Stacy Bannerman, the voice for Military Families Speak Out and author of When The War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, reminds us that women leaders and women in the public eye face many challenges deep rooted in the patriarchal power structure that often marginalizes, demonizes and minimizes the voice of women.
I am confident that Cindy’s decision to remove herself from the public eye does not mean that she will cease her efforts to bring to justice those who made her son “die for nothing”. Her bravery, perseverance and sharp criticism of those who should be held accountable for this war and the corporate media “ that even controls what we think.” will always be remembered.
She said, “This is my resignation letter as the ‘face’ of the American anti-war movement. This is not my ‘Checkers’ moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside the system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I am getting out before it totally consumes me or any more people that I love and the rest of my resources.”
Cindy Sheehan and all those who are doing peace work because they believe in the cause and not for self gratification deserve recognition and honor. May Cindy Sheehan heal from her emotional injuries and regain her strength to keep moving forward for peace and justice.