Monday, August 15, 2005

Mother's Protest Gains Steam

Published on Monday, August 15, 2005 by Orlando Sentinel (Florida)

Re-distributed by Common Dreams.

Mother's Iraq-war Protest near Bush Ranch Picks Up Steam

Hundreds Converge on Peace House, Riling at least One of the President's Neighbors.
by Michael Fletcher

CRAWFORD, Texas -- Barbara Cummings was home in San Diego last Monday, listening to an Air America radio broadcast, when she heard the tale of a woman who was going to join Cindy Sheehan in her growing protest against the war in Iraq.

Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan speaks to the media after land owner fired off his shotgun in the air during an interfaith prayer service at Sheehan's camp near Crawford, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2005. Sheehan came over to try and talk to the land owner who did not accept her offer. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
The woman on the radio had a son who had signed on for a second tour of duty in the Army after losing his job. In two weeks, he is scheduled to ship out to Iraq.

Cummings jumped on the phone and called her friend, Gloria Polk. "I asked her, 'Are you following the Cindy Sheehan story?' She was."

The next day, the two retirees hopped into a rented minivan for the 22-hour drive to the heart of Texas.

Several hundred war protesters converged on Crawford during the weekend, and many of them had similar stories. They think Sheehan, a 48-year-old mother from Vacaville, Calif., whose son was killed in Iraq last year, has ignited a struggling peace movement with her quiet, but defiant protest.

Cummings found herself in front of the Crawford Peace House, a gathering place for protesters, holding a hand-lettered sign. She was directing a stream of cars descending on this normally sleepy town to a dirt parking lot adjacent to a high-school football field.

Polk, meanwhile, was at the wheel of her blue Dodge Caravan, shuttling protesters up to the roadside campsite near President Bush's 1,600-acre ranch where Sheehan has been holding her defiant vigil for more than a week.

"We're both here because of our grandchildren," Cummings explained. "It feels like a word-of-mouth thing. Everybody I meet is saying they had to be here."

More than 150 flag-waving marchers made their way toward Sheehan's camp to show their support for the war. Also, a lone demonstrator drove a pickup blaring country music with a large American flag flying from its bed. A sign on his door read: "Texas Is Bush Country."

"It's just a miracle what's going on here," said Bill Mitchell, who lost his son, Michael, in Iraq on April 4, 2004 -- the same day Sheehan's son, Casey, was killed. Along with Sheehan, he has protested the war for more than a year.

At the Peace House, a small wood-frame cottage, things were humming. Before Sheehan's arrival, the house, established in 2003 by Dallas peace activists, had $121 in the bank and its phone cut off because of overdue bills. But once word of Sheehan's protest took flight, money began to flow in. In one week, the house has amassed enough money to pay off its $40,000 mortgage.

"I've been walking around with my mouth open and in a daze for the past two or three days," said Kay Lucas, Peace House director. "It's a blessing, a miracle. It's like the parable of the loaves and the fishes."

But neighbor Larry Mattlage has had enough.

He's tired of all the commotion at the anti-war camp across the road from his ranch house. He wants all the cars out of his ditch, and the war protesters, the pro-war demonstrators and the media to leave.

On Sunday morning, as Sheehan and a small gathering of other anti-war activists prepared for a worship service, he stood in his goat pasture and fired a shotgun into the air.

"I'm getting ready for dove season," he told reporters. "I'm practicing."

His message, though, was unmistakable.

"These neighbors out here are upset," he said. "I don't want nobody getting hurt. I just want them to pack the . . . tents and go where they came from."

Within minutes of his shotgun blast, deputies and Secret Service agents rushed in. McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch said he counseled Mattlage to exercise some restraint.

Information from The Dallas Morning News was used in this report.

© 2005 Orlando Sentinel


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