Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cindy Sheehan in Montclair, NJ

I just came home from seeing Cindy Sheehan speak at a peace event sponsored by a peace organization and held in a local church in Montclair, NJ. This was the first time I've heard her voice; she is very soft-spoken. Her voice sounds years younger than she actually is.

Her speech was incredibly powerful and moving -- all the more so because she speaks extemporaneously and doesn't use notes.

She talked about being at a demonstration against the Iraq war, and walking to the United Nations with a group of other activists, to keep an appointment they had with a UN official to deliver a petition against the war. A police officer confronted her and told her to move to the other side of the street, where the "free speech zone" was. She refused to do so: She was on a public sidewalk and had every right to stay where she was and keep walking. "This is America. Every inch of this country is a free speech zone."

She said that all wars are fought for profit; and that we have to teach our sons and daughters that they have a right to say, "No, I will not kill and die so you can line your pockets." She said that she made a big mistake by not teaching this to her own son -- because the fact is, Casey Sheehan did not volunteer to go to Iraq -- which is something I haven't seen anywhere in the corporate media and did not know.

Here's what she told the audience about her son's ending up in Iraq. It's not word for word, because I did not take notes, but I remember the first part very clearly, and it's close enough to the original that I feel comfortable putting it in quotes. After the quoted part, I'm paraphrasing:

"People say to me, 'But Cindy, your son volunteered to join the military.'

Yes, it's true Casey volunteered to join the military. He signed up in May, 2000 -- when George W. Bush was still killing people in Texas. He wanted to serve his country." He wanted to defend his country and give something back to it. But he did not volunteer to fight a war justified by lies. He did not volunteer to go to Iraq and kill people in a country that was no threat to his.

This is a crucial point. This is an absolutely essential point. Casey Sheehan volunteered to serve his country in the military if his country was in danger and his service was needed to protect it -- not to fight a preventive war. ( That's Cindy's term; she objects to calling the Iraq war a "preemptive" war because it did not preempt anything. There was no danger, either immediate or imminent, to be preempted. The purpose of the invasion was to prevent Iraq from challenging U.S. supremacy in that region and to line the pockets of Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, and the like.)

Casey Sheehan volunteered to defend his country. He did not volunteer to go to Iraq. He did not volunteer to fight, kill, and die in a country that had not attacked the U.S., and could not attack the U.S. even if it wanted to.

To those who will undoubtedly respond to this by saying that when Casey volunteered to join the military, he implicitly volunteered to go wherever his government decided to send him, including Iraq; to those who insist that when a young man or woman volunteers for the military, they are voluntarily giving up their right to say no to their government, here is Cindy Sheehan's reply: "If the army is a volunteer organization, why can't you un-volunteer?" That contradicts the very meaning of volunteering. "How many of you," Cindy asked the audience, "have volunteered to do something or to join a group or an organization and then decided you did not want to do it or to be part of that organization anymore?" Lots of people raised their hands, including me. "Well, were you told that you could not stop volunteering? When you decided you wanted to stop volunteering, were you risking criminal charges and jail time?"

Obviously we do not have a volunteer military if people can only volunteer to join and not to leave.

It was a mightily informative and inspirational speech.

Others who spoke were Amy Goodman, of Pacifica Radio, who urged us not to be a "silenced majority"; and an Iraqi man who left Iraq for the U.S. at the start of the first war against Iraq (the Gulf War) and is an architect in northern New Jersey. This was the first time he had spoken in public against the war. He talked about how his family in Iraq could never leave their home. They could only go out for brief trips to buy food, and then hurried home and never left for any other reason. Every day, if Iraqis open their doors in the morning and look out, there are dead bodies in the street that weren't there the day before. And the U.S. military in Iraq supports the death squads and paramilitaries. That's what he said. They know what the death squads are doing; they know where they are. They just turn a blind eye. He also talked about the many mistakes that the Bush administration made in the weeks and months after the invasion, and how those mistakes led to the sectarian and ethnic violence that engulfs the country now. He urged us to care about Iraqis and what they are enduring, "because they are your brothers and sisters in humanity." That last bit almost undid me.

No comments: