The courageous journey of Cindy Sheehan in the heartland of world capitalism

Photo from codepinkalert.org

By RAY LIGHT

In Celebration of International Working Women’s Day

As the day approaches for the Celebration of International Working Women’s Day on March 8th, 2012, the year in which our next U.S. Presidential Election will take place, it is fitting and proper that we recognize, honor and heed the wisdom of Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan, a heroine of legendary courage.

In an extremely moving Mother’s Day “Soap Box” Column in 2009, Cindy Sheehan began: “I think many of us know the origins of Mother’s Day were for Peace and a universal declaration that we mothers won’t send our children to die in wars or kill the children of other mothers.”

She concluded the column, as follows: “No matter what you personally think of our new president, the Robber Class wars for profit are continuing as bad or even worse than during the last regime and mothers are still losing their children all over the world by and for the empire.” (“The More Things Change…” 5-10-09)

Today the Obama Administration maintains a combined military force (U.S. soldiers and even more private mercenaries) of over 200,000 in Afghanistan alone, continues its bestial drone war against the people of Pakistan, has just “completed” a war against Libya that,  like Iraq under Bush, seems destined to continue long after their respective chiefs of state (Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein) were deposed and murdered on the strength of U.S.-led foreign imperialist intervention, is establishing a large new military presence in Australia as part of a renewed massive U.S. military presence in the Pacific aimed against China and East Asia, and has accelerated the rapid elimination of the civil rights of the people of the USA and rapid militarization of U.S. society itself (begun under Bush) that featured the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by Obama on the last day of 2011, less than two months ago.

In this grim setting, Cindy Sheehan entitled a recent thought-provoking “Soap Box” column, “Republican for President?” (2-9-12) Sister Sheehan’s starting point is: “When I opposed the wars and oppression of civil rights here at home during the Bush scandal, there was a certain segment of the population I knew I could always count on to be in solidarity with me: Liberal Democrats.” She continues, “I attended HUGE protests in 2005-2006 before the Democrats took control of Congress in the elections of 2006 — but after that, the protests began to weaken or evaporate.” She then cites a Washington Post poll showing that the majority of “liberal” Democrats favor keeping the Guantanamo torture facility open, the drone bombing campaigns that have increased by at least 300% since the Bush years, and “the Presidential Assassination Program where Obama can have any American executed by his order.”

Sister Sheehan believes that, “… it really doesn’t matter who is in the White House — the Empire will crush everyone it rolls over without any qualms — and those people and their loves, dreams, struggles, and  especially their lives, always, always, always matter. Period.”

On this basis, Sister Sheehan argues that “to most ‘liberal’ Democrats, killing by the Imperial Army is only considered wrong if a Republican does it … we are at least able to predict that if a Republican is elected, we will see people out in the streets protesting those murders.”

In her own unique way, Cindy Sheehan is teaching a valuable political lesson about the “Republicrat” (Republican-Democratic Party political duopoly) government rule on behalf of Wall Street and U.S. imperialism. And, viewed from her consistent and principled anti-imperialist war stand, she has even begun to expose the role of phony “leftist” organizations in defense of the U.S. Empire. For example, she explains the fact that “the anti-war movement has continued its tailspin because it was mostly populated by ‘liberal’ Democrats, or other Democratic functionaries like the Communist Party, USA.” (My emphasis)

Where does Cindy Sheehan’s Strength, Wisdom and Integrity come from?

Like the working class mother who is the main character in Maxim Gorky’s classic revolutionary 1907 novel, The Mother, Cindy Sheehan’s wisdom stems, in the first place, from deep love and respect for her son, Casey. In both the Gorky novel and in the real life of Cindy Sheehan, love for a son drew the mother into the midst of the political struggles of her society.

In Gorky’s more than one hundred year old novel, the male and female revolutionaries are impressively depicted as sharing the responsibility for the conduct of the revolutionary struggle. In the novel, the son has become a revolutionary working class leader in the struggle against the Russian Tsarist Regime. The Mother follows her wonderful son into the ranks of the revolution where she comes into her own as a dignified human being dedicated to the just struggle for freedom for all the oppressed and exploited from tyranny.

In sharp contrast, Cindy Sheehan’s son, Casey, grew up (as did Cindy herself) in a non-revolutionary period in the USA, a period of real reaction in the belly of the beast of the world’s hegemonic imperialist power. Casey became a U.S. soldier who was part of the U.S. imperialist military occupation of Iraq. So Cindy Sheehan’s path toward anti-imperialist and pro-revolutionary activism where she has come into her own as a dignified human being dedicated to the just struggle for freedom for all the oppressed and exploited from tyranny was vastly different, though no less courageous, than the path traversed by The Mother conceived by Maxim Gorky.

On April 4, 2004, Casey was killed by al Sadr resistance fighters only five days after his arrival in Iraq. With the help of a fiercely honest poem by her daughter, Carly,* Cindy Sheehan became transformed through her grief at the loss of Casey, in her own words, “… from an ordinary human being into a crusader”; “… from a private mother into a public peace mom;” “… from a shy and horrible public speaker into a brave and powerful orator; … from a nonwriter into an able author on fire for the truth.” (pages 59 and 60, Peace Mom, 2006)

*NOTE: [One stanza: “Have you ever heard the sound of taps playing at your brother’s grave? They say he died so the flag will continue to wave. But I believe he died because they had oil to save. Have you ever heard the sound of taps playing at your brother’s grave?” The poem concludes with the line: “Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?]

With incredible honesty and courage, Cindy Sheehan confronted the first and most fundamental truth: “I have never called ‘terrorists’ freedom fighters. I have called the resistance fighters who killed Casey such [freedom fighters], but they are fighting to get the occupying forces out of their country and have a legitimate right to wage a resistance against occupiers. I don’t like that they are killing our children, for God’s sake, they killed my oldest child; my sweet and wonderful Casey. However, our government is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Iraq.” (page 102, Peace Mom)

At the end of 2008, she was even more explicit: “The right of a population to resist being occupied by a foreign country/military/corporation is a basic human right that has been enshrined in international law. I recognize that the person who killed my son, Casey, in Iraq had every right to do so. I am not in any way happy about it, but if Casey’s commander-in-chief and vice commander-in-chief had not placed him (immorally and illegally) in the country of Iraq to be an occupier, then the Iraqi would not have killed him. George and Dick knowingly put Casey in harm’s way and I won’t rest until I see justice for Casey’s (and over one-million others) murder. That is also my right: redress for wrong and to see justice finally consummated.” (“Occupier/Occupied,” 12-28-08)

It was on this rock-solid basis that, in August 2005, Cindy Sheehan traveled to Crawford, Texas (accompanied by a small band of determined anti-war activists) to demand an answer from President George W. Bush, face to face at his sprawling home ranch, regarding the purpose for which he had sent her deceased son into harm’s way in Iraq. This simple but bold action placed Cindy Sheehan in a formidable status from which to deal with Bush. And George W. Bush, coward that he is, was afraid to meet with Cindy Sheehan eyeball to eyeball.

As she has pointed out, if Bush had just met with her it probably would have defused the movement around her before it ever got started. The 26 day encampment which became known around the world as “Camp Casey” never would have been born. And the tremendous boost that the new anti-war heroine contributed to the weak but growing anti-war movement would have been avoided by the U.S. imperialist chieftain. With the U.S. war in Iraq going against the U.S. imperialist army, Cindy Sheehan became a powerful voice for global justice and peace.*

*NOTE: [In 2006, at the World Social Forum in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez with Cindy Sheehan at his side, told the packed crowd that Cindy Sheehan was “Mrs. Hope” while U.S. President George W. Bush was “Mr. Danger.”]

With her fearlessness and her clear eyed principles, sister Sheehan was also able to quickly learn from her own political experience. After Casey’s death, she initially gave George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt about having a non-political “human” motive for meeting with the families of dead soldiers. Then she heard Bush use these meetings for political gain in his next State of the Union Message, even while he never attended any soldiers’ funeral services and didn’t allow caskets or even photos of the deceased to be shown on television.

She campaigned against Bush in the 2004 election and supported Democratic candidate John Kerry. Thereafter she was once again self-critical, declaring that she would never again support a pro-war democrat after Kerry said he would have waged these same imperialist wars that Bush waged only he would have prosecuted them more successfully.

The turn against her and toward a passive attitude toward U.S. imperialist war in Afghanistan and Iraq on the part of the U.S. anti-war movement (as it began a rapid decline) ironically took place with the 2006 election victory for the Democratic Party in both houses of Congress! This victory was largely seen by liberals, revisionists, Trotskyites and other opportunists as an outcome that would result in the winding down of these wars. Instead, as we had predicted, the emergence of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate provided U.S. imperialism with greater flexibility; it allowed U.S. imperialism through the close cooperation of the Republican President and the Democratic Congress to carry out the “surge” in Iraq. And, as Cindy Sheehan pointed out, the U.S. anti-war movement has been in a “tailspin” ever since.

In 2008, having met with Hillary Clinton and having already dealt with her pro-Bush war criminal role as a U.S. Senator, Cindy also saw through Democratic candidate Obama. She was supportive (as were we) of Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, an Afro-American former Congresswoman from Georgia who had strongly opposed and exposed the U.S. imperialist character of the Bush-led wars and continues today to oppose Obama’s wars on Libya, etc.

In 2008, Cindy Sheehan learned and helped many of us learn the full extent of the political bankruptcy of the so-called “U.S. Left.”*

*NOTE: [In 2007, we had written, “… the USA today has a solidly imperialist bourgeois electoral system that promotes two wings of an imperialist bourgeois war party, an imperialist bourgeois mass media … and even to some extent an imperialist bourgeois proletariat and anti-war movement …” (“2007 Country Report — USA,” Ray O’ Light Newsletter #45, July-August 2007)]

The 2008 Cindy Sheehan Campaign to take Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional Seat

At the time of the 2008 U.S. election, Nancy Pelosi was the Speaker of the House of Representatives and thus second in line of Presidential Succession, after only the sitting Vice President. By virtue of her position, since the president was a Republican, she was also the leader of the national Democratic Party.* Her lofty and powerful position in the U.S. government and the Democratic Party, however, could only be maintained if she were re-elected to her House seat, representing approximately one-four hundred and thirty-fifth of the U.S. population, not a huge number of people. Moreover, her Congressional district covered much of San Francisco, California, among the most “anti-war” of all the 435 Congressional districts in the USA. Finally, as pointed out above, following the 2006 election when the Democrats won majority control of both houses of Congress, rather than stopping the imperialist wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and bringing the U.S. troops home, as so many had anticipated, the Congressional Democrats, led by Pelosi, provided fresh support for the Bush-Cheney Regime that was manifested in an immediate troop “surge” in Iraq.

*NOTE: [In that role, Pelosi publicly promised before the 2006 election that the Democratic Party would not seek impeachment charges against Bush and Cheney, if the Democrats were to win a Congressional majority.]

It was in this setting that the by now renowned anti-war heroine, Cindy Sheehan, living in the Pelosi district, launched her campaign to win the Congressional seat and retire the war criminal Pelosi.* What a great opportunity for the relatively weak U.S. anti-war movement and organized left to strike a powerful blow against the U.S. Empire and its brutal imperialist wars on the oppressed peoples! Our small vanguard organization struggled mightily with Bay Area opportunists from the CPUSA, from Workers World Party, from the Afro-American “left,” from the U.S.-Philippine radical movement, and a host of other organizations and individuals, attempting to rally them to roll their sleeves up and get involved in the Sheehan Congressional campaign. All to no avail!

*NOTE: [In the aftermath of the 2008 election, with both a Democratic President and a larger Democratic majority in Congress, the Republican Party in its desperation leaked the fact that U.S. imperialism would have preferred to leave in the shadows. Nancy Pelosi, as the leader of the “opposition” party, had been briefed about the torture being used by the Bush Regime from the beginning of the War of Terror and, at the very least by her silence, had given her consent to its use.]

Our small organization did what we could to support the campaign including hands-on campaign work. But almost no other left organizations in the Bay Area or around the country saw the Sheehan campaign as a real opportunity to advance proletarian international solidarity with the oppressed peoples in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines and elsewhere being terrorized and murdered by “our own” imperialists. They refused to see or to act on this great opportunity, provided by Cindy Sheehan and her campaign, to strike a powerful blow against U.S. imperialism. They refused to take on the Democratic Party and thus strike a powerful blow against Wall Street’s “Republicrat” political rule.

Nancy Pelosi, the arch war criminal, waltzed back into Congress. Yet, despite the abandonment of her campaign by the organized U.S. left and her shoestring budget and barebones staff, Cindy Sheehan won a larger percentage of the vote than the Republican candidate, underscoring the opportunity that was missed.

Cindy Sheehan, through her own political experience, has thus come to deeply understand the depth of the opportunist betrayal of the U.S. and international working class and oppressed peoples and the valuable service that the opportunists provide to the U.S. Empire. No wonder her recent observation about the right revisionist CPUSA as an organization of “Democratic functionaries” is so accurate.

And despite the best efforts of all kinds of slick opportunists — from gentle and kind to brutal and bullying — starting with Democratic Party liberal operatives, despite personal attacks including from her husband’s family, and myriad other obstacles, she has continued on her principled and at times lonely march against U.S. imperialist war abroad and at home.

Some Political Lessons of Cindy Sheehan for the Global Anti-Imperialist and International Communist Movements

The courage and fearlessness of Cindy Sheehan, to me, reaches its height with her acknowledgment and public recognition of her own share of responsibility in the death of her beloved son, Casey! As she courageously expressed it, “Yes, before I could blame George Bush, or the media, or Congress, or the American people, for Casey’s death, I had to realize that I also had quite a bit of my dear boy’s blood on my own hands.” (page 130, Peace Mom) It is because of this ultimate self-criticism that Cindy Sheehan has had the incredible strength to keep her eye on the prize and persevere in her principled and consistent struggle against U.S. imperialism even in the absence of a viable and serious international communist movement.*

*NOTE: [One is reminded of the U.S. working class heroine, Crystal Lee Sutton, the real “Norma Rae,” who in the midst of the bitter unionization campaign in a small North Carolina mill town in the 1970’s sat her three children down and told them exactly who their daddies were and how they came to be, pre-empting any attempt by the powers that be to try to shame or blackmail her into submission. Thereafter, sister Crystal was fearless and never lost sight of the prize of power for poor and working people no matter the obstacles.]

Indeed, those proletarian fighters in the USA and around the world who are serious about rebuilding a substantial international communist movement have a number of things to learn from sister Cindy Sheehan.

1.   Sister Sheehan recognizes the relative responsibility of all U.S. citizens for the imperialist wars against the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, et al. She recognizes that her privileged comfortable apathy had helped lay the basis for Casey to go into the U.S. military in the first place. She recognizes the role of T.V. and mass entertainment, commercialism and material obsession that helped keep someone like her from dealing seriously enough with the politics of U.S. society until after Casey’s death. This position is in stark opposition to the bourgeois approach of all kinds of opportunists and bourgeois nationalists in state power who have been so ready to dissociate the masses of imperialist society from a “handful” of evil rulers. One example: At the beginning of Chinese rapprochement with President Nixon and U.S. imperialism, Chinese Premier Chou En-lai proposed a toast to the “Great American People” at a time when U.S. imperialism, backed by U.S. society, was carrying out one of the most barbaric imperialist wars in history against the heroic Vietnamese people. If the masses and the working class in an imperialist country have no responsibility for the criminal conduct of its ruling class and government, how will they ever be able to become responsible for overthrowing and smashing them?

Sister Sheehan’s approach reflects the greater responsibility for the criminal conduct of U.S. imperialism of the more privileged sectors of U.S. imperialist society, the educators, the mass media, the Democratic and Republican Party functionaries, the “Republicrat” chieftains like the Clintons, Kerry, Obama, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the two George Bushes, Dick Cheney, John McCain and ultimately the Corporate CEOS of Halliburton, Lockheed-Martin, and the bankers on Wall Street.

2.   Related to point #1, Sister Sheehan’s courageous approach to the killing of her son, Casey, by Iraqis fighting for their freedom, provides a model for the revolutionary approach to imperialist occupation troops. It is remarkable that Sister Sheehan insists that she is a pacifist, while recognizing that the person in Iraq who killed her son had “every right to do so.” Her principled approach to the imperialist military forces is the only approach that leads to decisive national democratic and socialist military victory over imperialism instead of a negotiated compromise settlement that fails to dislodge the old comprador and imperialist-sponsored ruling system and keeps the working class and the masses from really coming into their own and taking power.

3.   Sister Sheehan’s approach to the U.S. Empire, her clear call for the revolutionary defeat of “her own” imperialist state, is exemplary. In the first place, her approach exposes the opportunist treachery of all those in state power or in control of significant areas who seek rapprochement with U.S. imperialism instead of national liberation from U.S. imperialism (which paves the way to socialism).

4.   Sister Sheehan’s approach to the people of the USA, “her country,” and her approach to the people of the rest of the world is a tremendous example of genuine internationalism. Says Sister Sheehan, ” I went from being the mom who did everyone’s laundry, packed lunches, kissed boo-boos, tucked in at night, cleaned up the messes, to being someone who fights for all humanity’s children not just her own.” (ibid., pages 127 and 128)

Cindy Sheehan’s internationalist approach to the children of the world challenges the communists of the world to become consistent proletarian internationalists. Such forces understand and operate on the basis of the fact that the struggle for socialism is a global struggle and that our struggle against monopoly capitalism and imperialism and all the comprador, semi-feudal and other reactionary forces connected to international capital is interconnected. A defeat in one area of the world is a defeat for all. And a victory in one area of the world is a victory for all.

*****

Finally, in Commemoration of International Working Women’s Day in 2012, let all the women and men who are inspired by the courage and convictions and the political life of Cindy Sheehan express our determination to follow in her footsteps. Let us live like Cindy, with our heads held high and our backs straight and fight together for a better future for all humanity.

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