CAMBRIDGE -- Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier whose vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, helped galvanize antiwar sentiment last month, told 200 cheering, chanting supporters in Cambridge yesterday that Americans should never again be led into what she called an illegal and unjust war.
''We remembered something that we as Americans had forgotten after almost five years of being under a virtual dictatorship," she said on Cambridge Common. ''We have the power. We Americans are the ones with the power."
It's going to be us that makes this war end," said Cambridge City Councilor Denise Simmons, to the cheers of the audience. ''It's going to be all of us.
It was Sheehan's first stop in the Boston area since her vigil helped draw nationwide attention to the movement to remove US troops from Iraq, and she received a rapturous welcome in this famously liberal city.
Her supporters, including several military veterans, parents with young children, and local activists, cheered and waved peace flags on the green where George Washington once mustered his troops. A few people sang the traditional song with the lyrics, ''We ain't gonna study war no more," while others hoisted a banner that asked, ''How many more?" Another banner declared, ''Peace and social justice thrive in Cambridge." When the first busload of military families arrived, people chanted, ''Welcome," and then burst into applause as Sheehan took the makeshift stage adorned with a red tarp backdrop.
''George Bush wouldn't meet with me," Sheehan said. ''But I went over his head. I went to the people of America."
The rally was part of a nationwide tour that Sheehan launched after she failed in her immediate goal to meet with the president to ask him why her son, 24-year-old Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, had to die.
Casey Sheehan was killed in April 2004 after insurgents ambushed his unit in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.
''It's going to be us that makes this war end," said Cambridge City Councilor Denise Simmons, to the cheers of the audience. ''It's going to be all of us."
Sheehan's supporters had set up tents on the grass yesterday and hung a placard reading, ''Welcome to Camp Alex," in honor of Alex S. Arredondo, a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal from Randolph who died in August 2004. He was shot by insurgents while storming a building in Najaf. His father, Carlos Arredondo of Roslindale, later made national headlines when he set himself on fire inside a van that the Marines had used to bring him the news of his son's death. He survived, but suffered burns on 26 percent of his body.
''I hope armed forces families won't go through what my family is going through," Arredondo said in an interview at the rally yesterday, describing his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. ''Because it's one year gone by, and it's still very difficult, and people are telling me it's a far road ahead."
When Arredondo took the stage with his mother and his wife by his side, he hoisted over his head a picture of his son in full dress uniform.
''He was proud of what he was doing for his country. And I am proud of that," Carlos Arredondo said. ''But the effects that come with that are very high, very high for the family."
He added, ''I want peace," and repeated the phrase again.
At the rally, activists rallied support for a petition that would try to force the state government to withdraw the Massachusetts National Guard from Iraq. As a first step, supporters need to collect 100,000 signatures. Activists, including Sheehan, also asked those in attendance to turn out for an antiwar rally planned for Sept. 24-26 in Washington, D.C., Supporters are trying to draw hundreds of thousands of people in what they hope will be the largest antiwar demonstration since the US invaded Iraq last year.
''Our life here in America is being threatened. It's being sold out," said Anne Sapp. Her husband, Andrew, is a teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School and a staff sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard currently serving in Iraq, she said. Every night, she said, she worries about him and the increasingly anxious e-mails he sends home. He is due back in the United States in October, she said, but she is not certain the date will hold.
''Each step of the way, when you have a loved one in Iraq, there is a new type of pain, a new type of fear," Anne Sapp said, as the crowd fell silent to listen. Her husband, she said, ''should be here now, serving his community."
After the rally, Sheehan was scheduled to speak at Boston University Law School. She is then due to visit New Haven, Conn., Providence, New York City, Newark, N.J., and Baltimore.
Since she left her encampment outside the president's ranch in Texas, Sheehan said, she has been encouraged but not surprised by the crowds she meets across America.
''I was sensing that America was ready for a change, that America was saying, 'Enough is enough,' " she said.
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