In deciding Thursday not to challenge California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in
the June Democratic primary, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said she felt she
could help the anti-war effort more by highlighting who she is -- a mother
grieving a son killed in Iraq -- than by becoming a politician.
Sheehan gained international attention in August as she waited outside
President Bush's vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, for him to explain what
"noble cause" her son, Casey, died for in Iraq in 2004. Bush, who had described
the war in those terms, never showed, as his staff said he had already met with
Sheehan shortly after Casey died.
In the weeks that followed, nationwide vigils supporting Sheehan
re-energized the anti-war movement, while conservative critics say a host of
other left-leaning causes hijacked her notoriety and diluted its effect.
Sheehan, formerly of Vacaville and now a Berkeley resident, said Thursday
she worried that by running for office she'd sacrifice the emotional bond she
has created -- at least with some Americans.
"Some people don't agree with my politics, but at least they agree with my
heart," said Sheehan, 48, wearing a pink piece of tape with "2,260" -- the
number of U.S. casualties in Iraq -- on her shirt. "And if I'd gone into the
(political) arena right now, a lot of that would have changed."
"I felt that putting pressure on (Feinstein) from the outside would be
more effective than working from the inside,'' Sheehan said.
Instead, Sheehan promised to be a "thorn in the side of (Feinstein) and
anyone who is not stridently working for peace."
Sheehan will barnstorm California and the rest of the nation for anti-war
candidates -- whose peace credentials will be judged by her trusted advisers
such as the liberal Institute for Policy Studies think tank, Progressive
Democrats of America, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. She said it didn't matter
whether a candidate was "left or right as long as they're against the war."
"It's not enough to say that one is critical of the war in Iraq," Sheehan
said, calling for voters to oppose "pro-war Democrats" in the upcoming
elections. "If an elected official voted for the war, votes for the funding of
the war, and doesn't call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops, then that
official is 'pro-war' no matter what he or she says."
Sheehan said that list includes Feinstein, who voted for authorizing the
use of force in Iraq and will not support calls to immediately bring the troops
Feinstein has defended voting for the 2002 resolution authorizing the use
of force in Iraq if the country refused to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors,
saying she was misled by the Bush administration at the time of the vote.
Now, with troops committed in Iraq, Feinstein said it is more responsible
to quickly turn the defense of Iraq over to Iraqis, then bring U.S. troops
A challenge against Feinstein, the former San Francisco mayor first
elected to the Senate in 1992, is daunting for any candidate, said Mark
DiCamillo, director of California's Field Poll.
A November Field Poll found that 82 percent of respondents who identified
themselves as political liberals were "inclined to vote" for Feinstein, as were
63 percent of "moderates" and 30 percent of "conservatives." Overall, the poll
found that respondents supported Feinstein's re-election by a 56 percent to 37
Still, Sheehan said several members of California's Congressional
delegation -- whom she declined to name -- told her that Feinstein's office
has pressured them in recent days to discourage the activist from seeking
"That's absolutely untrue," said Feinstein campaign manager Kam Kuwata.
"No one has pressured anyone."
Representatives of other members of California's delegation who are close
to Sheehan, including Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, and Rep. Barbara Lee,
D-Oakland, say Feinstein did not pressure them to try to keep Sheehan out of
the race, adding they supported Sheehan's decision to bypass a Democratic
Sheehan said her decision wasn't influenced by the state's other
Democratic senator, Barbara Boxer, who urged Sheehan earlier this week not to
challenge Feinstein, saying it might actually hurt her anti-war cause.
Boxer, one of 23 senators who voted against the 2002 resolution
authorizing the use of force in Iraq, applauded Sheehan's decision Thursday,
saying, "There can be no higher cause than a mother who has lost a son working
night and day to ensure that others do not have to suffer the same way."
Sheehan said she'll be supporting anti-war candidates in Texas, Illinois
and California over the next few months and is slated to address the European
Union parliament in March. During the Easter holiday, she's encouraging
supporters to join her for another vigil outside Bush's ranch. And she'd like
to visit the spot in Iraq where her son died.
A peace conference is being planned for Crawford in August. Possibly
joining her in Texas will be Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who embraced
Sheehan during her recent visit to Venezuela for the World Social Forum.
Critics as well as some Sheehan supporters have said that her appearance
with Chavez -- a frequent Bush critic who has called the U.S. invasion of
Iraq an act of terrorism -- had hurt the anti-war movement and Sheehan's
credibility. Responded Sheehan: "George Bush keeps saying, 'Democracy,
democracy, democracy.' He has to recognize every democracy, not just the ones
that are friendly to him."
Sheehan made headlines again last week when she was arrested in the House
of Representatives chamber before Bush's State of the Union speech for wearing
an anti-war T-shirt. The Capitol police later dropped charges and apologized to
her for the arrest.
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle