"When I nursed him, I promised him that I would never let him go to war. I broke that promise to him. I can't bear for another mother to go through the pain that I'm going through. And that is the only reason that I'm doing what I'm doing."
Cindy Sheehan, Aug. 24, Crawford, Texas.
I went down to Crawford because, like everyone else I encountered, I had to be there. When Oliver, my 19-year-old son, heard I was going, he said he had to be there, too.
The first person we met was Teresa, from Ohio, whose 20- year-old is in Iraq.
Pointing to Oliver, she said, "We're here so that you don't have to go."
Second was a Wisconsin couple whose son is scheduled to be deployed in October.
Then a guy in a shiny truck with a roofing company sign leaned out his window: "I may work for him," he said, gesturing back over his shoulder, "but I'm with you."
Cindy returned that afternoon from being with her mother who had had a stroke. At the end of the day, under the big tent, Joan Baez performed for everyone who was left after the press circus, after the donated dinner served by volunteers, after the medics had treated the fire ant bites and cactus spines and sunburn and heat exhaustion. Joan had come to perform a few days earlier and couldn't bring herself to leave.
The same thing happened to Jeff Key, a 6-foot-5 Marine, who said he found himself bawling as he reached the car rental return at the airport and had to turn around and return to Camp Casey. He played taps each night and slept on what had become sacred ground next to the white crosses, each bearing a name, age and circumstances of death, some with flowers and the boots worn by that soldier.
More than 100 mothers of soldiers who have died in Iraq, as well as wives and children, passed through Camp Casey. And countless vets found sanctuary there.
Joan Baez sang a song in Spanish that she had learned from women in Argentina. She said it was a song sung by the mothers of the disappeared, a song of joy and gratitude, very much in keeping with the spirit of Camp Casey. Very much in keeping with the spirit of Casey himself who, when his mother tucked him into bed, Cindy told us that night, always said, "Thank you, Mom. This was the best day of my life."
After Joan sang, Cindy pulled a chair to the front of the makeshift stage.
She talked about the attacks she had been under and said they didn't bother her. "If I was a media whore," she said, lifting a hank of utilitarian-looking hair, "Do you think maybe I'd get myself fixed up?"
The only thing that disturbed her was the suggestion that she was dishonoring her son.
"Look what Casey has started. I see and feel him in all of your eyes. We are going to make sure that our kids are never again sent to fight a war for power and greed. We are here because we want these deaths to stand for peace and love. I'm not ashamed to say that Camp Casey is a place where you can come and feel love. We will be able to say that this is the place where the occupation of Iraq ended. We are not going to stop ever. We are millions of people strong and the mothers are saying, NO, I AM NOT GIVING MY SONS TO YOU."
Oliver volunteered to take the 12-to-2 a.m. security shift with another guy. He was hanging out after his shift when Cindy appeared. She couldn't sleep and they talked until dawn. Afterward, Oliver said, "Of course, this is a media circus, and of course, there are a lot of agendas going on, but at the heart of this is a mother who lost her son. She's here for the right reasons."
When Cindy spoke to us, she speculated that if the job had really been done properly during Vietnam, we wouldn't be in Iraq now. And if we do it right now, we won't be facing another Iraq in 40 years.
About a year and a half ago, Oliver said something to me that has haunted me. When I asked him why kids his age weren't taking more initiative in opposing the war, he said, "This time, it has to start with mothers."
In the words of Julia Ward Howe's 1870 Mother's Day Proclamation, "We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
It started with one mother. And now we can't be contained.
Nina Utne, Minneapolis, is editor of the Utne Reader magazine.