BARABOO, Wisconsin -- The country's best-known anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, made her first trip to the Madison area Saturday, headlining the sixth annual Fighting Bob Festival in Baraboo, and calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
The "Peace Mom," whose soldier son Casey, 24, was killed just five days after arriving in Iraq in 2004, resigned May 29 as an anti-war activist.
Her retirement lasted just five weeks. On July 2, she un-retired after hearing that President Bush had commuted the prison sentence of Scooter Libby. She announced later that month that she will run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2008 congressional election because the speaker won't pursue impeaching Bush.
"I've got to make sure these war criminals, these criminals against international law, against our Constitution, against everything it means to be human, I have to make sure they are impeached for what they've done," she told the largest crowd of the day to huge, sustained applause.
Before going to war in Iraq there was debate in Wisconsin but there was no debate nationally, Sheehan said.
Many people didn't know there was an antiwar movement, she said. "Many people felt that the war was wrong and were against it but they didn't know how to express it."
Sheehan, who set up a peace camp outside Bush's Texas ranch in 2005 and attracted support from across the globe, said the two-party system in the United States is fundamentally corrupt.
"Really, in many ways, we only have one party in this country," she said. "People say, 'Cindy, do you support a third party?' And I say, 'Well, a second party would be nice.' "
Sheehan, whose challenge of Pelosi is as an independent progressive, told the crowd she is no longer a Democrat. The leadership of the Democratic Party is not on the left and doesn't represent true, progressive values, she said.
Instead, they maintain and protect the status quo, she said. "The status quo does not foster peace. The status quo does not does not foster acceptance of everybody's religion, of everybody's culture... of everybody's sexual persuasion.
"The status quo is something we should tear down, not protect," Sheehan said.
Many familiar faces addressed the crowd Saturday, as they have in previous years: U.S. Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin and Gwendolyn Moore, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Mike McCabe, radio commentator and author Jim Hightower, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, campaign finance reformer Doris "Granny D" Haddock, rural development champion Stan Gruszynski, and Capital Times associate editor John Nichols.
The event was slightly bigger than last year's, which attracted 6,500 people to the Sauk County Fairgrounds, according to the festival's host Ed Garvey, a former gubernatorial candidate who runs the Web site fightingbob.com and writes a column in The Capital Times.
Fightingbob.com and The Capital Times sponsored the free event.
"There's great spirit. People love it," Garvey said, noting the enthusiastic crowd reactions to Hightower and Air America radio host Laura Flanders. "They are ready for change in Washington. Get the troops home now."
Gwendolynne Moore, who spent 14 years in the state Legislature before being elected to Congress, also emphasized that it's time to bring the troops back.
"People want us to get the hell out of Iraq," she said, adding that there are 3,800 American troops dead and 6,000 Iraqi security personnel dead. "That doesn't even count the number of Iraqi civilians that have been killed. That's anywhere from 70,000 to 150,000. They are people, too, you know," she said.
"The war is costing us $10 billion a month, $4,000 a second. What could we be doing with that money?" Moore asked.
Instead of funding an "illegal, immoral war" the U.S. could repair 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across this country. It could have rebuilt the levies in New Orleans. It could have doubled the budget to fight cancer, she said.
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"We could have hired a librarian and for every public school and we could have screened all of the air cargo and passenger planes for the last 10 years and put 50,000 cops on the street."
Instead of Bush getting on an aircraft carrier and pronouncing "mission accomplished," Moore said it was more like "mission impossible."
"It's time to come home," she said.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, focused his remarks on state politics, but started off by calling Saturday a great day. "All of these progressive activists in one place, my God, the Bush administration must be considering this a terrorist cell," he said.
Pocan delineated the differences between Democratic and Republican state budgets.
"The Democratic budget provides for health care for every man, woman and child in the state of Wisconsin. The GOP budget provides for a tax break for gold bullion," he said.
Pocan drew cheers from the crowd when he asked how many people would like to have the same health care package as their state legislator.
The Democratic budget provides for an additional $225 million for the UW system, he said. Meanwhile, the Republican budget cuts $150 from the UW, cuts money for the UW School of Workers, cuts funds for domestic partnership insurance and cuts financial aid for needy students by $40 million, Pocan said.
The Democratic budget provides $60 million in new dollars annually for the stewardship fund and raises the costs for out-of-state garbage coming into Wisconsin. The Republican budget slashes the stewardship fund to levels that are 60 percent of current funding and it eliminates the increase out-of-state trash collectors would pay to dump garbage in the state, he said.
Democrats are three seats away from having a Democratic majority in the state assembly. Winning those seats would mean that Democrats would have the governorship, the state Senate, and the state assembly, Pocan noted.
The three seats are all that separates the Legislature from "being pro-health care, pro-education, pro-worker, pro-environment, pro-civil rights and pro-choice," he said.
Texan Hightower, a perennial Fighting Bob Fest favorite, started with a bit of good news: "It's now 16 months, one week, six days, nine hours, 26 minutes and 43 seconds" until Bush is officially out of office. The cheering made it impossible hear Hightower's exact words.
"Of course, that timeline assumes that he and his buddy, Buckshot Cheney, do not get impeached before January," he said.
Hightower noted that, according to the latest polls, 73 percent of Americans say America is headed in the wrong direction.
"You know, you don't have to be a card carrying Bob Fester to realize deep down that something has gone terribly wrong in our country, our proud nation, our land of the free."
Even George W. knows that he is bungling the presidency, he said. Hightower reminded the crowd of something that Bush said in 2002, supposedly in jest: You can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."
Hightower referred to the Bob Festers as agitators, something "the powers that be try to make a pejorative in our society."
Agitation is what built America, he said, mentioning the abolitionists, the suffragists, the populists, the unions, and people like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie and Martin Luther King Jr.
"Now it's down to you and me to be agitators again," he said. "And when they say to you, you are just an agitator, you can say right back to them, 'that's right, the agitator is that center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out.' "
The Capital Times © 2007