Cindy Sheehan's done it again. In 2005 she made the invisible visible. The bereaved mom of a US soldier killed in Iraq, Sheehan cried in public, cursed in public and gave public voice to what for many was until then a private question. Why did my son die, she asked the president: "What is the noble cause?"
Two years later, Sheehan's pushed another question into the public glare. Quitting the Democratic Party and resigning from the front ranks of the US anti-war movement, Sheehan said out loud what hundreds of Democratic voters have been muttering: Democrats in Congress -who do you think you're working for?
In a letter to Democratic leaders shortly after they permitted a vote in Congress that approved $120 billion more for war, Sheehan wrote: "There is absolutely no sane or defensible reason for you to hand Bloody King George more money to condemn more of our brave, tired, and damaged soldiers and the people of Iraq to more death and carnage."
The president's never been more unpopular, nor has his Iraq war. Yet a majority of Democrats in both houses voted "aye" to keep the funding flowing.
Speaking with me on Air America Radio soon afterwards, Sheehan called it a betrayal. "Before they came into power they told me it was because they were in the minority. Now it's because they're the majority? What stakes do they have in keeping this occupation going?" Given the choice of funding an unpopular war or being accused by the right wing vitriol machine of "abandoning the troops," 86 Democrats in the House and all but 14 in the Senate voted to sacrifice more troops. Sheehan called that playing "party politics with human lives."
In hot water with liberal defenders of the party, Sheehan formally "resigned" as the public face of the anti-war movement a few days later. "Good-bye America," she wrote in a posting on a liberal blog. "You are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it. It's up to you now."
It's easy to understand her despair. The day of Sheehan's "resignation" - Memorial Day - would have been her son Casey's 28th birthday. A year ago, she says she almost died from overwork. It's no wonder she's taking a break.
But Sheehan is no more the US peace movement than Democratic leaders are America. The fact is, much as the US media love - or love to hate - a solo leader, what was remarkable about her 2005 vigil outside the president's ranch in Crawford, for example, were the thousands of anti-war Americans it brought into the public eye.
Military moms and dads and suburban people of faith came out to sweat that summer by her side, because, as one computer programmer from Orlando told me, "She got us off our couches and gave us something to do besides worry."
Sheehan triggered an outpouring of popular grief and rage that until that moment had been silenced and hidden by a regime that even banned photographs of dead soldiers' coffins arriving home. That grief has only grown. Today, two thirds of the US public opposes the war, as does the majority of active-duty servicemen and women deployed.
The Democrats' victory last November is no coincidence. As I discovered as I traveled the country for my book, Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics From the Politicians, thousands of grassroots people just like the military parents who drove to Crawford have spent the past two years not just protesting, but also organizing, even running for office, to end the warmongers' rule in Washington.
Democratic leaders, such as Representatives Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel and Senator Harry Reid, who voted for the funding bill, spin the vote as a strategic step on the path they hope will deliver them the White House in 2008. They must be counting on more peace activists "resigning" as Sheehan has, but there's no indication that that's the case.
In the days since the Iraq vote, the progressive blogs have been filled with talk of primary challenges to incumbent pro-war Democrats. The until-recently timid membership group MoveOn is currently running TV ads against Hoyer in his home district. The fact that nearly every Washington Democrat seeking the presidential nomination voted no (except Delaware Senator Joe Biden) suggests that at least some Democrats are getting the message.
Sheehan spoke for many when she voiced her rage at Democrats who talk peace and ok war. And that many are not retiring anytime soon.
Laura Flanders is the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians, out now from The Penguin Press.
© 2007 The Guardian