line -->

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Compassionate Conservatism

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Gathering Storm

Over the past few days, all eyes have been on the Gulf of Mexico as the elements have come to together to create a dreadfully perfect storm.  As I write, Katrina is lurking ominously off shore and forecasters are using adjectives like catastrophic and calamitous to describe the events soon to take place at the beautiful beach communities that line the Gulf Coast.

Recently, I have been sensing the brewing of another perfect storm, where elements of economics and politics converge to create electoral winds strong enough to wreak catastrophic damage upon the shoreline of the political establishment.  Early warning signs have been the poll numbers for the president and congress that have fallen like temperatures from an oncoming Canadian high-pressure system in October.  This initial discontent lays the groundwork upon which the economic realities America will soon face will play out.   The early warning signals should have the administration worried.  The early warning signals should have the Republican congress worried. I'm certain they do, but is there anything they can do to avoid the damage of this category five social storm that is about to hit?

What is the storm of which I speak?  To begin with, the American public is finally waking up to unavoidable reality, and what a harsh awakening it is and will continue to be for quite some time.  Let's take a look at the gathering economic and political perfect storm that is brewing on the horizon that, eventually, may make the public wish they were still sound asleep.  But they won't be asleep; they will be very angry and borderline desperate.

The Iraqi War

Cindy Sheehan has burst the Iraqi bubble, which had been inflated and held aloft for so long by an obfuscating administration and its allies. She has asked a question so simple and clear, and it's a question for which the war makers and apologists have no compelling answer.  "What is the noble cause...?" After the president has offered so many ever-changing answers to that question for the past two years, this is the political equivalent to the little boy finally exclaiming that the emperor has no clothes.  And there stands the president, naked, stripped of all his fabrications and America doesn't like what it sees.

The public is finally sensing that this expensive and increasingly unjustifiable situation is a mistake we should have avoided.  To add to the frustration and anger, they also sense that there is no easy solution to the mistake.  It's going to cost more of everything we have already spent: Lives, money, credibility, safety and confidence.


Rising fuel prices have created the equivalent of a tax increase for American families far greater than any threatened Democratic induced tax hike imagined by the Republicans during last year's election cycle.  The irony is that the administration has taken pains to point out their corporate and energy experience as strong reasons for our trust in their leadership.

Another splash of cold reality; gas prices will never be this low again.

Act two of this play: home heating oil prices should make an entrance just as the perfect storm is picking up strength this winter.

The October Surprise

As has been reported, another aspect of the great awakening will arrive in mailboxes this November in the form of credit card bills.  Many families are already economically so stretched to the snapping point by gas prices and rising healthcare costs that they have been minimally surviving by remitting minimum payments.  Come November, those payments will double as part of rule changes allowed by congress.  If that's the forehand slap to the face, the backhand follow up is the bankruptcy bill, which makes it more difficult for families to find a way out from under massive debt.   This bill "conveniently" takes effect just weeks after the credit card minimum payment rule changes.

Real Estate

Recently, the economy has ridden along on the backs of a public who has cashed in on the increasing value of their homes.  Second mortgages, home equity loans, interest only schemes have all been handed out like cotton candy at a county fair.  But with pressure from the energy and debt sectors, this source is about to dry up.  It's not a question of when, but how.  The real estate bubble may slowly deflate or burst like a balloon jarring all within earshot.  The point being, it cannot be sustained, and the final source of income for many families will evaporate at a time when wages from their jobs are dropping in real world value.


It is well known that consumer spending has been the economy's engine.  Christmas is historically the largest orgasm of consumer spending during the year. It's not a large leap to see that 2005's holiday season has the potential to be especially bleak.  With less money to spend because of gas/heating oil prices, the reduced ability to pay credit card expenses and Iraqi War doubt,  January's economic chill may match the outdoor temperature.

Jobs and Inflation

With all these pieces in place, businesses will be left with no other choice than to raise prices to cover rising fuel expenses and slower sales. As a result, the cycle of inflation may take hold quicker than Mr. Greenspan's interest rate hikes can be implemented.  With rising production costs and poor sales, companies will begin to cut labor costs, a euphemism for firing people.


Under normal circumstances, there may be ways to mitigate or avoid some of these problems, but this is where the political element gives the storm strength.  The lawmakers presently in charge do not react to real problems with real solutions.  It has been their history, a history that has led us to this point, to ignore a problem's solution. They, rather, embrace a problem as an opportunity for political gain.  Therefore, none of the foundation for real solutions has been laid to counteract these hurricane force economic winds that are about to hit.

I'm no economist or political scientist, but I know that I'm seeing clouds forming on the horizon, and am not at all happy about how we, as a nation, have prepared.

I know I have painted a gloomy picture, but it's one that, I feel, reflects the world America will face very soon.  This is going to lead to massive political unrest in this country.  The natives will be looking to throw the bums out as quickly as they can.

This is seemingly good news for the Democrats, who can point to the fact that all this has happened on the Republican's watch, but they should avoid the temptation to gloat.  You see the Republican agenda couldn't have gotten as far along as it has without Democratic help.

There was and remains wide spread support among Democrats in congress for the war.  If the party's leaders refuse to review their position on this issue, events will quickly overtake them and they will find it difficult to gain traction.  A desperate population doesn't have the patience to split hairs and parse sentences.  You were either for it or against it.

In terms of energy policy, many Democrats were among those who lined up at the troth earlier this summer to pass the pork slop filled energy bill, thereby missing an opportunity to address the public's real concerns about gas prices and alternative fuel sources.

The bankruptcy bill passed with support from Democrats.  16 Democratic senators voted for the bill.  For many, that is going to be unforgivable.

In short, for an opposition party to survive the impending political and economic storm it must oppose the all ways.  It won't be enough to pick and choose their issues and appease here and there.  In order to be effective in the raging storm, the Democrats need to review and overhaul their role in the process that created the storm, or risk being swept overboard by the tidal wave of backlash that is certain to come.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Crawford Series

I've had requests to create a full version of my five stories from Crawford concerning Camp Casey. I've responded by putting them into a PDF file that you can open and save to your desktop for printing or emailing.

Click here for The Crawford Series

If you can, please donate to ePluribus Media so that we may continue to bring you stories from the scene.

Many Thanks

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Celeste and Cindy and The Media

Part Five and the final in a Series of columns:
Part One:    They Came to Crawford.
Part Two:   Camp Casey and Casey Kelley
Part Three: The President & The Minister
Part Four: Mothers & daughters & Sisters

Celeste & Cindy

"I hope I helped this situation," said a tired but determined Celeste Zappala as she stood in the unrelenting Crawford sun one afternoon last week.

"I feel like a sort of vessel," she said. "The Lord fills us with life-affirming righteousness, and to this moment in time and place is when and where all my life's experiences have brought me. If I can be a gentle voice, and help change people's hearts, then I know I'm supposed to be here.

"I have to leave tonight and go back to work," she said, "but I'm going to return to Camp Casey. My son, Dante, is going to stay." She turned me around and introduced me to a tall dark-haired young man with gentle eyes. "He'll be here to help."

Zappala's oldest son and Dante's brother, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Baghdad on April 26 2004. His mission that day was to guard a survey team that was searching for weapons of mass destruction. Later, when those weapons were found to be nonexistent, Sherwood's mother was moved to join with Cindy and Pat Sheehan, Bill Mitchell, Lila Lipscomb, Jane and Jim Bright, Sue Niederer and Dede Miller, who had all lost family members on the mean streets of Iraq, and together, they founded the Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization dedicated to ending the war in Iraq and bringing the troops home.

I had contacted her three weeks earlier in search of an interview. We've developed a back-and-forth email relationship since then, and this was my first opportunity to meet her face to face. After I initially approached her and identified myself, she immediately gave me a warm hug through which she displayed her easy affection while at the same time, she leaned on me for a bit for support.

"Tired?" I whispered.

She released from the hug, looked me in the eyes and sighed, "Oh, my, yes. But I'm holding up. This is too important."

I'd been watching Zappala and Cindy Sheehan since my arrival earlier in the day (see Part One:They Came to Crawford).  They weren't easy to miss. Sheehan moved around Camp Casey, surrounded by a cluster of men and women with cameras, microphones and notepads, each begging for a private moment with the woman of the hour.  Zappala, too, had her entourage, more manageable in number.  When the two women took a moment to stand together in order to share information or to find and give support, the marriage of their flocks led to gaggle members standing two or three deep, shouting questions, asking for photos, or simply standing in the back taking notes.

Cindy Sheehan and Celeste Zappala

"As the days go by, Cindy, do you think you're getting closer or farther away from your meeting with the president?" a voice rang out above the others.

"Farther," Sheehan replied. "If he had met with me the first day, none of this would have happened." Cameras whirred and pencils scratched at notepads.

"Do you think all the media attention has helped or hurt your cause?" came another question.

Cindy smiled calmly. "It's certainly helped. We had 700 people here yesterday and we are expecting over 1000 this weekend."

"Some ask, 'Why do you want another meeting with the president?' Wasn't the first one enough?" another question came, cutting through the din.

"Look," she said. "A lot has changed since that meeting. The Downing Street Memo, no WMD were found, no links between 9/11 and Saddam. I want to know the noble cause the president spoke of last week," She paused to gather her thoughts.

"The president works for us," she said at last. "He owes us a simple answer to that question. To the grieving mothers. To the 62% of the American public who are having doubts about the war."

"What was your first reaction to seeing the president drive by so close to you and not stop?" asked a young man in the front row without looking up from his pad.

Cindy waited until he looked up before responding, and then said directly, "I think if he was really in one of those cars, it was good for him to see real people who disagree with him.  He never sees that. He's always surrounded by people who are afraid to disagree with him."

She cleared her throat and said, "Excuse me. I've been talking since Saturday."

After a moment, she continued. "If the president can find time to speak with donors, why can't he find the time to speak with me? Maybe if I had a bunch of money to give him, he would have stopped."

This scene was repeated again and again that afternoon as new media members arrived and took the place of those who had gotten their footage, interview or sound bite and left.

It was near the end of that long afternoon of impromptu press conferences, interviews and meetings that I chose to reveal my name to Celeste and her son, Dante.

"This is the event we have all been waiting for," Celeste said putting her arm around her son. "The Gold Star Families are the leaders. We are asking the question everyone wants answered," she said, meaning Cindy's "noble cause" question. Then she stopped, smiled and exhaled a long, deep sigh. "I'm so tired," she whispered.

I took this as a cue that her interview time for the day was over. I introduced my wife, Peg, and Ben, our dog, to the Zappalas, extended my thanks and walked back up the road toward our car.

The Media

As we walked, I was struck with how things had changed. How protests had changed.  How the media had changed. The story of Camp Casey is quite simple: A grieving mother is asking the president why her son was killed, and she's addressing that question to the president through the Cyclops eye of the TV camera. That simple and quite human question is then broadcast instantaneously to the hungry world of international cable news and high-speed internet. I myself, earlier in the day had been reporting live on the internet from Camp Casey via a wireless cell card installed in my laptop computer.

I remembered the Vietnam protests where numbers mattered more than the simplicity of the message. The war seemed senseless to many for a long time, but it wasn't until hundreds of thousands of people came together to supply the nightly news with pictures of endless crowds of protesters lining both sides of the mall in Washington or campus quadrangles that the issue got carried into the mainstream.

Violence had to have erupted, campus buildings had to be held hostage, hundreds had to be arrested and, finally, protesting students had to be shot and killed on the rolling green grass of Kent State University in Ohio in order for the message to be personalized and heard. Then, and only then, did the mind of America begin to turn, and the support for the war eroded.  I remembered the photo of the helicopter on the roof of an out-building at the embassy compound in Saigon, overloaded for the final flight out, a pictorial representation of a war fought and abandoned.

Are we headed to a similar fate in Iraq? I have no idea.  But, if so, it may very well have begun not with massive protests or burning cars in the streets of Chicago, but with the globally beamed image of a single, grieving woman with a question sitting in a folding chair in a lonely ditch along a back road in Crawford, Texas.

My wife and I were silent as we drove back down Prairie Chapel Road. We rode back past the Broken Spike ranch where the president had attended his fundraiser, past the red brick church, past the monument to the Ten Commandments outside the Yellow Rose souvenir shop, past the Crawford Peace House, on to state road 6, back to Waco with its familiar world of Interstate exits and shopping malls, and back to our lives with our family and friends.

Ms. Sheehan, no doubt, will continue on her life's path, but no matter how well-known her face and popular her cause becomes, she will never be able to have the one thing she desperately desires: to be able, once again, to look into the eyes of her oldest son.

Image Hosted by


Special Contributions from the following ePluribus Media members:
SusanG, Peg Keeler (bedarra), Standingup, Cho, Timroff

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The President & The Minister

Part Three in a Series
Part One: They Came to Crawford.
Part Two: Camp Casey and Casey Kelley

The President

In the historical narrative, there exist moments in time that are made profound by what didn't occur rather than what did, where the symbolism of an event overshadows the simplicity of its details. Here, at Camp Casey, at the unlikely confluence of politics and protest, of media and message, such a "non-event" event was about to transpire.

For Cindy Sheehan's simple request was going to be met. The president of the United States was coming to Camp Casey.

Having arrived earlier in the morning and just completed an interview with a protester, I responded to a warning cry saying that the president was on his way to a fundraiser and was due to pass by any minute.

I ran down the service road, turned right and stopped at the top of the triangle to get my bearings. In front of me was a sea of activity.  Everyone was running about, grabbing signs, moving cars, aiming television cameras, raising boom mics, pointing, ordering and  shouting. It reminded me of a film set, complete with actors, directors, extras, cameras and crew preparing to shoot the pivotal on-location scene of an action movie. The pressure was on, however, because, unlike a movie, there would be only one take.

Time was short, so I quickly glanced over the landscape for a vantage point.

The far side of Prairie Chapel Road was immediately ruled out. Access was blocked by waist-high yellow police tape stretched along the camp-side edge of the road. A scattered formation of 10 to 15 officers - some state police, some local, as well as a smattering of agents with  "Secret Service" not so secretly etched in white block letters across their bullet-proof vests - fell into intimidating place on the opposite side of the tape.

Leaning over the stretched yellow barricade from the camp side like anxious extras, the protesters were fidgeting with their hand-made signs, glancing back and forth, awaiting  instructions.

The bottom point of the triangle contained the epicenter of activity where the crew hoped to get the money shot. The three women from the camper were frantically directing and positioning the guest stars, the Gold Star Families for Peace members. Waving their arms and chattering into their head sets, the camper women ordered everyone to stand 10 feet back to allow the throng of press cameras an unfettered view of the leading lady, Cindy Sheehan. She was placed downstage center.

Adding to the symbolic impact of this small moment in time, the mothers clutched the white cross memorials to their fallen sons as though they were the physical manifestation of all their pent-up sorrow, anger and disappointment, a choice no set decorator could have matched.

Even the sun seemed to cooperate, by providing the perfect lighting angle: high, but just a bit behind the cameras to eliminate shadows and allow for crisp, open-aperture footage, the kind that pops off the screen during an otherwise drab, in-studio cable news show.

As if cued by an unseen producer, the helicopter reappeared from seemingly nowhere and hovered high overhead, the blades clacking away, adding to the tension.

As I took my chosen position behind the protesters and up the hill, my caustic mind added the strains of "Adagio for Strings" as a private soundtrack.

All was ready, poised for the final "Action!" from the director.

Then, it happened. Down Prairie Chapel Road, an eerily silent procession of swiftly moving vehicles came snaking into view. Two state police cars, five huge black American-made SUVs with equally black-tinted windows, another police car, an ambulance and three final police cars for good measure, each within a few yards of each other in formation, sped past the taunting protesters, weeping family members, whirring cameras, coiled policemen and, most important of all, a pleading Cindy Sheehan.

This moment in time was over in less than 30 seconds. Sheehan had gotten her wish...sort of.  President Bush did leave his ranch, travel to Camp Casey and, I imagine, saw the grieving mother from Vacaville, Calif. But her longed-for meeting lacked one key detail...he did not stop.

During the next 24 hours, the carefully captured images of this meeting that didn't happen were bounced off countless satellites and broadcasted to millions of people around the world, its symbolism overshadowing the simplicity of its details.

The Minister

As so often happens when events baffle the human spirit, people turn to the comfort of shared ceremony in an attempt to make sense of the senseless. Thus, the second event of the day on Camp Casey's calendar was a non-denominational religious service. Three members of the clergy had accepted an invitation to meet with the families, offer prayers and play host to a hastily assembled tapestry of religious observations. They had arrived that morning and had spent a few short moments developing a game plan.

Immediately following the president's drive-by close encounter, the humble brown grass and dirt of the triangle was transformed into a temporary open-air house of worship. The unscripted service was part prayer, part pain, part purge and completely personal.

I was torn between intruding on an event so obviously meant for others, and giving the grieving families their privacy.  I chose the latter.  I stepped away and witnessed from a short distance the physical residue of shared raw emotion. Hugs, tears and finally kneeling - and in Cindy Sheehan's case, the touch of her fingers to her forehead, then to her heart, then to each of her shoulders in a rite familiar to all Catholics.  I couldn't hear what was said between them all.

I did, however catch the benediction firmly delivered by the youngest of the clergy:

"May God bless you with DISCOMFORT...
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
SO that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with ANGER...
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS...
To shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war.
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into JOY.

An may God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS...
To believe that you can make a difference in this world,
So that you can DO what others claim cannot be done.


After the service I caught up with the man who delivered the benediction. We were standing in the same soothing shade on the service road where I'd first met Casey Kelley. As I pulled out my notepad, he immediately assumed the demeanor of a man accustomed to being interviewed.

His name was the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.

"But I'm also a former six-term, 12-year Congressman from Pennsylvania," he said, almost by rote. He gave the impression that, to him, interviews were a necessary evil.

"As general secretary, I represent 45 million Christians," the minister said. "The National Council of Churches has more than 100,000 local congregations and our members include a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African-American and Living Peace churches.

"I'm also involved with We fight fear, fundamentalism and Fox TV with a commitment to peace, prosperity and the Planet Earth." I raised my eyebrows and asked him to repeat that phrase, because I thought it was something he wanted quoted. He smiled and did so slowly. He was warming up.

"We raised over $200,000 to shoot and run a 30-second television commercial apologizing for the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib." Edgar said, and then he leaned in for emphasis. "We ran it exclusively on Arab television stations."

Why did such a busy man come to Crawford?

Softening his tone, he said simply, "Because Celeste Zappala emailed me and asked. I had met with her after she had lost her son. She's one of the founders of Gold Star." He paused and wiped his face with a handkerchief.

I asked him how she was doing.  He inhaled to speak, then stopped. After a short moment, he told me a story.

"I have a friend who is a minister who years ago lost a son to AIDS. I saw my friend recently and asked him how he was doing, and he said, `I wish I had had this tragic death earlier in my ministry. You see, I always thought death would heal in a month or two, but even now, everywhere I go and everything I do, I am reminded of my son. How am I doing?  I'm a better minister now, because I know the wound never completely heals.'"

I looked up from my pad and silently thanked the Rev. Edgar. He nodded and walked down the road to join his friend - and the reason for his presence in Crawford, Texas.  

Rev. Edgar and Celeste Zapalla

Part Four - Mothers and Daughters and Sisters.

Special Contributions from the following ePluribus Media members:
SusanG, Peg Keeler (bedarra), Standingup, Cho, Timroff

For a sneak preview of ePluribus Media's Discussion site, join us at ePluribus Media Community.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Camp Casey and Casey Kelley

This is Part Two of a series.  Part One is They Came to Crawford.

Camp Casey

“My God. Look at all the crosses,” my wife, Peg, whispered as we came over a rise and caught our first glimpse of “Camp Casey” through the windshield a couple of hundred yards ahead. Leaving Crawford, we’d turned right at the church on to Prairie Chapel Road and traveled through a five-mile-long picture post card over gently rolling green pastureland. If this was, as locals have claimed, God’s country, we had just entered the narthex of His church. Having turned off the AC and lowered the windows, we caught strains of a familiar hymn sung by the local bird and cicada choir. And now on our left, a site common in so many rural churchyards, were the memorials to the deceased members of this congregation.

Two orderly rows of simple white crosses, then expanding to three and finally to four, guided us for the final 100 yards of our journey. As we slowed to a reverent crawl, we noted that the markers were identical except for the names hand-written in black magic marker across each horizontal bar. Straight ahead, tied to tree branches, was an old sheet on which was scrawled, in foot-tall letters, “Jesus Wept.”

Camp Casey isn’t really a camp in the strictest sense. Located at a sun-burnt junction of two county roads in the middle of nowhere, it’s more a haphazard collection of leaflet-covered tables, folding lawn chairs, hand-painted signs and multi-colored plastic coolers. The junction between Prairie Chapel Road and an unnamed service road forms a small triangle. Turning left at the triangle leads to long rows of cars parked on both sides so as not to block the way for the locals. Following Prairie Chapel Road to the right as it veers away from the triangle leads to smaller rows of state and local police cars. The lines of demarcation seemed to be strictly drawn.

We turned left and found an open spot on the right about 50 yards up the hill from the triangle. Our car tilted to the right at the edge of the drainage ditch alongside the road. My wife had read a notice posted at the Peace House warning of the fire ants who lurked in the ditches along the roads of mid-Texas. I remembered that Billy Kelly had told me that during their initial walk to Bush’s compound they were forced to walk in the ditch and off the road to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic. Now, after experiencing the ditches first hand and noting the lack of traffic, I understood why this was a memorable detail for him.

I gathered my tools for the day: laptop, pad, recorder and camera, while my wife prepared our small dog, Ben, for a long afternoon in the burning Texas sun. Previously, we had wondered how he would fit in at a country protest, but were immediately comforted when just down the road near the triangle, we saw another, much larger dog lying in the shade of a small tree. Sitting next to the dog on a blanket was a petite woman dressed in a pink T-shirt with “Stop the War” printed on the front. She also wore a large straw hat.

Casey Kelley

“What’s the dog’s name?” I asked, hoping for friendly company for Ben.

“Lucky,” the woman in pink replied with a smile.

Just then, the quiet of the late morning was interrupted by the rapid-fire chopping of an approaching helicopter overhead. “Vietnam,” my mind said out of a long entrenched habit. I was never there, but too many of my friends and contemporaries were. Again, I thought of Billy and the other vets who were here at Camp Casey. Another parallel between the then and the now?

“Bush is going to drive by this morning on his way to a fundraiser down the road. Must be police or the Secret Service,” Lucky’s owner said, squinting as she looked up through the branches of the tree. “He’s supposed to come by in about a half hour.”

I asked if Ben could share Lucky’s shade. Pink-Shirted Woman said, “Yes,” and I sat down to introduce Ben to Lucky and myself to his owner.

Her name was Casey Kelley. “Kelley with an ‘e’,” she said, looking over my shoulder as I scribbled some notes. I asked and she agreed to tell me about how she and her dog came to be sitting by the side of a lonely country road in Crawford, Texas, on a lazy August morning.

“I’m a semi-retired real estate broker and I live in Fairplay, Colo.. Do you know it? No? Not many people do. It’s about 23 miles south of Breckenridge in the Rockies. It’s beautiful,” she said. “Much different than the beauty here. Anyway, last Monday morning I was reading online - I don’t remember where, it might have been Daily Kos – about Cindy and how she was being treated…being made to walk in a ditch. I got so angry and I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to go stand next to her.’ So, I got someone to look after my house and animals and loaded Lucky into my camper.” She pointed to the open-sided camper directly across the road, 10 feet from where we were sitting. “It’s become Cindy’s office.”

Indeed, conversation was coming from three women who were sitting in the camper. They wore earpieces and had communication devices circling their waists. They were deciding where Sheehan should stand when the president would drive by.

“I left on Monday afternoon and arrived here Wednesday,” Kelley said.. “Sorry. I haven’t had a bath and I’m pretty….” She trailed off and waved her hand in front of her face. “I’m really looking forward to a bath.”

I asked her what stuck in her mind about her adventure. “Meeting Cindy,” she said without hesitation. “Her grace. Her courage. How she’s remained so calm with all that’s been happening. It’s also been extraordinary to see the other families who have arrived here, how they have had the insight to see through their terrible loss. I mean, what a tragedy! And they still see through all that, to know the truth, the truth about this ridiculous war.

“Look,” Kelley continued,“I have three kids and my oldest boy was approaching fighting age during the Vietnam War. There was no way I was going to let that happen. I mean, seeing the photos of these family’s sons who died makes me hurt in my chest.” There was a strong determination in her voice, but the edges seemed softened by compassion.

“ I know this is going to sound harsh,” she said, “but I think those boys did die in vain. I mean, they knew the risks. They volunteered. I don’t think it’s derogatory to say that they had real courage and honor for their country, but they died for a mistake, and that makes this all so much harder.

“I’m just a real estate broker,” she said, “and I knew there were no WMD, and if I knew that, then why didn’t the administration know it? It’s nice to get rid of Saddam, but what no one asks is, ‘What was the cost?’”

Was she new to protesting?

“This is the first time I’ve ever been moved to do anything like this. Drive over a thousand miles to be here. And it’s not really an event. I’m just being here to show my support.”

I asked her how long she planned to stay and she said, “As long as I can. I’ve got to make some calls to see about my house and stuff. And besides, how can I take away their office?”

Just then someone from down at the triangle shouted, “Here he comes!” – the president. I grabbed my camera and left Ben to Lucky’s care as Casey, Peg and I jogged down the road to see what would happen next.

Part Three – The President and The Minister

Special Contributions from the following ePMedia folk and many thanks to:
SusanG, Peg Keeler (bedarra), Cho, Standingup

For a sneak preview of ePluribus Media's Discussion site, join us at ePluribus Media Community.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

They Came to Crawford

The driving directions from Waco to Crawford, Texas, are simple.  You take the state road 6N exit off I-35 in Waco, then stay on 6 north to the junction of county road 185 where a quick left leads you west straight into town.  This stretch of rural Texas blacktop is flanked by telling welcome signs:

Creekside 9 Hole Golf
American Fireworks.  Buy 1, get 5 free.
Hogshop Cycleshop
Ceramic Statuary
Centex Welding

It's a trail that leads to a world unknown to many who live in the rest of America, the America that is "Not Texas."  This rolling ranchland may be alien even to urban Texas dwellers who live in Austin or Dallas or Houston.

It's here, in this land of dented Ford pick-ups, south-facing satellite dishes, wind-tattered confederate flags and stinging fire ants, that the handlers of George W. Bush decided to build their photo-op backdrop - the Presidential Ranch Retreat.  It's here where, far away from just about anyplace else, the 43rd U.S. President chooses to vacation and, quite literally, get away from it all.

The physically remote location seems to have been carefully chosen, seeming to offer anyone who lives here an insulation from the cold wind of reality blown from the outside world.  Belying its welcoming, lush fields of uncommonly green sage grass and low shade trees, the place seems to shout, "Private Property.  Keep out," as evidenced by the electronic fencing and grand private entrance markers notating the names of the vast ranches; the actual homes remain unseen from the road.

The world of Crawford insulates travelers in another way as they leave the shopping malls of Waco behind.  An invisible ideological cocoon seems woven around mid-Texas. Its threads consist of strong strands of conservatism knotted together with strings of distrust of all things from the outside world. Simply put, "If you're not from here, you don't belong here." But membership can, it seems, be bought. The president isn't a long-time resident of this community, having moved into his new digs on Election Day, 2000, but his picture, as well as that of the First Lady, grace a tall billboard welcoming travelers to the area. He literally gives all who enter a "thumbs up." But in reality, all are not welcome.

Leading the list of the unwelcome these days is the seemingly harmless Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother of fallen soldier Casey Sheehan, killed in Iraq shortly after the war began.  Earlier this month, Ms. Sheehan was outraged by comments made by President Bush in response to the increased violence in Iraq and its subsequent rising death toll.

"We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission."
"The families of the fallen can be assured that they died for a noble cause."

Sheehan's doubt about this logic had increased in direct proportion to the number of differing justifications for the war offered by the president.

And when Mr. Bush retired this month to his spread in Crawford to begin a five-week vacation, a record length for an American president, Sheehan's anger led her to follow him into the cocoon of Crawford to ask him, face to face, a simple question: "What is the noble cause you claim my son died for?"

She got as close as a chigger-filled roadside ditch a couple of miles away from the president's compound, where she was told to go no further. Sheehan complied. She went no further. She also didn't leave, setting up camp and christening it "Camp Casey" in memory of her son, kicking off a protest and media campaign that has captured the attention of a nation, and indeed, the world.

This past week, I traveled from New York to the road from Waco to Crawford with my wife, Peg, and our dog, Ben, to get a first-hand look at Camp Casey. This account is the first in a series of entries that will relate the personal stories of many other wanderers who found themselves drawn to Crawford - and their individual reasons for deciding to stand with  Sheehan.

First Stop, The Crawford Peace House

Image Hosted by

The Crawford Peace House, the kick-off point and headquarters for the Camp Casey Protest, lies on the right-hand side of state road 185 as you enter Crawford.  The Peace House itself is an unremarkable structure, adorned with anti-Bush signs in the windows and poster board lists of American Iraqi war dead leaning against the porch out front. Another poster inside announces:

There's no war worth fighting except the war against poverty.

The house opened its doors on Easter Sunday 2003.  Located in the heart of Bush Country, its mission statement speaks of "a culturally diverse environment for spiritual growth and intellectual understanding that gives hope to humanity by providing peaceful alternatives to war."  It was the natural place to coordinate Sheehan's protest, house the people who have joined the effort, feed protesters and the press and offer high speed internet to all comers. Here shade is offered from the unrelenting August sun.  Indeed, the house serves as an oasis of many sorts.  At night, the otherwise bare, hardwood floor is carpeted with wall-to-wall sleeping bags.

As I emerged from my car, a sun-browned man of about 55 wearing a Crawford Peace House T-shirt was sitting in the back of the neighboring red van. Noticing my ePluribus Media T-shirt, he said, "Turn around and let me practice my Latin."

Whether he was guarding the Peace House and testing a stranger's motives or was genuinely curious about new arrivals was unclear.  He was certainly affable and his quick smile made me feel welcome.  I liked him immediately.

He introduced himself as Billy Kelly, a member of American Veterans for Peace.  He offered me a seat next to him on the back bumper of the open van, handed me his personal card (which was in English on one side and what appeared to be Vietnamese on the other) and easily related his reasons for coming to Crawford:

Image Hosted by

I was with Cindy in Dallas last Saturday for a protest when she decided to come on down here and try to talk with Bush.  Bunch of us got on a bus and drove on down to Crawford.  It was really spontaneous.  Had no plans other than to see how far we could get.  So we headed out to the ranch.  Had police escort.  We got within a couple of miles and they told us we had to walk from there, so we got out and started to walk in the ditch.  They wouldn't let us in the road.  It was really hot, so some of us went back to get some water, but they wouldn't let us go back up to join Cindy.  There were about ten of us.  So she turned around and came on back to where we were and decided to set up camp.

Billy, a native of Stockholm, N.J., is a veteran of the war in Vietnam.  His bright demeanor changed as he described the parallels he sees between the early anti-war movement of the Vietnam era and the movement of today.

He told me he'd taken off from Crawford for a few days, but was back to lend his support and help out in any way he could.

After rummaging through his gear, he located and proudly displayed plastic albums of photos fresh from the developer of the first march to the Bush compound. He also showed me older images from his trip to Iraq, where he went to witness the fighting first hand.  After I asked, he shrugged and offered that he would sleep in his van for the weekend.  Turns out he wasn't the lone Vietnam vet in Crawford. Two or three other members of his organization were also in town.

He rose to change his shirt and gave me directions to Camp Casey. I thanked him and entered the house to gather my family.  Peg had signed the guest book the Peace House members had acquired to mark the occasion for their archives.

It turns out Billy's directions weren't needed because the shuttle van was about to depart for the site.  We followed the van, which had "Bush Report Card F" scrawled in white, wash-off paint on the back.  We took off down 185, passing a large monument to the Ten Commandments displayed outside the Yellow Rose souvenir shop, the only retail business I saw in "downtown" Crawford, made a right at the red brick church and traveled the final five miles of our 1,700-mile journey to see Cindy.

Part Two, Camp Casey.

Editor: SusanG (many thanks)
Photos: Peg Keeler

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I was thinking...

about the future of the War in Iraq...and in my mind's rearview memory mirror....I caught a glimpse of where we are headed.

Powered by Blogger

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by