Monday, August 22, 2005

Witness to the Truth

Cindy Sheehan proves, in a sense, the power of powerlessness.

Her case is easily overstated, just as it was easily understated, at one point, ignored when it started. She is not Mahatma Ghandi, and she is not leading a movement to eject an imperial ruler. But consider her situation, consider what power she has.

Mike Allen, just yesterday, said the people at Camp Casey are simply "PETA, hippies, Naderites," which makes them easily dismissable. Camp Casey is drawing more and more people, and even musicians. It is dismissive to marginalize them all by such terms. Listen to the people interviewed on Democracy Now! this morning; few of them sound like "hippies" or "Naderites." Hippies and Naderites don't go to war. The people at Camp Casey are also the families of soldiers, dead and still alive, in Iraq.

But what power did Cindy Sheehan have? And what power does she have now?

The story is that Ms. Sheehan was in Dallas for a peace rally, and being so close to Crawford (closer than her home in California), and being in Texas in August, when Bush was in Texas, she decided she'd had enough, and she was going to Crawford to demand President Bush explain to her why her son had to die in Iraq. It was that simple. Her resolve was that plain. From that decision, to stand in a ditch in the August heat on a country road in Texas, from the determination of one person, these events have come.

Support for the war had fallen into negative numbers in early August. Ironically, or interestingly, those polls were released 6 days before Ms. Sheehan decided to stand in a ditch on the road. I don't know what the polls show now about suppport for the war, but I have little doubt the numbers have not gone in the President's favor. And she has effected the public debate without political consultants, without an expensive advertising campaign (the Gold Star Families for Peace is running one ad, on a few stations in Salt Lake City); without extensive polling or the support of Washington "insiders," or even the approval of the pooh-bahs and pundits of TV and radio. Cokie Roberts called her "an unsophisticated woman" this morning, but understood that the symbolism is the message, not the messenger. As she says, this has moved beyond a fringe movement, and is starting to take in people like Chuck Hagel. She has changed the conversation of the country, simply by having the moral courage to personally demand accountability from the President of the United States, and by taking responsibility for her part in the death of her son. It is that willingness to take responsibility, to stand up and be accountable personally, that this Administration seems absolutely unable to fathom, and is absolutely unable to respond to.

Speechless, in the comments below, is right: "I think we can say that this woman has taken on the role of the Prophets of old, parking herself on the doorstep of the King, covering herself with sackcloth and ashes, eating bitter herbs and dry bread to make real and visible the truth of suffering in the world. Her truth is compelling in a way which scares the Bejaysus our of Bush." We easily forget that the prophets put themselves in opposition to power and authority, and only on the authority that they spoke for God, a claim no more credible in their day than it would be in ours. Isaiah worked in the court; Jeremiah placed himself in harms way, and wept bitterly and openly over what God said would happen to Israel; Ezekiel suffered both bizarre visions and physical punishments as visual metaphors of the judgment of God on Israel; and Hosea married a prostitute and gave his children names Frank Zappa would not have countenanced, as signs to Israel of how they had sinned against God. Cindy Sheehan is not a prophet, either; but we would do well to remember the prophets were individuals, people, wrenched out of ordinary lives by extraordinary events, and called to witness, on their own, to the truth.

Cindy Sheehan is a witness to the truth. Behold the power of such a witness. Cindy Sheehan is simply a mother, a mother who will never again, in this life, know her child. Behold the power of powerlessness.

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