From the minute she burst onto the scene, Cindy Sheehan has been a lightening rod. It seems the labeling of her activism saw both ends of the spectrum. She was either viewed as the Mother Theresa of the anti-war movement — the woman who sacrificed her life so that other women's children would be spared — or the worst of the worst, using her son Casey's death in Iraq to advance her own personal agenda ("attention whore" was the word she used on her blog posting to describe how her critics referenced her).
I remember when she first began camping out in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005. Her son, Casey, had been killed the year before. She told anybody who would listen that she just wanted answers about what Casey's death was really for. The President even sent his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, out to meet with her. Of course, what she really wanted was to meet the President himself. He would not, and never did meet with her.
In my reporter's conceit, I always wondered: Why wouldn't the President just send his "secret weapon" out instead — that would be Laura Bush, of course — who could have invited her over for egg salad sandwiches and iced tea when the President was out cutting brush or something? I thought Laura might connect with her mother-to-mother. Hey, nobody's paying me for this advice, so I kept it to myself (until now), but I always wondered what would have happened if the President had connected to Cindy Sheehan as a grieving mother instead of as some hard-edged "lefty" political activist.
At any rate, the grieving mother and outspoken political activist has decided to withdraw. She says she's finished with activism because both parties have failed her. She now believes her son died for nothing. You can read her statement for yourself here.
As it turns out, I got to talk to a woman who actually did manage to meet the President and tell him precisely what was on her mind. Her name is Elaine Johnson and she is one of three "Gold Star" mothers I talked to on today's program. They decided to channel their grief about losing their soldier sons into actively opposing the war. Elaine, Doris Kent and Celeste Zapalla are three women united by one cause.
Here's a short film on YouTube, The Corporal's Boots. It highlights an exhibit of fallen soldiers, including Doris' son, Jonathan:
This is by no means meant to be a definitive picture, nor is it meant to imply that all mothers agree with these women. But on Monday, we decided to observe Memorial Day, in part, by visiting with families at Arlington National Cemetery. They were dealing with their grief in one way. Cindy Sheehan chose to deal with hers in another way...and she also made her big "stepping down" announcement on Memorial Day.
I know. A lot of people don't like, or disagree, with what they're doing; but I do think we have to honor the fact that their right to speak freely is exactly what their sons fought to defend.
Also, while I'm thinking about it, I just wanted to flag my convo with Xolela Mangcu. His name is actually pronounced with the "clicks" from the Xhosa language (please, don't try this at home, folks. I wish I could get it right...it sounds so cool!). Xolela was the victim of a carjacking and decided to talk about it two years after the fact. Why the delayed reaction? He says he didn't want to be accused of playing into racist stereotypes about how black folks can't run a country. You know these stereotypes do exist, right?
Talk to us: Was his reason for waiting eerily familiar to you?
The issues are so similar, so human, to wit: Just when is the time to air the "dirty laundry" of a family, a neighborhood, a community, a nation...your culture?
Even at the expense of looking bad to the outside world?
Where do you come out on this?
OK, I'm out...I have real laundry to do.