A Daytrip Without Cindy: Friday at Camp Casey

By Greg Moses

UrukNet / CounterPunch / OpEdNews / AfterDowningStreet
/ BellaCiao

Not having Cindy Sheehan in Crawford Friday turned out okay. Her absence didn’t stop the media from crowding around a noon prayer vigil. And nobody I talked to was planning to cut short their stay on account of her absence. In fact, as usual, folks were sort of falling in love with the land and each other, wondering how many days more could they squeeze in.

Take the example of Katie Sterling of Fort Worth and her traveling companion Pam Humphrey of Burleson, Texas. In the sweltering afternoon heat across Cedar Rock Parkway from the Crawford Peace House, they were tending to a field of 40 cars parked in neat rows, talking with big smiles about last night’s sleepover in the network of bar ditches that has become Camp Casey. “We planned to stay in Waco with relatives, but we couldn’t leave, so we slept in a ditch and it was great!” And why couldn’t they leave? Because they were having too much fun.

Humphrey has kicked around North Texas as a journalist and activist, but these are hard times in hard country and she had to let the journalist part go. The activism part is dedicated to a group called the Smarty Pants Liberals, who have made a project out of liberating the local Congressman, Democrat Chet Edwards, so he can vote less Bush-like. They were happy to see him vote against CAFTA, but would like to see less capitulation to the Patriot Act or the war agenda, two issues that Cindy Sheehan has dragged into the district behind her. The Smarty Pants met with Edwards this week, says Thompson. Although Cindy isn’t in town, the effects of the movement might help move a Bush country Congressman, we’ll see. Humphrey also organized a local vigil in Cleburne, outside the Edwards office, one of hundreds of local vigils held in solidarity with Cindy across the nation Wednesday night.

Or take the example of Dominic Stewart Guido of Ithaca, New York. He was born on the ninth of July, which makes him eligible to run for president in 2040. His mother Lisa is on maternity leave and could think of no better place to lounge around relaxing. “What better place is there for mothers and children than here?” asks Lisa as she points out Dominic’s older brother who in turn has found a playmate nearly his age, a little girl with streaks of body paint in black and white. Lisa and her partner Audrey have planned a full week here, and they are happy to be part of this.

To this little cluster of moms and kids, New Mexico poet Rick Burnley offers one of his anti-war poems that begins with the words “Georgie Porgie.” He has several of these poems that he’s been reciting at least since Feb. 2003, back when the peace movement first peaked before the Iraq war. And he is a preservationist noted for finding ways to keep developers from exploiting areas of his hometown, Placitas where coyote, bear, and deer drink from a creek, and great horned owls and bald eagles soar overhead.” Some time later, as I’m resting near Rick under the lush but narrow Camp Casey windbreak, he tells me how much he enjoys this green, cool space. It’s not quite what he expected to find.

No doubt Camp Casey has its focus in the illegal war on Iraq and the premeditated murders of men who have been killed in a lie, but when people like Pam, Lisa and Rick are drawn together, they bring with them shade and steady breezes for broader cultural refreshment. Time and again, people from so many places are finding each other in a long lost community. How can so many people from so far away find themselves so much in the same place?

“It’s like the hundredth monkey,” says a schoolteacher from Madison, Wisconsin as we ride a packed van out to camp from the Peace House. She is referring to a popular theory of social intelligence that says when a certain number of individuals adopt a new behavior, it mysteriously becomes a social change. “Cindy was the hundredth monkey.” Once she stood up, it was time for everyone to stand. Folks in the van are nodding. I count four women and four men, all of them including me appear to be eligible for senior discounts. Somtimes those first hundred monkeys take their damn time.

*****

On this trip out, I notice something different as we pass the millionaire ranch that drew so much attention last week. Beginning about there, I notice that an American flag has been hung along with a sign. Then two SUVs pass in the oncoming lane with double flags attached to windows. It is time for our driver to point something out. “We have some counter-demonstrators out here. Dozens of vehicles involved. If they attempt to draw you into a confrontation, don’t go there. Don’t laugh at them. Don’t point a finger at them. Don’t flip a finger at them. And remember this triangle of grass belongs to the woman building that big house over there and she doesn’t want anybody on it, so stay off the triangle.”

Although Cindy is not at Camp Casey, familiar signs of leadership persist. Lisa Fithian and Jodie Evans are holding an open meeting in full sunshine, which is about as high level as you can get out here when Cindy’s not around. Folks just let them do their business, keeping a respectful distance. In a pair of shaded chairs, Annie and Buddy Spell chat quietly with an empty chair nearby for anyone who needs it. And that colorful guy who fired the shotgun last week was right, this is a battle of port-o-potties. Last week Camp Casey got one (“the victory of the week,” says Buddy, giving all credit to Austin attorney Jim Harrington). This week there are five.

Interspersed between the Texas cars that line both sides of the parking area along County Route 450A (the brand new mapquest name for Morgan Road) one finds license plates from Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Arizona, California, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, and New York. Already there are bumper stickers that say “We Support Cindy Sheehan.” Up through the vacant road comes a woman with bullhorn asking: “is there anyone with a medical background?” Are you a doctor she asks a guy walking next to me. Thanks for the compliment he answers, but no.

One right after the other I see two t-shirts dedicated to soldiers named Torres, but it turns out they are two quite different stories. Sgt. Daniel Torres was killed on Feb. 4 this year by a roadside bomb in Iraq, one week after finding out that his partner was pregnant with his child. “He had a hunch it would happen,” said his father Sergio, who lives in Ft Worth. “When he came to visit us in December, he told us he didn’t know if he would return.”

Army Spec. John M. (Juan) Torres was found dead on July 12, 2004 in a latrine in Afghanistan. Neither his family nor buddies believe the Army report that says he killed himself. He was due to come home in two weeks. When the People’s Weekly World saw the Chicago father of the dead soldier carrying a protest sign about his son’s death, they followed up with a story in February. Today the elder Torres carries the same sign: John M. Torres, murdered by CID in Afghanistan. The mystery is a reminder that opium and heroin are primary exports of the region in which Torres died by gunshot.

“Bush Lies,” says a sign propped along Morgan Road. “Why does the media scrutinize the grieving mother and ignore the president’s lies.” That’s a pretty fair question for just about every example of media I can think of except for Amy Goodman who is standing nearby. “Meet the new Army of One” says a sign with a face of Cindy Sheehan, but here today is the network of one standing around in her default black jogging suit, a long distance runner if ever there was.

AM 1360 KLSD, San Diego’s Progressive Talk is just wrapping up its West Coast morning show, broadcasting live from Camp Casey, just as Amy Goodman had earlier broadcast live to her East Coast audience with the morning sun still low. And I’m beginning to notice among reporters on the scene today, laminated tags with White House logos on them. The presidential press corps, too? Talk about both sides of a see saw.

*****

One of the shuttle cars has just pulled up and a fellow tugs hard on an overstuffed backpack to get it out of the trunk. “I have enough in here to last me five days!” he brags. “And I love camping!” Can you tell he’s not put off by Cindy’s absence?

I’m almost to the end of the line along Morgan Road, and the chatter is lively. “I brought some white t-shirts, and I can write what I want on them.” The guy is ready to turn with this movement on a dime.

Now I’m at the PETA booth where the camp food is vegan or else. PETA is cooking free veggie burgers and barbecued veggie ribs. The ribs are not bad. Good sauce. But the grill is not too warm, and the ‘ribs’ are still cold on the inside. Still, the flavor is okay and nobody had to die. One of the cooks takes a call and talks a little about what it’s like to eat vegan in this part of the world. Either he eats grilled veggie ribs at camp or microwaved veggie ribs at the motel. As I scan the horizon I wonder where did they put the cows and goats today? The guy should write a book: how I staffed a PETA booth on County Route 450A and nobody gave me grief.

No wonder Rush and O’Reilly are in a panic. All their pet intolerances are softening up here at Camp Casey where PETA and cattle ranchers share the same street. Or as the left panel reads at the booth for Military Families Speak Out: “Hate Multiplies Hate”, “Violence Multiplies Violence”, and “Toughness Multiplies Toughness.” Note to selves: Tolerance Multiplies, Too. Across Prairie Chapel Road, a pro-Bush delegate is doing a live interview for cable news.

“Hi Diane, how you doin’?” someone says as a red shiny pickup pulls into the lane. “I’m doin’, uh, hot!” replies Diane Wilson with a grin. She eases the truck into park and steps onto the pavement. “Why don’t you try some sun screen,” says a camper. “Well,” says the bronze Gulf Coast fisherwoman, “I don’t want to start out doing something I can’t keep up.” Like wearing platform sandals. “I had on some clunkers, but I fell off them a couple of times, so I changed back to my boots.” Sure enough the brown points of the boots peek out from under her long dress. She’s used to hard work in the sun, but she has to admit that out here, “By evening you are whooped!” But you can telll by her grin that she means it in a good way. Back in the truck, she says “bye bye” and drives off.

Signs of camp organization appear at a welcome booth on Morgan Road about where shuttles unload passengers. Cree from Galveston is just now finishing a multi-colored sign that reads: “Welcome New Friends, Get Oriented Here.” A white board is being filled in with the day’s schedule and other camp info such as lead volunteers for task groups (Food, Traffic, Welcome, and Peacekeeping) and security contacts (Ann Wright, Diane Wilson, Lisa Fithian).

A canvas map handmade in Austin invites folks to place their home towns in magic marker. Only South Dakota and about three other states have yet to be claimed. Texas, California, and the NorthEast are the obvious clusters here. From the map you’d think Texas was the bluest state in the nation. In fact, with demographics that have just tipped Texas into a majority non-Anglo state, there is a call among Hispanic state legislators such as Aaron Pena to move the state into an early Presidential caucus that might better reflect a diversity not available in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Under a netted tent designated for Iraq Veterans for Peace, a dozen men are sitting close together in a circle listening to each other one at a time. It is Dustin Langley’s turn to talk about his experience as a Navy vet and his work at the “no draft no way” website. He speaks about the need to resist the way that Bush’s education agenda has made it easier for military recruiters to draw on student information collected by schools. There is provision for parents to opt out of this database, but he says the paperwork is usually buried in a stack of first-day materials that typically overwhelm folks. About this time Amy Goodman is also strolling the lane. She stops to listen for a minute, too. Just outside the netting sits Gulf War vet Rick Blumhorst, wearing his Army Green jacket, unfazed by the climbing heat index. At 100 degrees, it would still be about 20 degrees cooler than Baghdad on a hot day.

*****

Out near the rows of crosses in the naked sunlight stands a closely packed group of 75, including an impressive collection of camera crews. They are getting started on the day’s main events: a press conference at 11:30 and an interfaith service at noon, including a minute of silent prayer that is being taken up by peace activists across the country. Also, for the second day in a row, the women of Camp Casey are gathering letters for Laura Bush, asking her to intercede in the war policy of her husband’s administration. The letters are taken as close as possible to the Bush ranch, just a little further down the road.

Interfaith ministers for the noon program have been transported in three large vans to the first memorial crosses of Arlington West. There the pastors, priests, and rabbis debark for a silent walk up Prairie Chapel Road. Juan Torres of Chicago leads the procession with the sign that he has made for his son. And the mother of Daniel Torres marks the end of the line with her message: “Bush lied and killed my only son.” At the gathering point for the interfaith event, all the clerics kneel facing SouthEast, focusing their attention on the crosses that remember the dead.

As the ministers rise for a second prayer, I overhear a cell conversation at the Southern tip of the triangle. She is talking about all the giving that is going on out here. A man who shows up with food for 100. A florist who sends out 35 dozen red flowers to adorn the crosses. It’s enough to make you cry on the phone talking about it.

Rev. Andrew Weaver of Brooklyn is talking now about how the nation has allowed too many people to grieve alone in their losses to the war. But now, thanks to Cindy, he says, “We shall no longer mourn alone and grieve alone. We are in solidarity with their grief. In prayer he asks that we be neither blue states nor red, but “states of compassion.”

Moving back along Morgan Lane I see a woman carrying a flag-colored umbrella. “That’s a nice umbrella,” I say, hoping she will stop and say something about herself. “Yes, it’s an Estee Lauder,” says the woman as she passes me by. “And that’s why you don’t have one, dear,” says her companion smiling at my poor self as she moves by. It is about this time that I notice the shiny Lincoln Navigator being used by the CBS news crew. I don’t have one of those either. Looking at their blue and white umbrella folded up on the ground I wonder if it’s Estee Lauder, too.

At the Southern tip of the triangle someone has posted a No Trespassing sign to remind us that the little green patch of grass and gravel is private property, belonging to the woman building the the big house across the street. In the middle of the triangle stands Deputy Kolinek. But what exactly is he going to do when Amy Goodman walks right past him? She’s not waiting for her Democracy anymore on this high noon in Texas. May blessings shine down on her head this blazing interfaith day….