Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan

Dear Cindy,

My first reaction to your "resignation" letter was anger. I felt like, this woman's been an antiwar activist for two years and she's hanging it up publicly, sending a message that protest is worthless and we should focus on humanitarian work? That is a bigger disservice than if she had never gotten involved.

Then I made myself step back and remember what you have been through. You lost your son in a horrible way. You gave up your life as you had known it and dedicated yourself 24/7 to making his death meaningful. You exhausted yourself, sacrificed your marriage, your health, maybe your relationships with your other kids, and now you are confronting what many of us have known all along - that the public mostly does not want to know what we know, and that our public officials, those who were legitimately elected and those who were not, don't care what we think. That the will of one or a few or even a lot of people cannot change U.S. foreign policy, no matter how hard we try. Because of your extraordinary circumstances, you were given a responsibility and a leadership position that you weren't necessarily prepared for, and weren't supported in. Many of those who had been the face of the movement for several years, or more, were happy to step aside and let you take the heat and do the running for a while. And yes, I am sure that many in the movement resented your janie-come-lately leadership and what they may have perceived as your egotism, as well as the superior moral authority given to you by the media and the public over those of us who have always been dismissed as knee-jerk leftists and worse.

You worked harder than I ever have in my life, and you were mercilessly attacked by people from many sides. You brought many thousands to the movement who would not have come by themselves. For that, the country owes you an enormous debt.

My anger turned to sadness and compassion.

Rest, Cindy. You deserve and need it. My heart goes out to you and your family, and I hope that you find a way to heal yourselves and all your relationships.

But I hope when you have rested, you will understand some things, and even more, I hope those who were inspired by you will understand them.

I've been a peace and justice activist for about 30 years now. I've made this activism my life. I have spent a total of three or four months in jail, which is nothing compared to many other activists, some of it in Israel. Very few people know my name, and that's a good thing, but of what's been written about me, plenty of it has been very nasty. And even knowing that the people who write nasty things about me are not people I would want for friends doesn't make it easier to see.

I battle the depression that you are expressing every day. Nearly every day, I want to say, forget you, forget all this, no one cares, no one wants to know, why am I beating my head against the wall? I could be going out to movies instead of going out to meetings, working on my novel instead of another flier or article that hardly anyone is going to read.

But then I remind myself that Rosa Parks and the others who kicked off the civil rights movement started meeting in 1947 to try to break Jim Crow. The Montgomery Bus Boycott didn't happen until 1954, and the Civil Rights Act wasn't passed until 1964. If they had given up after two or three or even five years, we would never have heard of them and maybe people in the South would be riding segregated buses today.

In this country, even within the left (and by the way, the Democratic party is not the "left"), we tend to learn the history of social movements in a "greatest hits" way, from movies or books that emphasize the major dramatic confrontations and flashpoints. We seldom hear about the campaigns that didn't work, the times when the civil rights movement came into a town and had demonstration after demonstration and wasn't able to provoke a reaction from local law enforcement that would get them attention from the national media. We hear about the union organizing drives that worked, not the ones where the organizers slipped quietly away after the company paid off the workers to vote against the union. We think we should be able to expect nearly instant results from our work.

Remember that the first large scale deployment of U.S. troops to Vietnam was in 1961, and it took 12 years to get them out.

You say that if you return to activism after you rest, it will be to do "humanitarian work." Well I'm sure that will feel good, but if you do humanitarian work for Iraqis without fighting to end U.S. intervention in their country, you will be giving with one hand while taking with another. Because NO amount of humanitarian aid we could possibly give the Iraqi people could begin to offset what we are doing to hurt them. To allow the pentagon to spend another $100 billion on tanks and guns and bombs and prisons and contracts to the companies who are plundering what's left of their resources, and then say, oh, here's a bag of flour, here are a few boxes of medicine, is insulting. The Iraqis don't want aid. They want their country back, then they want an apology for what we've taken from them, which is everything, then they want reparations so they can rebuild it themselves.

I hope when you have rested, you will see things differently. To see that the movement did not die when you left it. To look around and see that in fact, you were never the face of the peace movement. You were one face among millions. Many who were there before you, many whom you brought in, many who came despite you and yes, many who never even heard of you.

I hope you will learn what I have learned over all these years of activism - that you are not in it alone. I have given my life to the movement, and the movement has given me a wonderful life. Today, as I battle cancer, the people who are coming over the bring me food and keep me company are all people I have spent so many hours with in meetings and marches and dialogue and disappointment, being upset that we didn't get the recognition we deserved, being upset that we didn't accomplish our goals, being upset that the more we do to make things better, the worse they seem to get. They're also the people with whom I've celebrated birthdays and births and holidays and homecomings. They're the people who are going to party with me when I am cancer free in ten years.

And as your neighbors here in California, we'll be glad to party with you when you realize that you can be part of the movement again, without having to be the movement.

In solidarity and appreciation for all you've done,


No comments:

Post a Comment