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Cindy Sheehan's Farewell or, The Disappearing Act of the Left's Strongest Voices and Why It Matters (Part I)

The following article, which I first encountered at the humidbeings blog affected me too. As clear and as aching a voice as I’ve heard in a long time. I’ll get right to the point: what Cindy and John share here is a palpable, roiling anger. It is an anger I and many others feel. Its an anger a child soldier feels when they encounter the soothing voice of social workers for the first time, nurses and other civilians who seek them out in the first weeks of rehabilitation. It is an anger born in the collapse of myths around us, a pulverization of the stories and hopes that animate us – both as human beings and as a culture.

We don’t talk alot about anger in the dialogue and deliberation community – at least not directly. We talk about it “out there,” as if it affects other people but not ourselves. We talk about the other side, the healing. But not the churning journey itself. That is the stuff of story tellers, artists, vagabonds. At least that’s my impression. Is it a coincidence that much of what passes as the the “body politic” of the D&D community tends to talk about coming together, about common ground and the fusion of fates. While tending to vote a particular direction, tending to embrace particular secular and humanitarian values? The while perhaps while turning away from the time-tested tools of republic-building?

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson’s senior and equal by the pen if not the purse once spoke of the difficulty of getting 13 clocks to chime the hour in unison. When their energies unwind and inertia sets each piece more distant from the others, what mechanism exists to bind their chimes together again? Jeffersonians – in fact each and every member of the Continental Congress – were willing to risk their fortunes, their families and their lives for the American project. Today its seems more of us are willing to profit from the ailing enterprise and risk the lives of others for it than commit the sacrifices from which the our country was born.

A lot more after the break…

Is there a cause to repair such a nation? Or better to let it slip away again, as Thackeray once said we would? Do we have the cultural means and the wherewithall to seek out discomfort, risk difference and disagreement and loss to recreate the foundations of something new? As we chase issues and causes with greater and greater frequency, perhaps fervor, when we do have the chance to glance at the horizon our heads spin and vision blurs. Do we see more than a vast unsettling haze?

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes that “without myth every culture loses the healthy and natural power of its creativity; only a horizon defined by myths completes and unifies a whole cultural movement.” That “without myth every culture loses the healthy and natural power of its creativity; only a horizon defined by myths completes and unifies a whole cultural movement.” Cindy Sheehan invoked powerful myths for us, ancient muses that lay within reach among our sons and daughters, our fathers and our mothers. She was a myth in her own right: plays have been written about her heroic struggles against a mute President and a pitted public. Naturally, when her story grows beyond the reach of the political powers of our time, she outgrew the parochial interests of partisanship.

Like Yank in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, Cindy Sheehan has been set to wander an anonymous landscape. Not an urban landscape but a political landscape – or wasteland. A sphere inflated by rhetoric and false hopes. This is a crushing landscape, hope laid bare. Like a Dalí painting, a place where time and its trappings (say, political campaigns) drape vacuously over the barren terrain across which an impetuous, lifeless sun casts inanimate shadows. It is a silence of myth. In the fable The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, a pontifical Duke has slain time and thus froze thirteen clocks. In the story we might recall the Todal, made of lip, “an agent of the devil sent to punish evildoers for having done less evil than they should.”

Cindy Sheehan’s Farewell

by JOHN NICHOLS [from the June 18, 2007 issue]

Cindy Sheehan never set out to be the face of the antiwar movement. She was a mom thrust by an ugly circumstance and a lovely faith to the forefront of a movement that was struggling to find its voice. She gave it that voice as an honest player who spoke her mind–sometimes intemperately, often imperfectly, always sincerely–and backed up her words with actions. Her unscripted activism allowed her to succeed where others had failed in touching hearts and calling the disengaged, the disenchanted and the downright angry to believe once more in the prospect that citizens can make real the promise of the American experiment.

So it was that when Sheehan announced that she was “resigning” from a role she never sought, the loss was palpable. Yes, the antiwar movement took her for granted. She was expected to show up, draw a crowd, willingly accept the outrageous attacks of critics, risk arrest–and get up the next morning and do it again. It was only when she explained in a poignant letter that she would no longer be the Sisyphus of a troubled movement that anyone bothered to think of what an essential player she had become.

“Nobody has given more to the peace movement in recent years–emotionally, physically, spiritually,” explained Tim Carpenter, national director of Progressive Democrats of America. With Code Pink and her own Gold Star Families for Peace, PDA was the group with which Sheehan most closely aligned herself during a period of nonstop antiwar activism that began after the death of her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, in a Baghdad ambush. She became a national phenomenon when, in August 2005, she set up camp outside George W. Bush’s ranchette in Crawford, Texas, and demanded to talk with the President about her loss and about his responsibility to end the war before any more mothers suffered her fate.

On a Memorial Day weekend that fell just hours after Congress met Bush’s demand for more war funding, Sheehan reached what she described as “heartbreaking” conclusions. “The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a ‘tool’ of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our ‘two-party’ system?” she wrote. “However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the ‘left’ started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of ‘right or left,’ but ‘right and wrong.'”

Sheehan was not whining in her resignation letter. She was despairing for a Republic to which she had shown a patriot’s allegiance. She and I had over the past several years appeared frequently onstage together, and we talked a lot about politics. But it was only over time that I came to understand Sheehan as a Jeffersonian Democrat in the best sense of that term. She believed, as the third President did, that people should not fear their government; government should fear the people. Now, she has come to question whether the will of the citizenry will prevail.

It is reasonable to argue with Sheehan about her read of politics and assessment of politicians. She’s the first to admit she’s no expert on campaign strategy or legislative tactics. But we should recognize the troubling turn politics have taken when one of democracy’s true believers ends her intense activism by saying, “I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognize it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on…. If we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt ‘two’ party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland.”

We have not seen the last of Cindy Sheehan. But this may be the last we see of her as that Jeffersonian Democrat who believed so deeply and so unapologetically in America’s promise. To my mind, this is the truest measure of the darkness in which we now find ourselves.

Lars Hasselblad Torres
In 2004 and 2005, Lars ran a scoping study to determine whether a “National Dialogue Bureau” was a feasible idea. The Dialogue Bureau, if developed, would supply journalists with a “one stop” destination for the collection of views held by ordinary Americans who engage in dialogue about current affairs.

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