United States: Cindy Sheehan quits Democrats after war vote

In the wake of the Democratic Party taking control of the US House of Representatives and Senate in the November 2006 elections, hopes were high among the more liberal layers of the anti-war movement that it spelled an end to President George Bush's Iraq war. No-one seriously doubted that behind the Democrats' electoral resurrection was anger about the war, by that stage over three-and-a-half years long.

People's hopes for the new Congress seemed at least somewhat vindicated after Democrats attached conditions to a military spending bill that were widely interpreted as setting a "deadline" for US withdrawal from Iraq in early 2008 (in fact it would see the "redeployment" of some US troops, leaving a significant number within Iraq to "train" Iraqi forces). The bill was vetoed by Bush on May 1, allowing Democrat legislators to engage in "anti-war" posturing.

Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that withdrawal is the option favoured by the majority of US people, and that people hoped the new, Democrat-controlled Congress would see a change of course in Iraq. For example, an April 12-15 Washington Post-ABC News survey asked participants whether they thought the US "should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties" or if the US should "withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there". Fifty-six per cent indicated the latter was preferable. Fifty-eight per cent of participants indicated that they trusted the Democrats "to do a better job handling the situation in Iraq", compared to 33% who trusted Bush more.

However, on May 24, the hopes of the thousands of anti-war activists who campaigned to "take back Congress" by electing Democrats — and who had thought that Democrat majorities in the House and Senate meant that there would be "only" a year or so left of war — were shattered when Congress passed House Resolution 2206. HR 2206 included some US$95 billion of funding for the wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrapped any deadlines for the withdrawal of US troops.

In response to the Democratic Party's betrayal of its supporters, Cindy Sheehan — the high-profile US anti-war activist whose son Casey was killed in 2004 while serving in the US military in Iraq — announced in a May 28 open letter that she was leaving the party. Sheehan came to prominence after she established "Camp Casey" outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in early August 2005, calling for Bush to meet with her and explain the "noble cause" for which her son had died.

Sheehan's stand helped spark a revival in anti-war organising after the debacle of the 2004 presidential elections, in which the majority of the anti-war movement backed a strategy of "Anybody but Bush" — i.e., support for the eventual Democratic nominee, pro-war Senator John Kerry. "ABB" demobilised, and, after Bush's second-term victory, demoralised many anti-war activists.

Sheehan's "Open Letter to the Democratic Congress" explained, "Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, I have lost my optimistic naivete and have become cynically pessimistic as I see you all caving into 'Mr. 28%' … You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands …

"Being cynically pessimistic, it seems to me that this new vote to extend the war until the end of September, (and let's face it, on October 1st, you will give him more money after some more theatrics, which you think are fooling the anti-war faction of your party) will feed right into the presidential primary season and you believe that if you just hang on until then, the Democrats will be able to re-take the White House. Didn't you see how 'well' that worked for John Kerry in 2004 when he played the politics of careful fence sitting and pandering?"

The Camp Casey Peace Institute, founded by Sheehan, is "calling all citizens who are as disgusted as we are" with the Democrats' backing for Bush's war to meet in Philadelphia in early July "to try and figure a way out of this 'two' party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives".

In an article posted on the Daily Kos website on May 28, Sheehan explained that she has "endured a lot of smear and hatred since Casey was killed and especially since I became the so-called 'Face' of the American anti-war movement". She added that "since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such 'liberal blogs' as the Democratic Underground. Being called an 'attention whore' and being told 'good riddance' are some of the more milder rebukes." As a consequence, Sheehan wrote, "This is my resignation letter as the 'face' of the American anti-war movement".

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