This is not a story about a woman who raised four children, sent one off to war, and collapsed one day in a fit of screaming at the news that he was dead.
This is not a piece to describe how that woman tried to stay awake for the next three days so as not to have to scream like that again after waking and then remembering that news.
There will be no attempt in this piece to comprehend the maddening indecency of the overgrown frat-boy president who sent her son to kill and die for lies and still had the gall to call her “Mom” and sits day after day — to this day — as the self-appointed, unrestrained king of the world.
This is not a piece about a woman who exposed her grief and her rawest nerves, who sacrificed a twenty-nine year marriage and time with her remaining children, to a country calloused to the daily loss of life and succeeded in stirring many to their feet, into the streets, and to the tops of their lungs.
This is not a piece about how this woman parked herself in the dusty heat of a ditch in Texas and said yes to enough speaking engagements and phone calls from soldiers and late nights with grieving parents to send her own life teetering near its edge because she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t give everything she could to prevent another mother from having to experience the loss that she knew.
This piece is not even about how her loss and her grief were not confined to her son, but extended each day further, to include the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, and further yet, to those cast in the impoverished margins of our planet — including the thousands of children dying each day from starvation — as the U.S. obscenely spends hundreds of billions on constructing and deploying the machinery of mass death.
Nor is this about the millions who learned this woman’s name, whose hearts broke with hers, but whose spirits were lifted and consciences were challenged by the way she seized the moral high ground and much of the spotlight from the world’s biggest liars and most pitiless killers because she was right and she was fearless — to hell with the odds.
This piece isn’t even simply about a culture that demonizes and attacks such a person, that makes their every word or slightest gesture grist for the dishonest mill of the small-minded bloggers, the jones for cruelty of the war-planners, and fascist propagandizing of the major media mouthpieces.
Nor is this about a society that props up mothers as “keepers of the flame,” a counter-balance meant to excuse the war-makers, only to turn on them and call them “whores,” should they dare to do more than weep silently.
This is not merely about this woman’s refusal to be corralled into “realistic” and empire-bound strategies like timetables or phased-redeployment, about her righteous refusal to excuse the funding of the war, about her simple and righteous insistence that the slaughter and torture of human beings stop right now.
And, no, this is not mainly about the many questions that she herself ran up against and has put straight up in front of the movement and that all too many don’t want to speak to. Like why the Democrats won’t bend to the will of the people, or what kind of system only allows for two sides of the pro-war position, or what to do about an American people who are well on their way to becoming Good Germans. Those questions are crucial and agonizing and there are answers to them that can be found or forged. And there is a need for a movement that encourages the debate to rage around these questions and insists on honestly and unsparingly confronting reality. A movement that insists on getting to, and telling the people, the truth.
No, throwing up your hands is never the right response. But to be perfectly honest, this piece is not about what Cindy Sheehan should be doing. Not when really there are 300 million other people in this country who each morning wake up with profound choices to make and who make them every day, whether they know it or not.
So, no, this article is not about Cindy Sheehan.
This article is about you.
Reading on your computer screen. Smudging black ink off the newsprint in your hands. Breathing in and out, your chest rising even as the chests of other human beings who happen to have been born atop huge reservoirs of oil fall still, as their breath is stolen, as their land is ravaged, as their girls learn to fear their budding breasts and widening hips under the leer of the occupier’s eye, as their fathers lose their minds trying to comprehend the life-danger they’ve become to their own children for being of a different religion than their mother, as the psyche and politics and view of what kind of world is possible of a whole country and region is forever marked by the apparent indifference of way too many Americans to their sustained destruction as millions who are also heart-sick flirt with the devastating and impermissible comfort of throwing up their own hands and looking away from the war zone
This article is about you — because frankly, there is not enough space and not enough time and not enough ink and not enough trees to make enough paper to hold all the ways that the roadblocks hit by a woman like Cindy are a sign of failure. Not of the failure of the possibility for change, nor the failure of those who put everything on the line to make all this stop, but the failure of a society that does not cherish and have room for a woman like her. And the failure of continuing on a course that does not fundamentally challenge the killing confines of the choices this system puts before us.
So, again, this is about you — whether you will hide behind and resign yourself because of the faltering of another or whether you will step into the breech.
This article is about what you think about and do when you wake up each morning. About whose lives you value and prioritize. About whether it is sufficient to register disapproval or whether you are responsible for stretching your limits, risking friendships and family if you must, confronting discomforting truths about this political system, and whether you will dare to inspire and challenge and set an example of living for and impacting something bigger than yourself.
This is about whether you know enough and have seen enough of other people’s sons and daughters dying in the service of empire to say without equivocation that all this must halt. This is about whether you will plunge into and confront the dead-ends that have led so many to disorientation — whether you will look deeper, consider radical solutions, even ones you might once have dismissed.
And, yes, it can seem at times like we are hurling our soft bodies and our embattled dreams up against cold rock, and like the forces aligned against us are made of impenetrable marble. But marble has fissures and faultlines and cracks deep beneath the surface and these can be located and the marble itself can be pried apart by the determined action of millions who dare. So I am struck again with the truth and the enormity of our choices captured in the final words of the World Can’t Wait Call: “History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten. WHICH ONE WE GET IS UP TO US.”
The war is still wrong.
What are you going to do?