Sheehan rallies support
Attendees with "Impeach Now" and "Bring Them Home" buttons mingled as they awaited Sheehan's speech, which was part of the Town Meeting Democracy Tour that kicked off Friday at the Statehouse in Montpelier and concluded Sunday night in Brattleboro.
Paul Brotchie, a musician and father of two from Dorset, expressed his excitement about the event, one that he said had great national and global resonance.
"Cindy Sheehan has become the folk hero of our time," said Brotchie of the woman who camped outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and demanded a meeting with the President after her son was killed in Iraq. "She has been one of the few who has chosen to speak out while so many have remained silent."
Brotchie, who had participated in New York City's February 2003 march protesting the U.S. plans to invade Iraq, said he hoped to present Sheehan with a song he had begun to write at that march four years ago, entitled "No War No More."
Dan DeWalt, a selectman from Newfane who had organized the tour and brought Sheehan on board, introduced the two Iraq war veterans, Adrian Kinney and Matthew Howard, who spoke passionately about their experiences in Iraq as well as their strong anti-war sentiment.
Kinney, who worked in the Army reserve for 10 years as an Arabic linguist and who served in Baghdad, unleashed a scathing indictment of the U.S. government, criticizing intelligence officials for their deception and the U.S. military for their compliance with a lying government.
"Four years ago, our sources were giving us false information," said Kinney. "They wanted anything that they could show you to make you believe that Iraq was evil. And any one of us who questioned the veracity of the intelligence was accused of turning our backs on our mission and the military."
Kinney spoke of her work at a veterans hospital and how the number of soldiers they see has grown exponentially in the past year because the Department of Defense can't keep up with the demand for space.
She also said that "what's happening at Walter Reed is not new, and it happens everywhere."
Last Friday, Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey unexpectedly stepped down after reports of substandard conditions for wounded U.S. soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outpatient facility led to a public outcry.
Howard presented the audience with a speech against the war in Iraq, starting with the treatment he claims he received from a supervising officer when he gave out humanitarian rations to impoverished Iraqi children.
"The First Sergeant in my unit put an M-16 in my face and said, 'I dare you to give out those rations,'" said Howard. "They later ordered us to bury all our humanitarian rations," he added.
Howard also decried the lack of protection U.S. soldiers in Iraq are given, describing how soldiers during his tour of duty were routinely sent to battle without body armor and drove around in Humvees with canvas doors, "that you could poke a pencil through," Howard said.
A grim picture of the desperate conditions in Iraq was presented by Howard, conditions caused in large part, in his opinion, by the U.S. "The hospitals are now morgues, sewage is running in the streets ... all of the basic human services are in ruins," said Howard.
Despite facing angry supporters of the war at the Statehouse on Friday after saying that the U.S. was killing women and children, Howard praised the citizens who had expressed their beliefs so strongly.
"I wish everyone was as angry as they are now that I'm saying these things," said Howard. "This is the truth and it's ugly, but you have to hear it because it's being done in your name. 655,000 Iraqi people have died. That's the entire population of Vermont," Howard said. "Now can we start to conceptualize this number?" He stressed that Americans could not continue to separate the country of Iraq from its people.
"There is no way you can go to war against a country and not go to war with the people of that country," said Howard. If the U.S. truly cared about the well-being of the Iraqi people, he argued, the military would leave Iraq.
"That country will never be stabilized until we leave," said Howard.
John Nichols, associate editor of 'The Nation' magazine, delivered an impassioned sermon in which he implored those in attendance to sponsor resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush.
"(Bush) deceived the Congress of this country ... he violated the Constitution of this nation, and that is an impeachable offense," Nichols said to applause from the audience. He said Bush's authorization of spying on U.S. citizens violated the Fourth Amendment, and that Bush had violated the Eighth Amendment by condoning torture and cruel and unusual punishment in "secret" prisons around the globe, most notably in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
"There's no pressure (to impeach); only the future of the Republic and the fate of the world depends on it," Nichols quipped, adding that Vermont's unique tradition of direct democracy, embodied by Town Meeting, gives it "the strongest grassroots democratic tradition in the nation." He expressed his hope that Vermont could be "the nation's North Star" and lead the way in passing impeachment resolutions.
Nichols then introduced the keynote speaker, saying, "When they speak well of our nation around the world, they speak the name of Cindy Sheehan."
A standing ovation greeted Sheehan as she entered the room, and the ovations continued at various times throughout her talk, as she spoke of her son's death and the everlasting impact it has had on her life.
Sheehan lashed out at those "right-wingers" who she said had conjured up lies about how she had abandoned her son when he was four years old. Such rumors, she said, were false and represented a deliberate attempt to discredit her.
"These are the lies that they tell," Sheehan said. "And you know why they lie? Because they follow the father of lies, George W. Bush." Speaking about her son, Sheehan was obviously struggling with wounds that were still fresh. With tears streaming down her face, Sheehan said, "Not a minute of the day goes by where I don't mourn my son ... and I'm standing here before you, I've sacrificed my marriage to be here to ensure that my son didn't die for nothing."
Like the speakers that had preceded her, Sheehan urged the audience to set a precedent by voting for impeachment resolutions.
"Vermont, shine your light for the rest of the country to follow," Sheehan said.
Afterwards, DeWalt said that he was thrilled with how the speaking tour has progressed.
"The response has been overwhelming," he said, adding that he felt that Sheehan's appearance would bolster the impeachment resolutions on the ballots in a number of Vermont towns.
"We in Vermont have a unique opportunity through Town Meeting," said DeWalt. "Impeachment resolutions already passed in two towns yesterday."
State Senator Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, said he attended because of his desire to end the war. "It's hurting our state government, and it's not going to get any better," Hartwell said. When asked if he thought Sheehan's appearances in Vermont would affect Town Meeting discussions, Hartwell said, "It's possible ... what effect it will have on the legislature, I don't know."
For her part, Sheehan has appreciated the opportunity to take a whirlwind tour of Vermont.
"It's been 99.9 percent positive," said Sheehan. "The welcoming for me in Vermont has been very warm."
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