Hundreds of community members, including Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, came together at Arlington West Cemetery on Sunday to hear peace advocate Cindy Sheehan speak about the war in Iraq, the Bush administration and the problems with both.
Yesterday, Sheehan delivered a speech about her thoughts on the war in Iraq and her son Casey – a Humvee mechanic in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division who was killed in 2004 while on duty in Sadr City, Iraq. Approximately 400 people attended the event, during which Sheehan spoke in front of a memorial of 2,300 crosses erected in 2003 by Santa Barbara-based Veterans for Peace to commemorate the individual casualties of the war in Iraq. On Saturday, Sheehan also spoke at a benefit for Gold Star Families for Peace, which is an organization comprised of the families of soldiers who have died in combat.
Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced Sheehan at the memorial, and said Sheehan is an example of the power of individual activism.
“[Sheehan] took her story to the seat of power, where she remains a thorn in the side of our president,” Capps said. “That is the power of one – the power of a mother who took her grief, and takes it everyday, because it’s fresh everyday, and uses her beloved son Casey’s death and the memory of his life to fuel her passion, to bring an end to this war.”
During her speech, Sheehan denounced the Bush administration’s handling of the situation in Iraq, and she said she thinks America’s leaders need to learn how to use nonviolent means to settle disputes with other governments.
“We need to get our troops home from Iraq, but I’m worried that they’re going to invade Iran,” Sheehan said. “We have to do everything we can in our consciousness to speak up about this. What is the problem with America? George Bush lied to us. Condoleezza Rice lied to us. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld – all of them lied to us [about weapons of mass destruction]. It’s time to use our words to solve problems, not our violence.”
Sheehan also spoke about her son, saying that she does not want other people to experience the losses she dealt with because of the war.
“I don’t want any more Iranian or Iraqi or American Casey Sheehans,” she said. “I don’t want any more Cindy Sheehans. You look at all these crosses and that’s not just a soldier that was killed – that’s a family that was killed, too. That’s a community that’s suffering. These are millions of broken hearts back here that we’re looking at.”
According to a plaque at the memorial, 2,350 servicemen have died and 17,469 U.S. Military personnel have been injured since the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Over 100,000 Iraqi citizens have died during the war, as well, the plaque states, and the entire war has cost over $1 billion per week.
Candy Turner, a Santa Barbara resident who lived in the Middle East for two years, said she attended the event because she does not think the war in Iraq is helping Americans or Iraqis.
“I came because I wanted to support the anti-war movement,” Turner said. “I feel that everything promoting the war is radical jihadism rather than making our world safer.”
Tad Dolphey said he was visiting Santa Barbara from Minnesota and happened upon the event. He said he immediately recognized Sheehan and decided to listen in.
“I’m glad that someone like Cindy Sheehan is doing something about the war,” Dolphey said. “I totally support her efforts to find an end to the conflict.”
Bob Potter, vice president of Santa Barbara’s Veterans for Peace chapter, said musician David Crosby was slated to appear at the memorial, but he cancelled at the last minute due to a conflicting engagement.
Sheehan also spoke about the need for peace during her speech at the benefit on Saturday, which featured a screening of the documentary film “Arlington West,” spotlighting the memorial in Santa Barbara and a similar commemoration of the war in Iraq casualties at the Santa Monica Pier outside Los Angeles.
Potter said Sheehan came to Santa Barbara because she has been involved with Veterans for Peace for approximately two years. He said Sheehan visited Arlington West in 2004 with her family and left behind some of her son’s personal effects and a poem by her daughter entitled “A Nation Rocked to Sleep.” Following Sheehan’s speech at Veterans for Peace’s 2005 National Convention, several members of the organization joined her to protest the war outside of President Bush’s Texas ranch.
“It was here that she first began her public witnessing of the grief she felt over the death of her son,” Potter said. “We’ve had a close relationship ever since.”