Cindy Sheehan began as a news item, was speedily inflamed into a controversy, and is fast become a phenomenon, maybe even a legend.
Before all of that, she was a mother—the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. That seems to be the center of her power over the American imagination at the moment.
The American penchant for the cult of personality can be disquieting, contending forces inflating virtues and flaws with equal vehemence. But even with that caution, that sense of unease, this phenomenon is amazing.
This is not a celebrity. This is not a model or a media personality. Yet this achingly real person is becoming the central symbol in a still expanding national drama.
She is the center of a storm of strong feelings on both sides, and despite contending pundits, the real difference right now is that the usually anonymous American public is becoming part of this.
Just the past 24 hours illustrate this: someone in a pickup truck destroyed a number symbolic grave markers—wooden crosses with the names of Americans killed in Iraq—that was part of the Camp Casey protest site outside Crawford, Texas. And shortly after that, a farmer who owns a larger piece of land nearby offered its use to Cindy Sheehan so Camp Casey could be relocated, to land across from the local church. He is a veteran and had supported her silently, until the crosses were run down.
Meanwhile the number of protestors in Crawford grows every hour. Demonstrations have already happened in several cities, and Wednesday night will see candlelight vigils across the country.
Cindy Sheehan has invited President Bush to pray with her on Friday. It is his only opportunity to salvage a shred of dignity, and perhaps blunt media interest in the protest which will continue growing for several more weeks. Otherwise he is stuck a few miles away at his ranch, because to leave before the scheduled end of his vacation at the end of the month would be to admit defeat.
This is an unprecedented event, awesome if for only that reason. Nothing quite like this happened all the years of Vietnam. Whether the Rabid Right sensed this might happen, or their quick barrage of vicious character assassination helped create this phenomenon, the fact is that one American mother has become the symbol for the revolt of the usually voiceless, united with others heartfelt in their opposition to this war.
But as much as the Bushhead apologists would like to shift the focus onto favorite targets, what they must fear about this is the participation and leadership of families who have so far silently given up their young to a war begun by the arrogant and powerful, who sacrifice nothing and expected to reap the spoils.