Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Since I can't get away to hang out in TX with other anti-war folks this summer, I thought I'd post my journal entry from last summer. Camp Casey has it's own home now on 5 acres Cindy Sheehan has purchased. This entry reflects the first days of the first encampment--before the neighbors shot at the protesters!

August 19, 2005
(Listening to “Freewheeling Bob Dylan” and “Jerusalem” by Steve Earl)

Last week I sent an email to some peacenik friends to solicit company for a trip to Crawford TX where Gold Star mother, Cindy Sheehan is camping outside the ranch of our vacationing President. No one was available. Friday arriving home late in the evening I found a message waiting for me from Becky B. inquiring whether or not I might wish to join her and Robert on a weekend excursion to give Cindy some love. They would be leaving at 5:00AM, driving the 6-7 hours and then staying over if it seemed appropriate.

Naturally I jumped at the chance but couldn’t sleep much, fearing I’d oversleep. Ever supportive, Bill agreed to drive me to a drop point to meet the B family. Like people much younger than our mid-century ages, we excitedly talked about what we had been doing, making the 7 hour trip fly by (perhaps it seemed longer to Robert who drove all the way.)

Pulling into the thriving metropolis of Crawford, population 705, we immediately spotted both peace supporters and counter protesters. A huge replica of ten commandment tablets sat on one corner of the main crossroads. Across the street a skinny woman in a big sun hat held a sign and pointed the way for “Cindy Supporters.” Just a mile or so down that road we encountered a campground and hundreds of cars, mostly very nice sedans and other middle-class-mobiles. (we were in a Volvo) Peacekeepers waved us to a parking spot just outside the gates of the campground where a rally was underway. As we walked toward the opening we couldn’t help but notice the red truck driving slowly back and forth blaring music which we supposed was meant to annoy us, but it just sounded like any other country song.

We reached the rally just in time to stake out a spot on the grass opening our umbrellas against the scorching Texas sun when a speaker welcomed us to Crawford and apologized for the fire ants and the heat and the president. Sure enough, looking down I found that I was standing among some red ants. Perhaps the ants were pacifists. They didn’t bite. Robert went off, camera in hand to do what he does-take great photos.

The words of the speakers washed over me as I scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces and reading slogans on t-shirts and posters. The crowd included lots of gray hair and lots of hair dyed in exotic colors. I saw two people dressed in ministers’ collars, making me regret that I had not donned mine. Soon that thought passed away as I sweltered in the heat.

Jarred out of my reflections and discomfort, I heard the words of the mother of a soldier named Torres. She was reading his last letter home, a letter to his young wife urging her to take good care of herself and the baby she carried. “Take your vitamins and stay away from smokers.” Soldier Torres’ family stood on the stage in stoic splendor. A little baby perched on a woman’s hip. They thanked US for being there. Thanking us seemed unbelievable until I realized that the only people truly supporting the grieving are the peacemakers. Warmakers keep their distance. After all it is the only way to keep doing what they are doing.

Folksinger Eliza Gilkyson sang some of her searing emotionally powerful songs. She made a detour to Crawford while on tour. (To thank her for that I just bought a couple of her CDs and sent her an email too.) Her song “Man of God” should be the theme for this movement. I called my friend Joni who couldn’t get away and held my cell phone up for her to hear some of the rally and the singing.

Two soldiers, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke about their regret for the acts they were ordered to commit. One young man broke down as he confessed that he can’t live with the fact that he knows that many of the artillery rounds he launched killed children. His buddy placed a tender hand upon his shoulder to lend him the strength to go on. Our soldiers who live are not safe from their own shame and guilt. Killing does that to decent humans. It makes them sorry, but there is no way to undo what was done. I pray that they find peace in their lives again some day.

The pre-rally ended with a speech by a mother of a soldier from New York. She read from a prepared text because her friends said she could get a little out of control without it. After reading the text she said something really funny and yet nasty about the president. I used to like hearing such things, but lately I get uncomfortable turning anyone into the enemy.

We started off to join the caravan over to Camp Casey. But our buddy in the red truck had other ideas. He blocked the road to keep the caravan trapped. Undaunted by his attitude, Becky tied a little yellow ribbon to a tie-down ring on the back of his truck. He tried engaging the crowd in banter and succeeded in attracting one man over to argue with him. Very quickly and quietly a Code Pink woman with a Peacekeeper armband drew the man away from the red truck. Soon after that, the red truck made a really nicely executed three-point turn and disappeared in the opposite direction. We got in the line and apparently bring up the rear, we followed a long line of vehicles sporting peace messages out to the encampment. But we weren’t the rear. Autos continued to arrive the whole time we were at the camp. Sheriff’s deputies enforced very strict rules regarding parking off of the roadway. They even helped to push a woman’s minivan which perhaps died of heat exhaustion. Of course first they threatened to have the vehicle towed because one wheel touched the pavement slightly.

Camp Casey (named for Cindy Sheehan’s son Casey who died on 04/04/04) is located in the ditches lining the country road near Bush’s ranch. 846 crosses, Stars of David and Islamic crescents have been planted along the ditch leading from town toward the camp. The camp consists of tents and tarps, signs and sound trucks strung along a curve where a narrow lane meets Prairie Chapel Road. The curve makes an inviting triangle of green between the roads and one would expect that folks would gather there, but we were prohibited. Supposedly a local woman who owns the swath of land asked the sheriff to keep the peacemakers off of it. I guess the alleged “owner” (clearly this was public right of way space) didn’t ask for the counter-protesters to stay off of it, because the officers didn’t shoo them away or ask them to obey the no-pavement-touching-a-tire rule. For some mysterious reason we were allowed to occupy the narrow lane. We did spot some port-a-johns down the road. Didn’t need them since all of the water we drank was sweated away. Somewhere I read that the Texas Civil Rights Commission put them up as a signal of support for freespeech (I could be wrong about this) I also heard that Air America’s Randi Rhodes sent money to the Crawford Peace House to buy food for the campers.

Code Pink organizer Medea Benjamin paced around the roadway talking into her Bluetooth headset. Ms. Benjamin along with 1000 other women from 150 countries were nominated for the Noble Peace Prize in July. I didn’t recognize anyone else--quite a surprise to me. I was just sure that some of my rabble-rousing friends from around the country would have been there.

Cindy Sheehan spoke in her pleading way, asking the president to justify the death of her son and the children of other mothers. She vowed to camp anywhere Bush vacations or works (that got some laughs) and expressed her hope that he’d go to Bermuda soon. (more laughs) As she spoke a videographer and reporter for NBC stood in front of me deriding her, disparaging the cause and mocking an interview she gave to them that morning. At some point Cindy said something that touched me and I started to cry. I guess I sobbed or something because the reporter turned around and saw me crying. She also started crying and then walked away. I guess the reporter doesn’t have empathy for Cindy, but her humanity could be touched by another crying mother who does have empathy. So sad.

Bill Mitchell whose son was killed on the same day as Casey Sheehan spoke as did other parents of dead soldiers and parents of soldiers who have not yet died. Seemingly without warning the speeches ended and the organizers asked us to disperse. We decided to go home and got a little lost looking for the right road so we detoured back to Crawford. Buying gas in Crawford seemed like the right thing—spread a little cash around and make them happy that they have oil products to sell. The counter protesters kept the corners occupied with motorcycles and trucks and signs that made little sense. My favorite was the one that said “Support the Troops, Not the Kooks.” How ironic. The kooks are clearly those who think supporting troops includes letting them die for lies and avarice.

After gassing up Robert went off to capture some photos of the ten commandments flanking the Liberty Bell replica (which got clanged at random intervals) and the giant angel sent by an artist to commemorate Sept. 11. Becky and I decided to check out the “Yellow Rose Gift Shop” which touts its support for W on the side of its building. As we approached, a fellow with a hand-lettered sign challenged me to read his sign, printed in Latin. All I could get was “If you see (or seek?) peace, _____ war” He said, “It says ‘If you seek peace, prepare for war.’ What do you think of that?” I said I couldn’t agree because I had devoted my life to Jesus and Jesus just would not support that statement.” He and his buddies sputtered a little but we just went into the store. Seems like they hadn’t heard “The Word” in Crawford for a good long while. Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing a church there. Once inside Becky reminded me that I’m not actually technically a Christian. She’s right, but professing Buddhism wouldn’t have been so snappy a comeback.

My quest for the visit to The Yellow Rose was to find the tackiest W stuff. (A desire brought on by a long-passed visit to that mecca of memorabilia: Graceland.) I almost bought some postcards with Laura Bush’s recipes for cookies and such emblazoned on them. but after I ran into two cardboard cutouts of GWB’s smirky goofy face, I just figured W’s war was tacky enough and I’m already paying for that.