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Sheehan, war protesters leave camp

Thursday 1 September 2005

Dozens of war opponents on Wednesday left their makeshift campsite near President Bush’s ranch after a 26-day roadside vigil that drew thousands and ignited the anti-war movement.

Cindy Sheehan, a fallen soldier’s mother who arrived in Bush’s adopted hometown Aug. 6 and refused to leave until he talked to her, boarded one of several buses heading on a tour to continue spreading her message.

"This is where I’m going to spend every August from now on," Sheehan said as she smiled and waved through a bus window.

After stopping in 25 states the next three weeks, the three buses in the "Bring Them Home Now Tour" will meet in Washington, D.C., for a Sept. 24 anti-war march.

Sheehan will be on the southern route, with its first stop in Austin for a rally later Wednesday. On Friday protesters plan to go to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s office in the Houston area.

Sheehan will leave the tour next week to spend time with her family, including her mother who recently suffered a stroke, which caused Sheehan to miss a week of the protest.

The Vacaville, Calif., woman vowed to stay until Bush’s monthlong vacation ended unless she could question him about the war that claimed the life of her 24-year-old son Casey and more than 1,870 other U.S. soldiers.

"When I first started here, I was sitting in the ditch thinking, `What the heck did I do? Texas in August, the chiggers, fire ants, rattlesnakes, uncomfortable accommodations’ — but I’m going to be sad leaving here," Sheehan said. "I hope people will say that the Camp Casey movement sparked a peace movement that ended the war in Iraq and that Camp Casey was a place for love and hope."

While two top Bush administration officials talked to Sheehan the first day, the president never did during her Crawford stay — although he has said that he sympathizes with her and she has the right to protest. His vacation ended Wednesday, two days early, so he could monitor federal efforts to help hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast.

But anti-war demonstrators started showing up — by the dozens, hundreds, thousands. Most stayed a few hours or days at the original roadside camp or at the second, larger site about a mile away on a private lot offered by a sympathetic landowner. The group has held rallies and candlelight vigils and has cried, laughed and prayed together.

The massive response from people nationwide has transformed her life, she said.

"I thought our country was going down, down, down. I thought nobody cared about our children killed in the war, but millions care, and millions care about our country and want to make it better," she said. "The love and support I’ve received give me hope that my life can someday be normal."

The protest also sparked counter rallies by Bush supporters who accused Sheehan of using her son’s death to push the liberal agendas of groups supporting her. Critics also said the anti-war demonstration was hurting U.S. troop morale while boosting the Iraqi insurgency.

Critics also pointed out that Sheehan never spoke out against Bush or the war when she and other grieving families met the president about two months after her son died last year.

Sheehan said she was still in shock over Casey’s death during that meeting. She said she became enraged after independent reports disputed Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein had mass-killing chemical and biological weapons — a main justification for the March 2003 invasion — and when she heard Bush say soldiers’ deaths were noble.

So she took a stand in Crawford "to try to hold George Bush accountable," she said.

"I’ve been against this war from the beginning and have been waiting for the American people to come out of their slumber," said Tony Delcavo of Castle Rock, Colo., a Vietnam veteran and retired pilot who became part of the Crawford protest. "She was the first sign that was happening." (AP)