Around the Truckee Meadows, people inspired by Cindy Sheehan gathered to say, “I protest”

A group of Native American protesters were part of the vigil in Brick Park.

A group of Native American protesters were part of the vigil in Brick Park.

Photo By David Robert

People gathered by ones and twos and small groups, talking among themselves quietly. The mood was reflective. The motive was protest.

Unlike some protests, a party atmosphere didn’t prevail. Instead, this gathering at Brick Park in Reno was somber. People had come to support Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an Iraq War soldier who died, the mother who was camped outside President Bush’s ranch in Texas and demanding answers. (Sheehan momentarily left the Crawford camp to care for her ailing mother, but at presstime was expected to return.) The demonstrators had come to stand in solidarity with Sheehan “before one more mother’s child is lost,” as she says, for a reason none could see as noble. They had come to protest the war.

And not just the 150 or more protesters downtown. In Reno, a dozen or so gathered at an art gallery in the northwest, about 50 at a couple’s home in the southwest. They gathered by the dozens in Truckee and at Kings Beach and in Sheehan’s home town of Vacaville, Calif. (See next story.) They signed up on the Web site of the vigil movement’s sponsor, They gathered at 1,600 locations throughout the country. They lit candles. They sang songs of peace. They spoke against the war.

Laura Fillmore, one of two hosts of the Brick Park vigil, explained why she organized the protest. “Cindy Sheehan struck a chord in my heart that says, ‘We really need to protect our sons and daughters from the injustice of this particular war.’ “

At Brick Park, there were poignant moments when a handful of local veterans stepped to the center of the circle and spoke their protest.

“I served as a radio operator in Vietnam in 1968-69,” one of those veterans, Gary Menely, said later. “Called in a lot of helicopters to haul out the dead and wounded. It was breaking my heart then. This war is breaking my heart now. I think the best thing that we can do to help support the troops is get ’em home as fast as possible.”

As the war has continAued for more than a year and a half, more and more Americans have been drawing parallels between Iraq and Vietnam—the lengthening struggle, the rising toll of the dead.

“It’s a waste of human lives, and it reminds me so much of Vietnam,” Jeff Gingold said, “that we get into some quagmire and continue without any exit strategy and without any clear goals and without any reason that Americans should be there.”

Another way this war reminds some of the war in Vietnam is the class division between those who are losing their lives and those who are safe at home in the United States.

“Where are the kids from Caughlin Ranch?” John Chrystal asked. His younger brother Philip, 21, has been fighting in Kirkuk, Iraq, since last year. John Chrystal was joined by his mother and father protesting in Brick Park. He continued, “Why aren’t they in Iraq? They’re at Harvard, Yale, and their mommies are taking Bush’s side. … Enlist your kids. If you’re going to support this war, enlist your kids.”

One difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that at the Sheehan vigils, major political party leaders were nowhere to be seen. During Vietnam, many political leaders supported and joined the demonstrations. Some protesters at Brick Park spoke about what they saw as a lack of leadership by either party to question seriously President Bush’s Iraq War policy. They wanted to know why neither the Republican nor Democratic leadership is protesting the war—although at least one party worker says that tide is turning.

“The Democrats are saying loudly and clearly … that staying the course, which is the Bush administration’s strategy, is neither sustainable nor going to lead to success,” Pam Du’Pre, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party, responded in a telephone interview. “Democrats … are calling on the administration to be honest with the Congress and not continue to try to fool us that all is well in Iraq.”

Julie Morrison also relayed her thoughts about the lack of strong party leadership against the administration pro-war policies. Host of the southwest Reno vigil, she had served as field organizer for the Nevada Democratic Party from June 2003 through the November 2004 election.

“We have to get rid of the old establishment,” Morrison said, “because it just doesn’t have its finger on the pulse of what’s going on in this country right now. … It’s one thing to watch the Republican Party implode. It’s an entirely ‘nother thing to provide an alternative to that implosion. … It’s all the way up the food chain. Democrats in general right now just seem to be sitting back and laughing and going, ‘Ha, ha. I didn’t vote for [Bush]. This is your problem.’ The reality is we have to stop doing that and have to start offering an alternative.”

Morrison sees that solution as a complete cessation of American involvement in the war. While conceding this probably would cause civil war in Iraq, she doesn’t stand alone in that belief—nor in her support of troop withdrawal.

Protester Penny Rucks said she believes the protests will hasten the end of American troops fighting in Iraq. “[J]ust like protests ended the war in Vietnam. But I’m ambivalent because we’ve made a huge mess, and to just pull out right now—my real feeling is that we should have enough information—the country should—to evaluate what the cost of this war is.”

“It’s going to be a civil war,” Chrystal said. A news photographer who has covered the Iraq war for several major news organizations ("Traveling man,” RN&R, March 24), Chrystal has seen the war up close. “It doesn’t matter when we leave.”

All these somber protests across the country last Wednesday, occurred because of one woman willing to wait.

Cindy Sheehan galvanized the voices of the previously silent. A mother who wants fervently for no other mother to lose a child, she is also a mother who does not want to lose her other child. She began camping outside the gates of the Crawford ranch when her second, youngest son told her he wanted to enlist to fight in the war in support of his dead brother.

“What she has brought to the anti-war movement,” Morrison said, “… is a human face, a raw emotion, and a reality to this administration. … All presidents live in a bubble. [President Bush’s] is just opaque.”