After nearly two years as one of the most prominent members of the American antiwar movement, activist Cindy Sheehan announced the end of her protests Monday, on Memorial Day.
In her farewell address, published on the progressive blog Daily Kos, Ms. Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq on April 4, 2004, lamented that her work for peace had been in vain.
"I have invested everything I have into trying to bring peace with justice to a country that wants neither. ...
The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. ... Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives. It is so painful to me to know that I bought into this system for so many years and Casey paid the price for that allegiance. I failed my boy and that hurts the most. ...
This is my resignation letter as the "face" of the American anti-war movement. This is not my "Checkers" moment, because I will never give up trying to help people in the world who are harmed by the empire of the good old US of A, but I am finished working in, or outside of this system."
Among the reasons for her retirement, Ms. Sheehan wrote that her efforts had drained her finances, ended her 29-year marriage, strained her relationship with her three remaining children, and took a serious toll on her health that left her with substantial debt from medical expenses. Congress's decision to continue financing the war without a definite date for troop withdrawal also played a major role in her decision.
Sheehan first captured public attention when she set up a camp outside President George Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, for 26 days starting in August 2005. She demanded that the president tell her why her son had died in Iraq. From there she traveled the world demonstrating against American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The New York Times reports that these early efforts helped to give new depth to the average American's wartime sacrifices and spur the antiwar movement.
Ms. Sheehan walked through Crawford that summer carrying pictures of her son as a toddler and in his Army fatigues, humanizing the war dead, who had remained in many ways invisible to large segments of the American public.
Her intransigence in the face of Secret Service agents and senior Bush administration officials who tried to mollify her was a crucial element in what at the time was a small and incipient antiwar movement.
Although these early efforts helped the antiwar movement grow from grass roots to mainstream, Sheehan quickly became a controversial figure. Her outspoken nature and attacks that transcended party lines caused many antiwar activists to view her as a liability. Consequently, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that despite her contributions, the antiwar movement will not struggle without Sheehan.
Anti-war leaders praised her bravery in putting a human face on the war's toll, but said the movement will not be derailed by her departure. Analysts said Sheehan has become an increasingly polarizing figure since staging her impromptu "Camp Casey" in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005, especially after she appeared with Bush-bashing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and announced that she would not pay federal income taxes to support the war.
"She did a tremendous thing in that she took her personal loss and made it public, so that people could understand the cost of the war," said Nita Chaudhary, an anti-Iraq-war organizer for MoveOn.org. Sheehan had criticized MoveOn in March for not doing enough to oppose the war.
"The anti-war movement is now the person next door, it's not just Cindy Sheehan," Chaudhary said.
The resignation has pleased a number of Sheehan's critics, many of whom accused her of exploiting her son's death and profaning his memory. The Associated Press spoke with one of her opponents who believes the antiwar movement fueled Sheehan's rage to better serve their needs.
Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for FreeRepublic.com, which has held pro-troop rallies and counter-protests of anti-war demonstrations, said dwindling crowds at Sheehan's Crawford protests since her initial vigil may have led to her decision. But he also said he hopes she will now be able to heal.
"Her politics have hurt a lot of people, including the troops and their families, but most of us who support the war on terror understand she is hurt very deeply," Taylor said Tuesday. "Those she got involved with in the anti-war movement realize it was to their benefit to keep her in that stage of anger."
Despite Sheehan's exit from the antiwar movement, she does not appear to be departing from the public stage. On Tuesday she appeared on The Ed Schultz Show, a progressive radio program, and said that she plans to redirect her efforts to greater humanitarian causes (requires audio player).
In an interview with CNN, Sheehan's sister spoke about Cindy's future plans.
Cindy Sheehan's sister, DeDe Miller, told CNN that the group would continue working for humanitarian causes, but drop its involvement in the anti-war movement. As for her sister's letter, Miller said, "She cried for quite a bit after writing it."