Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney reports on Cindy Sheehan's surprising departure from Texas.
News broke this afternoon that Cindy Sheehan left her campsite near President Bush's estate in Crawford, Texas, and flew to Los Angeles after learning that her mother had suffered a stroke. This is sad news for Sheehan personally. What will it mean for the peace movement she galvanized by driving to Texas and demanding that the president explain the purpose of the war that cost the life of her son Casey?
Well, it's too early to tell, of course. A lot depends on the condition of Sheehan's mother. If there is a good prognosis for a swift recovery, then Sheehan will most likely return to her bivouac, where she had pledged to remain until Bush returns to Washington at the end of August. And she could always continue her protest from California or follow the president to the capital, as she has indicated she might. But there was something about her ad hoc campground on the hot Texas plains that captured the public's imagination -- the spontaneous way in which a community sprang up around her; the adversity of an angry lunatic's vehicular vandalism; the way in which her shantytown was sustained by the kindness of strangers, from people volunteering to bring her supplies to the farmer who lent her a spot on his land for a new campsite.
Though she has suffered withering criticism from conservative backers of the war, Sheehan clearly has the right stuff for her cause -- those indefinable qualities that have drawn people to her and her purpose. She has been branded a conspiracy theorist and a liar. She has been called a dupe of liberal activists and a product of lazy reporters who found an easy story, though she came to Crawford on her own, and the media would have already deserted her if her tale hadn't resonated with the public. She has been subjected to vicious assaults on her character, attacks that she has borne with humor and dignity. It is her stories of meeting and befriending people from different walks of life, some who have come to confront her, however, that are the best measure of why she is succeeding. For whatever reason, she connects with people, even people who don't share her point of view. These human qualities are the reason why millions of Americans will be anxiously watching for the latest developments in this story, hoping for a triumphant return to her Texas encampment.