On NPR’s new talk show "Tell Me More," Michel Martin brought her sympathies to the cause of Cindy Sheehan and her "devastating conclusion" to withdraw from the public arena (Martin made no mention on the air of her disgust with the Democratic Party). She interviewed three other "anti-war" mothers of soldiers who died in Iraq, and asked if they were disappointed by Sheehan’s decision and how conservatives have made their lives difficult: "Cindy Sheehan reports that she's paid a very high price for her activism. She said her life has been threatened. She's been called, you know, many, many derogatory names, you know, some of which I can't really repeat here. I'd like to know have you felt that you've paid a price for your activism?" Martin made no mention of the many derogatory names Sheehan used for President Bush (an "evil maniac," the "biggest terrorist") or his cause ("the cancer of Pax Americana.")
The conversation even turned to American racism, with Martin asserting "we know that minorities are disproportionately represented in the military, particularly in the Army. And yet, many of the people we've seen be most publicly active in opposing the war have not generally included minorities, and you are among the few." Mother Elaine Johnson complained that the media might be racist for focusing on Sheehan and not on her.
Martin began the segment:
Cindy Sheehan, one of the country's most prominent anti-war activists, announced this week that she is stepping away from the limelight, from public activism, and from serving as the face of the anti-war movement. That's the world she assumed after her son Casey Sheehan died while serving in Iraq in 2004.
In a statement released on Memorial Day, Sheehan said she'd come to the devastating conclusion that her son did indeed die for nothing, and that she was stepping aside in order to reclaim her health and take care of her surviving children.
On Monday's program, we heard from families who are mourning the lost of loved ones in the Iraq war. We visited them at Arlington National Cemetery. Today, we hear from mothers who have channeled their grief in the same way that Cindy Sheehan did - into opposing the war.
But Sheehan has repeatedly said her son Casey died for nothing, and that never stopped her from protesting. After asking each mother about their own son’s deaths and how it spurred them into protest, Martin turned the conversation back to Cindy Sheehan:
MARTIN: Many people have criticized Cindy Sheehan throughout the time that she first began speaking out. And some of the people who've criticized her have also got military families, who say that it is disrespectful and certainly to the memory of loved ones who have been lost to say that they died for nothing. So Celeste, how do you respond to that?
CELESTE ZAPPALA: Every military person has said that there will be a political solution someday, and I believe that that political solution has to begin when the U.S. troops leave Iraq. So I don't think it denigrates the honor of these truly noble people. I certainly don't think that this administration has honored them by sending them into this immoral war.
MARTIN: We're talking to mothers who have lost children in the Iraq war and have made the decision to speak out against the war. Celeste, I wanted to ask - Cindy Sheehan reports that she's paid a very high price for her activism. She said her life has been threatened. She's been called, you know, many, many derogatory names, you know, some of which I can't really repeat here. I'd like to know have you felt that you've paid a price for your activism? I'd like to ask the other mothers that as well.
Ms. ZAPPALA: The price that I've paid has been a different one. I work with my other two sons and their dad, and our whole family has been together on this. And so the price that we've paid has been that this effort to end the war has become the focus of our lives.
Ms. ZAPPALA: I feel badly for her. It does take a big toll, I understand that. But we're all sisters in this sorrow and grief, and I hope that she feels better. I know that all of us are still here working towards the goal of bringing the war to an end.
And that's - you know, 10 more soldiers died on Monday. There'll be more dead people tomorrow. We can't stand down. We have to keep working and speaking and holding our representatives accountable. They have not represented us well.
MARTIN: Doris Kent, what about you? Are you disappointed?
Ms. KENT: I think I was surprised at first, but not disappointed. I've always admired her and was grateful that she was speaking out and that the media was paying attention to her because even if they didn't pay attention to me, at least they were hearing someone's voice on the pain of what it's been like to not have these - not have our sons. Cindy struggled with it every day in a public way. And for that, I think we all need to be grateful.
Ms. JOHNSON: I'm not disappointed, but I'm going to go back to ‘04 and me and Ms. Celeste and Cindy and all of us was a member of the gold family, Military Families Speak Out. We did a terrific march in ‘04. All of us was together, we was at one. Cindy decided to pull out and be independent.
And that was like, we were no more - she was no more a part of us. I feel that if we would have stayed together and be as one like we started to, we would be more effective. If one family is getting tired, we are there to support each other and like, say, okay, we can do this because a military family is a big support system.
But if you're out there all alone, quite naturally, you're going to get caught up and you're going to forget that you did - you started out with these people and they are still here. I'm still here for Cindy.
MARTIN: Elaine, let me talk about this with you for a minute. One of the things that I've wondered about is that we know that minorities are disproportionately represented in the military, particularly in the Army. And yet, many of the people we've seen be most publicly active in opposing the war have not generally included minorities, and you are among the few. I'm wondering why that is.
Ms. JOHNSON: Michel, that is something that I am actually working on. I've asked the black African-American people to join me, but it's still a thing with the African-America versus the White. I've been - me and Cindy in March together in 04.
And after that, we have been on many speaking engagements together, but it was like the media just focused on Cindy, Cindy, Cindy. Cindy is not the only gold star mothers. We have tons of gold star mothers that are speaking out, but not getting the attention. So...
MARTIN: Why did you think that is, Elaine? Why do you think that is?
Ms. JOHNSON: The media always - it capitalizes on - and I don't want to be a racist. But I'm just going to call it like I'm seeing it, okay? Me and Cindy march hand to hand. The media went straight to Cindy. And what surprises me now after Cindy throw in the towel, I have done five radio interviews yesterday and they would never call me. Never.
We've been used to struggling, you know. Black folks been struggling for a long time. I'm struggling now, and I'm still going to be struggling because I'm struggling with my son's death. So that's the struggle. Everybody's struggling in a different way.
Martin added to her liberal advocacy (and inaccuracy) in a blog post on the NPR website that inaccurately claimed President Bush never met Cindy Sheehan, when he did -- before she started trashing him.
From the minute she burst onto the scene, Cindy Sheehan has been a lightening rod. It seems the labeling of her activism saw both ends of the spectrum. She was either viewed as the Mother Theresa [sic] of the anti-war movement -- the woman who sacrificed her life so that other women's children would be spared -- or the worst of the worst, using her son Casey's death in Iraq to advance her own personal agenda ("attention whore" was the word she used on her blog posting to describe how her critics referenced her).
I remember when she first began camping out in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005. Her son, Casey, had been killed the year before. She told anybody who would listen that she just wanted answers about what Casey's death was really for. The President even sent his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, out to meet with her. Of course, what she really wanted was to meet the President himself. He would not, and never did meet with her.
In my reporter's conceit, I always wondered: Why wouldn't the President just send his "secret weapon" out instead -- that would be Laura Bush, of course -- who could have invited her over for egg salad sandwiches and iced tea when the President was out cutting brush or something? I thought Laura might connect with her mother-to-mother. Hey, nobody's paying me for this advice, so I kept it to myself (until now), but I always wondered what would have happened if the President had connected to Cindy Sheehan as a grieving mother instead of as some hard-edged "lefty" political activist.
But she was a hard-edged lefty political activist. Listening to her talk for any length of time would demonstrate it.