Corporate media—and even some alternative websites, are blaring with headlines about Cindy Sheehan “quitting” the anti-war movement. It is true that Sheehan has stepped down as the consummate symbol of the ordinary, salt-of-the-earth American mother crusading against the empire for the end of the war that brought about her son’s meaningless death. But it is not true that Cindy is “quitting.” After years of sacrifice, incomprehensible losses, and several hundred stages of burnout, she has walked away from a role and the symbolism inherent within it, but even more significantly in my opinion, and reverberating through her article “Letter To The Democratic Congress,” she has rejected the Democratic Party and its pretense of offering an alternative to the politics of empire.
Last night I watched Keith Olbermann begin his “Countdown” show with the story of Sheehan’s “quitting” the anti-war movement, even including some quotes from her, but mentioning nothing about her leaving the Democratic Party. How could he do otherwise when he devoted the next twenty minutes of the program to interviewing Al Gore and communicating unmistakably to the viewers that the former Vice-President is unequivocally our “savior”? What else could we expect from corporate media?
Yesterday, I received emails which described Sheehan’s departure as “sad” and “unfortunate”, suggesting that she had been “worn” down. I understand the intent of these comments, but I emphatically disagree. Could we all please look more deeply into Sheehan’s decision?
What is it exactly that Cindy Sheehan walked away from? What did she “quit”? Certainly, it was not her feelings and opinions about the empire and its endless wars. What she resoundingly rejected was “hope”—that cousin to denial that so many “progressives” want to hang onto above and beyond all manifestations of reality to the contrary. One reason we treasure her and the one quality that has endeared her to us is her unmitigated courage and fortitude in standing toe-to-toe with the empire. Yet, many of us fail to see the courage in her decision to walk away from her most recent expressions of that courage and demonstrate courage on a deeper level. It is one thing to confront the empire with the Democratic Party and a throng of progressives invested in the Party and the rigged electoral process standing behind oneself in “support”, and it is quite another to turn around and face those so-called supporters and insist they are part of the problem.
What Cindy is saying is simply, “I no longer choose to embrace the teddy-bear illusion that I live in a democratic republic in which the rule of law and the Constitution prevail. I am no longer willing to believe that a two-party system exists in this empire, and I refuse to continue to ‘hope’ that one wing of the one-party system will ever significantly challenge or extricate itself from the other wing. I will not live in denial, even if it brings me adulation, inspires others to resist the empire, or nurtures within me a feeling of doing the right thing. I will open my eyes, and my mouth, and I will buy OUT of the current paradigm.”
Many of you reading these words have made the same decision Cindy has made, and many of you have also been called “quitters” or “purveyors of doom and gloom.” Others of you have not bought out of the illusion that the federal government, the Democratic Party, or some political, environmental, or spiritual movement can save the earth and its inhabitants, and you are still “hoping.” And of course, from the earliest origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition to Barack Obama’s “The Audacity Of Hope”, the culture is replete with moralizing aphorisms that instruct us not to give up hope. Yet, as any recovering addict will testify, it is only when we give up all hope that we can awaken with clarity and a deeper consciousness to the reality of our situation.
I do not mean to minimize the brutal losses beyond the pale that Cindy Sheehan has incurred. No other word than “tragic” can be applied to the loss of her son, the loss of her marriage, the enormous debt she is now facing—including her own personal hospital bills for a heat stroke, and the countless sacrifices she has made in order to speak truth to power and awaken the entranced citizens and politicians of empire. Has she been “worn down”? Unquestionably, and so have many of us who would not have otherwise walked away from empire and its delusional political process. American capitalist/consumerist/corporatist culture is so toxic, so seductive, so addictive, so soporific that few of us are capable of seeing through it without terrible, sometimes traumatic, loss and persecution.
My heart aches for Cindy Sheehan, and at the same time, I celebrate her historic and heroic announcement on Memorial Day, 2007. She has been deeply wounded, but she has also been liberated. Not only has she experienced on a cellular level that the emperor has no clothes, but that the entire paradigm on which the empire is built is both vacuous and lethal. Let us acknowledge that rather than “quitting”, Cindy Sheehan has begun a brand new chapter in her saga of resistance.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, A FRATERNAL SITE