Back from the front

Sept 8 – 14, 2005
VOL 124 NO. 30
Back from the front
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Syracusan and St. Andrew parishioner Kathleen Rumpf returns from Camp Casey

Since Aug. 6, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain U.S. serviceman, has kept a vigil demanding a meeting with President George W. Bush to discuss the war in Iraq. Sheehan and her comrades erected Camp Casey, named for her son, adjacent to the Crawford, Texas ranch at which the president has been vacationing for the past several weeks.

Despite its high visibility, the “Meet With Cindy” campaign failed to yield a meeting between the president and the mother of Casey Sheehan.

Syracuse activist and St. Andrew the Apostle parishioner Kathleen Rumpf recently returned from Camp Casey where she stood in solidarity with demonstrators there.

“I was there to stand with the people who’ve suffered such terrible loss and needless loss,” said Rumpf, a Catholic Worker activist who lived with Dorothy Day in New York City for 10 years.

During its existence, Camp Casey has become a flashpoint for an anti-war movement slow in sparking the moribund American left.

Rumpf estimates that at its peak, roughly 7,000 anti-war demonstrators were on hand. Some days the demonstrators numbered in the 100’s. Sheehan herself believes 10,000 visitors came to the camp.

“It was democracy in its purest form,” Rumpf recalled. “It was so very moving.”

At one point, counter demonstrators amassed themselves opposite the anti-war demonstrators. In an effort to question the anti-war demonstrators’ patriotism, the counter demonstrators chanted “USA, USA” among other standards of nationalism. With each new chant, the anti-war demonstrators offered an echo, not parroting the counter demonstrators, but making their own claim to patriotism.

Sheehan is a Catholic and her son Casey was very devout. He allegedly died clutching the rosary while serving on a dangerous mission. He enlisted in 2000 and then reenlisted in 2004 while the war in Iraq was underway. A mechanic with the artillery division of the 1st Cavalry Division, Sheehan volunteered for a dangerous rescue mission when his convoy was attacked in Sadr City. During the mission, Sheehan, 24, was killed. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star by the U.S. government.

As of August 31, 1,883 American servicemen and women had been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March of 2003. According Reuters Foundation website, between 4,895 and 6,370 Iraqi military personnel have died, while between 24,495 and 27,705 civilians have died.

Rumpf was quick to point out that the U.S. case for war evaporated when it was revealed that Iraq did not, in fact, possess any weapons of mass destruction. Returning to Texas was emotionally challenging for Rumpf in particular. In 1998, Rumpf spent a year in prison in Texas for activities relating to a protest of the School of the Americas.

“To be back there was very difficult,” she said.

Nevertheless, she was overwhelmed by the emotions at Camp Casey in particular.

“It was just an awesome sense of people coming together to stop this war and injecting some sanity into this insanity,” said Rumpf. “This week that I was there was so powerful.”

At one point during the protests, Rumpf stood on stage with Sheehan and actor Martin Sheen.

Because of her high profile, Sheehan has become an object of ridicule for the right wing. Parodying the “Meet With Cindy” campaign, decorated Iraq veteran Capt. Hiram Lewis launched a “Meet With Hiram” campaign designed to draw Sheehan into a confrontation.

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, the demonstrators at Camp Casey packed up their tents and belongings, but the campaign to stop the war did not end there on the outskirts of the Crawford Ranch. The group around Sheehan plans a 25-state bus tour over the next three weeks culminating in a Sept. 24 march in Washington, D.C. against the war in Iraq.

Certain members of the Veterans for Peace will continue camping at Bush’s ranch 24 hours a day until the occupation of Iraq ends.

Soon after Camp Casey dwindled, the counter demonstration ground to a halt.

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