Cindy Sheehan doesn’t sit down and relax very often. The internationally known peace and human rights activist just returned home to California from a two-week trip to Japan and soon afterwards embarked on a bus tour of the Northwest.
“Today,” she wrote in her blog for Aug. 21, “the Re-Creating Revolutionary Communities or Bust Tour kicked off our nine-city tour in Oregon and California with some exciting visits in Eugene, Ore.”
Sheehan’s travels will bring her to Bloomington on Oct. 5, when she will speak on “The War Economy and You” at 7 p.m. at First United Church, 2420 E. Third St. This visit will be her first to Bloomington.
Sheehan describes herself as having been a left-leaning Democrat before her son, Casey, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. That experience radicalized her, and she began to speak out publicly against the wars.
Sheehan is the founder of an organization called Peace of the Action, a national peace campaign. The author of five books, she’s now working on her sixth, on Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution. She hosts her own radio show, “Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox” and a writes a blog.
Sheehan was one of the nine founding members of Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization she created in 2005 with other families of U.S. troops. It seeks to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and provides support for families of servicepeople who have died in the wars.
Sheehan became a celebrity when she created a peace camp outside President George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch in 2005. Her goal was to pressure Bush to meet with her and inform her of what “noble cause” Casey died for.
The Bloomington Alternative caught Sheehan by phone between her Japan and northwest trips.
BA: How was your Japan trip?
CS: My Japan trip was very good. It was very exhausting. I was up and down the country. I started in Tokyo, then went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then I went to Okinawa and then back to Tokyo, so it was a lot of trains, buses and planes. It was very intense, and I think we did a lot of good trying to organize people in solidarity to be against nuclear power and nuclear bombs and to reinvigorate the antinuclear movement.
Here in the United States we have 23 power plants with the same reactors as the reactor at Fukushima (GE Mark IV), and it’s an obviously dangerous form of energy production. So now I think is the time for international solidarity. It was a really, really good trip, and I’m looking forward to working with the people from Japan and people from all around the world and fostering antinuke activities.
"I’m writing a book now called Revolution: A Love Story. It’s first of all designed to tell the true story of Venezuela and present Hugo Chavez, who is demonized in the U.S. press, and to tell the story of the people of Venezuela because the revolution was in process before Chavez was elected president in 1998."
BA: Can you tell me something about your book on Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution?
CS: Yes, I’m writing a book now called Revolution: A Love Story. It’s first of all designed to tell the true story of Venezuela and present Hugo Chavez, who is demonized in the U.S. press, and to tell the story of the people of Venezuela because the revolution was in process before Chavez was elected president in 1998. It’s a story about the people and grass-roots democracy. If they could do it in Venezuela, which had a very high illiteracy rate before President Chavez came in, now they’re meeting international literacy rate standards. If they could do it, just think of what we could do here in the United States, where our resources and our energies could create this kind of grass-roots democracy. So it’s an educational book, and also I hope the people who read it will draw inspiration from the Bolivarian revolution as I’ve drawn inspiration from it.
BA: What do you think is the climate for revolution in this country?
CS: Unfortunately, very, very low. I also wrote another book called Myth America: The 20 Greatest Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution, and the 20 greatest myths, I think, are what keep us from seeing that the system, the robber-class system, which I call it – the government, the media, Wall St., the bankers, the military-industrial complex – is deeply corrupt and deeply diseased, and the only way we can overthrow that government is to do localized, grass-roots democracy.
That’s what Myth America is about. People want to cling to these myths that the U.S. is somehow the paragon of virtue around the world even though the U.S. might do some bad things, that the bad things are really an aberration when actually when the U.S. does a good thing it’s an aberration. I think with the developing economic crisis there will be more and more of what I talk about, growing your own food, co-ops, local economies, local currency, things that happened during the Great Depression here in our own country and are happening around America right now. People are really getting into community gardening and farmers’ markets and trading goods and services. They see where our consumer junk comes from, exploitation of labor in other countries and things like that.
I see more than when I wrote my book at the beginning of 2009. I see more of localized, grass-roots organizing. It’s something we need to grasp and get started on, so we can not only survive in the coming economy cataclysm, which is really economic terrorism. That’s happening right now, supporting the rich and taking more and more away from the people who are already vulnerable. We have the ability, and we have the resources, and we have the energy to not just survive but thrive, coming out of it that much stronger people than we were before.
BA: What do you think global warming has to do with all this?
CS: I think one of the things that we have to do as communities, and one of the things that I support as part of the structure of revolution, is getting off fossil fuel, doing our own energy creation or, if we don’t have the resources to do that, to at least be more responsible to preserve our planet earth and start energy co-ops because the degradation of the planet is a real concern right now. I don’t think people see that the military-industrial complex in this country and consumerism and capitalism really promote the degradation of the environment, and that’s one of the other urgent things we need, a grass-roots revolution.
BA: What do you think it’s going to take to break the backs of the oil industry and the other huge industries?
CS: Well, I think we could do it the same way we break the backs of the nuclear power industry, through solidarity movements. At least in U.S. history, the only way that changes occurred was through militant solidarity movements – the antislavery movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s suffragist movement, the union movement, the labor movement. The only time that things have really changed positively for we the people is through these militant movements. We can organize these solidarity movements to do boycotts, to do nonviolent civil disobedience around all of these harmful energy producers.
"We’re not the only country in the world that’s suffering from corporatism and war for profit and education for profit and health care for profit, everything for profit, so I think international solidarity is very important."
Here in California and I think really around the country, the militant antinuke solidarity movement has had some big successes. We should look at those successes and learn from them even though it seems that the U.S. is doing a 180 on previous commitments to not build any more nuclear plants. And we should start to shut down present ones. We have a so-called liberal president now that is an advocate for nuclear energy & “clean coal” and fossil fuels, so we should look at the past struggles that we’ve been victorious in and learn from them and replicate them.
What really discourages me is that every two and four years in the United States the grass-roots movement is disabled and demobilized by elections, and electoral politics aren’t the thing that we should be putting our energy into because that’s the thing we have the least control over. We have control over our solidarity movements, we have control over our local communities, where we can really build viable democracies.
BA: What were your politics like before you got involved in peace and justice activities?
CS: If you had asked me this before my son was killed, I would have said that I was very liberal, very left-wing, but that’s just because of the community I live in, where being a Democrat is thought of as liberal and left-wing. I always voted Democrat because I believed that was the right thing to do. After my son was killed and after these Democratic politicians in Congress betrayed the antiwar movement, betrayed the working people over and over and over again, and even though I was uninformed and undereducated about these things before Casey was killed, I realized the two-party system really is just a fraud, and people invest all their time, energy and money where we the people have the least amount of effects.
It’s the corporations, it’s the lobbyists, it’s the robber class that really control politics in this country, and we can actually have a political system in this country that’s responsible to the people. We have to start from the bottom up, not the top down.
BA: I know that you’ll be in Indianapolis on Oct. 6, and that’s the date of a big peace action in Washington, D.C. I was wondering what you thought about that action.
CS: I support any action that’s against the war, but I have tried to do that twice in 2010 and had two camps in D.C., one in March on the lawn of the Washington monument and one in July in Lafayette Square park right across the street from the White House. I invested from my organization a minimum of $20,000 in those camps to try to do the exact same thing as in October of 2011, and it was not successful.
After that I decided to put my efforts more into this revolutionary, local-democracy building and building these international solidarity movements against globalism. I mean we’re not the only country in the world that’s suffering from corporatism and war for profit and education for profit and health care for profit, everything for profit, so I think international solidarity is very important. I only have a limited amount of time and energy, so I think that individually and collectively we have to decide where our time, energy and resources are going to be spent, and I think mine are best spent in this grass-roots-democracy building.
BA:: Are you doing anything besides the radio show, writing the book and traveling? Is that mainly what you do as an activist?
CS: And I have my blog. I do a lot of work around re-creating revolutionary communities through Peace of the Action, and, as a matter of fact, tomorrow I go to Eugene, Ore. We’re going to do a bus tour that runs on biofuels from Eugene to Fresno, Calif., and back up, and I’m going to stop in eight to 10 communities along the way, and we’re going to have rallies in those communities.
I think the key is lots of things are happening in many, many communities, a lot of what I said before, like energy creation and community gardening. Connecting people together to build community, re-creating revolutionary communities is about all of these activities but also about building a caring community. The robber class wants to have us each put in our own little pigeonhole; they want us to be isolated from each other because when we get together at the local pub or coffee shop, we start to talk, we start to realize that we’re not the only ones who are suffering from this economy. We have to figure out ways we can effectively help each other and help our community instead of being so set on supporting a system that doesn’t support us.
"There are 300 million of us and just a handful of people who are profiting or who are gaining power because of the policies of the United States government."
BA:: What is Peace of the Action?
CS: Peace of the Action is my nonprofit organization. Basically it’s about thinking outside the box to solve these issues of war and peace. I don’t think marching on Saturdays is an effective way to end things; I think it’s a good way to build solidarity and to express our anger and our disappointment, but I don’t think it’s a good way to change policy. So how can we absolutely effectively organize to change policy instead of changing the facade in Washington, D.C.; how can we crack through that and start to structure a society that is healthy instead of the system we live under?
BA:: What’s your analysis of the Madison, Wis., movement?
CS: There again I kind of compare it to what happened in Crawford in the summer of 2005. It was a source of inspiration in the movement that was co-opted by the Democratic Party and Democratic Party operatives to just elect Democrats, and that’s what happened in the year after Camp Casey – the representatives changed from a Republican majority to a Democratic majority. I see what happened in Madison, Wis., as another example of grass-roots anger, of grass-roots commitment. Or we would say rank and file.
Most of the people who were protesting were members of the unions, but the leadership of the unions betrayed the people, and I think that the energy in Madison, Wis., which was very righteous and very inspiring, was used to go into recalling Republican legislators. In my view if you do recall a Republican and put in his or her place a Democrat, you’re just changing one member of a capitalist party for another member of a capitalist party.
So I think that the if the rank and file were disappointed by their leaders betraying them, it would be good to have rank-and-file solidarity and replace those people so you can be better represented when you go against these forces that are trying to harm the working class. I think that in many of these unions in the United States the leadership of the unions are part of the problem; they’re not part of the solution.
BA:: Is there anything else you think readers should know?
CS: People in Japan wanted me to stay. My visa runs out on Nov. 3, and they wanted me to stay till then, but we have a lot to do in the United States. Even though this has been a very productive visit for us in Japan, I needed to go back to the U.S. because there’s so much to be done. I think what I would like people to realize here in the United States is that we are the ones with the power. There are 300 million of us and just a handful of people who are profiting or who are gaining power because of the policies of the United States government, and if we can learn that and not be afraid of our power, and tap into our power, then I think you’re going to see a revolutionary government that will actually put people over profits instead of what’s happening in the United States, profits over people.
If people want to get hold me they can do it through firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’m really looking forward to going back to Indiana and spending some time with you all there to be inspired by your struggles and hopefully to inspire your struggles, also. The more that we band together, we have these little cells that keep growing and growing and growing like a very healthy virus. That’s what we need to be together and create these healthy situations. I have some really good friends in Indiana, and you guys have a great basis for wonderful community building there, and I’m very excited and happy to be coming there again.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.