“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Monday, August 29, 2005

Report from Crawford I

I spent the weekend at Camp Casey, along with a couple thousand other peace activists in solidarity with Cindy Sheehan. I'll post what I experienced in several installments. Photos will follow. Until then, check out this great collection of photos.

Also, visit Meet With Cindy, truthout's One Mother's Stand, and the Waco Tribune for good coverage, audio, video and more photos.


We arrived at the Peace House in Crawford at 10:30 Friday night. It was still buzzing with activity - registering arrivees like my son and me, people scurrying in and out of the house on missions, folks directing traffic, filling shuttle vans to Camp Casey I and II. I got my first inkling of the scale of the Camp Casey movement when we walked by a large moving van filled with pallets of bottled water. An army marches on its stomach, but it looked like we would wage peace with Ozarka water.

One's expectations rarely match reality, and the first casuality was my expectation of a massive tent city. No, they told us, only staff and organizers are staying at Fred Mattlage's 1-acre pasture called Camp Casey II. We were directed to Camp Casey I, where Cindy Sheehan originally drew the line and challenged Bush to meet with her and tell her for what noble cause her son died. They said prepare to sleep in the ditch. That was fine by me. It's where Cindy first made her stand.

Across the railroad tracks that bisect Crawford, we entered pro-war territory. We drove past a flatbed trailer with a large Libery Bell flanked by two huge tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. It's a very strange juxtaposition, meaning what? That American freedom is based on the commandments? Or that there is no separation of church (represented by the tablets) and state (the liberty bell)? Or maybe that they smoke really good s*&^ in Crawford? I concluded it mostly was an example of Texas-size kitsch, suitable for super-sized mantles or along side parade floats that feature a Jesus vs. Mohammed square-off.

We drove through thick still muggy air, the road winding darkly, trees right up to the side of the road. Wonderful damp night smells that reminded me of eastern Nebraska. Then, a few signs, posted in front of country squire mini-estates, little MacRanches with gates and big fences, Suburbans and Excursions in the drives, that told us this was still a pro-war zone.

Rounding a bend, another strange juxtaposition greeted us. On the left,lit by small solar-powered lights and candles in brown bags and stretching as far as my headlights reached, white crosses filled the ditch. It was Arlington South, 800 crosses, crescents and stars with the names of the fallen Americans on them. In the right ditch opposite the crosses, a snaking line of campaign-style yard signs, "Bush Country", "IM4W" and "Support The Troops" trailed off to the edge of my lowbeams. This was the entrance to Camp Casey I where Cindy's supporters were camped, and Camp [Un]Reality, where Bush War People stayed.

The crosses honored the dead, poignant in their simplicity, disturbing in their numbers, powerful and saddening. Across the road, the War People, choosing the cult of personality, celebrated the one man responsible for the crosses. The names of the dead looked across the asphalt to the name of the one who sent them to their deaths. I could hear what they were asking. It sent a shiver through me.

At a fork in the road a triangle, maybe a hundred feet on each side, like a No Man's Land, separated Camp Casey on the left and Camp [Un]Reality on the right, with two sheriff's cruisers parked in it. A half dozen War People sat under red, white and blue christmas lights surrounded by signboards. We bore left and a man greeted us dressed in desert fatigues, and directed us further down the lane. We rolled slowly through this strange village. Folks were strolling or in small groups huddled together. A diverse collection of tents, signs, flags, banners and vehicles stretched down the road, pitched and planted and parked in the ditches either side.

At the end, more than a half mile down the lane, a voice in the dark greeted us.

"Hey, Volvo. What year?"

"87" I answered.

"Ours too. This can be the Volvo camp. Just make sure you pull all the way off the road."

So we did, into the shoulder-high Johnson grass. We met and visited with our new neighbors, Paul and Lisa and their son, from outside Houston, and Cree and Bob from Galveston. We pitched tent, set up our camp chairs and then at last felt in full the weariness of the long drive, the oppressive humidity, the chiggers gnawing at our ankles, the constant sweat oozing from our skin, and above us the near-unbearable beauty of the stars.

Suddenly, coyotes erupted in full chorus from the pasture across the road, then behind us, now in surround sound, wild chortling, sharp-toothed barks and cries and yips. Down the twin ribbons of tents people laughed or howled back, and then we all settled into quiet, only the distant thump of a helicopter pulsing the thick air.