Soldier mother’s protest gains popularity

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who has been camped outside President Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, took her antiwar protest to the Internet Wednesday, joining a conference call with bloggers around the country, along with a stray congresswoman. A lot of women supported her idea of staying near President’s ranch and decided to unite their forces in the protest.

Local authorities and activists also are gearing up for a possible confrontation Friday. The group's protest site sits beside a two-lane country road between Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch and the Broken Spoke Ranch, where his top campaign fundraisers are invited to a barbecue with the president.

Sheehan, who has been demanding an audience with the president, told the bloggers that she has felt intimidated by the Secret Service, has been awakened in the middle of the night by thunderstorms and has a sore throat. But, Sheehan said, she has no plans to end her vigil until Bush meets with her to discuss the war, he goes back to the White House or she is arrested. "This is going to be a very, very long haul," Sheehan said, in a call hosted by Democratic strategist and Internet guru Joe Trippi. Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's presidential campaign, urged the bloggers to write about her protest on their individual sites. The liberal online advocacy group is also taking up Sheehan's cause, soliciting signatures for a petition in support of her cause and announcing plans to run an ad in the local paper, the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Many of the bloggers on the call gushed over her protest ("We love you, Cindy") while Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also chimed in to express her support, Washington Post inhforms.

Sheehan, who earlier this week described her protest on the popular liberal blog Daily Kos, complained that the mainstream news media have not paid enough attention to her cause - although she was interviewed Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition" - and asked the bloggers for their support. "If we didn't have the Internet, none of us would really know what was truly going on," she said. "This is something that can't be ignored."

The base for the protesters — these and others over the past three years — is a modest two-bedroom bungalow near the center of town with the grand name of the Crawford Peace House. Since 2002, it has served as refuge, kitchen, laundry, flophouse and launchpad for thousands of protesters in this town of 705 residents, USA Today reports.

Operating on a shoestring, the protest center has been an annoyance for the White House and an embarrassment to some town residents. But it often has succeeded in its goal of getting publicity for a range of causes and groups at odds with the administration.

This spring, protesters even won a $43,000 settlement from the town, McLennan County and the Texas Department of Public Safety after a judge ruled that the arrest of five demonstrators in 2003 was unconstitutional. Their protest had begun and ended at the Peace House.

Last summer, the Peace House screened Michael Moore's anti-war documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, in a parking lot near the Crawford High School football stadium. More than 3,000 people attended from as far away as North Dakota and helped the group raise $16,000.

When groups arrive, the Peace House can feed 400 to 500 at a time from a kitchen outfitted with stainless steel tables, industrial-size woks and a commercial stove. There are 20 sleeping bags for those who want to spend the night. Organizers plan to buy 20 hammocks today for those who want to rest in the garden, according to USA Today.

"We ran out of steam last month, and we couldn't pay our phone bill," says Hadi Jawad, another co-founder who sells heavy equipment in Dallas. He became politically active in 1998 to protest international sanctions against Iraq. The publicity about Sheehan has turned things around again, he says. "Now we're getting support from all over the country."

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