Dixie Prowell had never done anything like it before. Prowell, 58, an Albuquerque CPA, was moved by Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's hobby ranch. Sheehan wants Bush to explain exactly what her son died for in Iraq. While Prowell doesn't agree with all Sheehan says, "I agree with her quest for the truth. She has been able to say he lied in such a poignant way. Her ’emperor has no clothes' story really appeals to me."
In 48 hours Prowell organized a vigil in support of Sheehan that drew over 220 people outside the First Congregational UCC Church at Girard and Lomas. It was one of seven similar events around Albuquerque on Aug. 17, all pulled off with great success on short notice.
The vigil was quiet and reserved. No loudspeakers, no drums. Mostly women and children with "Moms for Peace" signs holding candles and waving to motorists honking horns in support. It was a dramatic change in atmosphere from efforts to protest the war more than two years ago, which were frequently met with obscenities and police and sheriff's deputies sent to intimidate dissenting voices.
Sally Alice Thompson, a Navy veteran, attended Prowell's event to collect signatures on a poster addressed to Sheehan. She and other Albuquerque-area veterans are heading to Crawford this week. They, too, want Bush to fully explain this "noble cause" for which over 16,000 Americans have been killed, maimed, blinded, burned and scarred for life.
At the Mitchell Elementary School athletic field in the Northeast Heights about 100 people listened to a woman who lost a nephew in Iraq.
Forty people gathered at an event labeled "Pro-Soldier, Anti-War," hosted in the home of a mother whose son served in Afghanistan.
Similar crowds gathered in Rio Rancho and the North Valley. Outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, well over 300 people lit candles. Vigils were held in Farmington, Silver City, Las Cruces, Taos, La Madera, remote Hillsboro and a ranch outside Abiquiu.
“MoveOn.org,” explains Prowell, "made it all so easy."
In fact, MoveOn.org's superb Internet facility made it possible for over 1,600 vigils across the country to be organized on little more than a day's notice. Several venues drew crowds of over 1,000 people.
Whatever the right-wing hyenas have been doing to tear into Sheehan's credibility, it wasn't working with those who turned out to hold candles in the darkness. There is no moral authority like that of a woman who has lost a son in a war built on lies and directed with incompetence. On the night of the nationwide vigils, 200 parents of soldiers and veterans of Iraq stood with Sheehan in Crawford. Their numbers grow daily. As more bereaved families join her, the attacks on Sheehan will increasingly resemble the desperate propaganda of liars caught in the act.
In related news, I wrote an article for these pages some months ago entitled "Stupid Yellow Ribbons." It lambasted the delusion that slapping a magnet on the back of your car did anything to really support the troops. If you want to actually benefit the troops, I argued, demand our country give them the care they need and call for them to come home now. I received more applause from parents of soldiers than I would ever have predicted.
The article was reprinted in a newsletter for paralyzed veterans. A nurse at the VA Hospital sent it around to coworkers. It circulated here in New Mexico among Blue Star Mothers, moms with children in the military. The response from those women has been running 5 to 2 in favor of what I had to say.
Some Blue Star Mothers pointed out that buying a yellow ribbon through their organization, not Wal-Mart, helps them send supplies to the troops. Several wrote to thank me for saying what so many know to be true, but too few are willing to say aloud. To be thanked by a woman who worries every day about unwanted news from the Pentagon is the highest reward I will ever receive for this modest effort at giving the First Amendment a weekly work out. To New Mexico's Blue Star Mothers, I extend my own "thank you" and add a sincere wish for their loved ones' safe and speedy return home.
Many military families are troubled by the widespread inattention to the sacrifices being made for Bush's war. Women like Cindy Sheehan and Dixie Prowell might begin to change that. Reporter Jeff Deal of Channel 13 KRQE-TV covered five of the vigils in Albuquerque. That's a start.
But the next day, the Albuquerque Journal continued its practice of marginalizing dissent and shielding its readers from too much information about Iraq. It ignored the vigils. And it spent not a drop of ink on the deaths of four more GIs ripped apart by a roadside bomb while mothers' candles burned across America.