Monday, August 29, 2005

In the Struggle Over the Iraq War, Women Are on the Front Line - New York Times

WASHINGTON

As President Bush traveled around the country last week, he got caught up in a battle of women.

Women - mothers and widows of men killed in Iraq - were the most vocal leaders of antiwar protests in Texas, Idaho and Utah that dogged Mr. Bush all week. Another woman, Tammy Pruett, whose husband and five sons have served in Iraq, was showcased by the White House as a pro-war counterpoint.

The tableau was a striking change from the 1960's protests against the Vietnam War, when the demonstrations were largely led by young men, who were subject to the draft. Although mothers protested that war too, they were not in the forefront of the movement.

What happened in 40 years? How has that changed how the White House responds?

In interviews last week, some of the female protesters suggested that decades of feminism had pushed them more easily into leadership and public speaking roles in the antiwar vigils inspired by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier, who is demanding to meet with Mr. Bush in a protest outside his ranch. But they also viewed the war through the traditional prism of mothers and wives, and said that women felt the pain of loss more intensely than men.

"There's a certain ferocity in motherhood," said Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, a co-founder of Ms. Sheehan's antiwar group, Gold Star Families for Peace, and the mother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, a national guardsman. Sergeant Baker was killed in Baghdad in April 2004 while protecting the Iraq Survey Group, which was searching for large unconventional weapons.

Ms. Zappala, who protested against the Vietnam War in college and was a main speaker at an antiwar demonstration in Salt Lake City on Monday, added: "Maybe women feel more compelled, more empowered. Maybe it's because men in our country don't speak so easily about things that are personal and so hard."

Jean Prewitt of Birmingham, Ala., whose son, Pvt. Kelley Prewitt, died in Iraq in April 2003, said her former husband, Kelley's father, went back to work soon after their son died. "I was just a basket case," she said, adding that "we gave birth to these boys, and they didn't."

Ms. Prewitt said she voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 and initially supported the war, but turned against it after no unconventional weapons were found. "The first year I was rather numb, and then I got angry," she said.

Ms. Sheehan and the other protesters are financed in part by antiwar organizations and advised by Fenton Communications, a public relations firm based in Washington that counts advocacy groups like MoveOn.org and TrueMajority among its clients. They resent it, the protesters said, when their opponents call them agents of the left.

"I may be a grieving mother, but I'm not stupid," said Ms. Zappala, who runs a city program for the elderly in Philadelphia. "No one has to tell me what to say. And if people help me amplify myself, God bless them."

At the Texas White House, Ms. Sheehan's protests have been closely watched, and the mood there is one of concern but not yet alarm. Mr. Bush has been careful not to go on a direct attack against a publicly grieving mother like Ms. Sheehan, and has pointed out that he met with her once already, in 2004, and that he has sympathy for her and her right to protest. Still, he said last week that protesters like her were weakening the United States and emboldening terrorists, and vowed that he would not immediately withdraw all American troops from Iraq, as she has demanded.

Then, in an effort to counter the protesting women with one of their own, Mr. Bush told 9,500 military families in a speech in Nampa, Idaho, about Ms. Pruett, who has four sons serving in the National Guard in Iraq and a husband and another son who have returned from Iraq. "America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts," Mr. Bush said, to big applause.

In a telephone interview on Friday from her home in Pocatello, Idaho, Ms. Pruett said that the White House learned of her story through two programs on CNN. This past weekend, a picture of Mr. Bush hugging Ms. Pruett was at the top of the home page of the White House Web site.

Ms. Sheehan's supporters immediately pointed out that while there are mothers who have lost children in Iraq who still support the president, Ms. Pruett had lost none and should not be compared with them.

"Actually, I would agree with them completely," Ms. Pruett said. "I have not experienced what they experienced, and I wouldn't judge how they chose to express their grief."

Will Ms. Sheehan's movement spread? The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose son, Lt. Joseph K. Goodwin, served with the First Armored Division in Baghdad, said that it was too soon to judge, and that much depended on what happened in Iraq over the next weeks. "But if more mothers and more women connect to the losses over there, it could move like wildfire across the country," Ms. Goodwin said.

Ms. Goodwin said that as hard as it was for the White House to respond to the women, it was harder to be the commander-in-chief responsible for the losses, something she learned from conversations with Lyndon Johnson after Vietnam. "He said he would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what had happened to the bombs and who had died," she said. "It's an emotional thing for these guys, as much as we think they're stalwarts."

As for Mr. Bush, she said, "I suspect he's asking himself, 'Why didn't I just meet with her in the beginning' " of her summer protest.


LINK: Doris, you has better wake the hell up, because we are all coming to DC

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