Anti-war activist Sheehan to badger Bush in Salt Lake
Cindy Sheehan, the mother whose loss of a son in the war in Iraq led her to become the most recognizable face of opposition to the war, confirmed Wednesday she will come to Salt Lake City this month to join protests during the visit of President Bush.
Sheehan's presence likely will increase the visibility and intensity of protests planned to coincide with Bush's address to the American Legion. Bush plans to arrive in Utah on Aug. 30 and speak the following day to the group's national convention.
Salt Lake City "is a great opportunity for her to be where Bush is and be in his face," Sheehan's spokeswoman, Tiffany Burns, said Wednesday.
Sheehan is the nation's most prominent Gold Star Mother, a designation for mothers who have lost sons in wars. Sheehan's son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. The Berkeley, Calif., woman has attracted national attention for her repeated visits to Washington, D.C., and Crawford, Texas, where she unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Bush last summer. Her presence in Texas in 2005 and Bush's refusal to meet her gave impetus to anti-war protests.
Political observers say the events surrounding the American Legion's national convention may prove more contentious than was the case last August, when Bush spoke before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
Kelly Patterson, director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the elements surrounding Bush's visit have the potential to make it even more divisive than last year, when Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson garnered national attention when he called for "the biggest demonstration this state has ever seen" in protest of Bush's national and global policies, particularly the war in Iraq.
But perhaps most importantly in the mix this year, Patterson said, is that support for the war is waning.
"What's changed over the last year is public opinion about the war itself," Patterson said. "Those kinds of shifts provide energy to people who feel very strongly about the war and its conduct. That makes this a more divisive environment - even in Utah."
Bob Avery, a communication professor at the University of Utah, said Sheehan's presence will strengthen that reaction - and the attention given to Bush's visit, the convention and the protest.
"There's no question that her presence will draw national press attention," he said.
Avery said national and local media coverage of the protest and the speech will be determined by how the local protest organizers play on Sheehan's presence and the Legion's perceived snub of Anderson, who was not invited to the convention.
Regardless, Avery expects a bigger, more emotional anti-war protest this year, with "anti-protest protests" more muted.
"Public opinion has continued to shift since last year. Even here in Salt Lake City - in a state that is a Bush stronghold - people are growing weary of the war. The media will follow the mood of the crowd. If the demonstration shows far greater animosity and a much more vocal protest than last time, the media will reflect that in their coverage."
Asked about the Sheehan visit, Zell Allred, a Gold Star Mother from Hyde Park, Utah, recalled meeting six other mothers at Arlington National Cemetery in March 2005, just six months after their sons were killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Two of the mothers had concluded that it was time to end the war. Allred believes that the war in Iraq is just but said "there was never any animosity."
"We disagreed, but we had great respect for one another and I'm sure that comes from the loss we suffered together," she said.
Allred is hoping that similar dignity will prevail on Aug. 30.
Last year, Anderson drew a smattering of boos when he addressed VFW members at that convention, but was for the most part tolerantly welcomed by the thousands of veterans in attendance as he criticized the Bush administration for not ensuring adequate health care for veterans with the same fervor that it promotes tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
National officials of the American Legion said they made the decision to invite Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon instead of Anderson simply because the Salt Palace "is on Salt Lake County grounds," American Legion convention director Dick Holmes said. "That's pure and simple what took place."
Terry Schow, a veterans advocate who serves as vice president of the committee that selected local speakers for the convention, said the location of the Salt Palace was a consideration when deciding upon guests to address the attending veterans.
"But there was one other issue of consideration," Schow said. "There is some unhappiness over the decision to organize a protest while the president is here . . .
"I wish our mayor, who has many good qualities, would be a statesman."
Anderson argued his job as a statesman - and his obligations as an American citizen - demand that he voice his opposition to Bush's policies.
"I think in time of great moral crisis, and we're in one of those times right now, it is incumbent upon everyone to stand up and resist the status quo," he said.
In doing so, along with Sheehan and thousands of others, Anderson said he expects that an atmosphere of civility will be maintained. "I think the dialogue that is going to take place in this city is going to be a very good thing," he said.