ON THE ROAD: The author (left) and friend in Crawford.
Crawford calls to us. My friend Alison and I are compelled to go to Crawford and see Camp Casey for ourselves. We follow every little tidbit of information about what is going on down there in Texas. We have to go. Something important is happening. We decide it is up to us to represent the grandmothers of our country that were out there many years ago ending the Vietnam War for all of us. The war that the Peace Movement thought was the last war the United States would ever start.
Friday morning early on Aug. 20 we pack our things in the car and go. We are on a road trip and have all the luxuries. Satellite radio giving us Al Franken and Randy Rhoades interviewing Cindy Sheehan, air conditioning blasting arctic air and a cooler full of spring water and coffee drinks. As long as we can find a bathroom at appropriate intervals, we’re cruising!
Seven hours later we reach Waco. We check in at the Days Inn and get directions to Crawford, which is not on the map. The young woman at the desk is efficient with her map marking as she says, “A lot of you women have been down here staying with us.” She was smiling, so good we think, we’re at the Peace Motel; we’ll be safe here. (In case you’ve missed it, Crawford is where President George W. Bush is vacationing at his ranch. It’s also where Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, has been demonstrating for peace and a meeting with the president.)
The sign for the turnoff to Crawford was straight ahead and a left turn will bring us to the famous Crawford Peace House. And it did after we drove in circles for a little while afraid to ask directions because our peace T-shirts pinned with our peace buttons shouted that we were those outside agitators come to sully a local’s reputation. Later we would come to understand that the locals, real Texans, native Texans, don’t consider Bush a local at all, but as one good ole boy put it, “Bush is not one of us; he’s a poser. We would never act like that to that sweet little woman who’s lost her son.” But when we first drove into town, we were a little scared of the natives.
The Crawford Peace House, a small white clapboard cottage, probably built in the 1930s and dedicated to Peace on Easter 2003, was at the center of a jumble of people, cars, shuttle vans, tents, tables of food, tables of information, coolers of every kind of thirst quenchers, and chairs. Plastic lawn chairs were everywhere. A beehive could not be more busy or confusing.
After reading every sign surrounding the Crawford Peace House, which did take awhile, we went to the sign-in table, where we learned that Camp Casey has been visited by folks from every state except South Dakota. We are proud to report that on the map Arkansas had Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Eureka Springs, Little Rock and North Little Rock already represented. We didn’t have to write “Little Rock”; someone had come before us! We were extremely proud of our state.
To get to Camp Casey you either catch a ride with someone or take one of the shuttle vans. A man was signing in the same time as us and we struck up a conversation and he asked us if we wanted to ride up with him. As he crossed the street to get his car, I commented to Alison that the man — now in shorts — indeed must have just gotten here as the indentations just below his knees that his dress socks had made were still clearly visible. We somehow felt safe with a man who had recently been wearing a suit. And there was his suit in the back seat as we got in and he explained to us he only had a couple of hours before he had to drive home. His story was similar to many stories we heard later. He had been on a business trip, he was close to Crawford, his wife was home with their two children, she couldn’t come as school has started, she said you go, he rented a car and drove to Crawford. “I felt compelled to come to Crawford,” he said. “What would I tell my children when they asked me what I did about this war? I couldn’t live with myself if I said I did nothing.”
Camp Casey is now Camp Casey I and Camp Casey II. You may have heard that a peace-friendly farmer gave some land for Cindy Sheehan and the Gold Star Families to have more room and comfort. So Camp Casey I is still in the ditch by the road with the crosses of Arlington West running down the road by them and we were assured that it will stay there, as it is sacred ground. Camp Casey II has a huge tent with electricity and hundreds of round tables with chairs. This is where they feed many people and the large gatherings are held. Yes, we wanted to stay and see Joan Baez, but though we couldn’t stay, we knew she had a swell place to be.
There is food and drink everywhere. We rode up in the shuttle on Saturday with organic chicken farmers and their donation of 5 or 6 coolers of roasted organic chicken. Everyone is incredibly generous. There is no scarcity here. There is abundance of everything. Everyone is taken care of and everyone is happy, having fun and feeling very optimistic. It’s a peace party. Gold star mothers thank us over and over again for coming and supporting them. We feel a little guilty that we are only here for a couple of days, but then we realize that’s the way Camp Casey is working. People come and stay as long as they can, two hours or two weeks. The cycle goes on. We talked to one gold star father who comes from Chicago every weekend, because that’s what he can do. It’s hard to comprehend that a young man would fly in from Boston for one night, or a man would drive a friend’s wife from Oregon, but that’s what they do. A couple of young women from Iowa, one a university professor, had put their gear in the car to go camping at the Iowa State Fair and decided to best place for them to camp would be Camp Casey, so that what they’re doing.
Hundreds of people cycle through Camp Casey every day, so when people ask how many people are there, it is always hard to say. Maybe 500 to 700 or maybe a thousand at any given moment, but you have to multiply that by how many days Camp Casey has been there (starting Aug. 6) to get a true picture of the numbers of people who have come there supporting Cindy Sheehan and the gold star mothers. These are not people who pushed a key on their computer to submit a letter of support. These are people who made a huge commitment of time and money to show their support.
Alison and I decide we need to drive back to Waco before it gets too dark and it becomes easy to get lost on the back roads of Crawford. We get a little lost anyway, but find our way to a hopping Mexican restaurant in Waco. We definitely know we are in Texas now, with men sitting at the tables eating in their cowboy hats. Most of them are white hats, we notice, and we feel good about that. As we sit waiting for our food, a beautiful, sweet-looking young woman comes up to our table with a broom and dust pan, begins to sweep around us and then suddenly kneels down beside our table trying to hide herself and asks quietly, “Are you with that woman down in Crawford who is trying to stop the war?” We tell her that yes indeed we are and introduce ourselves and she tells us her name is Gabby. Gabby says, “What can I do? I didn’t vote in the last election, because everyone seemed the same. I thought about Nader, but that seemed hopeless.” We explain to her about WAND [Women’s Action for New Directions] and CodePink and all the folks that are working for peace. We give her a WAND card with websites and e-mails and she holds it to her heart. A life is changed. Alison and I recognize our calling as “peace missionaries.”
So when we get lost, yet again, on Saturday, the old guy with the gimpy knee at the gas station where we stop to get directions doesn’t look scary to us any more. Here is an opportunity to spread peace, hope and justice. We tell him we are going to Crawford to be with that sweet woman who has lost her son. And by golly, the old man says, “Good for you. I knew Bush was trouble before he was elected the first time. Never voted for him; never will.” Later, we give the buttons from our chests to the clerk in the convenience store where we go to buy a Texas lottery ticket. We are on a peace roll and how good it is. We are thrilled; we are working to end this war one Texan at a time. Who knew Texas was such fertile ground?
Coming home Saturday night, we stop at Texarkana to eat dinner. It’s late, after 8 p.m., we’re hungry and very happy. Working for peace feels good and for some reason makes you very hungry. Alison calls her mom, who lives in Laguna Beach, Calif. She’s 85 and, with a group of women there, protests the war every weekend. She does what she can do. She is thrilled that we have gone to Crawford. She tells Alison about a piece she read in the New York Times talking about Bush not understanding or acknowledging Cindy Sheehan giving the ultimate donation to the Bush administration — her son Casey’s life. No mother should have to do that. So Cindy Sheehan does what she can do.
Katherine West and Alison Hall live in Little Rock and both are Board Members of Arkansas Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), www.WAND.org and www.arkwand.org.