It's not easy staging a cross-country antiwar protest, even a tiny cross-country antiwar protest. Just ask the organizers of Cindy Sheehan's "Bring Them Home Now" tour, which rolled into Washington Wednesday, starting with a hassle with police near the Capitol and ending with a minor traffic accident just a few yards from the White House. It was that kind of day.
Sheehan was scheduled to appear at noon on the front lawn of the Capitol. It couldn't be called a rally; just a handful of Washington supporters showed up on the lawn to join dozens of journalists. The real stars were the TV crews; 15 cameras were set up in a semi-circle in front of a bank of microphones where Sheehan would speak.
But noon came and went, with no Sheehan. A young man named Ryan Fletcher, from an organization called the Mintwood Media Collective, paced around, a cell phone to his ear, getting updates from the three buses in which Sheehan and her supporters were riding. Less well-known than Fenton Communications, which advised Sheehan last month during her protest near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mintwood describes itself as "a worker-owned and operated public relations firm born in the aftermath of the mobilization against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington DC, April 16th and 17th, 2000." During that protest, Mintwood boasts, it came up with "a comprehensive media strategy that succeeded in placing stories on the front pages of major newspapers, on local and national television and radio, and Internet information sites worldwide." It promises to do the same for clients today.
But on this day the clients were having a hard time getting to the media. Fletcher explained that the buses had been held up by Capitol Hill police while officers performed routine searches for weapons and explosives. They'd be arriving soon.
But 15 minutes passed, then 30, then 40, and still no Sheehan. Finally, after another call, Fletcher said the problem was not, apparently, the searches, but that the cops would not allow the buses to roll right up to the base of the Capitol grounds. Instead, they would have to stop at Third Street, across the Reflecting Pool from where everyone was waiting. So the camera crews made their way over there, to wait a bit longer for the shot of Sheehan stepping off the bus.
But when the buses arrived, they weren't buses at all. Instead, the "Bring Them Home Now" bus tour — the "o" in "Now" was a 60s-style peace sign — consisted of three rented recreational vehicles, each with perhaps ten or twelve people on board. That was it.
First out was a woman named Lisa Fithian. A well-known organizer in the world of anti-globalism anarchists and antiwar protesters, Fithian played a major role in the violent shutdown of Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, was a key planner in protests at the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 2000 and 2004, and organized demonstrations at trade meetings in Washington, D.C., Prague, and Genoa. Last month, Fithian told National Review Online that she had been with Sheehan since the first day of the Crawford protest. And Wednesday, in Washington, Fithian was clearly the woman in charge.
"Kiss the bumpers, man! Kiss the bumpers!" she yelled, signaling to the RV drivers that they should inch their vehicles directly behind one another. "The banner! The banner!" she shouted as Sheehan and her supporters began to walk toward the Capitol without first unfurling their "Bring Them Home Now" sign. "Move back! Move back!" she ordered photographers as they closed in on Sheehan.
As they walked, the small group began call-and-response chants. "WHAT DO WE WANT?" they yelled. "TROOPS HOME! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!" Every now and then, they chanted "NO MORE BLOOD FOR OIL!" and "NOT ONE MORE!"
When the group made it to the microphones, it soon became apparent that, after six weeks in the public eye, there was nothing much that Sheehan could say that she had not said — and had not been reported — a thousand times before. "Hi, it's been one month and fifteen days since I sat down in a ditch in Crawford, Texas," she began. "I had no idea that this would be the result. I knew we were going to be here for the United for Peace and Justice rally in September, on the 24, and I knew I was already asked to speak at that, but I didn't know we were going to be bringing a whole movement with us."