Barely two weeks into Bush’s holiday, the vigil by Cindy Sheehan against the Iraq war has captured the attention of a nation increasingly uneasy with the course of the war.
Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in April 2004 five days after he arrived in Iraq, launched her protest a week ago outside the gates of the president’s ranch in Crawford with a demand to meet Bush, and a call for the US to withdraw its 138,000 troops from Iraq.
“I want Bush to stop using my son’s sacrifice to justify the killing,” said Sheehan, 48.
“I don’t understand why he cannot spend 10 minutes of his time to talk to somebody whose life he has devastated,” she told reporters.
By Sunday, about 200 others had joined Sheehan’s growing silent vigil at the site they were calling “Camp Casey”, after Sheehan’s late son.
Activist Jim Goodnow puts flowers
Protester Jean Prewitt, whose son Kelley was killed in Iraq in April 2003, admitted she supported the war at first.
“I still did, until about December 2003 – even if my son was killed – until we found out that the reason we started (the Iraq war) was a big lie,” Prewitt said.
The demonstrators have planted about 500 white wooden crosses on the road to Bush’s ranch, each with the name of a US soldier killed in Iraq.
While the Bush administration awaited the finalization of a draft constitution in Baghdad by Monday’s deadline, the protest appears to underscore a decline in Americans’ support for Bush’s Iraq policy.
With the toll of US soldiers in Iraq now having surpassed 1845, recent polls indicate that more than 60% of Americans feel Bush is mismanaging the war, and Sheehan has become a symbol of that sentiment.
Diane Wallin shows her support for
The growing protest has disrupted life in this sleepy, sun-parched town of 750, with police putting up signs warning of heavy traffic and, on Sunday, one of Bush’s neighbours taking his frustrations out by shooting a gun into the air.
Larry Mattlage, who lives next door to Bush, fired his shotgun twice before complaining to reporters about the crowds of protesters, media and government security officials occupying the road outside his home.
“Five weeks of this is too much. We live here, this is our community,” Mattlage said in footage show by CNN television, while saying the gunshots were just him “getting ready for dove season”.
“I shot at a bird and missed it a while ago,” he said.
Asked if the gunshots had another message, Mattlage told reporters: “Figure it out for yourself.”
Bush could hardly have missed seeing the protesters as he ventured out from his ranch on Friday for a Republican Party fundraiser and for a Little League baseball game on Saturday, in a fast-moving convoy of black sport-utility vehicles.
On his way to and from the fundraiser, his motorcade sped past the roughly 50 demonstrators gathered behind Sheehan, who clutched a sign that read “Why Do You Make Time for Donors And Not For Me?”
About 200 protesters have joined
But through Sunday, the president refused to meet Sheehan.
“Listen, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position. And she has every right in the world to say what she believes,” Bush said on Thursday.
“I’ve heard her position from others, which is: ‘Get out of Iraq now.’ And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so,” he said.