A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Cindy Sheehan
As just about everyone knows, on August 6th, 2005, I set up camp in the bar ditches along Prairie Chapel Road near George's home in Crawford, Texas, after the president refused to meet with me to answer my question: What Noble Cause?
Along Prairie Chapel Road, two other roads come out and form a triangular piece of land where the Sheriff's allowed us to camp on the easements (10 feet in along all three sides) until Thursday, Aug. 11th when one of the neighbors suddenly "remembered" that she owned that land, so we campers were relegated exclusively to the bar ditches -- where my tent was all along. On the 2nd weekend of our stay, another neighbor fired his shot gun in Camp Casey's general direction and his cousin donated an acre of land for us to use that summer which became Camp Casey II. Many Camp Casey I activists refused to leave Camp I because they felt very emotionally attached to it...the location was, after all, where it all started and grew.
I was grateful for the donation of land because hundreds of people from all over the nation were coming on a daily basis, and I had no idea where we were going to put them. Cars and tents lined the roads and every inch of space was occupied, but I also felt very attached to the place where I sat in a lawn chair the first night with six other people, and pitched my tent the 2nd night in the ditch. I often visit Crawford since I now own property there and we are improving it, and whenever I visit, I often go to Camp Casey I to just soak up the positive energy and relive the best, yet most stressful, summer of my life.
After we left Crawford on Aug. 31st, 2005 (a few hours after George finally left to do damage control on the nightmare in the Gulf States), the McClennan County Supervisors passed an order that there would be no "camping, sleeping, parking, or eating" in the ditches along Prairie Chapel Road, which became known as the "Cindy Sheehan Ordinances." We Camp Caseyites felt at the time, and we still do, that these ordinances were enacted to suppress and inhibit our free exercise of our first amendment rights. The ordinances are not in affect anywhere else in the county.
So, being the way we are, we decided to challenge the ordinances, and the day before Thanksgiving of 2005, 12 peace activists decided to pitch tents and they were promptly arrested. By Easter of 2006, not one of the original 12 had been charged with anything, so 14 Camp Caseyites decided to camp and be arrested. They were all arrested for violating the ordinances, but two of the "Prairie Dogs (as they call themselves), Hiram Myers (retired attorney from Oklahoma) and Em Hardy (psychologist from Austin) were charged with "obstructing a roadway." We are challenging the ordinances so we can test their constitutionality in a court of law, but the District Attorney of McClennan County won't charge any of the 26 people who have been arrested with the ordinances so we cannot.
As a witness, I couldn't stay in the courtroom for the trial, but I was there for the jury selection. 50 jurors were impaneled so 6 could be chosen since the Judge Mike Galloway (who was very fair) felt that this would be a controversial case and it would be hard to find 6 impartial jurors. During the selection process, I was stunned by some of the responses of the jurors to the questions -- yes stunned even though the trial was taking place in Waco, Tx., which is the county seat. My estimation of Texans had risen immensely since I have been spending so much time there -- Texans mostly support Camp Casey -- but the panel to select the 6 jurors that would hear the case has me worried again!
The prosecutor asked the entire panel if any of them thought that there should be a "time and a place" for exercising one's right to free speech and approximately 35 of them raised their hands! None of them seemed familiar with the concept of "civil disobedience" and very few of them seemed to understand the fact that the two defendants weren't being tried for what they were arrested for. I was so troubled that Em and Hiram were going to be judged by a group that was so clearly partial. One African American woman even told our amazing attorney, David Broiles, that she didn't believe in civil disobedience -- this coming from a woman who has benefited so much from civil disobedience that others have committed to earn her so many civil rights and the right to vote, for that matter. Many times the civil rights' activists of the past were horribly and abusively treated so she could sit there in the jury box.
Our side put on an airtight case showing that none of the 14 arrested were in the roadway -- they were in tents in the ditch. We had pictures and video and the state's witnesses could not say that any of the protestors were in the street. However, Em and Hiram were found guilty and the prosecutor recommended jail time and probation! Judge Gassaway found that recommendation to be unreasonable, so he fined Em and Hiram 150.00 and court costs.
The money is not the point though. I was told that in her closing remarks, the Assistant D.A. virtually told the jurors to send the message that we are not welcomed to come to Crawford and protest and to find the defendants guilty to send a message: Which is what happened from the jurors who swore that they would look at the evidence and dispassionately make a verdict based on the facts. How can people be found guilty of obstructing a roadway when they weren't even in the road? What they were really found guilty of was daring to question the Emperor of Prairie Chapel Road and a war that is killing our soldiers by people who think that the American military presence in Iraq is not "welcome." They were found guilty of protecting everyone's First Amendment Freedoms, even the jurors who don't believe in true freedom of speech -- they only believe in those freedoms if the time is right and the place is right, and if the speaker agrees with them.
I haven't heard what Em and Hiram are going to do now, but I hope they decide to appeal. They were denied the right to a trial by a "jury of their peers," and there was no way that they were going to get a fair trial in Waco.
You can bet that this Easter when we gather back in Crawford to confront the insaniacs that are running our country and that we are going to set up our tents at Camp I and hope that the D.A. has the guts to charge us with disobeying their unconstitutional ordinances so that we can test those orders.
I don't know when people are going to realize that we are not going away until the war does, or George does. Preferably both, and soon!A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
In Search of Peace will be a series of articles by Cindy detailing and reflecting on her day to day travels, interactions, current events, and of the life of a nomadic peace activist.
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Spec. Casey Sheehan who was killed in Bush's war of terror on 04/04/04. She is the co-founder and president of Gold Star Families for Peace and founder and director of the Camp Casey Peace Institute. Cindy has published three books and the latest is Peace Mom: A Mother's Journey Through Heartache to Activism.