The below article is a shortened version of an article that was originally published on our website on June 20. However, as we go to press [July 8] there has been a number of important developments.
In a welcome change, on July 3 Sheehan reversed course from her earlier declaration that she was resigning as the public face of the antiwar movement, announcing she will lead a 13-day caravan and march against Bush and the Democrats failure to take action to stop him as part of a Peoples Accountability Movement.
But even more important was Sheehans July 8 announcement that she will run against Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an independent in 2008, unless Pelosi introduces articles of impeachment against Bush by July 23, the date when Sheehans caravan is scheduled to arrive in Washington DC.
“Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “We hired them to bring an end to the war I would give [Pelosi] a run for her money.”
This is an excellent step forward which we energetically support. Sheehan further explained “I’m doing it to encourage other people to run against Congress members who aren’t doing their jobs, who are beholden to special interests. This poses the need for building a political alternative to the Democratic Party, a party of big business, not just in one district, but on an ongoing basis that can provide a political voice to workers and the oppressed.
We would urge Cindy Sheehan to organize and energetically mobilize for a conference of activists from the antiwar, immigrant rights and labor movements, along with the Green Party, socialists and others, to run across the country an independent antiwar, anti-corporate challenge in the 2008 elections. As we explain below, Sheehan already raised a similar idea at the end of May, when she called for a meeting to try and figure a way out of this two party system.
Such a conference would need to discuss standing candidates in local and congressional races, and crucially, the strongest possible left-wing candidate for president. This should be used to lay the basis for the formation of a new political party that is independent of Corporate America and stands up for working people.
Sheehan has put to the forefront of her recent initiatives the demand of impeaching Bush and Cheney, underlining their many crimes and the timidity of the new Democratic majority in Congress. However, it is important we not just hold Bush accountable for his crimes, but that we build a movement that challenges the whole big business agenda and militaristic foreign policy of U.S. imperialism that both parties support. This requires building a mass movement from below of workers and young people.
On May 28, Cindy Sheehan sent tremors through the political establishment when she announced she was leaving the Democratic Party, after the Democratic-controlled Congress handed Bush another $100 billion to continue the Iraq war.
Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has been the most prominent figure in the antiwar movement since protesting outside Bushs Texas ranch in the summer of 2005. Writing in an open letter to the Democratic Congress, Sheehan expressed the outrage of millions: You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands.
In an interview on Democracy Now!, Sheehan said: If we dont get a viable third party or some people say second party the Democrats and Republicans are so similar, and their pockets are lined by the same people our representative republic is doomed But we vote out of our fear we vote for the lesser of two evils, and we always end up getting somebody evil. (5/30/07)
Sheehans statements are symptomatic of the growing anger at the Democratic Party among a layer of radicalized workers and young people. Events over the past period have demonstrated, yet again, the real role of the Democrats as the second party of Corporate America and as an enormous obstacle in building the antiwar movement. However, there is also a danger that some activists, having had their hopes in the Democrats broken, will feel frustrated and not see a way forward.
But we have to see that, alongside the huge majorities against the war and Bush, there are growing numbers who are starving for a political alternative. Along with building mass struggles against the war and the corporate assault on living standards, there is also a pressing need to give a political voice to this sentiment by building an independent antiwar, anti-corporate challenge to the two big business parties in the 2008 presidential elections.
However, two days after declaring she was leaving the Democratic Party, Sheehan announced she was resigning as the face of the American antiwar movement and was returning home to spend more time with her family. Sheehan, who is clearly extremely dedicated and played a key role in building the movement, appeared exhausted from the stress of constant campaigning and being in the media spotlight.
Sheehan also said another key reason was the vicious attacks she suffered from the Democratic Party establishment and their left-wing apologists. I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the left started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used.
Especially since I renounced any tie I have remaining with the Democratic Party, I have been further trashed on such liberal blogs as the Democratic Underground. Being called an attention whore and being told good riddance are some of the more milder rebukes.
This is only the latest example of how the Democratic Party will move to crush anyone who dares to break with them. Again and again, the Democrats have played a key role in pretending to be left to co-opt movements and their leaders to contain social struggle and keep workers and the oppressed from forming our own political party. But when someone challenges the Democrats from even a mildly anti-corporate and working-class viewpoint, then all hell is let loose.
Is Fundamental Change Possible?
But Sheehans decision to withdraw from the antiwar movement also reflects frustration and a lack of confidence that fundamental, radical change is possible: I am just really devastated and frustrated with an American population … [that doesnt] want to think about the death and destruction and the pain thats being caused by the government that theyre giving their tacit support to by their silence We care more about whos the next American Idol than the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives that have been sacrificed. (Democracy Now!, 5/30/07)
In another interview on the Alex Jones Show, Sheehan explained: After the Democratic vote, I thought: Why am I killing myself trying to make this country better than it is? Why am I using up all my stamina, all my physical health, my money to help a country that doesn’t want to be helped?
Cindy Sheehan has tirelessly struggled to stop the Iraq war. Her stand outside Bushs ranch in 2005 had a big effect in reviving the antiwar movement and putting a human face on the war. Clearly, her decision to step out of public life reflects the tremendous political and personal pressure she has come under.
While totally understanding Sheehans personal situation, in our view her arguments for turning away from the antiwar movement are politically mistaken. Sheehans despair at the continuation of the war doesnt sufficiently recognize the major effect she and the antiwar movement have already had, nor the huge potential for the movement to grow in the next period.
The November elections showed the American people are against the war. There is mounting anger among working people at the super-rich elite that arrogantly dominate U.S. society. The basis exists for a massive antiwar movement to be built if a bold lead is given. However, there is no mass political party or organization that has effectively galvanized this mood.
We need to be clear: the war is not continuing because the American people support it, but because the new Democratic Congress has refused to cut off the funds and bring the troops home. The Democrats capitulation to Bush on the war funding bill is not just a question of political expediency and spinelessness. As a party of the ruling class, they fear the disastrous consequences that an immediate withdrawal would have for the power and prestige of U.S. imperialism.
In her resignation letter, Sheehan wrote that she began a single-minded crusade to try and change a paradigm that is now, I am afraid, carved in immovable, unbendable, and rigidly mendacious marble, seeming to despair that the ruling class is too powerful to be stopped. While it is true that they are enormously powerful, they are not invincible. The working class and oppressed in the U.S. and internationally, when conscious of their interests and organized, is an even stronger force.
U.S. imperialism will, sooner or later, be forced to withdraw from Iraq in a humiliating defeat. The U.S. was defeated in the Vietnam War due to the Vietnamese peoples historic struggle and an antiwar rebellion at home, including a huge revolt of working-class soldiers within the U.S. military. The labor movement itself, and many of the gains that today are under corporate attack, are the result of mighty struggles, particularly the building of the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s. And today, throughout Latin America we are seeing titanic struggles of the working class and poor against neo-liberal capitalism and a growing discussion about socialism.
Since announcing her decision to step back from the antiwar movement, Sheehan has explained that after taking a break she plans to return to public life. However, this time it will be to form a humanitarian organization [to] help the people that have been adversely affected by the corporate imperialism of America. (Ed Schultz Show, 5/29/07)
But humanitarian organizations can only temporarily patch holes in a broken system. As Sheehan herself recently pointed out, we cant work on short-term band-aids. We need true solutions to the problem, to this corruptness, to the stranglehold the corporations have on our government. (Democracy Now!, 5/30/07)
Sheehan is giving serious thought to where her efforts would be most effective. We sincerely hope she will return to the movement and pick up where she left off in the struggle to change society. While it may seem daunting at times, the only way forward is to fight for fundamental, structural change. This means working to build a massive movement of workers and oppressed people to fight against big business and their system of capitalism, which systematically breeds poverty, oppression, and war.
Time to Step It Up!
Mobilize for a National Student Walkout
With opposition to the war at an all-time high, now is the time to step up the struggle to build the antiwar movement. We need to translate the massive antiwar sentiment into an organized movement rooted in our communities, workplaces, and schools. Essential in building a powerful antiwar movement is organizing on a democratic basis, uniting different political trends in a common struggle against the war, and avoiding attempts to silence or exclude socialists or other trends.
Mass protests are an important tool to mobilize new forces and prepare the ground for more radical actions. Socialist Alternative is campaigning for a national student walkout this fall, for which there is enormous potential if the antiwar movement energetically builds for it. A national student walkout would be a powerful example of mass direct action that could spread within the military and among workers.
The 2008 Elections
In announcing her break from the Democratic Party, Sheehan called all citizens who are as disgusted as we are with [the Democratic Congress] to join us in Philadelphia on July 4 to try and figure a way out of this two party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, Sheehan stepped away from mobilizing for this meeting. Nevertheless, this was definitely the right idea.
Activists who want an alternative to the Democrats in the antiwar, immigrant rights, and labor movements, along with the Green Party, socialists, and others, should organize local conferences to develop a left challenge in the 2008 local, congressional, and presidential elections based on working peoples interests.
If Sheehan had energetically mobilized for a conference on July 4 and stepped forward to stand as an independent antiwar, anti-corporate candidate for president, it would have had a tremendous impact. A Sheehan campaign would have given voice to the antiwar movement in the presidential elections, providing a platform to reach an audience of tens of millions of Americans. It would help expose the Democrats failure to cut off the funds for the war, increasing the pressure on the political establishment to bring all the troops home now.
Such an independent campaign would need to link the Iraq war to big businesss war at home against working people, calling for money for jobs, education, and healthcare instead of war. While a radical independent campaign would only be able to win the active support of a minority at this stage, it could touch tens of millions who would be sympathetic but still feel compelled to vote Democratic to keep the Republicans out. But by warning that a Democratic presidency would continue big business, imperialist policies, important seeds could be planted for the future.
On the basis of experiencing the Democrats in power, most likely under conditions of an economic recession and managing the U.S. defeat in Iraq, there would be huge potential to build an independent anti-corporate, working peoples political alternative. Such a party would need to not take money from big business, consistently fight for the interests of workers and the oppressed, and base itself on the active, democratic participation of its members.