Cindy Sheehan’s “soapbox” is making a temporary stop at Yale this week.
Sheehan, 51, an anti-war activist whose son Casey was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004, made the case for political activism and argued that Democratic politicians should move farther left at a Stiles College Master’s Tea and a Yale Political Union debate Tuesday. The appearance of Sheehan, who is currently promoting her new radio show, “Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox,” provoked a mock protest and counter-protest from members of the YPU, who stormed the room holding signs at the end of her speech.
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Sheehan first gained national attention when she camped outside of the vacation ranch of President George W. Bush ‘68 in Crawford, Texas, for 26 days in the summer of 2005. Sheehan said she was tired of hearing the president assure families that their children “died for a noble cause.”
“I wanted to ask him what noble cause my son died for,” Sheehan told a group of about 50 in the Stiles master’s house.
Although Sheehan said she “didn’t even know where Crawford was” when she decided to rent a car, drive there and ask for a meeting with the President, she said she quickly became more familiar with it.
“Every horrible thing is in Crawford, Texas,” Sheehan quipped. “There are snakes, and fire ants, and Republicans!”
Sheehan challenged a major criticism of her activism — that she is unwilling to listen to other views — by saying she has learned from dialogue with more experienced peace activists as well as with supporters of the war.
Her protests are intended to be symbolic, Sheehan said, while retaining a focus on tangible goals. Sheehan, a founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, emphasized that it is possible to support American troops and oppose the Iraq war at the same time.
Addressing the YPU on the topic “Resolved: The Protester Does More Good Than the Politician,” Sheehan argued that the current gap between protester and politician should be closed.
In an attempt to transcend that divide, Sheehan challenged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco Congressional seat last November.
“I think I went further left than the Democratic Party has gone in a long time,” she said, drawing a mixture of hisses and applause from YPU members.
In addition to being arrested 23 times, Sheehan said, she has been on the receiving end of shouts, accusations of treason, and even dinner rolls.
But Sheehan’s comments on Tuesday did not offend Max Hendrickson ’11, a transfer to Yale from West Point.
“I was expecting an emotional rant,” said Hendrickson. “She was more articulate than I thought she would be.”
John Scrudato ‘11 disagreed with Sheehan’s contention that her protests have generated productive dialogue, saying Sheehan did not seem to be open to reevaluating her own positions.
Dressed in a pink fuzzy sweater and holding a Yale teddy bear, a gift for her grandson, Sheehan cut a less-than-intimidating figure.
Still, members of the Yale Political Union staged a mock protest and counter-protest of her speech, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, all this talk has got to go,” and “Hey hey, he he, the YPU is for me.”
Remarked Sheehan: “This is kind of fun.”