Cindy Sheehan’s leave from protesting: a well-earned break.

Cindy Sheehan announced she is stepping down from her peace movement work and in so doing the US is losing a leading anti-war voice. We will be worse off for her departure. Sheehan spoke with Amy Goodman on today’s Democracy Now! (low-bandwidth audio, high-bandwdith audio, video, transcript). I am sympathetic to her reasons for leaving, but I was not aware that the political left helped lead her to her decision. I think it is another sad point on an unbroken line of bad advocacy. Despite sharing (what I thought were) points of agreement with the political left, I don’t agree that supporting corporatists is the way out.

[W]hen 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.

In 2004 Sen. John Kerry (D-NH) offered to manage the war better than President George W. Bush. The political left rallied around Kerry, forgoing all anti-war alternatives. Today, the political left dutifully follows the corporate media which leads them to champion Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) despite both candidates’ late-to-the-table approach on major issues of the day (for example their lacking health care ideas which began as a cynical virtual non-showing at a recent union event and has now grown into a means to keep private HMOs intact). We’re not supposed to discuss Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) H.R. 676, the only single-payer health care plan offered in this election. Like Congresswoman Pelosi’s stance on impeachment, universal health care is off the table.

On Iraq and Iran, Obama has made many speeches with little substance but some things are clear: he doesn’t want the US (military or corporations) to leave Iraq now and he stands by what he told the Chicago Tribune—he’s okay with sending rockets into Iran. Clinton won’t clearly identify her support for the invasion of Iraq as a mistake. She stands with AIPAC against Iran. What leads people to think highly of these two “frontrunners”? A dearth of media coverage of Democratic party alternatives combined with people’s unwillingness to do the research and find out where candidates get their campaign money, what their voting record reveals, and what they say about themselves; behavior that would compel them to seriously question their party loyalty.

When I read Sheehan’s farewell letter I’m reminded of the criticisms I heard about Ralph Nader years ago and those I’ve seen in clips of the recent documentary covering his life. We can look forward to more of the following in the upcoming presidential election:

  • “The best is the enemy of the good”—this was the argument people framed to me circa 2000 and 2004 when it came to electing Ralph Nader versus the Democrat (despite the reality that voting from a small Illinois county makes the presidential race political folly, either in the Democratic party primary or the general election). This was how those working for better health care framed the debate for me between the latest effort to keep HMOs intact versus getting squarely behind a universal health care plan and challenging corporate greed head-on. This was how a group of Green party workers framed the debate around local power costs and poor service when I asked a local electrical company worker about replacing roof tiles with solar panels and setting up small-scale wind power generators in backyards.
  • “This election is too important”—every election is more important than the last one by this logic. Hence, any upcoming election won’t be as important as the election a cycle from now. So I guess we really can afford to vote our values now and put off voting our fears until later.

and other diversions away close examinations of the issues and asking “who benefits?”. From the theme Sheehan addressed in her DN! interview:

If we don’t wake up in America and realize that we have to vote out of our courage and integrity for candidates who reflect our own beatitudes, and not the beatitudes of the war machine and the corporations, we are — we’re doomed. And if we don’t get a viable third party — or some people say second party; you know, the Democrats and Republicans are so similar, and their pockets are lined by the same people — we are — our representative republic is doomed, where George Bush has assumed all the powers to himself and Congress has given him those powers. And we really need an opposition party in this country. But we vote out of our fear. We go and we vote for the lesser of two evils, and we always end up getting somebody evil. And, you know, I say “evil,” not in the Christian sense of the word. But, you know, I do believe that.

I’m not going to join any party. If I do vote again and if I do become, you know, politically active, it will be independent. I’m not going to, of course, run for anything, be in the system. I have been asked by the Green Party to run for president, but, you know, that’s not anything that I want.

And I know John Stauber. He has been struggling against MoveOn. I was really upset with MoveOn, and plus with the corporate media, who were characterizing MoveOn as the antiwar left in America, which was just really, for people who are on the inside know how hilarious that is. So I think that MoveOn has a lot of resources, and they should be trying to represent — truly represent the opposition to, instead of being, you know, so tied in with the Democratic Party, to really represent the views of the left.

Update (2007-06-08): More on this topic from Dr. Susan Rosenthal’s article in CounterPunch—”How Cindy Sheehan Unmasked the Democrats”.