Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

For What Noble Cause: Cindy Sheehan and the Politics of Grief in Public Spheres of Argument

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

For What Noble Cause: Cindy Sheehan and the Politics of Grief in Public Spheres of Argument

Article excerpt

"It is difficult to measure the amount of grief a mother's heart can contain; it is equally difficult to measure the capacity for resistance to suffering that such hearts can acquire."

Dolores Ibarruri in They Shall Not Pass: The Autobiography of La Pasionaria

With the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, the United States witnessed a renewed vigor in anti-war advocacy. In September 2005, this renewal culminated in Washington, DC, when thousands of people from across the country participated in the largest anti-war demonstration since the start of the Iraq War (Dvorak Al). Although the United States had been at war for over two years, the collective voice of the anti-war movement garnered a more widespread hearing in the summer of 2005, in part through the rhetorical efforts of Cindy Sheehan, a forty-eight year-old mother of a soldier killed in the Iraq War. For twenty-five days, beginning in early August, Sheehan camped outside of then-President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding a meeting with Bush. She wanted to question him about the war that claimed the life of her twenty-four year-old son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, who died on April 4, 2004, after volunteering for a force sent to rescue U.S. troops. Specifically, she wanted to question Bush about his claim that the Iraq War was fought for a "noble cause" (see, for example, Bush's 2003 announcement of the end of major combat operations in Iraq given aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, par. 5).

After two years of both war and anti-war organizing, people from across the country were compelled by Sheehan's activities and travelled to Crawford to support her request to meet with President Bush. Although Bush's vacation in Crawford ended without a meeting, Sheehan's protest continued as a country-wide bus tour. As thousands joined her on this tour, Sheehan broadened her focus by requesting meetings with members of Congress. Her public expressions of grief inspired the organization of 1,500 supportive vigils across the nation and an anti-war rally that drew over 100,000 people to the nation's capital. Almost every prominent figure at this rally--including Jesse Jackson; Al Sharpton; singer/activist Joan Baez; and U.S. Congressional Representatives Maxine Waters, Lynne Woolsley, and Barbara Lee--publicly thanked Sheehan during their speeches (Murray, Field Notes). Her advocacy, in short, generated a mass of support, while also provoking controversy and deliberation among members of the media, individual citizens, and political figures.

According to Anne Kornblut, Sheehan's initial protest at "Camp Casey" in Crawford served as a nexus for a scattered anti-war movement (A7). It brought together various anti-war groups-including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families for Change, and Veterans for Peace-and spawned the creation of a grassroots movement called Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP). These families took up Sheehan's cause and demanded meetings with members of Congress in states throughout the country. Sheehan's rhetorical question, "For what noble cause did my son die?", and her public displays of grief garnered an extensive amount of regional and national media attention. The prominence of media accounts about Sheehan and her anti-war advocacy testifies to their importance as objects of rhetorical study.

Not surprisingly, then, discourses surrounding Sheehan and her activities have attracted attention from other scholars. In their analysis of Sheehan's use of symbolic motherhood as a strategic source of invention, Janis Edwards and Amanda Brozana have argued that "it is the combination of nurturing and more aggressive aspects of motherhood that confers its symbolic aspects with meaningful instrumental value, in terms of social or economic change" (82). Their analysis shed light on how Sheehan's symbolic use of "matriotism" provided her with a claim to authority and political authenticity (Edwards and Brozana 78). …

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