Mother Turned War Protestor is now a Candidate

Cindy Sheehan is taking on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The audience at San Francisco State University clapped generously -- and no one booed.
Cindy Sheehan, demure in a black pleated skirt, rose-colored blouse and loafers, broke a mile-wide smile as she took the microphone. She knew the haters had stayed home.
She could stand on this stage as the long-shot independent candidate for the 8th Congressional district in San Francisco, running against the Speaker of the House, without hecklers shouting "Traitor!" and "Commie!" She could even joke about her enemies.
Introducing the rally's headliner, presidential candidate Ralph Nader, she said: "You know, it's not easy having most of the country hate you. I know ..."
Life is getting better for Sheehan. It is certainly easier than it was three years ago, when she burst onto the national stage as a slain soldier's mother who camped in front of President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch to confront him about the Iraq war. That act on behalf of her late 21-year-old son, Casey, galvanized the peace movement and made Sheehan a coveted speaker at anti-war rallies around the globe. But then came the anti-Sheehan backlash.
Columnists and bloggers all over the political spectrum vilified Sheehan as a strident shrew who relished the spotlight. Critics made fun of her political naiveté, her suburban-mom looks, and her voice, which is girlish; the worst accused her of dishonoring her son's memory.
So compared to ducking brickbats from the press and the public, running her first campaign at age 51 against Nancy Pelosi, an 11-term Democrat in a Democrat's town who also just happens to be one of the most powerful politicians in the country, has been, well, cake. Pelosi will only say that she respects Sheehan and her right to run.
"Oh, this is a lot easier than what I was doing before," Sheehan said, riding back from one of three rallies the other day in a 14-foot trailer she calls Jezebel. "I'm home almost every night now," she went on, holding her Chihuahua, Pete, in her lap. "Before I was gone almost every night. I'm fundamentally asking people for just two things, their money and their votes."
Running against Pelosi, who has won her last 10 elections with about 80 percent of the vote, is widely considered a fool's errand. Republicans field an unknown this year, an interior designer. But Congress is even less popular than the president these days. Sheehan is banking on disappointment with Pelosi's leadership to send some disaffected voters her way.
"People wanted her leadership in 2006 to end the war," Sheehan said, referring to when Pelosi became speaker, "and she squandered that opportunity."
The Sheehan campaign got a little boost following the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan that initially failed to pass the House. Stocks plummeted the day after the vote.
"We were getting calls in droves from people who wanted to help us," said Tiffany Burns, the campaign manager.
The campaign operates as if Sheehan could win. The other day, volunteers were making "Labor for Cindy" buttons, working the phones and readying pamphlets for door-to-door canvassing.
"There's no negative talk here," said Sheehan's sister, Dede Miller, who is 11 months younger. Miller, like Burns, moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles to help run the campaign. Sheehan, who raised her four children with her now ex-husband in Vacaville, now lives in San Francisco's Mission district.
Just two years ago, Sheehan, a former teacher, called it quits on public life. Her son Casey, killed on April 4, 2004, "died for a country that cares more about who will be the next American Idol" than the men and women fighting in Iraq, she wrote on the Daily Kos Web site.
But her retirement was short-lived. Barely five weeks later, Sheehan was threatening to run against Pelosi if she didn't call for Bush's impeachment.
In her office, lined with photos of her children, all in their 20s, and her four-month-old grandson, Jonah, Sheehan has an array of plaques and awards she has won for speaking out against the war when it was still unpopular to do so.
"As much as I had a lot of great experiences and met a lot of great people then," she said, "I was never happy. I would have given all of it to have Casey back."
Her eyes watered. She took a breath. "Now," she said, "I think it's OK to enjoy life again. My grandson has made me realize that."
The campaign has leased its office for another year. If she doesn't win, Sheehan said, she'll use the office to plan for the 2010 election.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us