Now Playing: Lietta Ruger & Camp Casey in Crawford Texas
Topic: Call to Action
NW mom enlists in the Texas peace corps
By SUSAN PAYNTER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST
Lietta Ruger of Bay Center in southwest Washington admits she didn't know what she was getting into when her feet hit the ground in Crawford, Texas, at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
But soon, by cell phone, she was describing the scene around her. The way daylight sketched the emerging shapes of five tents. The early rising figure of the suddenly famous Cindy Sheehan. And the outlines of the growing numbers of her supporters.
Right away, the Washington woman told me, she knew she was getting into something amazing: a gathering of mothers and others galvanized by Sheehan's quiet but stubborn questioning.
"Why?" Sheehan wants to ask the vacationing President, "did her 24-year-old son Casey really die in Iraq?" And would Mr. Bush please stop using the loss of her son to justify why even more sons and daughters must die?
She's not leaving, she says, until he either answers her or cuts and runs.
Ruger had never met Sheehan until Wednesday when they shared a long, trembling hug on the stubbly public right of way near Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch. But they had exchanged a lot of e-mail, Ruger as a member of Northwest Military Families Speak Out and Sheehan as founder of Gold Star Families for Peace.
Ruger's son-in-law and nephew already have served 15-month stretches in Iraq and thankfully, so far, stayed alive. But both still face second "stop-loss" deployments.
Just before she caught a Texas-bound red-eye out of SeaTac, her 5-year-old grandchild said, "Grandma's going to talk to the president so my daddy doesn't have to go away again."
But Ruger will leave the talking and most of the waiting to Sheehan. She worries if she stays away too long, her own family members may be gone before she gets back.
For the trip, Ruger packed sunscreen, insect repellent, bandanas to wet against the heat, bottles of water, hats, visors and changes of socks. They're the same things moms across the country have tucked into the packs of their departing soldiers.
If the encampment is not shooed off or arrested as a supposed "national security risk" as they have been warned they will be, a Porta Potty will be delivered soon to the site. Meanwhile, Ruger says, she's willing to dig a hole. "Our troops are doing it," she said.
Through Monday, she will sleep in a tent at "Camp Casey," named for Sheehan's son. She'll do it, she says, to bring Sheehan some moral support. To recognize "the huge outpouring of support she is getting." And to help people hear the voice of military families like hers who want to express their support and care for the troops by keeping them from coming home the way Sheehan's son did.
Ruger has no desire to join Sheehan's Gold Star club. The dues -- the loss of a cherished child -- are simply too high.
But she's there for another reason, too. Ruger knows that Sheehan's integrity is already under attack by those trying to discredit her by saying she has changed her tune. She was still in shock just after Casey's death when Sheehan and other military families met Bush at Fort Lewis. But, even then, Ruger said, Sheehan was against the war.
Rain with a decidedly Seattle feel wet the encampment the morning Ruger arrived. But the gathering thunder isn't weather. It's the power and the anger of moms across the country. And Sheehan is their lightening rod.
So far, Ruger is the only known Washington state woman to report for duty. But Julie Decker of Carlsbad and San Marcos, Calif., respectively, have just arrived. Neither knew Sheehan or had been previously involved in the peace movement.
"People just need to do something hands-on to help," Ruger said. "I think it reflects how powerless they have felt, until now, about this war."
The formerly quiet Crawford Peace House nearby is now such a hive that incoming calls have jammed the phone line. "This was not an orchestrated thing, so people were really unprepared," Ruger said.
Still, she's grateful for the groundswell.
Cell phones warble constantly in camp. Sheehan gets 1,000 supportive e-mails a day.
Military Families Speak Out is organizing car caravans to Crawford leaving early Monday morning.
And, through the peace organization Code Pink, women are staging fasts in places like Red Hook, N.Y., Haysville, N.C., Gilbertsville, Ky., and Wilsonville, Ore.
In Seattle, the already thin Gerri Haynes has vowed to stay on a liquid fast until the president comes out to answer Sheehan's questions. She will be the 2006 chair of the Veterans for Peace national convention.
The organizer of a trip to Iraq by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Haynes has visited that country five times. And she spoke on Wednesday at the rally outside Seattle's Federal Courthouse.
She's thankful that, due to the mobilizing effect of Sheehan, more moms like Ruger have started something that, while still small, is growing into something amazing.