Last night, my youngest daughter and I attended a candlelight vigil for Cindy Sheehan. Cindy's son died last year in the war on Iraq, and she's presently camped outside George Bush Jr.'s ranch, asking that he talk with her. Our vigil was one of over 1600 across the nation, attended by more than 100,000 people in total.
Having never been to this sort of thing before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would we be marching? Would we be pelted with eggs? The invitation said only "bring a candle and a placard" and "there will be no speeches." All I knew was that I hoped my attendance would encourage other people to stand up for their beliefs, popular or not.
As it turned out, our vigil was simply a gathering in the backyard of a modest home on a secondary street in town. There were 70-plus people in attendance, aged 9 or so to 92, in a circle of lawn chairs facing a table with a few flowers. Our host explained that she had sympathized with Cindy's grief, but she hadn't felt motivated to act until she heard people criticizing Cindy as un-American. Hosting this vigil was her way of encouraging other people to speak out as well. We were invited to come forward one by one, light our candle, and say a few words. "Please keep it short and positive," was the exhortation.
Pretty much everyone there had someone--family or friend--currently serving in Iraq or being shipped out soon. (My son-in-law is leaving in the next few weeks. Though his term of commitment ends this fall, the Army is extending his duty to another 18 months. That's how they avoid a draft nowadays.) Many had veterans of other wars in the immediate family, or were veterans themselves. (My stepfather served during the Korean conflict, and two uncles served in Vietnam. Beyond that, my daughter and youngest brother did peacetime duty in Korea, and my other brother and I were both National Guard medics.)
The words spoken were of hope for the safety of our troops, of sympathy for the Iraqi people, and of the need for the human race to grow up. As each person spoke, I was struck by how diverse a group of people this was--so typical of America. And I felt proud to be partaking in this American tradition of freedom of speech. Waving a flag is easy. Speaking up in the face of opposition is not. But that is exactly the obligation of liberty.
As my daughter and I drove home afterward, she talked about the difficulties she faces at school, the pressure to conform. She thanked me for the chance to meet adults dealing with the same pressures in a larger venue. And she thanked me for teaching her to think for herself. As her father, I might sometimes wish she were a little less independently minded. But then again, that's what liberty is all about.
So I encourage you: Whether you agree or disagree with this war, speak out. Keep the dialogue alive. And please remember Cindy Sheehan as she asks our current President to speak with her, as well.