CRAWFORD, Texas – A woman who led an anti-war protest for nearly a month near President Bush's ranch said Tuesday that she's glad Bush never showed up to discuss her son's death in Iraq, saying the president's absence "galvanized the peace movement."
Cindy Sheehan's (search) comments came as war protesters packed up their campsite near the ranch and prepared to leave Tuesday for a three-week bus tour.
"I look back on it, and I am very, very, very grateful he did not meet with me, because we have sparked and galvanized the peace movement," Sheehan told The Associated Press. "If he'd met with me, then I would have gone home, and it would have ended there."
Sheehan and about 50 other peace activists arrived in the one-stoplight town Aug. 6, the day after she spoke at a Veterans for Peace (search) convention in Dallas. She and a few others spent that night in chairs in ditches, without food or flashlights, off the main road leading to the president's ranch.
The Vacaville, Calif., woman vowed to stay until Bush's monthlong vacation ended unless she could question him about the war that claimed the life of her 24-year-old son Casey and more than 1,870 other U.S. soldiers.
Two top Bush administration officials talked to Sheehan the first day, but the president never did — although he has said that he sympathizes with her and acknowledged her right to protest. His vacation is to end Wednesday, two days early, so he can monitor federal efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina (search) on the Gulf Coast.
Sheehan's vigil attracted crowds of other anti-war demonstrators. Most stayed a few hours or days at the original roadside camp or at the second, larger site about a mile away on a private lot offered by a sympathetic landowner.
The massive response has transformed her life, she said.
"I thought our country was going down, down, down. I thought nobody cared about our children killed in the war, but millions care, and millions care about our country and want to make it better," she said. "The love and support I've received give me hope that my life can someday be normal."
The protest also sparked counter rallies by Bush supporters who accused Sheehan of using her son's death to push the liberal agenda of groups supporting her. Critics also said the anti-war demonstration was hurting U.S. troop morale while boosting the Iraqi insurgency.
Many Bush supporters pointed out that Sheehan never spoke against Bush or the war when she and other grieving families met the president about two months after her son died last year.
Sheehan said she was still in shock over Casey's death during that meeting. She said she became enraged after independent reports disputed Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons — a main justification for the March 2003 invasion.
After leaving Crawford, protesters will spread their message on a three-week "Bring Them Home Now Tour" with stops in 25 states. Buses on three routes will meet in Washington, D.C., for a Sept. 24 anti-war march.
Sheehan will leave the tour next week to spend time with her family, including her mother who recently suffered a stroke, which caused Sheehan to miss a week of the protest. She plans to attend the march in the nation's capital, hoping to reunite with people who converged on the Texas roadside that came to be known as "Camp Casey (search)."
"When I first started here, I was sitting in the ditch thinking, 'What the heck did I do? Texas in August, the chiggers, fire ants, rattlesnakes, uncomfortable accommodations' — but I'm going to be sad leaving here," Sheehan said. "I hope people will say that the Camp Casey movement sparked a peace movement that ended the war in Iraq."