On April 4, 2004, Casey Sheehan was killed in action in Iraq. Since then, his mother, Cindy Sheehan, has traveled the country to speak out against the war in Iraq and build an antiwar movement capable of challenging the U.S. war machine.
Frustrated by the complicity of the Democratic Party in waging the war, Sheehan decided this year to run as an independent candidate against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her San Francisco district.
Joshua Frank is co-author with Jeffrey St. Clair of the recent collection Red State Rebels. He recently caught up with Sheehan to discuss her bid.
Joshua Frank: Cindy, you recently obtained ballot access in your campaign against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco. It was a hard fought battle from what I heard. Can you talk about the whole process a little bit, and what you’re campaign had to overcome in order to get on the ballot in November’s election?
Cindy Sheehan: Well, Josh, as you know, last May I renounced my membership in the Democratic Party in response to yet another multi-billion dollar Iraq/Afghanistan war funding bill that Pelosi’s Congress handed to George W. Bush.
In July of 2007, I decided to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco’s 8th District if she did not reverse her treasonous position of the Constitutional remedy of impeachment being “off the table.” As I didn’t belong to any political party at that point, I weighed my options and decided to re-register as “Decline to State.” Although I resonate with many parts of third party platforms, I thought to retain my independent integrity I would make my bid unaffiliated with any party.
We found out early this year that the requirements for obtaining ballot status as a non-partisan in California are the 4th most rigorous in the nation. If one belongs to a party it is far easier to obtain ballot status. I was required to get signatures from 3% of the people in the 8th District who voted in November 2006. That came to an unbelievable number of 10,198.
When we first contacted the DOE (Department of Elections) to pull the first petitions. In lieu of filing fee — which I had to obtain 3000 signatures and pay a fee for 400 signatures, the staff there told us that we could register people and write the form number next to that person’s signature on the petition after they signed. Well into the process, we had registered hundreds of new voters and we were told that the DOE would not accept signatures of new voters unless the office had the time to “process” those forms. The first time we turned in our “Nomination” papers, the DOE invalidated 44%, saying that over half of those people weren’t “registered.”
Ten days in advance of the August 8 deadline for the signatures, we needed to turn in 7,694 (out of the original 10,198) more signatures and we turned in 10,856. Our campaign volunteers and staff rejoiced because we were sure that we had made it with those signatures. However, we got “Supplemental” to the nomination papers and continued to collect signatures “just in case.” Well, it was a good thing that we did, because the DOE invalidated almost 5,000 of those signatures and we were lacking just under 1,700.
We discovered this information the four days before the papers were due from a phone call from the DOE. We were shocked, but we mobilized dozens of people to collect signatures.
In the end, we figure that we collected right around 20,000 signatures, and on afternoon of August 8 we received a phone call from the DOE that turned out to be good news: We had qualified!
I became only the sixth non-partisan candidate in California history to qualify for ballot status, and the first Congressional Candidate since 1996! The signature process was very labor intensive, and time consuming, but we were able to obtain about 20,000 votes and dozens of energized volunteers that will be with us until November 4th, when we celebrate victory.
I am sure there will many more obstacle thrown in the path of our campaign, but we are experts at overcoming obstacles and fearless in the face of adversity.
Frank: Some may laugh when you say, “celebrate victory”. Do you really think you can beat Nancy Pelosi? Also, do you believe it is more effective to challenge the Democrat’s position outside of the party, instead of inside, like the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) are trying to do?
Sheehan: Well, I always say that there’s not enough laughter in the world today … but seriously, we have a society where “winning” is the only acceptable outcome of any event: from sports, to American Idol to politics. I believe that every day our campaign office is open and functioning and attracting more volunteers and positive energy is a victory. I go to sleep every night convinced of this fact and wake up every morning ready to get back to the important work of confronting what Nancy Pelosi represents to many people: corporate militarism and a fascist police state.
Besides the daily victories, and the major victory of just getting on the ballot as a non-partisan candidate, I do think that this election is winnable. There is excitement from all over the world, really, for this race. We have a comfortable amount of money right now that we are planning to use to wage a fierce-issues based campaign. I can’t really believe that the people of the 8th District would vote for Pelosi when they find out that she knew about torture and sanctioned the inhumane practice as well as her other failures for the people (but victories for the war machine).
I tried working the whole inside/outside strategy of the PDA, and was, in fact, on its national board until they refused to endorse me in my race against Pelosi. I believe that the only way we are going to save our representative republic and restore some kind of peace and economic equality is to challenge the two party duopoly that only suppresses these attributes.
Frank: Progressive Democrats of America did not endorse your candidacy? Did they give you a reason as to why? What has your support been like among Democrats in general this year?
Sheehan: PDA only endorses Democratic candidates, so to the organization, it’s not how progressive a candidate is, but what letter comes after their name.
They won’t endorse Pelosi, I don’t think, at least that’s what I have been told, but I think the organization should enthusiastically endorse me because of my platform and the work I have done with them.
I have had some very private endorsements from Democrats, but nothing public. I also have a few top people in the California Democratic National Committee who are helping me behind the scenes because they have been warned away from my campaign.
I know I have to appeal to progressive Democrats to win, but I think my message does this directly. However, “Decline to State” makes up the second highest amounts of registration here in San Francisco, so we just need an aggressive campaign to get the progressive message out there.
Frank: Why did you decide to target Pelosi out of all the bad Democrats out there?
Sheehan: I decided to target Pelosi because she is the number one Democrat in Congress and she was the number one obstacle to ending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
My reasoning was and is that if she refused to hold Bush accountable, then someone needed to hold her accountable. I am not the kind of person to wait for someone else to do something that needs to be done. So here I am.
Frank: How has she responded to your campaign or the issues you are raising? Can you talk about those issues a bit?
Sheehan: When we qualified for the ballot she said something like she “welcomes” the challenge and has the highest “respect” for me. I don’t respect her because I believe she has taken the amazing power that was bestowed on her and has further diminished the causes of peace, justice, environmental sustainability and economic equality. But since she has sold out to the war machine, she knows who her masters are.
We saw one interesting step slightly to the left for her when she allowed Congressman John Conyers to have the non-impeachment hearings last month. Otherwise, she has effectively destroyed the 4th Amendment by granting the telecommunication companies and the Bushites immunity from warrantless spying, and she has proudly funded the war until the middle of next year. She was also fully briefed on torture in 2002 and sanctioned the practice. There are many other ways she has abused “We the People.”
Frank: Now that you are on the ballot, has Pelosi agreed to any formal debates?
Sheehan: That’s an easy one: No. But we will press her and press her to come to San Francisco and debate her opponents, which include a Republican and a Libertarian, and answer for her deplorable record.
One thing I forgot to mention in your last question is her unforgivable backslide to the oil companies in offshore drilling. I haven’t seen poll numbers that address this issue here in the 8th, but I sense that this is as big of a betrayal to most voters here as it is to me.
Frank: Ultimately, what you expect to achieve by running againt. Pelosi this year? And what can members of the antiwar movement do to learn more about your campaign?
Sheehan: I expect to achieve victory against the war machine.
I realize that win or lose, we still have a long way to go in achieving a better world, but taking out Pelosi will be a significant step in the right direction.
I believe that we have marched as far as we can go; signed as many petitions as we can; knocked on too many Congressional office doors; and sang too many verses of “We shall overcome.” This campaign is the most significant action an anti-war person can be involved in until November 4th.
To learn more about our campaign, people should visit our site at www.CindyForCongress.org.