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'Is there somebody coordinating this?': The Mannings with Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey.

Waiting for Dubya

Who would leave the mild climes of Santa Cruz for the sweltering heat of Crawford, Texas, to set up camp with Cindy Sheehan? Meet the Mannings.

By Mike Connor

To get to the Bush ranch from Santa Cruz via automobile, it's just a hop, skip and a 1,300-mile jump to the Texas border, followed by another toasty 400-mile drive down, down, down through Amarillo, Ft. Worth and a little city called Waco--the infamous site of a very different kind of siege, and the gateway to Crawford.

Most visitors heading to the site of Cindy Sheehan's vigil--or "Camp Casey" as it's called--first stop at an old cottage that was converted, soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, into a center for peace called, simply, the Crawford Peace House. Many visitors there were greeted by Aptos resident Pat Manning, who spent a week meeting and greeting folks on their way to Camp Casey. Metro Santa Cruz caught up with her via cell phone on Aug. 31--the day before Sheehan left for Washington.

"Some of the people that have come later in these last few days," said Pat, "are people who have never, ever done anything politically; regular folks who are so busy working and raising their families--they came and said, 'There's a place to go and say, I don't agree with what the president's doing.' We're sending them off with bumper stickers and buttons; everybody I've talked to is so moved by being here. It's just really impressive. And hot."

The Mannings arrived in Waco on Aug. 18 after five days on the road--and a stop at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah--with their five- and seven-year-old grandchildren. By the time they got there, they knew without a doubt that the place Cindy Sheehan had been calling home for the month of August was hot as hell.

"We're burning up," says Ed via cell phone, lamenting Bush's poor choice of a vacation location. "It's just more proof of the stupidity of George Bush."

"The hot and humid weather made us more determined," says Pat. "I thought, not only was [Sheehan] sitting in a ditch, but she's also sitting in terrible, terrible weather."

So the Mannings settled in, rolled up their sleeves and got to work where they were needed, as did hundreds of others who ended up staying longer than they'd planned, helping to manage Camp Casey 1 and 2 and the Crawford Peace House, and facilitating parking and shuttle transport around the growing volunteer operation.

When asked what group is organizing the event, Pat just laughed and said, "I haven't a clue. Is there somebody coordinating this?"

"It's kinda like when you're in the grocery store and you have one item," explains Pat, who has been active in the local Democratic Central Committee since the '80s, "and the person behind you has a bunch of stuff and turns around and says, 'Go ahead of me, please.' This place is full of people who say, 'Go ahead of me, please.'"

Reality Show

Across the street from the camp are a group of Bush supporters calling themselves "Camp Reality"; the Mannings estimate the opposition is generally about five to 10 people strong.

"We've been told, 'Don't engage in conversation with them, don't get into a debate,'" says Manning, who ended up in Camp Reality while escorting a group of teenage girls on a field trip from Houston. "I had gone across the street, and I was chatting with the lady like she was on our side, asking her, 'Where'd you come from?' and 'Why'd you come here?' She said, 'I support our troops, and I support my president,' and I said, 'Yeah, I support our troops too--I haven't meet a soul in two weeks who didn't support our troops."

The notion rattles Ed Manning, who served in the Air National Guard as a pilot."It boggles my when mind people say, 'We support the troops,' and they're not hollering to get them properly equipped."

"We all support our troops," says Pat. "The difference is, they want to fight for peace, and we want to work for peace."

Midway through their stay, Pat got a phone message from her worried brother, who urged her to leave Crawford after he saw television reports of Bush supporters descending on the camp by the 18-wheel truckload. Pat laughed off the message and called her brother a couple of days later, telling him, "I didn't see no 18-wheeler truck this weekend--you need to switch television shows."

So maybe you can't trust the media, but, as they were already there, the Mannings didn't have to. "This woman," says Pat, "she has done something that's real. She has done something that's changing everything."

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From the September 7-14, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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