Before Katrina, there was Cindy. Remember her? Cindy Sheehan, the gold-star military mom whose son, Casey, died in Iraq–uselessly, she thinks. Cindy Sheehan, who blew into Crawford, Texas, and turned it into Camp Casey, which ruined George W’s five-week vacation from reality even before the levees in New Orleans broke. (And who could have foreseen that?) On Thursday, Sept. 15, Sheehan will be in the Triangle. Her Camp Casey Bus Tour left Crawford two weeks ago and is headed for Washington, D.C., where she’ll help lead the anti-war protest Sept. 24-26.

I want to make two points. First, Iraq is still a disaster for our country, and the Camp Casey tour is our chance to say so–again. Thank you, Cindy, for giving voice to our anger.

Second point, however: The country is not in the mood for–nor does it need–an anti-war protest right now. What it needs is a constructive alternative to the failed policies, self-serving philosophy and bone-headed recklessness of the Bush-Cheney Republican party.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go to Washington. This is exactly the time we should go. But when we go, let’s leave our “Bush is a Murderer!” signs home, and think twice about our “Out of Iraq Now!” signs.

My sign is going to say: “My Fellow Americans–We Can Do Better Than This.”

Here’s my fear. It’s that we still think we need to hector the country into admitting that the war was a mistake and that Bush is incompetent. We don’t. Not since Katrina. The president’s approval ratings are down to 40 percent or less–much less when it comes to Iraq.

But just because people are persuaded by clear majorities that Bush is bad or the Republican Party is bad does not mean they’re ready to accept the progressive or liberal or whatever we’re calling the alternative these days. They don’t even know what it is. (Thanks, John Kerry.)

Yes, folks are ready to listen to us again–how could they not be? Trust me, though, what they expect to hear from us is that we’re the same old bunch of grungy, whiny, Blame-America-First’ers who forced them to vote Republican even though they never wanted to, honest to goodness.

Let’s surprise them, shall we?

Because we’re not any of those things, most of us. But protests, even when you’re right–no, especially when you’re right, and you’re screaming that the rest of the country was wrong and stupid and elected an idiot–they sure do sound a negative note, don’t they?

And a negative note is what nobody wants to hear. Nor do we need to rub people’s noses in it. They get it–the country’s in danger of sinking like New Orleans. So, you liberals, what’re you gonna do about it (besides throw money)?

Instead of calling Bush a fool, in other words, and our fellow Americans fools, too, let’s call on each other to imagine a Better America–like the one we all knew, or thought we knew, or just dreamed about, when we were kids.

It’s not out of reach.

It’s just out of political memory.

Camp Casey Tour
But, step one, we have to get out of Iraq, because it’s costing us a fortune in money and lives and because our occupation force–the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about gone wild–is busily destroying Iraq in our zeal to “save” it.

Nonetheless, and excepting anti-war activists, almost every progressive-minded person I talk to thinks we can’t just pull out overnight “because if we do”–they say–“Iraq will collapse.” Or it will “disintegrate into civil war.” We remember all too well Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn warning–you break it, you own it.

Never mind that Powell was wrong–yes, we broke it, along with the Baathists, but we still don’t own it, the Iraqis do–and never mind that the civil war’s already started. It’s now on us to lay out a schedule and a method for withdrawing that makes sense to our fellow Americans–who do understand, to repeat, that Bush simply is incapable of doing so.

To my mind, the essential elements of it should include the United Nations, negotiations with willing Sunni and Shiite insurgents, and U.S. financial support (but not military, and certainly not military-industrial support) for international peacekeeping forces that–face it–will never come in until we get out.

Fortunately, an exit strategy is the main reason Cindy Sheehan and the Camp Casey “Bring Them Home Now” Bus Tour, plus Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, are coming to Raleigh on Thursday and (sans Cindy) to Durham on Saturday. (For more on Benjamin, see “Real men wear pink,”

Here’s their schedule:

Thursday, 1:30 p.m. –“Camp Casey NCSU” rally in Raleigh at the NCSU Brickyard.

Thursday, 5 p.m. —Rally in Moore Square, downtown Raleigh, with Sheehan and Benjamin.

Thursday, 8 p.m. –“How Do We Get Out of Iraq?” forum at the McKimmon Center, NCSU (off Western Boulevard), with Sheehan, Benjamin, Cary’s David Potorti (of Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows), and UNC-CH Middle East expert Sarah Shields. Doors open at 7:30; $5-10 fee to support buses to Washington on Sept. 24.

Saturday, noon–Sheehan will be gone, but others on the Camp Casey bus tour remain for an anti-war march in Durham starting at Brightleaf Square.

Also this Thursday, California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey is chairing a “hearing” in Washington on exit strategies for Iraq–another in the series of unofficial Democratic investigations into subjects (like the Ohio election and the Downing Street memos) that the Republican majority in Congress doesn’t want to think about.

Out of Woolsey’s efforts and Sheehan’s and the rest, a strategy should emerge. Then, it’s on to Washington and step two.

In between Raleigh and Durham, on Friday Sheehan and the rest will be in Fayetteville.

For late updates on the Thursday-Saturday schedule, check

Another March on D.C. Saturday, Sept. 24 is the date–10 a.m. at the Washington Monument–followed by a Sunday of vigils and then Monday, Sept. 26, we’re supposed to hit Capitol Hill to lobby Congress.

But lobby for what?

Having a credible Iraq exit strategy is a necessary prerequisite but is not at all sufficient. Remember, we were right about getting out of Vietnam, too, but our reward was the continuing conservative backlash that gave us Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush.

Back then, we blasted Amerika. Then America blasted us.

This time, though, there’s no need to blast. We have Katrina, FEMA, $3 gas and a “growing” economy that produces more McMansions than jobs. We have tax cuts for the rich, a growing underclass and the planned dismantling of Social Security. The Bushies have sunk themselves.

Which means the floor is ours. Let’s use it to say that if we’re given the chance, we’ll try our best to do better. Which means:

Honest government. Let’s make public service, and helping one another, our highest calling again, not something to sneer at. No more Michael Browns. No more hacks of any kind, Democrat or Republican. No more Halliburtons and no more special interests above the common interest.

Rebuilding our country. It’s time. The levees were broken, and so is our transit system, our health-insurance system, our trade policies, and on and on. Let’s put government on the side of jobs for every American, not profits for global corporations that are “American” only when they feel like it–and never at tax time.

Rejoining the international community. Strong countries aren’t bullies and they aren’t gluttons either. The world’s superpower must stand for peace.

A little humility, fellow progressives. It’s taken years to push the country this far off-course, and it’s going to take years to change things for the better. But people understand that, too. They just don’t know that we get it, or are up to it, or really love our country enough to get it done.

That’s why we have to go to Washington–not to make a protest, but a promise.

Details about activities Sept. 24-26 are at . Citizen e-mail: