Melanie Morgan isn’t especially bashful about voicing her displeasure with Cindy Sheehan, or her support for the Iraq war Sheehan so passionately opposes.
And as Morgan, chairwoman of the conservative group Move America Forward, travels with a band of pro-war military families this week as part of a cross-country bus tour, her message couldn’t be any more blunt.
“We want to show the country that Cindy Sheehan does not speak for us.”
The “Support the Troops and Their Mission” bus tour kicked off Monday with pro-military rallies in San Francisco and Sacramento, home of Deborah Johns, mother of William Johns, a Marine soon to begin his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Throughout this week the bus tour will wind its way across America’s heartland, with rallies planned in more than 20 major cities. At each stop Iraq war supporters will be invited to sign their names to a banner declaring appreciation for the ongoing sacrifices of American servicemen and women.
The bus tour will arrive in Washington, D.C., on Saturday evening, the same day that thousands of anti-war protesters are expected to gather on the National Mall. And at 1 p.m. Sunday, Move America Forward will stage a day-long pro-war demonstration, with Morgan and Johns anchoring a lineup featuring more than 15 scheduled speakers.
Move America Forward’s series of pro-military rallies comes during a period of revival for opponents of the Iraq war. Insurgents have stepped up their deadly campaign, and polls show declining confidence in America’s effort to build a new Iraq.
Sheehan has garnered national headlines while protesting outside President Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch after her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq. Throughout her stay, well-wishers have flocked to her side, adding their voices to a rising chorus of demands for a face-to-face meeting with the commander-in-chief.
Johns sees the bus tour as a firm rebuke to Sheehan and other anti-war activists. “This is a continued effort to rally support for our military men and women,” Johns said. “We continue to degrade the morale of our servicemen and women. They don’t need to come back home and fight a war in the media. We will push back against Cindy Sheehan and the rhetoric she pushes down everybody’s throat.”
Morgan said she believes Move America Forward is at the forefront of a “pushback against the left in this country. They have dominated this discussion. We have been very distressed that the left is taking the war in Iraq as an opportunity to score cheap cynical points against this administration.”
Morgan, who is only a month and a half removed from a visit to American soldiers stationed in Iraq, believes Sheehan’s protests threaten to dishearten the troops and drag down the war effort.
Sheehan is the main villain in Move America Forward’s war narrative. But the media, blamed for artificially inflating her influence, don’t get off any easier.
Morgan complains of the “gushing coverage” given to Sheehan and the “misinformation being reported as dead-on fact.” The anti-war perspective, she said, “is beginning to settle in like wet concrete that’s drying,” and she recommended “taking a sledgehammer” to hardening attitudes of hopelessness and despair.
“Iraq is no Vietnam,” she insisted. “We are winning the war in Iraq, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the media.”
Morgan said she hopes to collect enough signatures on Move America Forward’s banners during the week to show there is still strong public support for the war.
Once the bus tour reaches Washington, the banners from each city will be unfurled and displayed together. “We’re trying to create a dramatic visual of the good wishes and heartfelt thoughts to the troops,” Morgan said.
The banners will then be shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan to boost morale among the troops. “This is a way to make a statement that we respect our military men and women,” Johns said.
Both Morgan and Johns expect to encounter more friends than foes as they canvas the countryside this week, if past experience is any guide. Morgan recalled a similar tour where “90 percent of the time we were greeted with patriotic Americans. They came out with American flags and pictures of sons and daughters who were serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Still, both forecast a handful of counter-demonstrations cropping up along the way.
Johns has some advice for any anti-war protesters who might set up shop alongside this week’s Move America Forward rallies: “Don’t just breathe the words into the air that you support the troops. Show it with your actions.”
With her son prepping for his return to Iraq, Johns embarks on this week’s bus tour with mixed emotions.
“You do get a little bit more used to it,” she said of the pain of separation. “But any time a loved one is deployed it’s hard. You’re waiting and wondering if you’re about to get a knock on the door.”
But Johns said she’s been showered with support from other parents with children serving in Iraq, and even some whose children won’t be coming home. Their patriotism, enduring despite personal loss, gives her all the inspiration she needs to carry on.
And besides, she said, “there’s no one prouder than military families. Our faith in God is what gets us through these days.”