SAN FRANCISCO — Peace mom Cindy Sheehan peered out a window 14 floors above the Civic Center on Friday and asked, Want to see my new car?

She pointed to a sky-blue Volkswagen Beetle convertible parked near City Hall. She explained she hasnt treated herself to much since her son, Casey, died in Iraq in April 2004, but shed always wanted such a car and recently decided it was time for a change.

Sheehans life has changed profoundly since Caseys death — richer in grief, and in purpose — and especially since her transformation into an anti-war icon with her August vigil near President Bushs Crawford, Texas ranch.

But after drawing the international spotlight at Camp Casey in Crawford, her name is fading from headlines.

In Crawford, her every word was beamed by a forest of satellite trucks to millions worldwide. On Friday, she and a state lawmaker were attended by TV cameras from one English and one Spanish station; one radio reporter; and one mainstream print reporter.

Sheehan, 48, hasnt slowed down. She was in Sacramento on Wednesday, urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to withdraw the California National Guard from Iraq. She addressed a Yom Kippur service Thursday in San Francisco on the nations need to atone for the war. Fridays news conference was a follow-up to Wednesdays plea to the governor.

Shell spend Thanksgiving back at Crawford. Whether shell make lasting headlines there remains to be seen.


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She who bursts upon the scene as new news very quickly departs the scene as old news, and for the same reasons, said Todd Gitlin, a 1960s activist whos now an author and Columbia University journalism and sociology professor. In August, in contrast to the news surroundings then, she was hot. In October, shes not.

Its not a judgment on her sincerity or efficacy, he said, but she doesnt — and perhaps cant — have the star status and historical staying power of some 1960s activists such as Mario Savio or Abbie Hoffman, Gitlin said.

There arent very many of those names that survived the 60s at all, he noted, and those that did were part of a society-wide, rebellious counterculture. Todays anti-war movement is simply that — theres no built-in generational audience today as there was 40 years ago. It may be the kind of movement we have now ... is also going to be more episodic, partly because of the way its organized — much more fluidly, more electronically than things were organized in the60s.

Larry Sabato, professor and director of the University of Virginias Center for Politics, said Sheehan was a summer of05 phenomenon. This is a classic (media) mode of covering controversy — its the August doldrums, and a feeding frenzy develops and they usually last a month or two and are gone.

It was interesting while it lasted, the mother of a dead soldier protesting the war and demanding to speak to President Bush. It had a natural resonance with most people, he said.

But many of Sheehans activities during and since Crawford have been in tandem with groups such as CodePink and United for Peace and Justice, whose leaders are well-known to the media and public as full-time activists.

She attracted what in essence became a traveling troupe of anti-war activists and p.r. agents and usual suspects, and the story just ceased to be as appealing, Sabato said. It didnt seem quite as natural and original, it became more of the same.

Sheehans recent move from Vacaville to Berkeley is notable, he said. When you say Berkeley, anyone whos been around for a few decades associates liberalism and anti-war movements with the place.

When you come out of someplace that looks like middle America, you look like the people youre trying to reach. Its tougher to sustain public interest in your movement when you come out of Berkeley. Where youre from matters, where you position yourself matters.

John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society — an Oakland-based nonprofit which teaches activists how to effectively communicate their messages — saw Sheehan address a huge anti-war rally Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C. She was amazing there, she was charismatic. Theres still a lot of love for Cindy out there. 

Sheehan rose above the din in August because she had the three elements effective activists need, Sellers said: the right timing, the right stage and the right message. But she brought a fourth element as well, he said: her sons memory. She brought a moral authority to it that few of us, fortunately, have.

Sheehans sympathetic face certainly invigorated the anti-war movement. She has inspired two mothers of slain British soldiers to start a vigil outside Prime Minister Tony Blairs Downing Street office in London on Tuesday. Other activists will pitch their Camp Casey Dallas tents at noon every Friday from now through Thanksgiving outside the office of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a supporter of the war.

As for what Sheehan does next, Sellers predicted, A lot of it will depend on who she hitches her horse to, who she does her next action with, who she does her work with. But shes a franchise player, she can build her own team around her.

Sheehan insists shes following only the dictates of her broken heart.

At Thursdays service for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement — at which no notes or recordings were made, in accordance with the rabbis wishes — she said she must atone until her dying day for her sin: Not having stood up to oppose the war until after her son died.

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com.