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Interview: Code Pink Brings Creativity To Activism

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Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Oct. 11, 2004
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Code Pink Brings Creativity and New Energy to Progressive Activism

- Interview with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink Alert, Women for Peace, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:
http://www.btlonline.org/benjamin100804.ram

In 1988, activist Medea Benjamin co-founded Global Exchange, an international human rights organization promoting environmental, political and social justice. Among its many projects, the organization offers reality tours for North Americans to learn first-hand about conditions on the ground in hotspots around the world. Global Exchange is also bringing a group of election observers from around the world to monitor the U.S. presidential election in November. Benjamin was the California Green Party's candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 2000.

After the Bush administration launched its war on terrorism and announced color-coded terror alerts, Benjamin and others founded a new group called Code Pink Alert -- Women for Peace, to give voice to women and men who oppose the administration's pre-emptive war strategy and attacks on civil liberties. Members of Code Pink were among the most creative and visible activists at protests outside both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this summer.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus recently spoke with Medea Benjamin, who discussed the work Code Pink does to shake up the establishment and keep activists energized.

Medea Benjamin: We try to use all different kinds of tactics. We do very serious things like go to Iraq and work with military families whoíve lost loved ones, and work with veterans whoíve just come home, so itís not all frivolous, but we try to add an element of fun and joy and creativity, and we want to have a good time with each other. Itís what keeps us going; itís what gets us up early in the morning and keeps us going seven days a week. So we certainly do have fun. At the Republican convention we had a great time. We set up a protest where Halliburton was having a breakfast for the Texas delegates, and we came with pig masks, pig costumes, a trough that we created, and many thousands of Dick Cheney dollars. And we just rolled around in the money and had a good time, and snorted and snorted. It was so much fun, and the press loved it, and we loved it, and then the Texas delegates inside actually came out and joined us and talked to us.

We dressed up for an event that was going to happen at Tiffanyís, a breakfast at Tiffanyís, and when we got there it turned out that theyíd cancelled it, because they heard we were going to be there. And there we were in our gowns, with our champagne breakfast, and we brought our own contingent of poor Code Pink people who had the crumbs for health care and education. And we said, well, weíre all dressed up, we gotta go somewhere. So we went from hotel to hotel, and greeted the delegates, and again, had a great time.

We held a Shut-up-athon in front of Fox News because Bill OíReillyís favorite thing when he doesnít like a guest is to tell them to shut up. So we had a great time with over a thousand people outside the headquarters of Fox yelling, "Shut the Fox up! Shut the Fox up!" and playing [the movie] ìOutfoxedî on a big truck that was going round and round. So we have a lot of fun, and I think we recruited a lot of new people to Code Pink ? both men and women ? who felt that this is a group that I feel an affinity with because they take the issues seriously but they also try to have a good time.

Between The Lines: So even though the group is Code Pink: Women for Peace, the group is open to men?

Medea Benjamin: Oh, we encourage men to be part of it. Weíve got groups of Code Pink people all over the country, and we like them to be led by women, but we certainly encourage men to join. Thereís about a hundred Code Pinks, and what we love about it is people decide what it means to them, what theyíre going to work on, how theyíre going to do it. Thereís no hierarchy. Itís kind of, take the idea, if you donít like the code-colored alerts of the Bush administration, create your own. We play around with this whole idea of pink slips -- we wear womenís lingerie -- and we give these pink slips to people we donít think deserve their positions, like weíve given them to Michael Powell of the Federal Communications Commission. We gave one to Hillary Clinton for voting for the war; weíve given them to all kinds of people we donít like and then we have Pink Badges of Courage that we give to people that we think are doing a good job, like the whistle blowers around Iraq, or community people who are speaking up, or the Iraq veterans who are coming home and speaking out. So we like to reward people as well as to give them a pink slip.

Between The Lines: I went to one event that was organized by the Axis of Eve. They were going to expose Bush. And it said right on the email or the website, No Nudity. And I donít think there was any, at least while I was there. So it was kind of in the spirit of Code Pink, but are they connected or not?

Medea Benjamin: Theyíre friends of ours. I was the prude in this case, because I thought it was going a little too far in the exploitation of women because itís around panties, and the panties say, you know, some of them are cute and some of them get a little obscene, and it was flashing -- women pulling up their skirts and showing their underwear. So, some people in Code Pink thought it was cute and went there and were part of it, and others say, uh, it crosses a little bit boundaries that Iím not comfortable with. But again, Code Pink is not anybody telling anyone what they can and canít do, so there were lots of Code Pink people who were a part of that.

Between The Lines: Youíre all going to Florida, so talk about that.

Medea Benjamin: Weíre very excited about Code Pink Alert in Florida. You know, itís pretty amazing what we went through in 2000, and weíre about to go through it again of having people who have been purged from the lists in Florida, of having the black community disenfranchised, of having the same people who committed the fraud in 2000 being in charge again! So we decided to call a Code Pink Alert in Florida, and send our best organizers there. Weíve been working with the National Organization for Women. We have pink lemonade stands that we're setting up on the weekends, encouraging people to register and educating them about how important this election is. But weíre also doing things like every time Bush and Cheney make campaign appearances there, to be ready there with our pink slips and our protests, and probably most importantly, weíre organizing for Nov. 3, to say if there is significant fraud in Florida as well as anywhere else in this country, weíre not going to leave it to the leadership of the Democratic Party to say, "Oh, donít get out in the streets, letís take this to the courts." No, weíre going to say, people, get out in the streets, do civil disobedience, demand that votes be counted, demand an end to the fraud. So weíre organizing a whole network of people to be ready for Nov. 3 if need be.

For more information, including a list of Code Pink's local chapters, call 1-(800) 497-1994 or visit the group's website at http://www.codepinkalert.org

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Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Oct. 8, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.

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