Disturbing power the Code Pink way
by Jodie Evans
Interviewed by David Barsamian
August 7, 2011
available from Alternative Radio
Jodie Evans is a veteran activist with more than 30 years experience in organizing for social change. She cofounded Code Pink with Medea Benjamin. They’ve also edited the book Stop The Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism. She was Executive Producer of the documentaries The Most Dangerous Man in America and The People Speak. She is the boardchair of the Women’s Media Center.
What kindled your activism?
In1970 I was a maid in one of the big hotels in Las Vegas, and we got organized to march for a living wage. Jane Fonda came and marched with us. In that process I found my power. And we won. To this day maids get a living wage in Las Vegas. They can buy a house. Years later, I made a documentary, Stripped and Teased: Voices of Las Vegas Women. It was about a woman who raised her 11 children on a maid’s salary. Her husband had died. She became the president of the union. She led the six-year strike against the Frontier Hotel and won.
And then I was an antiwar activist. As my friends from high school started to go off to war, I became an antiwar activist and used a lot of the skills I got from being organized as a maid. And then I joined the McGovern campaign, and turned 18 a month before. I got to be one of the first 18-year-olds to vote. I still remember how powerful that was and how much I wanted to use my vote.
What was the spark that launched CODEPINK?
About May of 2002, about 35 of us who were activists got together, and we called ourselves The Unreasonable Women for the Earth. And Caroline Casey called us Code Hot Pink, with the idea that we should get together and save the earth and do some radical activism. We started a hunger strike to keep India from changing the [Bhopal] crime, [the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal in which thousands died], to a misdemeanor. Diane Wilson, who had called us The Unreasonables, did the hunger strike, and people from all over the world joined her. And at the end of August we won. The pressure on the court prevented it from changing the felony down to a misdemeanor.
So that’s the end of the summer 2002. Then we get into September, and they started selling the Iraq war.
Remember, you don’t sell things during the summer? At the time, Bush was trying to frighten us with Code Orange and Code Red and Code Yellow. Then one day Medea and Diane and I got on the phone, and the resolution was going through Congress, and the Democrats had put something forth and Bush had said no. And we said, “Okay, we’ve got to get to Washington.” We found out through another girlfriend that he was going to have all the members of Congress in the Rose Garden the next morning and he was going to give them the resolution and it was just going to go through Congress like lightning.
We got together that night and we said, “We’re going to call ourselves Code Hot Pink.” But the problem was, when you went to the Internet, it was a porn site. So we changed the name to Code Pink. And the next day we were at the White House and hung a big banner on the White House that said “No War in Iraq.”
And Diane got up on the pole and she wouldn’t come down. And media from the Rose Garden came running out, and it was on all the morning news. But as soon as they found out she was an antiwar activist and not a terrorist, it was gone. The story disappeared.
We then went to the steps of the Capitol at lunchtime. We had painted pink doves of peace and put them on our bras and took our shirts off. And on our bellies we wrote
Read My Tits. No War in Iraq.
And members of Congress stopped and talked to us. We were the first people in the hearing and we had our banners. And because we had taken our shirts off, all the cameras in the congressional hearing were on us. We disrupted the Hyde hearing.
And the funny story out of that day was that Medea had to go to New York to help Amy Goodman at a fundraiser, so she said, “I can’t get arrested. So I’ll sit over here, and when you get up, I’ll be over here supporting you.” We got up in the middle and we held the banner and we were screaming out everything that we heard wrong in the hearing. And Medea clapped over where she was. They were dragging us out, and Hyde said, “And her too.”
Cynthia McKinney said, “When did it become illegal to clap in a hearing room?” And he said, “She’s bothering me.” Cynthia McKinney said, “She’s not bothering me.”
And he looked over at her and said, “Well, your skin is thicker than mine.” It was gross. So Medea got arrested. And he turned around, and she was still there, and she got arrested and we didn’t. So we had Medea and Diane in jail for the first day.
Code Pink has pretty much been that since the beginning, that we’re in the face of power, wherever it is. We were at the White House, the steps of Congress, and inside a hearing screaming out when madness was happening, which is literally what that hearing was like. No one knew what they were talking about, and they were all telling stories that were totally false and driving us to war.
Since those early days, how many members do you have and chapters, and how many men are part of Code Pink?
Men have been part of Code Pink since the beginning. Medea and I had been involved as activists our entire lives, so it was really wonderful to have all the men who were running all these major organizations show up and say, “What can we do for you?” John Passacantando from Greenpeace. John Sellers from Ruckus. And Mike Brune from Rainforest Action Network. They were just, like, “How do we help you? It’s very important that it’s a women-led, women-initiated organization that wants to end war.” It was great, because in the beginning we felt very appreciated.
Right now we have about 200,000 people who get our e-mails each week. We send out an Action Alert, because we believe that if you’re in action, you won’t feel as powerless. So we use the Action Alert to educate, inspire, and then, hopefully, activate. We have a small staff of five.
We feel that we’re just the container to give people the tools for activism, and then it’s really the locals that create the color and the intelligence and the vibrancy that is Code Pink.
And how many local chapters?
Your comments on the debt deal that Obama struck and its impact on women.
Women and children will suffer the most. It’s devastating what they’ve done. And what’s hardest for us is that we’ve been out there saying bring the war dollars home since we started. Code Pink’s purpose is to end war and bring those resources back to the life-sustaining needs of our community. To watch that happen, and, again, on the backs of women. In every way they will be suffering from
this debt deal, which could have been solved by ending the wars and bringing the troops home.
And also, just recently 30 American troops died in Afghanistan, a few weeks before that 12 in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nobody even talks about the cost in lives—the costs that we’re incurring by how insanely we are operating in Afghanistan.
And even now, even after the Taliban hit that Chinook helicopter and killed everyone on board, the generals are like, Now we’re even more out to win. To win what? Nobody even asks the questions of why we’re there anymore. Osama bin Laden is not the argument anymore. It’s quite devastating to watch this happen.
Those metrics can be measured. What about the moral costs?
That’s the part that’s just mind-boggling. Back in World War I, 10% were civilian casualties. In Iraq it was 90% civilian casualties. With these drones it’s 99%. They are so inaccurate, who knows what they’re hitting?
Not only that, the drones they’re using are operated out of Las Vegas. We do vigils and actions outside of Creech Air Force Base all the time. It’s so inhuman. It’s just mind-bogglingly inhuman what the drones are.
Or that Obama can say that what’s happening in Libya isn’t a war because Americans aren’t getting killed. How does somebody say something like that? I don’t know.
These generals that could say something like, Now we’re just even more revved up to get the Taliban. It wasn’t even the issue. Haven’t we learned after Vietnam and now Iraq that you can’t win anything with insurgencies?
The other moral question is, how much money we have spent on these wars and how we have destroyed countries. They say we’re in Afghanistan for the women. They’ve done nothing for the women. It is less safe for the women. That level of violence creates the power with the violent.
I spoke to some of the women in Afghanistan. They’re not training police; they’re training soldiers. They said,
We don’t need more soldiers. Our fears are civil wars. We don’t need soldiers. We need police.
We have not trained any police; we’re training soldiers. You look at the violence and the number of American soldiers that are dying in Afghanistan, it’s usually, recently, from soldiers that we’ve trained. The Taliban even said that the missile, the way that they got the helicopter, was the way the U.S. trained them to go after the Russians. They always trained them to hit a helicopter that’s carrying troops because it’s the best use of a missile. So we’ve created the disaster that is destroying our country.
That’s the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s. And later, elements from the Mujahideen morphed into what is now called the Taliban.
I remember the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy saying at the time of the Afghan invasion that, This may be the first time in history that the U.S. Marine Corps claims to be a feminist organization.
It’s devastating to think, even that they say they’re helping these women. You can’t imagine what life is like for these women in Afghanistan. To help them would have been to educate them, would have been to restore their country, would have been to create structures. Everything is in shambles. The only place that’s safe is in Kabul, but anything outside of that isn’t safe. But the only people that anyone speaks to are the people and the women inside of Kabul. Of course, they feel safe, so they want American soldiers to stay. So it becomes a very complex issue, even for women’s organizations.
So you were able to get out into the countryside?
We were not able to get out into the countryside. But a lot of friends and some other Code Pinkers who have traveled there have been.
What do you think of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan?
I’m in awe of it and the courage of the women. As a matter of fact, before I help start Code Pink, I raised enough money to build them a hospital in Pakistan in one of their education camps, which is still there. And when Malalai Joya tours the U.S., Code Pink is always involved in organizing events. The last time she was in L.A., we raised $12,000 so she could buy a new car, because it was very dangerous for her to be driving and her car breaking down in Afghanistan, because there’s a price on her head.
I’m concerned with how hard it is for RAWA to operate, because it’s dangerous for them. They do have a lot of courage, because of what she’s been able to say in the parliament. She’s been able to say what no one says and talks to the warlords as warlords instead of pretending that they’re parliamentarians and upstanding members of society. What she does takes more courage than anyone I know.
She later was expelled from parliament. And she has been subjected to death threats.
It’s 10 years of the war on terror, now rebranded by Obama to an innocuous-sounding “overseas contingency operation.” Where are we 10 years on?
We’ve created a more dangerous world. We’ve created more violence. We’ve unraveled the fabric of our own society. At Code Pink we’ve been thinking about what do we do with the 10-year anniversary coming up in October. And watching the antiwar movement slowly just evaporate with Obama coming in and putting everyone to sleep.
Also, you remember back in 2006 it was the antiwar movement that shifted the whole political spectrum, and all these amazing people got elected. But then they got there, and then they still voted for war. When people see that happening, they quit going in the streets and quit being active, because we’ve done this and we’ve done this and we’ve done this, and it’s gotten worse and worse. We pay more taxes that go to war than ever in our history, both percentage-wise and number-wise. So I really was grappling with this. We’ve watched everything get worse. We’ve watched countries be destroyed and we’ve watched war become the answer to every question. Libya happened, and our diplomats are the ones saying to go to war, which is the opposite of what their job is. So it just becomes the answer. Everyone has just gotten super lazy. And the Pentagon has become a behemoth. It’s crazy. I call it crack cocaine. I have no idea what they think over there, because it isn’t about people.
So what we’re doing, with a coalition of other organizations, is something called Ten Years and Counting. It’s about creating, not hate. So it’s called Create Not Hate. Because it was a way of getting back in communities and saying, Through your art, your theater, your music, your cultural center, what would you say these last 10 years have cost you, have cost your community, have cost our country, have cost the world? Because I’m afraid it’s so overwhelming that people don’t even feel about it anymore. And unless you can feel about it, you can’t be active about it. If you don’t want to write about what has the cost been, create about what would have been a different response to 9/11 than going to war on two countries.
It’s another way of just getting into new communities, because for the last year our campaign has been called Bring the War Dollars Home, and we’ve been working in many communities on city resolutions.
We organized the resolution at the mayors’ conference, which won, which shocked everyone, which was really great. You could see where the media was on the issue, because they wrote the story better than I could have. They said “U.S. Mayors Vote for Antiwar Resolution, First Time Since Vietnam,” which really tells the story about what the mayors were willing to stand up and do. And we were trying to leverage the mayors to then go to Congress and go to Obama and say, “You’ve got to stop these wars and bring the war dollars home.” And they did. Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa has it high on his list of what his job is as the head of the mayors.
And still Obama’s withdrawal was only 10,000 soldiers out of Afghanistan, even when he had the opportunity after the death of Osama bin Laden. I have no idea what goes through these people’s minds.
There is an embedded assumption in your argument that if those wars were stopped immediately, then, as Code Pink states on its website, the monies would then be redirected “into healthcare, education, green jobs, and other life-affirming activities.” Okay, great. But will the ruling class go along with that?
Obviously not, given what we’ve seen, that the fight in Washington has just degraded down to romper room, that has nothing to do with the needs of the people. And I just want to say that the mayors knew when they were signing the resolution that it wouldn’t come home to them. They know that. They know it’s not really money they’re going to get back in their cities.
But what was great about the mayors doing it was they knew that us being at war was wrong. And it was great that they were willing to lead on it. Not that it came from the cities. That was a good way to pull Obama’s chain. But at least the mayors know it’s wrong and that it’s destroying not only our country but the world.
Our chains are being pulled by a well-organized right-wing faction that must be just bent on destroying the country. Because why would they be unraveling the whole fabric of our society?
That doesn’t make sense. They live in the country. Why would they be bent on destroying it?
Nothing they’re doing makes sense. And they are bent on destroying it. They are taking the spoils. What do the Koch brothers think that they’re doing? Don’t they think that they live in the fabric of the society?
For example, I grew up in Vegas. It was run by mobsters. Vegas had the best education. There was no violence. Why? Because they lived in Las Vegas, and they made it a model community. When they left, it became quite horrible, I have to say, when that structure of power left.
And I wonder who these people are that don’t understand—even the mobsters understood—that your families are growing up in this city. You have to take care of it. What do they think they’re creating? I think they must be crazy, stupid. Because how can you live in a country where you’re not educating the people or taking care of them or taking care of those in the greatest need? How do you even live with yourself? I don’t understand where those choices come from.
They’re sending their kids to private school.
Yes, but haven’t they been to other countries where the difference between rich and poor creates an untenable situation? I think of Brazil, when I went in the 1992 to the Earth Summit. They were really grappling with that problem, and it went to the edge. While we were there, I was at a person’s house having dinner, and they said,
Well, we’re just taking 10,000 street kids and we’re just going to kill them all.
They got to an insane place. And we stopped it from happening.
But what person thinks that they can kill someone because they want to be safe? It’s just an insane notion. Fortunately, Brazil has been changing since then, and there have been enough leaders to come in that understood that they were destroying the country, that it became unlivable for everyone.
And who was able to stop it?
It happened from the streets. It happened from grass-roots activism, people like Sebastião Salgado and the Movimiento Sin Tierra, the landless people’s movement. So many, many forms of activism in the street changed it. And that changed the leadership. And they have really exciting leadership now, too.
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times quipped recently that Obama’s “Yes, we can!” slogan has devolved into “Hey, we might.” You were an early supporter of the president, and you’ve met with him on at least one occasion. What do you think happened in that transition from candidate to president-elect, and then to President Obama? And I’ll just remind you that such people as Norman Solomon and Cornel West are using the word “betrayal” to describe what Obama has done.
I was way ahead of them. In 2007, when he started to run, I wanted to support a black man for president, I wanted to support an antiwar activist for president. Everybody else who was running was for war. So the reason I was supporting him were those two issues. I thought it would be amazing while we were at war with Iraq and Afghanistan to have someone leading the country who said he was against war. By the general election he had started talking about Afghanistan as “the good war,” and I had pulled back. As a matter of fact, when I did go to events, because my husband continued to support him, I confronted him and I said, “There is no such thing as a good war,” and I got in arguments with Obama. I took the opportunity to really get under his skin and make him uncomfortable. Then at the inaugural Code Pink was the only organization—as a matter of fact, Amy Goodman wrote about it—that was out there against Obama. We had our little pink ribbons on our fingers. Remember your promises for peace? And then we did can-cans outside of all the balls. “Yes, we can-can end war.” We already knew that it was going in the wrong direction.
We were in Washington constantly. We have not stopped pushing and having the courage to speak out against him, which has been hard, because people are, like, “Oh, give him a chance.” Why do you give him a chance? You can already see. The writing is already on the wall. And also, watching everybody see it and turn dumb, turn quiet, dumb in the sense of quiet. It was so shocking for people. That place of betrayal happened very early, but it quieted everyone. They didn’t know what to do with it. And it was really complex for them, I think. We call it, like, a blanket over the antiwar movement. Nobody knew what to do with it.
People are, like, “Well, he’s trying.” No, he’s not trying. He’s giving in constantly. There is no leadership there. They continue to give him excuses. And you saw it early on. There is no leadership. He compromises before he’s at the table. The Republicans are even shocked at what they get from him. They thought it was going to be way over here, and he’s past what they thought they were going to get.
He’s giving away the structures of the country that have held it together. He’s giving away the heart, the beauty, the thing that can actually hold us together. And to have that happening at the same time that you have billionaires funding also the unraveling of the social structure of our country, it’s quite shocking. There’s no one that’s upholding the value and importance of the social structures that bind the country together. Talk about insecurity. It’s here in our country. We see it here already. There aren’t the social structures that are needed. It will continue to show up in very ugly ways.
You come out of the Democratic Party. You worked for Governor Jerry Brown of California in his first administration. What about breaking this two-party duopoly, which enables and buttresses the existing structures and the oligarchy?
I would love to. I ran Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign in 1992, which was the campaign around campaign finance reform. It was our only issue, that if we didn’t change campaign finance, that it didn’t matter what you believed in or what you worked for, the corporations would fund the opposite. And that’s what we’ve seen. After I ran that campaign, I left the Democratic Party, because I thought it was part of the problem. I’ve been a Nader supporter, I have been in the Green Party.
There are some interesting things happening right now that will start to reveal themselves. There is a Digital Party. I don’t know that I believe in the structure anymore. I feel like it needs a revolution, not another party. The structure is so corroded that we’re saying words that are meaningless and pretending they exist, like “democracy” and “freedom.” There are all these words that get thrown around, and they don’t exist. I think we need a new politics and a new economy. That’s more interesting for me.
Where are the fissures in the power structure that you see vulnerable that could be cracked into and widened?
First of all, I think that in the same way Obama gives everything away, I think the people give everything away. One of our hopes is that after organizing all these cultural events for people to feel into what they’ve lost, that isn’t just from war, but to feel into what we’re really living inside of and then meet in Freedom Square in Washington and really make power nervous.
Because here’s what hasn’t happened. We haven’t actually made power uncomfortable. We actually make it very comfortable. We allow it to do all of this. We allowed 2000 to happen [Bush v. Gore], then we allowed the war to happen. Really, the people have just continued to allow the madness to happen. Until we turn the heat up and make them uncomfortable and make them feel like there is something out there that’s going to hold them accountable, they will continue.
There is no fissure until the people stand up and say, “No more!” Because right now it’s crack cocaine for the military, for the people in Congress, for the people in the White House. They’re in a delusional madness, and taking us down with them. And until people get in the streets and start telling the truth about what’s happening, and start screaming it and yelling it, there’s nothing that’s going to happen. It’s got to happen in the streets.
Did you see some of that in Wisconsin?
Yes. And look at it. It was impressive. I think Wisconsin is what started to wake up activists again. You can really feel it now. And you can feel it not happening in a corporate way.
There was that period of time where there were organizations happening in Washington. But they weren’t change organizations; they were organizations kind of feeding on money. It’s one of the things that happened around Obama.
He has this Wednesday Morning Club or whatever, which is the 40 biggest progressive organizations that somebody from the White House has breakfast with every Wednesday. In anthropology what you learn is that if a culture doesn’t have a negative feedback loop, it dies. I think that’s part of Obama’s problem. There is no negative feedback loop. He’s off the cliff. It’s that thing that’s supposed to be rising up and saying, “No, you’re taking us off a cliff, and we’re not going to participate anymore,” isn’t happening.
I think the Arab Spring was part of the inspiration to Wisconsin, and I think Wisconsin is waking up the people in a different way. Instead of these corporate democratic structures and giving the power away to yet another stupid, powerful force, it’s people really taking it into their own hands and coming up with ideas and being a citizens’ brigade of some sort that’s self-organized, it’s open-source, it’s inspiring, it’s not controlled at the top. It’s in that way vibrant because it isn’t some structure. It’s coming out of a passion and a set of values.
Can we use the master’s tools, like elections, to dismantle the master’s house?
Not while they’re being stolen by corporations and funded by corporations. Not after Citizens United. It’s going to get worse. Again, if you don’t hold power accountable, which is what the Founding Fathers understood, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s out of control. So the corporations are just owning the elections and they’re manipulating the masses. And God knows, maybe another election is stolen that we don’t even know about at some level of our voting system that’s corrupt, our courts that are corrupt. State houses. Congress, even with the good intentions of some people is corrupt. We have to come up with a new system, because this one is broken.
But it’s a deeply entrenched pattern: imperialist foreign policy and rapacious capitalism at home.
That’s why I work very hard to create new patterns. Code Pink itself and why we’ve kept Code Pink different from other NGOs, is constantly rethinking itself, it’s constantly in response to what’s happening.
There isn’t something, one thing, that we do. We’re in relationship with the organism, and we’re trying to find ways to disrupt it and to put up a mirror to it so it can see how ugly it is or in humorous ways to be able to show the elephant in the room.
You look at the photos of Code Pink that go around, they’re the ones that say what everybody knows is true but nobody wants to say. That’s what we live inside of. Nobody is telling the truth.
And the truth tellers are put in jail. Bradley Manning. WikiLeaks. What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of the truth, because it’s going to crack the insanity that we live inside of. If the truth gets told, the inmates are going to start rattling the prison bars. We’re living in all forms of prison and pretending that it’s democracy and pretending we’re free and telling stories like they’re jealous of our freedoms. We’re the most frightened people, that live in this abundance. Then we pretend that we’re poor, and then we take that out of the backs of the poor. The insanity that we live inside of and the stories that we tell each other, they’re so false.
Bradley Manning being the soldier who’s allegedly leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Code Pink was very active early finding him in Quantico, going and doing actions there. The guys in Code Pink went naked outside the State Department and outside the Justice Department. And just weeks later he was moved to Leavenworth, which is a bit friendlier and easier place. And he’s not in solitary confinement, held naked at night anymore as he was in Quantico for almost a year.
During the Bush administration, people were righteously indignant about Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general. And, again, with the election of Obama there was thought to be, with Eric Holder, a bright new day in the system of justice. But it turns out that whistleblowers are being prosecuted more aggressively under the Obama Justice Department than under Bush.
There have never been as many whistle blowers in jail in the history of the U.S. than under Obama. We have a whole campaign called Truth Set Free working to also educate—our first job around Bradley has been just to let the public know that he exists and how he’s been treated and to create some kind of understanding of what’s happening and what it means to Americans. That somebody who tells us the truth, who exposes what we’re doing is being treated this way is barbaric. And, question: Why are we so afraid of the truth, and why do people think the only way the world works is to tell each other lies? Where has that gotten us?
A lot of what we’ve been doing at Code Pink is around our war criminals campaign. The first book that came out was Karl Rove’s, and I disrupted his first two book events. He had to totally transform his book tour. He could no longer speak to audiences. They were full of security. He really was afraid of us. Because they got off scot-free.
We have a card deck that we have of 52 war criminals out there walking around, doing jobs, being seen as experts. John Yoo, we are outside of his house every day, we disrupt his classroom. Judge Bybee, whenever he sits, there’s a Code Pinker that disrupts the courtroom.
These are the two former Bush Justice Department officials who okayed torture.
They created the whole excuse for the torture that occurred under the Bush administration. So now we have Cheney’s book about to come out. And we’re always trying to find ways to engage people, to stay engaged, to stay activists. If we aren’t activists as citizens, this is what we get: We get this devastating place that we are. So we’re always trying to find ways that we can disturb power. If we can’t put them in jail, at least we can tell them someone’s watching and that we know they’re war criminals. With all the books—even Bush had to cancel his whole book tour because of us.
We have bookmarks that you can print out on your printer. And you put them in the book and you move the book to the crime section. And when somebody buys the book, inside it is that this person who wrote the book is a war criminal and what they did.
So we find every way we can to educate the public and to keep power nervous.
What accounts for the Obama Justice Department being so aggressive in prosecuting whistleblowers?
What’s interesting is it didn’t start out as bad as it’s becoming, and it becomes worse, I think, by the week. I am also on the board of Drug Policy Alliance. And the Obama administration started out understanding that issue, and now it’s constantly gotten worse. We confront Eric Holder all the time.
What does he say?
On Bradley Manning, we ask him question after question. He won’t talk. He turns the other way and won’t answer our questions.
The multiple uprisings in the Arab Middle East were quite startling, and how the great have fallen. I’m reminded of Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” about the pharaoh Ramses the Great. There was Mubarak and his sons in the dock. So if Egypt can get its criminals at least in court, that might be an inspiration to people here.
I think it has been.
That’s what I was saying earlier. I think the Arab Spring has started to wake people up from the sleep they went into from the betrayal they felt from Obama and reminded them of the power of their voice and of being engaged and their own responsibility. That really we’re in agreement with what’s happening by not getting up and finding a way to change it.
It’s more complicated in the U.S., because we don’t have a dictator that we can dethrone. It’s a whole system that is corrupt, and the whole system isn’t holding anyone accountable. There is a collusion between everyone when they get into power that we’re not going to hold each other accountable so we can all get away with something. If we don’t prosecute these war criminals, what’s the next horrible thing they can do?
As anyone knows, if you’re not held accountable, you think you can get away with it and it becomes okay. It just becomes like you’re not awakened from whatever delusion you’re in that allows you to do horrible things. Because I think that it’s a delusional place that you’re in. And if somebody doesn’t say, “No, you can’t do that,” you will just keep doing
In terms of the Arab Middle East, what has been the role of women in these multiple revolts?
Women have been amazing. Look at just in Egypt. That woman who did the YouTube that said “Don’t leave the square.” One of the great feminists is Nawal El Saadawi. This is an example of how all our work is important every day. She has been doing feminist work in Egypt for years, sometimes getting kicked out of the country, sometimes being put in jail. But that seeding of the revolutionary spirit of the feminine and seeding these young women: We do need to use our voice, we do need to stand up, we do need to work together.
Esra’a Al Shafei is a terrific Bahraini woman who has the Middle East youth websites. She has about 20 of them. She’s brilliant, and on no money has created tons of activism in Bahrain and around the Middle East. What she does is organize artists and activists to create videos to educate and inspire and activate the youth community in the Middle East.
One of Code Pink’s campaigns involves Ahava. You call it “Stolen Beauty: Expose the Ugly Secrets from the Dead Sea.” What is the ugly secret of this Israeli beauty products company?
We’ve been going to Gaza for two years, since the Israeli invasion. And we’ve taken almost 500 people to see what happened, because the story wasn’t getting out. We’ve been a group that’s been able to get in. And what we’ve been trying do is, like, how do we get peace in the Middle East? We want to hear from the Palestinians, how can we help them, how can we be of service here. They said, You could be of service by joining our Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
We had to find, how would we join that. We found this company, Ahava, where the product is created in the occupied territories on the Dead Sea, which is a violation of international law. So it’s a very clear violation, because you’re not allowed to steal the resources of an occupied country, or an occupied territory, because the Palestine is not a country. So this company Ahava violates the law. And ahava means love in Hebrew. We say there is nothing loving about occupation. So it’s stolen beauty: they’re stealing the beauty of this community. So it becomes a very easy way to identify the problem. It’s not like we think we’ll ever close down Ahava. But by highlighting what Ahava is doing in communities, especially Jewish communities, you let the argument start to happen and the conversation start to happen, so that it
actually educates everyone in that community about what’s happening. Because they’re not.
We found that out when we took people to Gaza. The people who were Jewish that we took to Gaza came back and they couldn’t talk for a month. They felt so betrayed. They couldn’t quite grapple with all the lies that they had been fed. And to see what it is to be Jewish, this goes against everything they believe in. And it’s not a story that’s told.
It’s not only our Stolen Beauty campaign but our Move Over, AIPAC campaign. Every year, when AIPAC has their annual convention in Washington, we’re out there challenging what AIPAC is doing.
Have you noticed a change in the country, not in official Washington, in terms of talking about Israel?
Oh, yes. First of all, when you do something at the edge, it’s very uncomfortable. So when we first started on this issue, it was very uncomfortable for people. Some didn’t want to go there, they didn’t want to talk about it, and it frightened them. And what I found is that much more of the conversation can happen, because all these people that went to Gaza, they came back and did reports to their synagogues, they gave talks in their communities, they got on the radio, they told their stories. It started to kind of loosen up the conversation. And I think by having J Street, that’s also changed the conversation. More than 50% of American Jews don’t agree with AIPAC, but it was the only voice out there. So there are many American Jews that feel that there’s somebody who is more aligned with their values.
We’re a little further over than J Street, but activism is all about continuing to move the story over and moving the person closest to you. So it’s a movement. And definitely in many communities you can see that you can talk about the issues in the Middle East much easier.
What about the state of patriarchy and misogyny? How has that evolved since the early days of the women’s movement?
It’s still alive and well. But the women’s movement has—I’m so excited by women right now, not just in America but globally. Women really are coming into their own. We’re standing on the shoulders of 40 years of hard work and messy work. And it’s really coming to the place of the deep understanding of where it’s not just to become a better patriarch when you get to leadership positions. It’s really women standing on their own power and their own voice and supporting each other. I’m quite excited by it.
But that doesn’t meant the patriarchy isn’t alive and well, and we’re fully functioning under that structure. I’m the chair of the Women’s Media Center. It was started by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan to make the female half of the population visible. And why I say that is that 3% of the media that we get, the decision making is by a woman. So that means 97% of media is created by men. And look at the faces. Since we started six years ago, you’ve seen the faces change. As a matter of fact, Rachel Maddow credits us with getting her her job.
We just ran a campaign against Ed Schultz, when he called Laura Ingraham a “slut,” which was a great opportunity for him to get up and do a beautiful apology. If you ever want to see something where he articulates the issue in his apology and what’s wrong with degrading women and why that made him embarrassed in front of his wife and his children. It really was an opportunity to say, look at what we’re doing and what that means to women.
Then we had a meeting with MSNBC, and we were able to take them and show them, you don’t have enough women, and it’s not okay to have one token woman. So the next week Obama did his first press conference in a long time, and they had three women on Ed Schultz’s show responding instead of three men, which it usually is.
So there is a lot of work to be done, but globally women are doing amazing things and being inspired and activated and supported. I think the problem with the women’s movement still is it’s a little too northern, white, and rich. And where the most exciting things are happening are more the low-resourced, southern. It’s a constant work to shift that balance. But I really feel like right now we have so much more to stand on and so much more leadership that’s been able to really ground itself and mentor other women.
One of the hard-earned victories was reproductive rights. That is under severe attack. It is being constantly constrained as state after state passes new legislation limiting it.
Another example of where Obama has been watching that dynamic with women’s groups, the same as with Congress voting for war. When the issue came up in the health care fight, the Democrats were going to throw abortion funding under the bus to get the votes. Reproductive rights was, like, a taboo. This was something you never touched. You didn’t get elected, it had to be on your platform. But they were willing to throw this under the bus. And because the heads of NOW and Planned Parenthood, didn’t want to lose their seat at the table at the White House, they didn’t quite fight that one hard enough.
This is the thing. If we don’t fight, and constantly fight, our rights will be taken away. Something happened when
Obama got elected, and the fight left a lot of people. I don’t know why. I said, “Why are we not screaming in the streets?” And their attitude was, “Well, because, you know, we don’t want to lose those invitations to the White House.”
The seduction of access.
Yes. I was running the Women’s Media Center, and I said, “Look, I’m going to do something, then.” And I started something called Not Under the Bus so that there was at least some activism happening that created kind of a cover for all the other women’s organizations.
But too many organizations that represent progressive values have become enamored with power. It happened to the Democratic Party a long time ago, and now it’s happening to the progressive organizations. What you watch is that we are responsible, the progressive movement, for what’s happening, because we haven’t stood up, we haven’t fought.
One of the things I say to Code Pink activists is, you have to be willing to give up as much as those who go to war are willing to give up to create peace. A lot of people aren’t willing to give up their safe and happy lives. These things that we have were hard-earned.
There was just an amazing documentary made about the Freedom Riders. I want everybody to see that, because they were willing to give up their lives for what we are willing to give up. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But until we understand that this stuff is real, until it really hits home—and it’s hitting home to everybody. Ten million people had their homes foreclosed on, the unemployment rate that we have, and for youth, it’s 28% for youths. That’s a crime.
What is that to come into? And that we’re allowing that to happen and that we’re not raising our voices, that we’re not in the streets fighting? I want to see everybody in the streets on October 6.
What’s happening on October 6?
That’s the tenth anniversary of the Afghanistan war. We want to all gather in Freedom Square in Washington, D.C. But I want you to find a freedom square in your city and say, “No, I’ve had enough.” That they’re eroding what’s beautiful and what’s going to hold our culture together, and that we need to come up with new solutions, be creating them.
I know wonderful people are creating—there are Businesses Allied for Local Economies and there are all kinds of things that have been sprouting up. If we really exposed all these other alternatives that are life-sustaining and life-giving and life-enhancing. They are what we really care about. They’re what we all really care about—Democrat, Republican, Independent, Iraqi, Afghan, Egyptian, Bahraini. We want to live life. We want to be related to each other. We want to raise our children. We want to be able to obtain the potential that is our life.
And that’s just being eroded away by us not being engaged as citizens and by us thinking that power is what we want, when really what we want is just to live a safe and happy life where everyone is respected and everyone has equal opportunity.
How do you talk to those who are diametrically opposite you in terms of the political spectrum? What approach do you find effective?
It would depend on what the situation is. I’ll tell you, I’m just coming back from a retreat here in the mountains of Colorado. And when the gathering started, there was a very right-wing Republican in the room, and everybody couldn’t wait to see what it was going to look like when Jodie and this guy got together. And actually, by the end we were friends, because we respected each other and we understand exactly what I just said to you, that we value life and being able to live a beautiful life. And he was able, actually, to hear everything I had to say and why I do the work I do. And he thought I was going to be a scary monster person, like on Glenn Beck’s blackboard, but he actually listened and he kind of liked what I had to say.
Usually what I try to do is be as disarming as possible, to really be in relationship with them and listen to them and listen to why they believe what they do, and then from that place try to have a conversation.
But if I’m in a hearing in Congress, I take the opportunity to tell the truth and to say the elephant in the room or the thing that nobody is willing to say to them because they’re powerful. I think that’s the advantage that we have as Code Pink, that we have no access to power and we have no desire to have access to power. Lots of people run inside-outside games. And I don’t know that you can. Because if you’re trying to play an inside game, having that power and that access is something that you will compromise to get. We’re really just an outside game.
The funny thing about that is in being an outside game, members of Congress call us and tell us where a weak link is or where there is an opening. When Netanyahu was speaking to Congress, a congressperson called and gave us their ticket so that they could make sure there was a Code Pink disruption. Because they get the value that they’re living inside of a hall of mirrors, and they really appreciate when we can come in and disrupt that hall of mirrors. So it’s really funny that we’re the outside organization, with some members of Congress really valuing our work.
One of the outstanding international issues is Kashmir. A rebellion began there in 1989. Seventy thousand people have been killed, 8,000 have disappeared. There is a huge Indian army presence there. It’s one of the most densely occupied areas on Earth, with something like 700,000 Indian security forces. Does Code Pink have a position on Kashmir?
We don’t have a position on Kashmir. I actually just met a woman from there at the Nobel women’s Peace Prize winners conference. She told us the horrible story. We tend to have positions on things that the U.S. government can affect. So, yes, it’s horrible and a disaster. But can we do anything about it but make a statement? We don’t have a statement on the website. I know what the statement would be. But because there’s so much happening, and you can only make something happen if you really focus, we tend to focus on what we can do to affect the U.S. government and what it’s doing in the world.
Then how about Pakistan, which has been receiving billions of dollars in U.S. aid?
We’ve definitely been out there fighting against that and against the drone attacks there. So, yes, in Pakistan we have. And we’ve been trying to stop the money that’s going to Israel also.
What actions have given you the most satisfaction and have yielded concrete results?
I think the recent winning of that resolution with the mayors was beyond our expectations. I haven’t felt that happy and satisfied in a really long time. Even though it didn’t have the result that I would hope, which would be Obama would do something really courageous and pull the troops home from Afghanistan, I loved how many people it affected. How many city council members stood up. How many people participated locally, because you have to make change locally and engage people in that way. I was happy about that.
There are so many things. Taking people to Gaza is huge, where I can really see the effects of it. That just makes me want to cry I know what it was like before we started. Alice Walker wrote a book out of it, Overcoming Speechlessness. I’ve seen how it’s changed those people’s lives. And just working inside a complexity like that and being willing to take people into a complex place and show what it is and have them come back and tell stories and have their community change, that’s huge.
I think another one of my favorite things is Mother’s Day. Because Mother’s Day, the call from Julia Ward Howe was for women to come together and end war. Every Mother’s Day we are 24 hours outside of the White House. One of my favorite things we did was, for the month leading up to it, we had women and men around the world send us 5-by-5 knitted squares of green and pink. Because war is not green, it’s one of our favorite colors. And we for 24 hours sewed them together outside the White House, listening to women from war zones tell us their stories. When we finished, it read, “We will not raise our children to kill another mother’s child.” It spanned the fence in front of the White House.
You’re clearly energized by your activism, you’re inspired by it, and you inspire others. But a lot of people are facing dire economic times: they’ve lost their homes, their savings, their jobs, and have, as a result of watching the shenanigans in Washington, become deeply cynical and apathetic. How do you overcome those things?
By giving them a container to feel powerful. They’re feeling powerless, so to find a way that they can find their own power again. That was Wisconsin for a lot of people, not only those engaged in it but those not engaged in it. With Code Pink in this issue, it’s been understanding that we partner with a lot of organizations. Our Bring Our War Dollars Home campaign and organizing locally and then taking it to the mayors was lot of that, and having a city council pass a resolution, because it was about bringing the money home to their community, it was about getting engaged in saying, “I have a voice, I can use it.”
I go around and speak. And having been a maid, it’s an issue I work a lot on in L.A. I work with maids trying to get them a living wage. So I use the opportunity to go and speak to them and remind them that the power is within them and that being in a community, finding a community to be engaged with is crucial. It’s not going to help them to fall down into the blackness. That the only way that they can actually make change is to pick something that they can do, something small, something local, something immediate, something that will change their lives and to get engaged in it.
The wonderful thing is that once they start to do that, they come up with tons of ideas. They can actually come up with ideas that are needed in their community. Then they feel useful and they feel hopeful. There’s one guy I met who’s found more meaning in his life from doing that than he had from the job that he lost and the house that he lost.
Solidarity is a big part of it.
It really is. We also try to help create those opportunities for people. I think a lot of what organizing is is keeping people together, creating that community. Because you don’t know when you’re going to need the community. That’s what I sense this Ten Years and Counting will do. Asking the community the question of what has this 10 years cost you. Having them feel that. And who knows what will come out of that? What’s beautiful is the experience of creating art together, the experience of singing together or dancing together or creating theater together. That’s enriching. It gives you something juicy back. And then out of that who knows what happens?
But they win if the devastation that they created turns us all into blackness. That’s what they want. They want everybody to fall asleep and be depressed and not be educated. And they win.
How do you respond to criticisms of Code Pink tactics at public events particularly in Congress where you shout slogans and unfurl banners and are hauled off as being mere publicity stunts? Is there anything substantive after the soundbite or photo, if you even get one?
Not sure why people would think putting ourselves on the line is for publicity. But the photos that do circulate are because we have stood in the face of power and said what everyone knows and no one says. Desiree Fairooz’s red hands around Condi Rice’s face while saying you have the blood of the Iraq children on your hands. Or the images that are used in hearings where our signs say what isn’t being said in the hearings. They are appreciated by members of Congress, the media and the public. They are effective at making people pay attention, or not think they are getting away with everything. It seems most people will allow power to get away with anything these days and Code Pink is in the halls of Congress at least reminding them some of us are watching.
These actions are so successful that many other groups have come to us for support and training, including Dan Choi who was successful in ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
The Internet is full of vitriolic attacks against you. Have you been threatened?
Yes, I have. I report all threats. But women around the world take far greater risks than I in fighting for peace and justice. To protect myself I stay visible and engaged.
The worst thing that happened to me was when one soldier’s mother claimed that I had told her that her son deserved to die in Iraq. I’ve lost a child and could never say such a thing. It turns out I wasn’t where she was, but the reporter just ran what she said without even checking with me.
We assume sometimes when they get very vitriolic that we must be getting more effective than they are comfortable with. They hated us when we got Bush and Rove to have to change their book tours.
Do you think if Code Pink were mostly a male organization, the nature of the venom directed toward you and the group would be different?
The men of Code Pink do not get attacked like the women. Most of the remarks are sexist and attempt to denigrate us because we are women.
I hate to say it but if Code Pink were a male organization, it would have been taken far more seriously. Left and right aren’t quite sure what to do with us. I think because we have no attachment to power we confuse them both. We are interested in being effective and ending war and bringing the money home to our communities. Most of the organizations they are dealing with want power. We want to use our power as creatively and effectively as we can. Sometimes we cross the line and miss, but we feel it is more important to try than to play it safe.
(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)
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