Medea Benjamin, activist, founder of CODEPINK, argues against militarism

By Sarah Frazer || Staff Writer

This week’s Common Hour, entitled “Preventing the Next War: Creating an Effective Inside/Outside Strategy,” featured Medea Benjamin, an activist, author, and founder of CODEPINK for Peace and of Global Exchange. In her presentation, Benjamin discussed what she has done, what CODEPINK has done, and what we all can do to protest what she considers unwarranted military action and to prevent the next war.

CODEPINK is a grassroots movement using creative and non violent means to end war and militarism. Benjamin described how and why it was formed and their efforts to protest war. The organization’s name came to be as a response to President Bush’s use of different color codes to tell people how afraid to be. It started as a “part of a huge anti war movement” following the decision to invade Iraq. Benjamin said that the biggest protest ever occurred on February 15, 2003, when in over six hundred cities around the world “ten million people came together to say ‘we say no to war.’”

In terms of CODEPINK’s tactics, Benjamin explained that “it was important to go where the cameras were…[to confront] people like Condoleezza Rice, who was part of the administration’s lies.” Members of CODEPINK smeared red on their hands to represent the blood of the Iraqi people, over one million of whom have died because of the invasion in 2003, according to Benjamin. CODEPINK members do hunger strikes in offices of their congressional representatives. They protest the killing of innocent people by US drone strikes. They protest in Republican and Democratic offices, as Benjamin explained, “This is something we did yesterday…Jamie Raskin,” whom she noted is a progressive champion on many issues, “we saw that he had just been in Israel but he would not speak out on the excessive use of force” of the Israeli government in response to protests in Gaza.

The group uses other tactics as well. “When we are in a very confrontational situation we often burst out into song,” said Benjamin. They use humor, such as when they proclaimed, “Invest in America; buy a congressman.” Benjamin described the ways CODEPINK tries to energize and involve the community, including young people, by “doing clever things like ‘hoops not bombs’ outside the White House.” At the Republican Convention, CODEPINK brought the message of the Statue of Liberty that the US should welcome refugees.

“Wearing pink helps us when the police come in,” Benjamin told the audience. She also said, “We thank our Congressmen when they do the right thing.” CODEPINK works on many fronts. They go directly “to the places where the weapons are being used,” such as in the Nevada desert. They meet with drone survivors and “hear their stories.” The organization has built playgrounds in Gaza and has “brought in all kinds of aid to Gaza.” Benjamin explained, “We have been working with people of South Korea who have desperately been trying to make piece with the North.”

Benjamin has been on the forefront of efforts to protest military actions taken by the Trump administration, as well as previous presidential administrations. She discussed the military actions taken by the Bush administration after 9/11, actions which she considers terrible mistakes. Benjamin explained that she sees a disconnect today between those fighting the wars and those making the decision to wage them; many veterans and even some veterans’ groups work with CODEPINK and disagree with military actions taken by the US government. Benjamin underscored that her organization is anti war, not anti-the-people-fighting-the-wars.

In reference to how to respond to the 9/11 attacks, Benjamin explained that many people, herself included, thought there were better ways to respond. The military could have targeted individuals, rather than entire countries, especially those, like Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attacks, Benjamin argued. Benjamin noted that the war we waged in Afghanistan is the longest war the United States has ever fought, and we are still there today. After the many years we have spent there, Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and large swaths of it are still controlled by the Taliban.

As for Iraq, Benjamin sees its prospects as not much better. According to her, the US took a country that was governed by Saddam Hussein, a harsh dictator, granted, and made it even worse and more divided. Benjamin described the situation in Iraq before the US invasion as one where Sunnis and Shias lived side by side and even in the same household since there was intermarriage between the two groups. Once the US invaded, greater divisions began to form in Iraq; Benjamin quoted one person from Iraq as having said to her, “You know what the Americans taught us? They taught us to hate each other.”

Benjamin noted that, we have not gotten rid of terrorism in the several years following 9/11; in fact, there are more terrorists groups, namely ISIS. She described how now, we are contemplating further intervention. According to her, Trump is getting us deeper into the war in Syria and is possibly going to take actions in regards to Iran and North Korea.

She criticized the United States’ support for Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and the top purchaser of US weapons. Benjamin explained that the Saudis are using these weapon to devastate Yemen, where one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world is taking place. Benjamin argued that the United States, or at least US weapon manufacturers, are profiting from the conflict in Yemen. Benjamin noted that “Israel gets three hundred billion dollars in military aid” from the US, “and where are the Israelis using their weapons right now? The people [of Gaza] have been living under a terrible siege… They have been peacefully protesting to try to awake the worlds consciousness.” The Israelis, she asserted, have responded with terrible force, murdering these innocent Palestinians.

In discussing this topic, Benjamin also raised the question of who benefits from all of these wars. She said, “It is certainly not the US military… and it is not the American people.” Benjamin continued, “So much of our tax dollars are being sent to the Pentagon,” which is where “54% of discretionary spending” in our budget goes. Often times, according to Benjamin, it is corporations who benefit. Specifically, the big five weapons manufacturers, all of whom smartly make every little piece of their weapons in different congressional districts, “so it becomes an issue of jobs.” They also give money to campaigns of congressional candidates, which, Benjamin asserts, “most people would call bribery.” This is called the Military Industrial Complex, about which President Eisenhower warned the country. He said, “the only way to stop it is an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.”

To protest this, Benjamin announced that CODEPINK’s “most recent campaign is [to] ‘divest from the war machine.’” They have worked in Florida with the Parkland students. Benjamin told the audience, “You can join us by going on to our website, join our weekly newsletter… consider an internship with CODEPINK.”

Benjamin’s Common Hour talk was not without controversy. One student, when asking a question, called her presentation “really one sided” and “isolationist,” to which Benjamin responded that she is not an isolationist. She explained that she “used to work for the United Nations… I believe in strengthening the United Nations… but I don’t believe in the US going in on its own [and disregarding] international law.” She cited the US intervention in Libya, a state which is now “ungovernable.” Benjamin also said, “In the case of Saudi Arabia, we are not funding international conflict, [but] we are making money from international conflict.” She concluded by saying, “We need to move our economy away from one that is based on wars.”

Junior Sarah Frazer is a Staff Writer. Her email is sfrazer@fandm.edu

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