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2007-04-26

Washington Goes Pink: Peace Group CodePink Makes Its Presence Known on Capitol Hill

Guests

Medea Benjamin, founder of CodePink. Medea is a longtime peace activist and also the founder of Global Exchange.

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You may have seen them on TV recently — women dressed in pink protesting at a congressional hearing, maybe crashing a press conference or unfurling a banner on the steps of the Capitol. They’re called CodePink, a women’s grassroots peace movement that is working to end the war in Iraq. And they’re making their presence known in Washington. We speak with the group’s founder, Medea Benjamin. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You may have seen them on TV recently: women dressed in pink protesting at a congressional hearing, maybe crashing a press conference or unfurling a banner on the steps of the Capitol. They’re called CodePink, a women’s grassroots peace movement that’s working to end the war in Iraq, and they’re making their presence known in Washington.

At the Alberto Gonzales Senate hearing last week, CodePink was in attendance. Some of them wore orange prison jumpsuits with black hoods. Others wore their standard pink. They all held up signs that said simply, "Resign." As Gonzales shook hands with committee members after the hearing ended, they treated him to a version of the song "Na Na Hey Hey…Goodbye."

CODEPINK: Na na na na, Gonzales, goodbye. Na na na na, na na na na, Gonzales, goodbye.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Speaking of singing, CodePink also had a response to Republican presidential candidate John McCain when he joked about bombing Iran. This how McCain responded to a question from a voter in South Carolina recently when asked whether the U.S. should attack Iran.

JOHN MCCAIN: You know that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran? You know. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb — anyway.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, CodePink was outside McCain’s office the next day with a song of their own.

CODEPINK: Old John McCain, he is insane. John McCain, John, John McCain, he’ll wipe out a generation if he gets to bomb the nation of Iran. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Don’t bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. Don’t bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: CodePink has also been staging sit-ins at the offices of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. They recently poured into Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton’s office, along with Reverend Billy, to protest the continued funding of the war.

CODEPINK: Don’t buy Bush’s, don’t buy Bush’s, don’t buy Bush’s war.

REVEREND BILLY: Senator Clinton, we are asking you not to buy Bush’s war! Don’t spend our tax money that way!

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the founder of CodePink, Medea Benjamin, joins us now from Washington, D.C. She’s a longtime peace activist and also co-founder of Global Exchange. Welcome, Medea, to Democracy Now! You are changing the face, in a sense, of lobbying in Washington. Explain what you’re doing.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, these hearings that are going on every day, Amy, they used to be very staid gatherings, where you’d have the K Street lobbyists and you’d have the staff aides and a maybe a sprinkling of tourists. Now, you have CodePink lining up early in the morning to get into each of the hearings and turning them into really public affairs. We try to participate in them. We certainly participate with our messages on our bodies. When we can get away with it, we participate with signs. And we often get carried away when we hear them saying things we don’t like and get up and say something, sometimes get kicked out, sometimes get arrested, sometimes get tolerated. But we’ve really turned them into public gatherings, which I think they should be.

Yesterday, when General Petraeus tried — well, he actually did a hearing behind closed doors, we were outside there yelling, "Let the public in! The public wants to hear!" And so, I think we’re really changing the face of the way the proceedings are going on in Congress and demanding a lot more transparency.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Medea, given the number of times you’ve been ejected in recent months from Congress, you must be probably the best-known security question for the security guards there. Are they watching you and following you constantly?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: They’ve actually become our friends. We’re on a first name basis. When we enter the Capitol buildings, they usually get on their walkie-talkie and say "OK, CodePink is here." They follow us around. They go to have lunch with us. They’re really quite nice to us and quite sympathetic to our cause, as are a lot of the people that we find in these hearings. Things are really changing in Washington, and they’re changing because groups like ours are keeping the pressure on.

And one thing I really want to say to your listening audience is that we need more of you here. We have rented a house, a CodePink house, with five bedrooms. We’re encouraging people to come from all over the country, stay with us for a week or two weeks. There are people who have left their jobs and are really determined to be on the Hill during all of these discussions about supplemental money. So we need more people to come to Washington, get up in the morning with us, go out to these hearings, let them see that the people are determined to end the war in Iraq and not start another one in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: We also see you on C-SPAN, just behind the speakers, whether it’s a hearing or a news conference. How is that working?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we try to position ourselves right behind the speakers, not because we want the publicity, but because we want the public to see that people are protesting. We want the world to see it. I mean, oftentimes we get called from people in Europe and people in the Middle East, and they say, you know, "We saw you there with a sign that says 'No Extraordinary Rendition' or 'Close Guantanamo,' and that warms our hearts to know that Americans care about these issues." So we feel that this kind of public protest is important for our profile as Americans around the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what’s been the reaction of the new leadership in the House and Senate, the Democratic leadership? Are they equally chagrined at your activities, or are they half-winking at it?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, actually, most of us, I think, really appreciate our presence there. We have people that come up and whisper in our ears, "Keep it up" or "Build up the pressure. We need more pressure." We’ve been putting a lot of pressure on Nancy Pelosi, not only in Washington, D.C., but back home in San Francisco, with CodePink women literally camping out outside her door. And we have people coming up and whispering, you know, "The pressure is what’s needed. Keep it up." So I think some of them might act like they are a little bit angry at us sometimes, telling us to put down our signs or feeling like they have to ask us to leave the hearing room, but I do think a lot of them agree that public pressure is what’s going to end this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, I wanted to turn to the issue of impeachment. Yesterday, the Vermont House voted down a resolution to impeach President Bush. The Vermont Senate had passed the resolution a week earlier. This is Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin speaking in the State House yesterday.

VT. STATE SEN. PETER SHUMLIN: I cannot think of a better way to get to the bottom of the investigations of who said what when, who lied to the American people and to the world when, than to put George Bush and Dick Cheney and rest of the gang under oath and simply ask them those questions. That’s what impeachment hearings would accomplish.

Vermont has led the way so many times. We were the first state in the country to abolish slavery when that was long overdue. We were the first state in the country to take seriously protecting our natural resources when that was long overdue. We were the first state in the country to stand up for the civil rights of all Vermonters by passing civil unions and inventing it when that was long overdue. And I say that the work that you’re doing here today will help Vermont to be the first state in the country that leads the way to the most destructive and deceptive administration in American history, and I thank you for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Shumlin, the Vermont Senate president pro tem. Medea, you are one of those who is calling for impeachment. Can you talk about that movement? It’s something the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says is off the table.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, yes, we were very excited when Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney. We were very excited yesterday when a group of people from around the country came together on the steps of the Capitol to also call for impeachment. And in the last two days, we have been going around to members of Congress and asking them to support Dennis Kucinich and his Resolution 333. And it’s interesting to see the response, because there are many progressives who don’t want to talk about impeachment. So, once again, it’s going to be from the grassroots, whether it’s from the state Houses in places like Vermont or it’s going to be us pressuring our individual congresspeople to join Dennis Kucinich, it’s going to have to come from the grassroots.

So, once again, I say join us in Washington. You can go on the website www.codepinkalert.org and sign up to be part of the CodePink house, and that way you can go to Congress with us every day, and if you believe in impeachment, go inside their offices, sit in their offices, corner them in the lobbies, in the hallways, in the bathrooms, and say join Dennis Kucinich in this impeachment effort.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, thanks so much for being with us, founder of CodePink, speaking to us from Washington, D.C., where she is doing her activist lobbying every day. And now, they have a house where people are staying to go to the Hill every day.

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