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2012-08-31

"Democracy Is Not a Business": Bringing Progressive Voice to RNC, CODEPINK Disrupts Romney Speech

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Guests

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, one of the groups protesting the Republican National Convention. Her new book is Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Rae Abileah, co-director of CODEPINK, one of the groups protesting the Republican National Convention.

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As Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday night, four activists from the group CODEPINK interrupted him throughout, calling for money out of politics and a return to democracy. CODEPINK has been protesting every day at this week’s convention, including Wednesday night’s speech by vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. They have also held actions against gun violence at home, military intervention abroad, and what they call the Republicans’ "war on women." We’re joined now by two of the activists who disrupted Romney’s speech last night: Rae Abileah, co-director of CODEPINK, and Medea Benjamin, the group’s co-founder. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, "Breaking With Convention." I’m Amy Goodman. Yes, we are here in Tampa, Florida. This is "Breaking With Convention." We’re broadcasting from the PBS station WEDU, here in Tampa, Florida, "War, Peace and the Presidency," Democracy Now!'s special daily two hours of coverage from both conventions, this week and next, inside and out. If your station isn't running both hours, you can go to our website at democracynow.org to catch the full broadcast.

Well, on Thursday night, Mitt Romney formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination, pledging to restore the promise of America by pursuing energy independence, cutting the national deficit and negotiating new trade agreements. He also suggested he would defend traditional definitions of marriage, protect freedom of religion, create more jobs.

MITT ROMNEY: Paul Ryan and I have five steps.

First, by 2020, North America will be energy-independent by taking full advantage of our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear and our renewables.

Second, we’ll give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.

Third, we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.

And fourth, to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish, as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.

CROWD: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

MITT ROMNEY: And fifth, we will champion small businesses, America’s engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by repealing and replacing "Obamacare."

AMY GOODMAN: Romney’s speech drew much applause from his adoring fans, but not every audience member was clapping. Four activists from the group CODEPINK interrupted him throughout his address, calling for money out of politics and a return to democracy. They spoke out during Romney’s speech but were quickly drowned out by audience members chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" Democracy Now! captured on camera one of the activists, Karen Boyer, protesting, then being removed from the convention by police. Afterwards, we asked her to explain what happened.

KAREN BOYER: My name is Karen Boyer.

HANY MASSOUD: Tell us why you’re here today.

KAREN BOYER: I’m here to get the message of: this country is for people, not profits; by people, not corporations; of people, not billionaires. I said, "People over profits. Democracy is not a business." People booed, and people said, "U.S.A. U.S.A." People shouted me down.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Karen Boyer, a CODEPINK activist and retired teacher from Portland, Oregon, who protested Mitt Romney’s keynote speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday. Another member of the group held up a banner that read, "Democracy is not a business," and also chanted, "People over profits." He was reportedly violently attacked by an audience member, put into a chokehold. CODEPINK has been protesting every day of this week’s convention, including last night’s speech by vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan—who spoke on Wednesday night. They’ve also held actions against gun violence at home, military intervention abroad, and what they call the Republican "war on women."

For more, we’re joined by two of the people who have been involved in the protests and were there last night at Mitt Romney’s address holding up those signs. Rae Abileah is the co-director of CODEPINK, and Medea Benjamin, the group’s co-founder. Medea is also the author of, most recently, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Medea, describe your action.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, last night—we’ve actually been going into the convention every single night, Amy. It’s amazing, with the $50 million they spend on security, that they’re not able to keep CODEPINK out of the insides of the convention, where we have disrupted the speeches of Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and, last night, Mitt Romney, with four of us. Last night’s message was about "Democracy is not a business. People over profits," because we think it’s disgusting the way these elections are being bought by the big interests. And we’ve seen that all week long, whether it’s the receptions hosted by the oil companies or by the insurance companies or any number of lobbyists like the NRA. We’ve been at those activities, both inside and outside, and we thought it was important to be there on the last night saying that the majority of people in this country want a real democracy, where it’s one person, one vote, not run by millionaires.

AMY GOODMAN: Rae, so describe exactly what you did.

RAE ABILEAH: Well, there were four of us inside last night. Medea, Tighe Barry and I were sitting next to each other, and during Mitt Romney’s speech, we stood up and unfurled these two banners that said "People over profits," "Government is not a business," and proceeded to state loudly those words. And as we stood up and started shouting, this member of the audience below Tighe Barry grabbed him, put him in a chokehold, as you said, and pretty much attacked him. And then someone actually put gum on my suit, spat at me.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. You’re still wearing that jacket.

RAE ABILEAH: I’ve still got the gum on my jacket from last night. But we were escorted out and then detained and waited for Secret Service, and finally released when they decided they weren’t going to arrest us.

AMY GOODMAN: I was with the New Hampshire delegation at that moment, watching Mitt Romney’s speech, when we heard a commotion. I mean, generally, this has happened each night. If—when you engage in something like this, the moment we—what alerts us is not hearing you shouting, because these are cavernous arenas, but hearing this loud chant of "U.S.A.!" And that alerts all the press to look in that direction. So it’s more the delegates who are giving us notice that there’s something happening. We know "U.S.A.!" means dissent.

RAE ABILEAH: That’s right. Well, this country was founded on dissent. And it’s time to take back the values of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: During his acceptance speech, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made an appeal to women voters.

MITT ROMNEY: When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still see her saying, in her beautiful voice, "Why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?" Don’t you wish she could have been here at this convention and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? As governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman lieutenant governor, a woman chief of staff. Half of my cabinet and senior officials were women. And in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders, who went on to run great companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rae Abileah, your response, talking about honoring women?

RAE ABILEAH: Well, I think there couldn’t be anything further from honoring women than the stance of Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential candidate choice Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan is a man who wants to shut down Planned Parenthood, cut funding for women’s reproductive care. This is a man who voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I feel like the GOP is really waging an attack and a war on women right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, this week, when I spoke to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and also Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, I raised this issue of reproductive rights. Both of them are pro-life, but their point wasn’t that. They said—each of them said—Orrin Hatch said he has spoken to his wife. Scott Walker said, "Ask any woman here, this is not an important issue now. It’s the economy that’s an important issue." Medea?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think that’s true for the vast majority of people in this country, and yet here there were activities put on by Ralph Reed and his Faith and Freedom Coalition, by the anti-choice women’s group, and the—there was a vociferous group of people who were against choice, and they’re trying to be the mainstream of the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Rae Abileah and Medea Benjamin. They were on the floor of the convention last night, the last night, and as Mitt Romney addressed the convention and the nation, they held up signs that said "Democracy is not a business" and "People over profits." This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, "Breaking With Convention." Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We are "Breaking With Convention," special daily two-hour broadcast each day from the Republican convention here in Florida as well as in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our guests right now are Medea Benjamin and Rae Abileah, who stood up on the convention floor last night with these pink signs that said "Democracy is not a business" and "People over profits."

You know, on Monday there was a protest. About 500 people attended that protest. And for a lot of Republican tweets sort of mocking what happened—this was at the time of the storm. Hurricane Isaac had turned to Storm Isaac, Tropical Storm Isaac. But the fact is, hundreds of people did show up for this protest, and the Republicans, who were holding the convention, canceled their convention that day. But what about this? The protests do seem to be much smaller. I mean, the president is a Democrat now. Maybe that accounts for it. I mean, it’s not as if Mitt Romney has implemented his policies for people to protest. And will there be the same kind of protest at the Democratic convention? What are your plans, Medea?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: We are certainly on our way to Charlotte and anxious to participate in the protests there, because we think that both parties are responsible for the continuous wars, for the money in politics, for the country being run by corporations. But I think there’s a general disgust with the political system that makes a lot of people feel that it’s not even worth protesting. I have a feeling there will be more people at the Democratic convention, because it’s easier to get to, because it is the party that’s in power. But let’s recognize that the intimidation factor works. When you have thousands and thousands of police on the street and National Guard and Army and helicopters overhead and concrete barriers, so it looks like you’re in Baghdad, that is very intimidating. Local people who would normally come out and bring their families are afraid to do that. And I don’t know what—I imagine the atmosphere will be very similar when we get to Charlotte.

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