On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed a joint session of Congress. He was interrupted when CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin yelled out: “Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now.” Benjamin was arrested and charged with disrupting Congress. She joins us from Washington, where she is on her 24th day of a fast against the war. [includes rush transcript]
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addressed a joint session of Congress. In his 30-minute speech al-Maliki stated that his country’s future depended on continued US commitment and that Iraq was a front line in the war on terrorism. At one point during the speech a protester began to scream 'Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now.'
The protester, CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin, was arrested and charged with disrupting Congress. Medea is on her 24th day of a long-term fast for peace called–the Troops Home Fast. Also fasting is environmental activist and co-founder of CodePink Diane Wilson. Diane has said that she will continue fasting until the U.S commits to a plan to bring the troops home.
Medea Benjamin and Diane Wilson both join us from our Washington D.C. studio.
- Medea Benjamin. Longtime peace activist and founder of the anti-war group CODEPINK
- Diane Wilson. Texan environmental activist and co-founder of the anti-war group CODEPINK. She has been on a hunger strike outside the White House since July 4. She is the author of the book “An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: At one point during the speech, a protester began to scream, “Iraqis want the troops to leave. Bring them home now!”
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Iraqis want the troops to leave. Bring them home now! Iraqis want the troops to leave. Bring them home now!
REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Our honored guest, we’ll suspend for the moment. The chair notes a disturbance in the gallery. The sergeant in arms will secure order by removing those engaging in disruption.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Listen to the Iraqi people. Bring the troops home now!
AMY GOODMAN: The protester, CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin, was arrested and charged with disrupting Congress. Medea is on her 24th day of a long-term fast for peace called the Troops Home Fast. Also fasting, environmental activist and co-founder of CODEPINK, Diane Wilson. She has said she’ll continue her fast until the U.S. commits to a plan to bring the troops home. They both join us in our Washington studio. But let’s begin with you, Medea . Describe the scene yesterday. First of all, how did you get in, once again, to Congress?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I had an invitation from a congressperson, a legitimate invitation. They actually tried to stop me when I came in. They told me I couldn’t be seated in the seat that I had. I just walked right in and threatened to sit in the lap of a person who took my seat. And then they sat two Secret Service police next to me and surrounded me with the Capitol police, and they were watching every single move I made.
But, luckily, our voices are our voices, and I felt really compelled, especially since the Prime Minister had actually promised to meet with us. We talked to the ambassador twice, after Maliki arrived into town. And we did get a promise from the ambassador that he would have a meeting with the fasters. And they had us sitting outside the embassy for six hours the first day, six hours the second day, and reneged on their promise for a meeting. So, we really felt that we didn’t have a chance to meet with him privately, that we had to express ourselves in a public fashion.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Medea, the fast that you’ve been on now for about three weeks, what kind of response has it gotten outside the White House?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the response around the country has been incredible. There are probably now over 5,000 people that have joined in the fast, some of them doing a fast once a week, some of them doing a rolling fast in their communities. We keep getting new people writing to us and telling us that they’re joining in on the fast. And for most people, this is the first time they’ve done this, ever. You’ll soon be speaking to veteran faster, Diane Wilson. But most of us, it’s a brand new experience. And I’ll tell you, I never thought I could go as many days without eating as I have. I guess I have Diane to thank or to blame for this.
But, it is something that deepens one’s personal resolve to these issues, as well as gives us more commitment to going out there like we have been every day. Today, there will be people in John Bolton’s hearing. We’re waiting for Tony Blair to come tomorrow. And especially for those of us in Washington, we’ve not only been paying attention to news, we’ve been making it.
AMY GOODMAN: Diane Wilson, who’s sitting next to you in the Reuters studio, who wrote her own biography, An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas, you’ve come into the studio in a wheelchair. You’re on a water-only fast?
DIANE WILSON: That’s right. Water only.
AMY GOODMAN: Why? I mean, you are very weak now.
DIANE WILSON: Because I’m a firm believer in commitment. I don’t like having safety nets. And also when I did all my hunger strikes back in Texas, you don’t get much support down there, so I did get support from reading Ghandi. And I know that was one of his ways. It was water only. And also I think it has a purity about it. And it also — the way a hunger strike affects people is — you know, this country has got weird ideas about food and not eating. And I do know when you really start getting out there — day 30, day 40 — on a water fast, it can get real critical, because I know you can do a juice fast. I believe Dick Gregory, the legendary faster who did it for the Vietnam, he did over 275 days.
AMY GOODMAN: And how long do you plan to do this, and what exactly are you demanding, as you take your place outside the White House?
DIANE WILSON: Well, to tell you the truth, we have been looking for a plan to bring the troops home, a very serious plan to start troop withdrawal. And only in the last couple days, we seemingly have had a breakthrough, and we’ve been invited by the Iraqi parliament to go to Jordan and discuss their peace plan. They want to tell us about their peace plan. And we’re planning on probably doing this by next Wednesday. And we’re seeing this as a major breakthrough. And they have — one of the stipulation is, is they wanted to us break the fast, and so we’re seriously considering it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Medea, you’ve been to Iraq and the Middle East a number of times. Are you planning to go on this particular trip, as well? And how was it that the Iraqi parliament even contacted you?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we’ve been doing outreach to Iraqis for years now. When it was safer to travel there, we’d go directly. We would be meeting people in the region. We helped bring people like a women’s delegation to the United States. And we’ve taken out ads in Iraqi newspapers. Just this week, together with United for Peace and Justice, we put out an open letter to the Prime Minister.
And through all of these efforts, we were contacted by several leading parliamentarians in Iraq who understand the commitment that we have taken, actually even heard that the Prime Minister had offered to meet with us on the condition that we break bread with him. And then that was violated. They felt terrible about that and said that “we would like to meet with you,” that there is a serious reconciliation plan, a 28-point plan that has gotten no coverage here in the United States, except probably for Democracy Now!, and that they want to talk to us about it, and they want to work with us to find ways to come back to the United States and promote that plan.
So we’ll be leaving on Wednesday. We’d love it if you, Amy or Juan, would come with us, or someone from Democracy Now! We’re going to be inviting some congresspeople to join us. And we hope this will be a major effort to make this peace plan more viable.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, both Medea Benjamin, longtime peace activist, co-founder of Global Exchange and, as well, CODEPINK; and Diane Wilson, who has written her own story, An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas. They’re in the 24th day of a hunger fast for peace. Their website, troopshomefast.org.