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All In A Day's Work
M edea Benjamin began her political life in high school with a fascination for global events that eventually landed her a job with the United Nations. Soon fed up with the bureaucracy, she began imagining an entity that combined policy analysis and action. She then worked with the Institute of Food and Development Policy, but was again frustrated with the lack of direct action in her work. In 1988, with Kirstin Maller and Kevin Danaher, she founded Global Exchange. Benjamin has been a significant presence in the movement for global peace and justice for over a decade.
CRANE: When you are knocking on Starbucks’ door, where is your leverage? Why are they motivated to listen to you?
BENJAMIN: We’ve learned over the years that we can encourage companies to do the right thing. We write letters, get people to write letters, try to have meetings, introduce shareholder resolutions, and are almost always unsuccessful until we start doing more intense pressure campaigns. That usually includes demonstrations in front of retail outlets, bringing workers who are harmed by that corporation’s policies to the United States to tour talking about what’s actually happening. In the case of Starbucks, it would be coffee farmers from Central America. In the case of Nike, we brought factory workers from Indonesia. It’s when we get the exposés out in the media or when we get to the level of protest that includes a physical presence in front of their stores, that we tend to start getting the leverage we need. Now we have developed enough of a reputation that when we write the letters to the companies, they want to sit down with us immediately to talk, but we usually don’t get too far until we start real action campaigns.
Let’s take the case of Nike, for instance. Whom did you bring from Indonesia?
The first time we brought a young woman in her early twenties who’d been working in a factory for seven years. We took her to the Nike flagship store in Portland, Oregon, which is right next to their headquarters. We went to Washington, DC. We went from campus to campus. But probably the most impact was when we went to Nike’s home base in Beaverton, Oregon.
This woman had been working for Nike for 7 years, basically 7 days a week—12, 14, even 16 hours a day. She’d never tried on a pair of Nike sneakers in her life. She could never have owned them. It would have cost her about three or four months salary. From there we went to Nike headquarters, what they call a campus, and they had the police lined up to try to keep us out.
There was me and this factory worker. I’m about five feet tall and this woman was about five feet tall. We had one interpreter with us, another woman who was about five feet tall. Nike saw us as the most ominous threesome that you can imagine. They had the police from Beaverton, they had the police from Portland, and they had called in an extra contingent of security guards from other Nike stores. It was hilarious to see three tiny women surrounded by legions of security guards. Of course, the reason they were afraid is that we were also being followed by cameras—“20/20,” CBS, ABC.
Why doesn’t the mainstream media collude with the corporations? How come they are covering this in the first place?
They usually don’t cover it. We, as well as many other groups around the U.S., do this kind of work every day and what you hear about is the rarity. We’re always having to devise new and interesting tactics that the media might be more willing to cover. The media gets tired after a couple months of a campaign and you call them up and say, “Okay, now we’re bringing a worker from Vietnam,” and they say, “We already covered the worker from Indonesia and she’s going to say the same thing, so what’s new?” It’s very frustrating. In order to get things on the media we have to be inventive.
Why does the United States let you set up an Occupation Watch storefront in Baghdad where you will keep an eye on them. It seems very unlikely that you would get away with that.
The U.S. says that it is promoting democracy in Iraq. Yet there are many examples of hypocrisy in U.S. policy. Iraqi friends who have been in exile opposing Saddam Hussein for decades are now opposing the U.S. occupation and can’t get back into their own country. We feel it’s important to call the U.S. government on its hypocrisy and to insist on opening a center where people can come to complain about the abuses of the U.S. military or with complaints about labor rights, if they’re working for a Haliburton subsidiary. If the U.S. doesn’t allow this center to function, then I think we come back to the United States and have a campaign, saying, “What kind of democracy is it, that the United States shuts down an effort to support democratic rights and workers’ rights and women’s rights?” I’ve been astounded by how much you can actually get away with when you challenge the powers that be.
Where does Code Pink fit with all you’ve just told me?
When the Bush administration was planning the war against Iraq, we came together as a group of women and said, “This has just gone too far.” We decided that we had to do something visible. There was going to be a hearing of the Armed Services Committee and Donald Rumsfeld was going to be testifying before Congress on the reasons to go to war. That was in September. We decided that we couldn’t pass that up. But we knew that the senators who would be questioning the secretary of defense would not be asking the real questions. Isn’t this about oil? Why are you timing it at election time? Isn’t this going to make our families less safe? All of those questions. Diane Wilson and I decided to go to that hearing and start questioning Donald Rumsfeld. We managed to get in right behind a row of generals.
How did you manage that?
It was a public hearing. Most people didn’t know it was public. We got there about four hours beforehand and we were the first ones in line. Usually, they only take a very small group and then tell you it’s full and stick you in an overflow room where you can’t have any impact. But we were there so early, we were dressed really nicely, we had our banners tucked in our Washington Post newspapers, we looked like we were either reporters or maybe somebody working in a think tank in Washington. So we got inside and as soon as Donald Rumsfeld started droning on and on about why we had to go to war, we jumped up. Each of us had a banner we held up that said, “UN inspections, not U.S. war,” and then we started asking the questions that weren’t being asked.
So you interrupted the proceedings?
We interrupted the proceedings. We started yelling out, “Mr. Rumsfeld, we have some questions for you,” and started asking the questions. It was the first time in this part of the build up around Iraq that there was that visible an opposition in such a forum.
Was this televised live?
Yes. Because they were not expecting this, it took a long time for security to come and pull us out of there. It went out all over the place. It was on CNN, CSPAN, NPR. It was on the front page of the Washington Post , the New York Times , the San Francisco Chronicle , the major papers around the country carried this on the front page. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been doing protests all my life. This one went everywhere. People were sending me front-page photos from the South China News , San Pablo Journal , from all over the world. I’ve heard since then that it gave such inspiration to people all over to see two women interrupting these generals when they are talking about the reasons to go to war.
Were you calling yourselves Code Pink yet?
That was getting our feet wet. Then we decided to do a Code Pink vigil where we would have a presence every day in front of the White House. We planned to do it 24 hours a day until March 8, International Women’s Day, if we hadn’t been successful before that. The really difficult thing was that we didn’t know how cold it was in Washington. Also, when we started we were going to do a fast as well. So the first week was miserable. We were hungry and cold. It was pouring rain. We weren’t allowed to have a tent or a tarp. The police said no sleeping bags either. Then they said we weren’t allowed to be in the park at night. Yet we never broke the vigil. Women came from all over the country to join us. There were always women out there.
How many women?
Different groups would take a day. So Women for International Peace and Freedom would take a day and maybe bring ten women with them. We would get some of the unions to take a day. It wasn’t just women. Men would come too. So some days there would be 5 people, some days 10, 15, 20 people. We weren’t allowed to have more than 25 people in the park. So we carried on the vigil, but we didn’t just stand in front of the White House, we also had actions in Washington all the time. We’d go out to the homes of some of the Democratic representatives who were refusing to stand up against Bush and do “wake up calls” in the morning with pots and pans. We went to Daschel’s house, for example, and said, “Wake up, the American people don’t want this war.”
We went to Donald Rumsfeld’s house several times, once we found out where he lived. It was Christmas season. We’d sing Christmas carols. We would ask him to send toys to the Iraqi kids instead of bombs. We walked with a procession of about 150 people to his house singing special Christmas carols that we made up about Iraq and then we set up a table with fruitcake and cider and toys for the Iraqi children and asked Donald Rumsfeld and his wife Joyce to come out and join us, which they didn’t do.
The Secret Service went wild when we started announcing that we were going to do something at his house. They called us up and said, “You Code Pink ladies, we have been easy on you.” Easy on us. They kept arresting us even when we were in front of the White House. They arrested one of our main Code Pink women and she was banned from Washington, DC for an entire year. They said, “We’ve been easy on you. But now you’ve gone too far. Doing this in front of Donald Rumsfeld’s home, advertising to the world where he lives, now any terrorist can go and blow up his house.” We started laughing. C’Mon. If we can find out where Donald Rumsfeld lives, I think anybody who wanted to blow him up could find out where he lives. They gave us a really hard time. They said, “Now the FBI is investigating you. They’re going to be on your tail everywhere you go and whatever you do.”
But we went anyway. We went back to his house the day after the war started dressed up as victims of war. There were young high school girls and boys, college age students, and a bunch of older women. We put fake blood and mud all over ourselves, we tore our clothing, we were carrying babies, dolls with their heads torn off. Some of the boys were dressed up in military camouflage uniforms with their heads and arms bandaged and we started walking down the street. One sign said “Dirty War” with blood all over it and the other sign said “Dirty Hands” and we had pictures of Rumsfeld, Bush, and Cheney. Those of us with the “Dirty War” sign started walking down the street, moaning, wailing, and screaming. It just came from a place within us; we had no idea it was going to come out. Screaming at the top of our lungs. We were walking down this main street in Washington, DC—Connecticut Avenue—crying hysterically. It was real crying at that point.
We did several of those kinds of demonstrations in the first week of the war. I had been in Washington, DC for five months. I’d left my two children, I’d left my husband. When the war started I went home on the airplane dressed like that. I wore a sign saying “civilian casualty.” I had people in the airport—men—wanting to punch me. They said, “How could you be doing that at a time when our boys are over there?” Acting like somehow showing my empathy for the civilians was an unpatriotic thing to do. I remember standing in the airport in Washington, DC dressed in these bloody clothes standing next to CNN showing the bombing. People were all smiling, watching the bombing, but as soon as I came up there standing next to the television looking like a victim of that bombing, suddenly they found that very offensive.
So anyway, we really did a lot to try to stop the war. We felt tremendous despair once the war started. Then we had to bounce back again, as everyone in our movement has had to bounce back again to continue to try to build momentum.
What keeps you going?
I have a very close relationship with a woman who’s a farmer in Honduras. I wrote a book on her life many years ago called Don ’ t Be Afraid, Gringo . She is a poor farmer who has been fighting everything, from trying to get land for landless peasants to trying to get her government to stop supporting death squads to the most recent crisis that has hit them as coffee farmers. The Maquiladoras have become one of the only options now that people can’t make money from the land. She and I have maintained a wonderful friendship over the years. I always remember her saying to me that it was the luxury of the privileged to be discouraged, to burn out, to decide not to be part of a social justice movement. That for somebody like her, it was her life. She had no options. So whenever I’m feeling discouraged, feeling like I would love to live in another country, that I can’t put up with this government any longer, I give her a call, or I write to her, and feel again that sense of, “What other option is there?”
It comes down to the fact that this is where change has to take place. If it doesn’t take place in the United States, it will be difficult for it to take place anywhere else. If the most committed of us leave the struggle, what do we have left?
Carolyn Crane is a radio and print journalist living in California. Her radio features have aired across the U.S. and Canada, and can be found at www.leftcoastradio. org.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.