We knew we were entering Washington DC lore when the front page of the Washington Post announced after the Alberto Gonzales hearing: “The Senate Judiciary Committee goes CODEPINK on Gonzales”! Going CODEPINK now means exposing the wrongdoings of the powerful, giving them a public dressing down, holding them accountable.
This is precisely what CODEPINK has been doing in DC. We not only bring a flash of hot pink to the sea of drab gray and black Congressional suits but we are busting through the inside-the-beltway politics with a refreshing dash of people power.
The surge in the CODEPINK DC presence came in March, after the 4 year anniversary of the war in Iraq, when we decided to rent a 5-bedroom house near Capitol Hill to be our base for daily actions in Congress. Every week, women—and men—have been streaming in from around the country to join us in action. The CODEPINK House has become a hub for brainstorming, networking, prop-making and song-writing. After late night strategy meetings, we wake up early to get our costumes and banners ready, then head off to Congress to attend a hearing, sit-in at an office, hang a banner in the atrium, sing anti-war songs in the cafeteria or crash a press conference. At the end of exhausting days, we head home to blog, download photos, edit videos for YouTube, and write alerts to our 180,000 mailing list.
Our priority is trying to stop the war in Iraq, but we also focus on preventing war with Iran, defending civil liberties, opposing torture and supporting social programs that should be paid for with the billions we spend on war.
With the Democrats in power, there are hearings on these issues every week. CODEPINK has transformed these hearings from solemn gatherings attended by subdued staff aides, K Street lobbyists and a few curious tourists into truly pubic, participatory events.
There's limited public seating, so we arrive early and sometimes stand in line for hours. Inside Congress we've won the right—after many struggles with the Capitol Police—to wear shirts with hand-written messages. We can't hold up banners but can sometimes get away with small signs. We try to position ourselves right behind the TV cameras. You might have spotted us holding up “LIAR” signs behind Condoleezza Rice, giving rabbit ears to General Pace or showing off an Impeach Bush T-shirt during Valerie Plame's testimony. In terms of verbal participation, we can speak out before and after the hearings officially begin, but not during. If we do, sometimes we'll just be chastised, sometimes we'll be thrown out but not arrested, and sometimes we get arrested.
We had a raucous presence at the Antonio Gonzales hearing, which Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank described the next day: “The audience included demonstrators from the liberal group Code Pink, about 15 people in orange prison jumpsuits with the name "Gonzales" on them, pink tiaras proclaiming "Justice," a black hood and a large Gonzales mask. When Gonzales took his place early after a lunch break, the demonstrators taunted him until he and his party retreated backstage. When the hearing ended, the activists treated the nation's top law enforcement official to a version of "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)."
At a Judiciary hearing on Extraordinary Renditions earlier in the week, we appeared with handcuffs, chains and orange shirts each bearing a letter. During the remarks by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an apologist for torture, we stood up and turned our backs to him, spelling out NO TORTURE. Others held up signs up with messages like “Got Habeas Corpus?” and “No Secret Prisons.” Rohrabacher got so upset that at one point he berated us for being more obsessed with due process than protecting ourselves, adding, “I hope it's your families that suffer the consequences.” Disgusted, CODEPINKer and former Colonel Ann Wright jumped up to chastise him, and she was thrown out by the Capitol Police.
While some members of Congress have us arrested, others intervene on our behalf. Once, when I was being held by the police for holding up a sign at a hearing on FBI wiretapping, we saw Congressman Murtha walking down the hall and pleaded for his help. Furious that our rights were being violated, he called the Sergeant at Arms and demanded my release. “These ladies come to my hearings all the time and I don't restrict them,” he barked at the Sergeant. “We don't live in a police state.” That time, I was let go.
During the lead up to the recent war supplemental vote, we organized sit-ins at offices ranging from John McCain to Hillary Clinton. At Hillary Clinton's office, we wove a pink web of ribbon and yarn through her office furniture, representing the web of lies underlying the war in Iraq, and asked that the Senator cut the web and cut the war funding. Instead, Clinton's staff cut us out of the office and had 5 CODEPINK women arrested. But we continue to bird-dog her at fundraisers, campaign appearances and press conference, pushing her to take an anti-war stand (see our website www.listenhillary.org).
For the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, we delivered dog bones wrapped in pink ribbons and sang them a song (to the tune of “Give a Dog a Bone”) about how they could reduce the federal deficit by defunding the war. Disarmed and charmed, staffers laughed, clapped and joined us in impromptu discussions about the war.
When John McCain joked about bombing Iran by singing “Bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boy's “Barbara Ann”, we were in his office the next day with a song of our own that included:
Oh John McCain, He is insane
He'll wipe out a generation
If he gets to bomb the nation of Iran
Don't bomb bomb bomb Iran.
Watch it here
Whether in their offices, at hearings, in the hallways, waiting for an elevator or even in the Ladies Room, we seize the moment to talk to with our representatives. We're amazed at how many of them actually take the time to stop and engage us in serious dialogue.
Perhaps our biggest focus recently has been on Speaker Pelosi. Some of us are from her San Francisco district, and know that her constituents want to end the Iraqi war now, not two years from now. Right after she became speaker, we began holding teach-ins in her office, participated in die-ins outside her office building, and in the two weeks preceding the vote on the supplemental defense bill, CODEPINK held a round-the-clock vigil outside her San Francisco home, sleeping on air mattresses on the sidewalk. We have put so much pressure on the Speaker that she told the entire Democratic Caucus that she couldn't walk outside her home without tripping over CODEPINK camping out on her doorstep.
All this pressure, however, will only have an impact if we turn it up! We're planning a week of creative actions around Mother's Day with Hollywood women joining us in Congress, a family peace picnic, a kids' march, and more. This summer we'll hold weekly activist trainings at the CODEPINK House, further empowering women with the skills, tools, and inspiration to recharge their local peace groups.
So join us in DC as we breathe new life into our democratic process, as we “Go CODEPINK” on those who lied us into this war and those who stand in the way of peace!
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and the human rights group Global Exchange.