By Tony Palmeri
from the May, 2006 edition of The Valley Scene
Discuss this piece in the Talk To Tony Blog
Media Benjamin, one of the MVP’s of the global peace movement, visited UW Oshkosh in April to deliver a keynote speech during Earth Week. She is the founding director of Global Exchange and co founded CODEPINK: Women for Peace with Jodie Evans. During Q & A, I asked her how she became an activist.
“Like many Americans, I became active during the Vietnam War,” she said. She then stunned the audience: “My sister was dating a soldier serving in Vietnam. He mailed her the ear of a Vietcong, which horrified me and made me want to do something to end the war.”
Medea went on to earn master’s degrees in public health and economics, worked as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa, became a leader in the anti-sweatshop movement, ran for US Senate in California as a Green, authored or coauthored eight books, traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan several times, and in Iraq organized the Occupation Watch Center. She is truly the “drum major for peace” that Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind when he coined that phrase.
During Medea’s visit I picked up her latest book (co-edited with Jodie Evans), Stop the New War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2005). The book is a collection of essays from an impressive array of journalists, activists, soldiers, scholars, and elected officials including peace mom Cindy Sheehan, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Maathai. Peace and justice movements suffer from a lack of a recognized literature to serve as a recruitment tool and, more important, as a corrective to the mainstream media’s framing of the world. Stop the War Now is an important addition to that literature.
Media Benjamin took time out of her hectic activist schedule to answer some email question for me. Our interview raises themes covered in depth in the book:
Media Rants: The book is dedicated to "all the peacemakers of the world." You've met and worked in solidarity with peacemakers from all over the globe. What characteristics do they all have in common?
Medea: They care passionately about the world and have a deep sense of purpose: that they are here on this earth not just to care for themselves and their immediate families, but for the larger human family. They don’t think in terms of “us” vs. “them”, but in terms of “we”, and they seek not revenge, but justice.
Media Rants: What is the vision that guides CODEPINK?
Medea: We are guided by the idea that we must be actively involved in making our society one that reflects our vision of how we want to live together to the rest of the planet. The Bush administration’s policies are guided by a desire for domination, and the notion that we can make ourselves safe from terrorist attacks by “shock and awe” campaigns. We in CODEPINK believe that we will be much safer if we stop consuming beyond our means (particularly oil), if we adhere to international law and non-violent ways of resolving conflicts, and if we treat the rest of the world with respect, dignity and love.
Media Rants: Chapter 6 of Stop the Next War is called "Unspin the Media." How much of a barrier is the corporate media in the movement for peace and justice? What role is alternative, independent media playing in that movement?
Medea: It was shocking (and awful) to see how the media whipped up the American people to go to war in Iraq, and how it ridiculed and belittled those of us in the peace movement. The alternative, independent media was the only way for us to learn the truth about what was happening in Iraq and how the government lied to us about the reasons for going to war. It was also key in spreading the word about the protests and helping to build the anti-war movement. Now that we are into the third year of the war, the corporate media has started to do a better job reflecting the quagmire in Iraq, but it still marginalizes the peace movement.
Media Rants: What message do you have for residents of northeast Wisconsin who may share your desire for peace, but get discouraged by how big the obstacles often seem?
Medea: We in the rest of the country were actually very inspired by the anti-war resolutions that passed in 24 towns in Wisconsin, and we’d like to start a similar campaign in other states. We have to have a groundswell of active opposition against the war—both at the local, state, national and global levels. While it might seem like the obstacles are overwhelming, we have to remember that we now reflect the voice of the majority of the American people, who are now against this war. We also reflect the overwhelming majority of people globally, who have always been opposed to the US invasion of Iraq. With George Bush’s rating taking a nosedive, this is precisely the time to be both optimistic and active!!!
CODEPINK is organizing a 24-hour vigil outside the White House on Mother’s Day weekend (May 13-14). Activities include writing letters to Laura Bush “to appeal to her own mother-heart and read them aloud.” Visit CODEPINK’s website at http://www.codepink4peace.org/ for more information.
Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is
an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh