Priority Boarding: TNR’s New Series Highlighting the Work of Peace and Social Justice Activists: Medea Benjamin

Editor’s Note:  Those working to promote peace and justice have “priority boarding” to the front of the line at The Nation Report.  Events that shaped the work of peace and social justice activists are brought to the forefront of their memories that they share with our readers.   Over the course of talking to activists, we have discovered that profound events have contributed to the direction of their life’s work for some activists, and for others it was exposure to a series of events such as a supportive (or in some cases a violent) upbringing that led people to change the world.

medea benjamin

Medea Benjamin speaks at the World Beyond War Conference in Washington D.C. in August 2016.

(All photos:  The Nation Report.  More photos and audio interview below as well as schedule for Denver/Boulder speaking events in November)

The Nation Report first became aware of the work of Medea Benjamin at the COP 16 Climate Talks in Cancun, Mexico in 2009.  Since then, Benjamin has been spotted across the globe speaking at the School of the Americas Watch Vigil in Columbus, Georgia in 2012 and at the World Beyond War Conference in Washington D.C. in September, dancing in the Lincoln Monument in protest, joining a human rights delegation in Honduras in June 2016, speaking at a Pentagon direct action in September, attending a vigil in honor of the slain environmental indigenous leader Berta Caceres in Montreal in August, speaking at the 70th anniversary Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration events in Los Alamos in 2014, and the many, many times she has covertly penetrated audiences to interrupt speeches thereby ensuring that speakers hear her message.

The media has made several attempts to quantify and define her work, but the volume of work is too extensive to fit under a single definition or to quantify in a single report.  That work has ranged from peacemaking, to economic justice, to climate justice, to labor rights, to work against civil and human rights violations, and of course against war.  The complicated nature of those systems becomes less convoluted after hearing her speak which is a regular part of her schedule.

Benjamin, the co-founder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange and former Nobel Peace Prize nominee is a peace activist, speaker, and author of the recently released Kingdom of the Unjust:  Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.  Her former works include Drone Warfare:  Killing by Remote Control; Cuba:  Talking about Revolution:  Conversations with Juan Antonio Blanco; Stop the Next War Now:  Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism; and Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo:  A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart:  The Story of Elvia Alvarado.

Benjamin grew up in a political family but it was a significant traumatic event during the US War with Vietnam that jolted her life forever.  Her sister’s boyfriend who was a US soldier sent her the cut-off ear of a Vietcong as a trophy, “In my eyes he became a monster.  War takes good boys and turns them into killers and haters.”

Benjamin has worked to stop and prevent wars since.

In 2003 she launched the International Occupation Watch Center to “monitor the military occupation forces and foreign corporations, host international delegations to Iraq, and keep the international community updated about the occupation forces.”  The center brought Iraqi women to the US to speak of their experiences under war, but also brought US military families to see “conditions of their children serving in Iraq”, and expose US human rights abuses including in Abu Ghraib prison.

In 2006, Benjamin organized humanitarian aid to Lebanon while speaking out against the Israeli bombing of Israel.  She again organized humanitarian aid to Gaza during the Israeli invasion of Gaza and has spent time there to speak with those affected by the aftermath.  This in turn led her to spread the experience to others so she contributed to organizing humanitarian delegations to Gaza.  In 2009 she along with others organized about 1300 participants to march in war-torn Gaza that later became known as the Gaza Freedom March, but the march did not materialize after interference from the Egyptian government.  Two years later she was part of the US Flotilla to Gaza.

Benjamin has continually objected to military aid to Israel as well as to Saudi Arabia and Honduras and has protested against US funds to military contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater.  This work led to the uncovering of corruption in the George W. Bush administration that automatically awarded contracts to those with questionable ties to Bush.

She supports peace with Iran and regularly organizes delegation exchanges, from the US to Iran or from Iran to the US.  The next cultural exchange delegation to Iran is scheduled for May of 2017.

One of her most public moments was in 2013 when she interrupted President Barack Obama during his speech regarding the “War on Terror.”  She later told reporters that she didn’t intend to interrupt him and fully expected that he could say something to the effect of waging peace.  But when Obama failed to explain the assassination of 16-year old Abdulrahman Awlaki-who was born in Denver-by drone strike in Yemen, Benjamin interrupted:

“What about him? Can you tell the Muslims that their lives are as precious as our lives?”  “Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA?  Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activity?  Will you compensate the families of innocent victims you have killed?”  I love my country.  I love the rule of law. The drones are making us less safe.”

She was physically forced out of the room after three interruptions, but not before she threatened security that she would scream, “They didn’t know what to do so they sat down on the ground next to me.”

Obama responded with, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”

She has been awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize in 2010, the Marjorie Kellogg National Peacemaker Award in 2012, the Thomas Merton Center Peace Award, and the Peace Foundation Memorial Award, and in 2015 the Gandhi Peace Award.

Medea Benjamin will be speaking at an event Monday, November 28, 6pm sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.  The topic will be the title of her book:  Kingdom of the Unjust:  Behind the US-Saudi Connection.  The talk is free at Eaton Humanities 150 at the University of Colorado, Boulder, 1610 Pleasant Street.  A reception at 4:00-6:00 is offered for $25.  Email for arrangements.  

In Denver she will speak at First Plymouth Congregational Church of Denver at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 30.  A reception with refreshments will precede at 6 pm.  The Church is located at 3501 S. Colorado Blvd, Cherry Hills Village, CO.  Plymouth Hall is on the 1st floor.  Co-Sponsors are the Front Range Jewish Voice for Peace, Friends of Sabeel Colorado, and Community Forum of First Universalist Church.  A donation of $5 is requested but no one will be turned away.

(click on pictures for captions, short audio interview below)

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