Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Back in D.C.

by Barbara Hilton

Hi all.

It's Tuesday morning 7:30, very hot here in D.C. I wanted to connect with everyone and let you know what I've been doing since I arrived on Sunday.

There are about twenty people here at the Codepink house. Well-known activists Medea, Ann Wright, and Reverend Billy are here, as well as numerous lesser-known-nationally but equally-active women from Virginia, D.C., Missouri, New York State, NYC, Pennsylvania, Maine,Texas, California, Washington State, Arizona, Maryland, and NH. People come daily and others leave. All are committed to changing the status quo in this country and the world. I learn so much from them, just from a ten-minute conversation walking through the halls of Congress or waiting in the halls of the Codepink house to use one of the three bathrooms.

Sunday, shortly after I arrived and settled in, we had a workshop given by the Pachamama Alliance. http://www.pachamama.org/ This alliance is an organization protecting the Earth's rainforests and the indigenous people who live there, and blending the knowledge and wisdom of indigenous cultures with people in the "modern" world. Those of you who saw John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, speak at UNH might remember him talking about a group of indigenous people in Ecuador that he was now working with. This is that alliance.

The Symposium explored the link between three of humanity's most critical concerns: environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment. The material was good and interesting, although most of it was familiar. The presentation was stilted and would have been perfect for viewing by a middle school class. Those of you who teach would find much useful informa
tion on their web site.

Sunday evening we shared a supper of eggplant parmesan, cooked by the House Mama, Desiree, pasta
and salad. It was delicious. I did not do much after dinner, I went to sleep. I was lucky to share an air-conditioned room and have a young woman willing to trade the upper bunk for the lower one. Much went on in the house, however. People talking, networking, sharing information and stories, new arrivals--more than I am aware of.

Monday morning we had a meeting around the picnic table in the back yard. We all introduced ourselves and talked briefly about our experiences coming to activism and lobbying. This was led and facilitated by Gael Murphy, one of the co-founders of Codepink, who is the Codepink representative to the UFPJ legislative coalition. Then, Liz, one of the resident D.
C. activists, gave a presentation about lobbying on the hill.

I had managed to
get an appointment with Martin Bayr, Senator Sununu's Legislative Aide, for 1:30 Monday and I was focused on learning what I could do to better prepare myself. Libby, the Codepink D.C. Coordinator, talked earlier in the morning about learning all one can about the different showcase positions of the Senator or Congress person you want to visit, and trying to tie your particular issue into theirs. I spent the next couple of hours reading up on Sununu's positions, only to realize that my brain was incapable of storing any of this information and that it would be more useful and compassionate to myself to disregard this and focus instead on my storehouse of knowledge from past reading, listening, and learning and my passion to the cause of changing things from a war culture to one of peace.

I left the house with the intention of joining other activists at a noon action against Gonzales in front of the Justice Department. I walked in the heat, with pink umbrella unfurled, for only a few blocks when Rae, the D.C. Local Chapter Coordinator, stopped in a car and asked me if I wanted a lift. F
oolishly I declined. Ten blocks later I was melting and stopped to rest in one of the parks near the Russell Senate Office Building, the site of my meeting with Senator Sununu's aide. I decided it would be wise to resist the temptation to continue on to the Justice Department--a much farther walk--try to cool down and calm down and arrive early at my appointment.

I arrived a full half hour early. The office staff offered to let Martin know I had arrived early, but he was not able to see me until our appointed time. I did not expect that he would change his schedule for me and was grateful to sit in the air-conditioned office. I was a bit disconcerted by the constant barrage from the TV tuned to Fox news, but I tried to tune it out.

At exactly 1:30, Martin Bayr showed up and escorted me into a large conference room where the two of us s
at at the table across from each other and talked non-stop for over a half an hour, looking each other in the eye most of the time. My appointment was scheduled for fifteen minutes and I was appreciative of his flexibility and willingness to continue our discussion. We came from different positions, there is no question about that. But we listened to one another even though we disagreed.

I asked Martin how the peace movement could help him and the Senator move to a position of bringing the troops home by the end of 2007. Whenever
we strayed from this topic, and we did frequently, I tried to refocus and bring the discussion back to this crucial issue. He responded by saying that we should continue doing what we were doing, talking with him. I asked if he could schedule an appointment for me with the Senator for some time over the next week while I was in D.C. and he said he would try, but that it was doubtful because the Senator was so busy. He said that if that didn't work, he would schedule one for me in New Hampshire when we were both back home.

At one point, Martin said that he was always reading new information about the situation in Iraq and I asked h
im if he would be willing to read information that I forwarded to him from alternative sources. He gave me his card with his email address and said that he would, although he also said that he was much more responsive to phone calls than emails. I gave him a copy of the Report of the Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq: The Case of Lt. Ehren Watada which I had brought with me from the Codepink House and some information on Codepink. I told him Codepink had come to NH. I also had the opportunity to present him with two PrioritiesNH pens.

A little after 2:00, we shook hands and parted. I felt it was a productive, useful and necessary start to a dialogue that I hope will continue.

As I walked out of the conference room, I was immediately met by a young woman, Emily Brooks, President of the D.C. Federation of College Democrats, who, seeing my Codepink t-shirt, wanted to talk with me about Codepink. She had spent the last year working on the issue of HPV and availability of the vaccine against this virus. She was now turning her focus to war and the pe
ace movement, had heard a lot about Codepink, and wanted to speak with them about these issues. I gave her contact information and invited her to the Codepink house for the weekly potluck supper on Wednesday evening.

I then left the Russell building and with my new cellphone was able to contact the other activists on the
Hill, find out where they were, and meet up with them. I met them in the Dirksen cafeteria where I got some lemonade and a quick catch-up on their morning activities. We then headed over to the House side of the Hill, singing Codepink songs along the way. "We are Codepink, we are proud, we are sisters, we are loud, we are many, we'll be more, and we'll stop this bloody war!" Over on the House side of the Hill, several of the activists were planning on visiting their respective Representatives. We must have visited five or six offices with varying amounts of receptivity. Usually some staff member would sit down and talk with us, if only briefly. Close to 5:00 p.m. half of us decided to head back to the Codepink house and the other half went over to the White House. I sauntered with my unfurled umbrella back to the house with the others, trying to shade Bertha, a 78-year-old fellow activist from Schnectady, New York who reminded me of my aunt, and who was clearly not used to the heat either.

Back at the house, a cold shower revived me. I checked in with my email and tried to relax a bit. By six o'clock people were gathering in the dining room getting ready to celebrate Libby's twenty-sixth Birthday. We had pizza and cake and then started a brain-storming session around the next day's actions for the Take Back America Conference. We decided to center the action around the pink police outfits we have and use frequently. We would take part by being traffic police, stopping war, yielding to diplomacy, etc. We had a lot of fun taking familiar songs and coming up with new words for them. We later went down to the basement peace room and made and painted signs to go along with these songs for our action.

Some of us al
so worked on making pink badges that said "Another Student for Peace" that Des and Liz would use tomorrow on the Hill when they met the class from Cesar Chavez Middle School that they had been working with. They were going to take the kids to a Press Conference that the Hip Hop Caucus was holding in association with the Juneteenth Congressional Caucus and also visit some Congressional Reps' and Senators' offices.

I went up to bed around 10:00 and fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Now I'm off to the Take Back America Conference. I will continue this when I return.

It's 3:00 p.m., we have returned from the Take Back America Conference. There are some film-makers here talking with Des and Medea. Jodie Evans, the third co-founder of Codepink, has just arrived from St. Louis with big suitcases full of costumes and props, as well as new stock for the Codepin
k Store. Medea's husband has shown up for a brief time. I guess that they only see each other sporatically for a night here and a night there depending on where in the world they both happen to end up at the same time.

Leslie, one of my roommates, who started a hunger strike last week in protest against Lieberman's aggressive threats against Iran and stopped her strike after 5 days when a meeting was held between her, Medea and some people from the Iranian community and some of Lieberman's staff, has restarted her hunger strike since he continues to threaten. She has rescheduled her flight home, which she was supposed to take tomorrow, so that she can stay until she feels that she has accomplished something. She hopes to stage another event later this week to call more media attention to the issue.

So, let me tell you a little about the Take Back America Conference. We pulled up out back of the Hotel to
unload ourselves and all of our props. There was Senator Obama hanging out with some of his staff. As thirteen Codepinkers hopped out of two cars and started calling to him, he immediately jumped into the back of his waiting SUV and it took off. We asked staff left on the sidewalk if we had missed our opportunity to hear him talk, previously scheduled for noon, and were told that we hadn't. He would be there then.

We unloaded the car and headed in through the gym and down the halls to the Exhibition Hall where Codep
ink had a table set up. We gathered there and costumed ourselves as the Pink Police, got our constitutions, grabbed our signs, our cameras, our song sheets and started marching out to the lobby where the media were gathered. We stopped and lined up in front of the media and at the count of three began singing our renditions of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, "Take Back America, Work for Peace, not War," I've been working on the Railroad, what's called the Pink Police Song, "We defend the Constitution, We're the Pink Police," and When the Saints Come Marchin' In, "When we make Peace, instead of War, When we make Peace instead of War, Oh I want to be in that number, When we Make Peace instead of war."

This one was a particular favorite as other verses included things like "when all our troops, have left Iraq," "when we have peace, in the middle east," "when we build schools, instead of bombs," "when we have healthcare, instead of warfare," "when all the world, has human rights," plus it had such a catchy up-beat tune that the response was fantastic--much smiling and hand clapping. Cameras were clicking away. The media had turned its attention to us. Most people were pleased, but one woman came over, clearly annoyed with us, and asked us to stop. Others asked us to continue, so we moved to a less central locale and placated both groups.

One of the local D.C. TV stations that was broadcasting asked if we would do a segment for them and we were happy to oblige. They interviewed Medea with us in the background. On cue, we sang the Take Back America song. When the interview was over, Medea noticed Bob Borosage walk by, co-founder of the Campaign for America's Future, the sponsor of the Take Back America Conference, called him over and we did a group picture surrounding him with pink. I later learned that Codepink had been thrown out of last year's event.

We soon moved down the hall to a strategic landing where everyone had to pass who was going to go and listen to Barack Obama. We struck up the chorus again and felt much appreciated. When the crowd thinned out, we entered the ballroom and listened to Barack. Some of us, with louder, more theatrical voices, called out little messages when pertinent issues were brought up. The room was filled, the audience was enthusiastic.

As Barack was winding up, we headed back out to the landing and began another rendition of our songs. We kept this up until the halls had thinned out again, re-entered the now-much-less-filled ballroom and listened to John Edwards give his speech.

As Edward's wound up his remarks, we once again positioned ourselves outside the ballroom, sang and handed out reminders of Codepink's own information session to take place Wednesday on "How Can Progressives Bring the Troops Home in 2007?"-- a conversation with co-founders Medea Benjamin, Gael Murphy and Jodie Evans. We then started heading back to the Exhibition Hall as we handed out flyers entitled "Presidential Candidates and Iran: What are they Saying???" which had been prepared earlier by the D.C. staff.

We regrouped, decided to head over to Congress, grab some lunch on the Hill and go to some hearings. But marshalling thirteen or more Codepink activists is much like herding cats. Someone is always stopping to chat, someone else is being asked for an interview. Waiting, I saw a familiar face and walked up to embrace Marcia Moody. I hadn't seen her for at least a week, when we were both in Concord to try to get the Rules Committee of the State Legislature to allow a Resolution on Impeachment to be brought before the House during this year's session. We talked briefly. She said she had heard us singing. I invited her to the Codepink House for the potluck supper Wednesday night.

Soon several of us had gathered with one of our drivers and proceeded to go upstairs in preparation for our ride to the Hill and some much-needed lunch. Awaiting us at the top of the stairs were tables full of free boxed-lunch sandwich wraps--your choice of veggie, chicken, or turkey, with accompanying pickles, carrot and celery sticks, cookies, apples and bottles of water. Famished we all took a box and a bottle and headed for the lobby to sit down and eat. It was delicious and just the right price!

After eating, several of us, myself included, decided to go back to the house. Shortly after we returned, the house filled up with people. The Codepink staff went to the basement peace room for a staff conference. The rest of us fanned out to do our own things.

Tomorrow is another busy day. Some of us are going back for the final day of the Take Back America Conference. We have an important flyer to leave on all the seats before Hillary's speech. Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to talk as well. There are more hearings and actions on the Hill. Tom Hayden is scheduled to visit. We have our weekly potluck supper with guest Tilly Reed, an NGO worker in Afghanistan. I'll write more soon.

In Peace.
Codepink NH


JimPreston said...

I saw you in the pictures, Barbara, and was glad to see you back in action. I can't believe that you all have so much action going on in the heat back there. Keep up the great work!!!

Eileen Coles said...

What a great and informative post! Made me feel like I was there. I wish I could have been there. I especially would have loved to see Thom Hartmann speak this morning.

I am so glad Code Pink is finally getting props from the greater progressive community. :)

Figures Barack Obama fled when he saw you guys... man I am so torqued off that he didn't vote at ALL on the no-confidence vote against Gonzales. HE is one of the seven votes that they were short that day. What a WIMP!!!!!! Flee from the deadly chanteuses in pink; FLEEEEEEEEEE, you WIMPS!!!! You can run but you can't hide!!!

Anonymous said...


Great post! It gave me a good idea of what I'll be doing when I get to the Code Pink House on June 30. Your details and clarity make your writing really useful and vivid. Thanks! - Janet W in CA