Any week with Code Pink anywhere will be a one-of-a-kind experience and a highlight in your life. My first week flew by at the D.C. House. I came from Missoula, Montana, hoping to make peace and raise hell, knowing the Code Pink women only from this Web site and our emails and phone calls to schedule the two-week stay.
These amazing women can be a bit intimidating at first exposure. They're focused peacemaking professionals, they move at light speed, communicate with telepathy, talk in shorthand and always have a task, together or individually, so it's a bit like stepping on a moving train for the first day or two. I began by just tailing along, watching and learning.
The basic Code Pink D.C. idea is speaking truth to power by gaining access to Senators, Representatives, and other decision-makers by any means available, in Capitol Hill hallways, at elevators, the Hill subway stops, scheduled hearings, press conferences and talk shows. They know these officials on sight, and keep track of which issues to raise with the different lawmakers.
These determined women demand that the people's representatives get the troops home from Iraq and prevent a war with Iran. The Pink ladies take positions on other issues as they arise, like firing Blackwater and other private, for-profit mercenaries being paid with taxpayers' money, or opposing the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey, since the man can't decide whether waterboarding is torture, isn't clear on whether FISA spying violates the Constitution, or whether the President really has to obey the law.
Everyone on Capitol Hill now sees the color pink coming, and these peacemaking ladies, with their colorful costumes, make powerful folks nervous. Passersby on the street also often appear to know what we're up to, and show their approval with peace signs, smiles, and often thanks.
The D.C. House has three above-ground stories and a basement, which serves as an office, costume shop and prop shop. Everywhere you look are antiwar slogans and photos of Pink ladies' actions. My favorite shows a solitary young woman in a flowing pink dress, looking like a dress-up princess, strolling past a solid line of tac-squad police holding shields. On my first night, Sunday, the basement housed a couple dozen young folks from SDS Chicago, in town for the “No War, No Warming” protests on Monday.
Monday we walked down to the Capitol grounds, a 10-15 minute walk, and met various contingents of the coalition, composed of Code Pink, SDS, and Greenpeace. We felt that bringing together the concerns of peace and global warming in one action marked a milestone for the movement, though the turnout was somewhat disappointing. Singing protesters in polar bear suits drew a lot of attention, and several ended up in jail, along with the SDS peacemakers (and no one from Code Pink), after several of them, bears and SDSers alike, blocked a main street alongside the Capitol. This action took place at the intersection of Independence and 1st Street, where a lone man has been fasting for peace on the steps of the Cannon building since October 1.
A Code Pink contingent accompanied David Swanson to deliver Spine Awards to Congressman Pete Stark and Senator Chris Dodd. Then the “No War, No Warming” action moved to the lawn in front of the Capitol. By this time Capitol Police had blocked off the plaza and all approaches to the front steps of the Capitol, so to get to the front lawn, for which we had a rally permit, we had to climb over waist-high walls. A couple of the police carried automatic rifles. Peace seems to make some of them uncomfortable. Rev. Yearwood spoke, poets recited, Des sang, polar bears cheered, and that was that.
Back at the house, women got busy with their laptops, fielding email, blogging, writing press releases and making phone calls.
Tuesday we went to the Canadian Embassy for a press conference Code Pink called to protest the exclusion of Ann Wright and Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin from Canada. The two were refused entry because the FBI had placed their names on a criminals list intended to warn of sexual predators and other dangerous felons, though their “crimes” were misdemeanor civil disobedience in the cause of peace. The fact that they were invited as guests of the Canadian Parliament made no difference. They were not allowed inside the embassy, but the Canadians sent a representative out to talk with us briefly in the rain.
From there we headed to Capitol Hill for a Select Intelligence Committee hearing taking testimony from top FBI officials, a chance to confront the FBI about how Ann and Medea ended up on this list. We kibbutzed a bit during the testimony, but the main action was after the hearing ended, when Medea and other women confronted the FBI spokesmen in the hearing room, then kept up the dialog by walking with the men around the block to their car, where the agents were finally able to escape the questions they stonewalled.
Wednesday turned out, unexpectedly, to be the big day, and I missed the main action. I'm not sorry, since if I'd been there I'd have spent the next 30 hours in jail with Des, Liz, Laurie, Medea and Zool. I was off to lobby my own Montana Senators, appointments scheduled in advance of my trip, and the top priority for newcomers.
But first things first. If you've spent the last few days underground or in outer space or locked in solitary confinement, you may not have heard about Desiree Fairooz's “bloody-handed” confrontation with Secretary of State Condi Rice. It wasn't planned, at least not the way it happened. The House Foreign Affairs Committee was to take testimony from Rice, and the Code Pinkers had the idea the night before of dipping their hands in something resembling blood.
The times when protesters can talk with witnesses without interrupting the hearing are, obviously enough, right before and right after the hearing. The hearing hadn't been convened when Condi walked in, and Des realized to her surprise that there was no one at all and nothing but a couple of chairs between her and Condi – the Secret Service men were all behind Rice. Des seized the moment, walked up to Rice, held bloody hands in her face – but never touched her – and said “The blood of a million Iraqis is on your hands.”
A Secret Service man knocked Representative Ros-Lehtinen out of his way as he dived for Des, and a Capitol Policewomen led her away, unresisting but continuing to comment. “War criminal,” she yelled. “Take her to The Hague.”
But several Capitol Policemen came down hard on the other Code Pink women sitting in the hearing room, knocking Liz off her feet and manhandling her and Medea out of the hearing room, also arresting Lori and Zool, without giving any of them a chance to leave quietly or even to be arrested without brutality. The brutality continued out in the hallway, away from the media. After handcuffing Liz's hands behind her back, a cop knocked her down so she fell onto her face, breaking her glasses and cutting her face close to an eye. At the jail, several of the jailers took pleasure in tormenting their helpless charges, as the women suffered cold for the next 30 hours and slept on steel slabs without mattresses. A few of the jailers were kind and embarrassed by the others.
I was oblivious, off doing my duty with Senators Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana. Baucus has been in the Senate since 1978, and he's used to adulation from his constituents, so I was a bit of a shock. My only shot at him was at the weekly “constituent breakfast,” a lot of polite people from Montana sharing coffee, orange juice and muffins with the two Senators. Baucus was clearly shocked when, emulating my bold sisters, I didn't take “No can do” as an answer on getting the troops home from Iraq. I wasn't wearing pink, so he had no warning. He insisted that until the Democrats get a filibuster-breaking 60 votes, there's nothing he can do. I suggested the Senate could just keep sending Bush war-funding legislation with firm withdrawal conditions and let “The Decider” take responsibility for vetoing troop funding. Baucus raised his voice and kept repeating “60 votes!” He suggested I move to another state and replace their Republican Senators with Democrats. When I'd pushed him about as far as I thought I could, I went over to talk to Senator Tester. I like Tester. This is his first term, and I volunteered for his campaign. As soon as I walked up to Tester, Baucus materialized at his side. “Go ahead, ask him! He'll tell you the same thing!,” Baucus insisted. I told Baucus, “Senator Tester is actually going to sit down and talk with me (unlike you) – We have an appointment at 1 p.m.” “No, go ahead and ask him,” Baucus repeated. Tester did, of course, agree with his senior Senator.
But I had a better meeting with Senator Tester later in the day. My real goal, that I thought I could actually accomplish, was to give him Naomi Wolf's new book, “The End of America,” and get him to agree to read it. Wolf makes a chillingly credible case that the United States is well advanced along a stealthy transformation from democracy to totalitarianism. I got some unexpected help from Tester's mother. He told me his mother had called the preceding weekend and told him to read Naomi Wolf's new book, and he promised he would read it on the plane back to Montana, and I believe him.
“My mother's upset that even though I'm a Senator now, I haven't stopped the war,” Tester said.
When I got back to the House, Gael, Sam, Leslie, Midge and Sean were dealing with a firestorm of press reaction as well as the fact of five colleagues in jail. The story had gone international immediately, and phones were ringing off the hook. If that weren't enough, Wednesday is the weekly potluck and the Freepers (FreeRepublic.com), rightwing thugs, were out front harassing visitors and taking everyone's photo. Gael and Leslie went off to take warm clothes to the prisoners and the rest of us cooked and baked for the potluck, ignored the Freepers, and welcomed intrepid guests.
And I'm only three days into a two-week visit!
To be continued....