People wonder if we’re afraid we might die from these drones circling over our heads, but you know what, I am not afraid of death anymore. I’ve become familiar with it. Drones in our skies or government clashes are as common as rain or sunshine. Death becomes a daily fact. So no, it’s not that I lost my fear of death, I just became familiar with it. What surprises me and my family is life itself. Every morning we wake up to find ourselves alive. You walk in the middle. Between life and death.
The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.
At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.
Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare. Continue reading →
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK made waves when she interrupted President Obama during his policy address at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. Even the President said, “That woman is worth paying attention to.”
Benjamin spoke to Cool Revolution about Obama’s speech on drone strikes in the Mideast and the future of Guantanamo prison detainees. She explains why she thinks he isn’t making a change in policy at all. She also explains why she spoke up and why disrupting speeches like this one is the result of “desperation.”
“We’ve done everything conceivable… we’ve run out of options.”
Medea Benjamin, founder of the organization CODEPINK, has actually been to Pakistan and seen the results of drone bombing. Obama has not. She had several pointed questions for him, which she yelled from the back of the room even as she was being thrown out.
“Will you tell the Muslim people 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 activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims? That will make us safer.”
Right-wing opinion spewer Michelle Malkin called her a “serial heckler.” A conspiracy theory sprang up on social media that Benjamin was planted by Obama to help make him look good.
In my opinion, she derailed him. Obama spent most of the speech justifying the drone program as “legal” and making us safer. He failed to address how the U.N. has said that drone strikes in Pakistan violate its sovereignty. He failed to justify the deaths of three American citizens killed by drones and the maiming and killing of children by drone attacks. Or the terror thousands have suffered in the Mideast anticipating drone attacks on their homes and villages.
Toward the end of his address Benjamin started in and wouldn’t let up. Eventually, Obama was brought to a standstill. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he conceded.
Seriously, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RIGHT NOW SAYING YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO @medeabenjamin
We get the usual sexism whenever CODEPINK comes to town. They, and Medea, are screeching loonies, freaks, bitches and worse. At least they’re not dressed up like vaginas this time (like they did at the Democratic National Convention). At first Obama called Benjamin a “young lady.”
Right-wingers found plenty to heckle in the heckler. And Obama-worshiping liberals squirmed in their seats and said, “Won’t she just shut up??”
The fact is, disruption and interruption get attention. Passivity doesn’t. Look at what passivity has gotten us for the last decade. Iraq, Afghanistan, financial collapse, unemployment, loss of civil liberties, cuts to education, lack of accountability. And on and on.
Political activity for most people means “being informed,” sadly equated with watching MSNBC. People sitting in front of the TV getting outraged and fearful serves the interests of the powerful. It keeps them paralyzed. To combat impotence and vent rage, you might rant on Facebook, troll on websites, and tweet clever, snarky haikus.
My favorite form of pseudo-activism is signing online petitions. From my brief days of fundraising, I know that fifty percent of the time online petitions are a way to scoop up info on potential donors.
You can get involved in “the democratic process” and knock on doors for a candidate. The bravest souls scrawl a slogan on a sign and actually get out on the streets. The hardcore get arrested.
A variety of tactics, from moderate to radical, is important in movements for social change. But the moderate may have little to no effect these days. We’re entering an age – or maybe we’re long past it – when thousands of people carrying signs make no difference to those wielding power. Post-9/11, crowds are viewed as a threat to maintaining order. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to break out the teargas and tasers.
During Obama’s speech, Benjamin asked questions that the White House press corps can’t and won’t ask. Maybe the questions don’t occur to them. Even if they did, they don’t dare ask them for fear of losing “access.”
What mainstream media has been good for in the past is investigative journalism. Free press is supposed to be the watchdog of government corruption and wrongdoing. What they didn’t realize when they snickered at Wikileaks was that eventually the Obama administration was going to come down hard on them too. Investigative reporting through whistleblowers is all but impossible now.
So what have we got left? It’s getting cramped in here–less wiggle room to reform the corrupt system, agitate on the streets, expose wrongdoing and hold lawbreakers accountable.
We can go into the halls of power and say fuck dignity and make a ruckus, that’s what we can do.
Every person in power needs to know that prepared speeches and talking points aren’t going to cut it any more. Pushed to the breaking point by unemployment, low wages and illegal foreclosures, ordinary people are becoming radicalized.
Your next interview, Mr. President, ain’t gonna be softball questions thrown by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. It’s gonna be Medea Benjamin in your face every day.
Just two weeks after disrupting the confirmation hearing of John Brennan, the activist organization CODEPINK paid a visit to the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the Atrium of the Senate Hart Office Building, CODEPINK demonstrators donned black robes and ghoulish masks to dramatize the alleged killing of civilians in drone bombing attacks by the U.S. in the Middle East. Under heavy escort by Capitol Police, they delivered a petition to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) requesting public hearings into drone casualties.
CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin hung placards bearing the names of people they claim are civilian victims of drone bombings around the necks of her fellow demonstrators, while she herself carried a sign saying, “200 children killed by drones.” CODEPINK believes that civilian casualties have numbered at least a thousand.
Aides in Senator Feinstein’s office didn’t respond to CODEPINK’s request for public hearings, except to say that the Senator believes that civilian casualties from drone bombings are few.
Benjamin is skeptical that Feinstein and others on the Foreign Intelligence Committee can rely on the information they are getting from the CIA and the Pentagon.
“How are we to know?” asks Benjamin. “We know that the Justice Department doesn’t even give the Intelligence Committee the nine legal memos that they have that provide the legal basis for the extrajudicial killing of Americans. So if they can’t even get that, why should we think that the CIA is giving them the information?”
Without transparency, Benjamin thinks the oversight process is broken. “The public is kept totally in the dark.” And, she says, Congress isn’t doing its job holding the Obama administration accountable. “I would say that they’re literally letting President Obama get away with murder.”
Capitol Police were well-prepared for CODEPINK, especially after their members had disrupted both the Kerry and Brennan nomination hearings, when officers removed them from the gallery and in some cases made arrests. Inspector Wesley Mahr told Benjamin she was “pushing it” when she still held a sign after he had delivered a third warning threatening arrest. A planned banner drop within the building was abandoned after it was clear Capitol Police had gotten wind of it. Demonstrations are not allowed in the Senate Hart Office Building.
Senator Feinstein, who did not see the protestors today, was visibly irritated with CODEPINK at the Brennan hearing, as activists one by one disrupted the proceedings. Feinstein then cleared the room. Progressives have objected to Brennan’s nomination to the head of the CIA due to his alleged complicity with Bush-era detention and torture practices. As the White House’s counterterrorism advisor, he’s pegged as an architect of the drone program.
The vote on Brennan’s confirmation, scheduled for last week, was postponed, although Democrats are confident that he will in fact be confirmed. In a new set of written answers for the Intelligence Committee, Brennan said only: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.”
Photos from the Senate Hart Office Building are here.
UPDATE: Senator Feinstein’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.