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.