September 10, 1952
Freeport, New York
|Residence||San Francisco, California|
New School for Social Research
|Occupation||Political activist, author|
Medea Benjamin (born Susan Benjamin; September 10, 1952) is an American political activist, best known for co-founding Code Pink and, along with activist and author Kevin Danaher, the fair trade advocacy group Global Exchange. Benjamin was also the Green Party candidate in California in 2000 for the United States Senate. She currently contributes to OpEdNews and The Huffington Post.
The Los Angeles Times has described her as "one of the high profile leaders" of the peace movement and in 1999, San Francisco Magazine included her on its "power list" of the "60 Players Who Rule the Bay Area".
- 1 Early life
- 2 Organizations
- 3 Politics
- 4 Protest actions
- 5 Organization efforts
- 5.1 Labor rights and corporate responsibility
- 5.2 Israel/Palestine
- 5.3 Iraq
- 5.4 Drones
- 5.5 Other campaigns
- 5.6 Support for Cuba
- 5.7 WTO protest violence
- 5.8 Anybody But Bush
- 5.9 Marla Ruzicka
- 5.10 Views on United States involvement in Middle East
- 5.11 Interruption of President Obama
- 5.12 Arrest In Egypt
- 6 See also
- 7 Books
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Benjamin grew up in Freeport, New York, on Long Island, a self-described "nice Jewish girl". During her first year at Tufts University, she renamed herself after the Greek mythological character Medea. She received master's degrees in public health from Columbia University and in economics from The New School.
Benjamin worked for ten years as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the Swedish International Development Agency, and the Institute for Food and Development Policy. She spent four years in Cuba, and has authored three books on that country.
In 1988 with Kevin Danaher and Kirsten Moller, Benjamin co-founded the San Francisco-based Global Exchange, which advocates fair trade alternatives to what she describes as corporate globalization. In 2002, she co-founded the feminist anti-war group Code Pink: Women for Peace, which advocated an end to the Iraq War, the prevention of future wars, and social justice. Benjamin has also been involved with the anti-war organization United for Peace and Justice.
She later went on to create the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad (IOWC) to monitor the United States military and the war's effect on civilian populations. Through this center she brought U.S. military family members to see the conditions of their children and to speak out against the war in Congress and the United Nations in 2003.
In 2010 she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She has received numerous peace awards, including the 2012 Marjorie Kellogg National Peacemaker Award, the 2012 Thomas Merton Center Peace Award, and the 2012 Peace Foundation Memorial Award "in recognition of her creative leadership on the front lines of the antiwar movement". In 2014, she received the Gandhi Peace Award from Promoting Enduring Peace "to honor her for her unyielding advocacy for social justice of more than 30 years".
In 2000, Benjamin ran for the United States Senate on the Green Party ticket from California. She campaigned on such issues as a living wage, education, and universal healthcare; she garnered 3 percent of the vote. Since then she has remained active in the Green Party and has also supported efforts by the Progressive Democrats of America.  She is a member of the Liberty Tree Board of Advisers.
From 2002 to 2009, Benjamin engaged in numerous protests involving U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; U.S. President George W. Bush; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, among others. Benjamin engaged in similar protest actions at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and the 2004 Republican National Convention. On December 4, 2007, she was arrested by plainclothes police in Lahore, Pakistan, detained by the ISI for eight hours, and deported after protesting the house arrest of lawyers (including Aitzaz Ahsan). In 2009, Benjamin joined the steering committee for the Gaza Freedom March. In February 2012 Benjamin was arrested and deported for illegal entry to Bahrain and participating in an illegal protest.
From 2005–2010, she worked against threats of going to war with Iran, including lobbying Congress, taking Peace Delegations to Iran, and bringing Iranian youth to Congress.
On May 23, 2013, Benjamin heckled President Obama during a major foreign policy speech while he was speaking about closing Guantanamo Bay. Benjamin shouted at least three times and interrupted Obama's speech. Mr. Obama then went off script. "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he said. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn't listening to me and much of what I said. But these are tough issues. And the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."
"If he had indeed made significant policy changes, I wasn't going to say anything," Benjamin told The Daily Beast afterward. "I would have preferred that option, but given that he didn't make those kind of changes I was looking for, I was glad to be given the opportunity to speak out."
Labor rights and corporate responsibility
During the 1990s, Benjamin focused her efforts on tackling the problem of unfair trade as promoted by the World Trade Organization. Credited as the woman who brought Nike to its knees[weasel words] and helped place the issue of sweatshops on the national agenda, Benjamin was a key player in the campaign that won a $20 million settlement from 27 United States clothing retailers for the use of sweatshop labor in Saipan.
In 2000, she helped champion a campaign to pressure Starbucks to carry fair trade coffee in all their cafes. As a result, in October 2000, Starbucks introduced whole bean Fair Trade Certified coffee at over 2,300 stores.
For much of 2001, Benjamin focused on California's energy crisis, fighting the market manipulation by the big energy companies and rate hikes that cause hardship for low-income ratepayers and small businesses. She headed a powerful coalition of consumer, environmental, union and business leaders working for clean and affordable power under public control.
In September 2003, Benjamin was in Cancun, Mexico challenging the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in November in Miami protesting the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and highlighting the coalescing of the global peace and economic justice movements.
During the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December 1999, Benjamin's organization, Global Exchange, helped fix world attention on the need to place labor and environmental concerns over corporate profits.
While critical of unfair global trade policies, Benjamin has promoted "fair trade" alternatives that are beneficial to both producer and consumer. She helped form a national network of retailer and wholesalers in support of fair trade and was instrumental in pressuring coffee retailers such as Starbucks to start carrying fair trade coffee.
Benjamin is a key figure in the anti-sweatshop movement, having spearheaded campaigns against the giant sports shoe company Nike and clothing companies such as the GAP. In 1999 Benjamin helped expose the problem of indentured servitude among garment workers in the United States territory of Saipan (the Marianas Islands), which led to a billion-dollar lawsuit against 17 United States retailers. In 1999, she produced the documentary "Sweating for a T-Shirt" about the sweatshop industry.
After several fact-finding visits to China, Benjamin co-sponsored with the International Labor Rights Fund an initiative to improve the labor and environmental practices of United States multinationals in China. The ensuring Human Rights Principles for US Businesses in China have been endorsed by major companies such as Cisco, Intel, Reebok, Levi Strauss and Mattel.
In 2006, Benjamin organized humanitarian aid for war refugees in Lebanon and spoke out against Israeli bombing. In 2008 during the Operation Cast Lead Israeli invasion of Gaza, she organized a daily protest at the hotel where President-elect Barack Obama was staying, and then went to Gaza to see the immediate effects of the bombing. She brought humanitarian aid and helped put together six other delegations to Gaza. She was one of the lead organizers of the Gaza Freedom March, where 1,350 people from dozens of countries came together in Cairo to try to march to Gaza. Benjamin criticized the United States government for passing legislation to send Israel $3 billion in aid, lobbied Congress and sailed on the U.S. Flotilla to Gaza in November 2011. Days after Israel launched its Pillar of Defense operation targeting Gaza targets in November 2012, Benjamin led a delegation to deliver medical supplies to the Shifa hospital and the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza. She also helps organize a yearly gathering in Washington DC to expose the "negative influence" of the United States lobby group AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee).
She was detained Monday March 3, 2014 at Cairo's airport by Egyptian police without explanation. She says she was questioned, held overnight in an airport prison cell, and then violently handcuffed by Egyptian officials, who dislocated her shoulder and broke her arm. She was then put on a plane and deported to Turkey, where she is now seeking medical treatment. She was contacted by telephone from the airport medical facility. Benjamin had intended to meet up with international delegates before traveling to Gaza for a women's conference.
After the United States invaded Iraq, she created the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad to monitor the United States military and the war's effect on civilian populations. Through this center she brought Iraqi women to the United States to speak about the occupation, organized delegations of U.S. military family members to see the conditions of their children serving in Iraq, and documented United States abuses, including at Abu Ghraib prison long before the scandal involving it broke in the United States media. She also organized medical aid delegations to Iraq to civilians harmed by the United States military.
She testified in Congress and the United Nations against the Iraq war.
In 2005, she focused on the abuses of United States military contractors such as Halliburton, the goal of which was to expose the awarding of corrupt no-bid contracts to corporations with close ties to the Bush administrations. Along with this, Benjamin also exposed Blackwater Worldwide's illegal activities, including protests at the headquarters of the International Association of War Contractors.
In opposition to indefinite detention in Guantanamo, in 2007, Benjamin organized a delegation of prisoners' family members to Guantanamo Naval Base prison camp in Cuba, demanding its closing. In 2007 as well, she continued to protest weekly outside the Justice Department concerning water boarding and indefinite detention, and called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She was arrested many times for protests in Congressional hearings. In 2008, she organized the Valentine's Day Kiss-Ins at military recruiting centers across the country.
On October 31, 2009, Benjamin led a group of Code Pink protestors at a protest aimed at military families queued up for a White House Halloween Party hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. The event raised controversy when a Reuters News photo showing the protesters (dressed as wounded soldiers), including one identified as Medea, were described as "taunting" the children.
In 2009 Benjamin began her efforts to bring attention to the effects of drone warfare, participating in demonstrations at United States bases where drones are piloted and at headquarters of drone manufacturers. On April 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C., she was responsible for organizing the first ever International Drone Summit with lawyers, scientists, academics, and activists to kick off an international campaign to rein in the use of drones in the U.S. and abroad,
On April 30, 2012, Benjamin bemoaned the "innocent civilians murdered" by drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, by interrupting a speech on United States counterterrorism strategy given by John Brennan at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Benjamin was dragged away by security, and although her protest aired live on C-SPAN, the Wilson Center deleted the history of the incident from their records by editing the video and transcript so as to make it appear as though Benjamin's protest never occurred.
In October 2012 she organized a 34-person delegation to Pakistan to protest U.S. drone warfare. While in Pakistan she allegedly met with drone victims, family members, lawyers, academics, women's groups, and Pakistani leaders, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. The delegation made international headlines when they joined a caravan to Waziristan organized by prominent political leader and former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan, a staunch opponent of American involvement in Pakistan. (See CNN video, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, the BBC, and over 100 major news outlet, 09/28 – October 14, 2012). She also organized a public fast in Islamabad in sympathy with alleged drone victims.
On May 23, 2013 Benjamin shouted at least three times and interrupted Obama's speech on drones and GITMO, drawing attention to the "... people on a hunger strike, these desperate people, 86 cleared for release ... you are commander in chief." People applauded as Obama responded, "... you should let me finish my sentence, Today I once again call on congress to lift the restrictions on detaining transfers from GITMO." Eventually she was escorted out of the chamber after a third interruption lambasting the President's use of drone warfare. She could be heard recommending compensating drone strike victim's families as a means of quelling the threat of retaliation and keeping America safe. She shouted "I love my country!" President Obama was unable to continue speaking until she was escorted out, where upon he acknowledged that "the voice of that woman is worth listening to," despite their disagreements in strategically ensuring national security. Medea's comments as she was led out were recorded and reported by Slate magazine among others:
Can 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 innocent family victims?
That will make us safer ...
As part of CODEPINK's mission, Benjamin helped organize many International Women's Day Marches and Mother's Day Calls for Peace, the latter to bring back the original intent of Mother's Day as women mobilizing against war. These included bringing women from war torn countries such as Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan to the U.S. to speak about their experiences. Between 2003 and 2010, Benjamin helped organized anti-war mass mobilizations in Washington, D.C., New York City and San Francisco.
Benjamin organized the campaign Bring Our War Dollars Home, which fought to divert money from the Pentagon into social programs at home. This campaign culminated in the passage of a national resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to end the wars and redirect the monies to our cities.
Support for Cuba
Benjamin has drawn conservative criticism for her support of Hugo Chavez and her attacks on the U.S. embargo of Fidel Castro's Cuba. David Horowitz's FrontPageMag attacked her as "a long-time Castro acolyte", and wrote:
|“||Many of the causes that Ms. Benjamin espouses are Communist in nature. The Washington peace rally at which she spoke last month, for instance, was organized by the Workers World Party, a Communist organization ... In years past, she staunchly opposed United States military aid to those fighting against Communist forces in Central America ... She favors the creation of a government-sponsored universal health care system funded by taxpayer dollars. She exhorts the United States government to lift its trade embargo against Cuba – a nation she notably lauds as a place where people have managed to "thrive despite the odds" against them.||”|
WTO protest violence
During the anti-globalization movement World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 protest activity in Seattle some alleged Benjamin said that anarchists who engaged in property destruction should have been arrested by the police. Benjamin corrected the account in ZMag, writing:
|“||... the quote was distorted, taken out of context, and not reflective of my true feelings. I did not call for the arrest of anyone ... Do I approve of the tactics that this particular group of self-described anarchists used in Seattle Nov. 30? Definitely not.||”|
Anybody But Bush
Benjamin has been criticized by some Greens for her support for "Anybody But Bush" in 2004. Explaining why she supported this movement, she said:
|“||... maybe it's time for the people who voted for Bush in 2000, the people who didn't vote at all in 2000, and yes, people like myself who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, to admit our mistakes. I'll say mine — I had no idea that George Bush would be such a disastrous president. Had I known then what I know now, and had I lived in a swing state, I would have voted for Gore instead of Ralph Nader.||”|
|“||Medea Benjamin ... and many other liberal and progressive leaders tell us that a Kerry regime "would be less dangerous" than Bush ... But, even if Kerry is "less dangerous", he will be more capable of wreaking havoc on Iraq, Palestine, Venezuela, abortion, gay rights, civil rights and unions if we sacrifice our political movement to getting behind him ... any movement that ever aims to win, must learn to stand up for itself precisely when it is darkest.||”|
Benjamin had a falling out with her former close friend, San Francisco Bay Area activist Marla Ruzicka, later killed in Iraq in a widely publicized suicide bombing, over Ruzicka's decision to work with the U.S. military to secure compensation for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. Benjamin said:
|“||"It was very painful for me because of the way she ... rejected the things we stood for ... [and] chose to go with [a] Band-Aid [approach] ... We never quite reconciled over it."||”|
Views on United States involvement in Middle East
Benjamin writes in The Huffington Post that the United States never had any "justification for invading Iraq", that there is no "justification for continuing the war in Afghanistan", and that in Pakistan, the United States "drone attacks are only fueling the violence and creating more Osama Bin Ladens". Regarding the killing of bin Laden, she says "Let us not sink into a false sense of triumphalism in the wake of Bin Laden's passing."
Interruption of President Obama
Benjamin interrupted a major speech by U.S. President Barack Obama several times regarding United States policy in the War on Terror at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. Toward the end of the speech, Benjamin called for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, the release of 86 prisoners cleared for release, the end of signature drone strikes, taking drones out of the control of the CIA, compensation for the families of those killed in drone strikes, and an explanation for the killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American citizen killed in a drone strike. Benjamin was first told by the Secret Service and others that she would be under arrest if she did not agree to be escorted out immediately, but she threatened to "make a scene" if grabbed. After several interruptions, she was removed from the hall. Throughout the interruptions, Obama responded variously to Benjamin: "Why don't you sit down? And I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do", "Thank you ... You should let me finish my sentence", and "[T]his is part of free speech, is you being able to speak, but also you listening and me being able to speak." After Benjamin was removed from the room, Obama stated that "the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to".
Arrest In Egypt
On March 3, 2014, Benjamin was arrested in Egypt. She had flown there en route to participating in a women's conference in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Upon her arrival at Cairo International Airport, Benjamin was detained by airport police and held overnight, during which time she claims she was assaulted by police officers, resulting in a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder. She was later deported to Turkey. There was question regarding the amount of help the United States Embassy offered, as embassy spokesman Mofid Deak confirmed that Benjamin left the country following assistance from the embassy, while CODEPINK's Alli McCracken claimed the embassy did not help Benjamin.
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