September 10, 1952
New School for Social Research
|Occupation||Political activist, author|
Medea Benjamin (born Susan Benjamin; September 10, 1952) is an American political activist who co-founded Code Pink and, along with activist and author Kevin Danaher, the fair trade advocacy group Global Exchange. Benjamin was the Green Party candidate in California in 2000 for the United States Senate, receiving the highest raw vote total of any Green Party U.S. Senate candidate. She currently contributes to OpEdNews and The Huffington Post.
During her first year at Tufts University, she renamed herself after the Greek mythological character Medea and joined the Students for a Democratic Society. She then dropped out of school and hitchhiked through Europe and Africa, teaching English classes to earn money. She later returned to the United States and 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.
From 1979 to 1983, Benjamin lived and worked in Cuba, and married the coach of the Cuban national basketball team. She worked for a communist newspaper, initially describing the nation as "heaven". However, after writing a piece about censorship in Cuba, Benjamin was deported. After returning to the US, she met Kevin Danaher, with whom she was married for many years.
In 1988, with her husband, 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 created 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 under which enlisted personnel served, and to speak out against the war, in Congress and at the United Nations, in 2003.
In 2000, Benjamin ran for the United States Senate on the Green Party ticket. She advocated a living wage, universal healthcare and delaying genetically engineered foods. Such was leading position of the Democrat incumbent Dianne Feinstein, Benjamin and her Republican rival Tom Campbell chose to participate in joint events, including a press conference, during the campaign. Benjamin garnered 99,716 votes, 74%, in the primary, and 326,828 votes, 3.08% of the general election total ballots. 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 Directors.
From 2002 to 2009, Benjamin engaged in numerous protests involving members of the Bush administration (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; President George W. Bush; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice); Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and others. Benjamin engaged in 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 her participation in an illegal protest.
During 2005–2010, she worked to oppose United States threats of a possible impending war with Iran, including lobbying Congress, taking peace delegations to Iran, and bringing Iranian youth to Congress.
Benjamin repeatedly interrupted a major speech by President Barack Obama regarding United States policy in the War on Terror at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. After Benjamin was removed for her actions, President 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 later. "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 on countering what she believed was unfair trade as promoted by the World Trade Organization. She participated in an anti-sweatshop movement, initiating campaigns against 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.[better source needed] In 1999, she produced the documentary Sweating for a T-Shirt about the sweatshop industry.
In 2000, she helped a campaign to pressure Starbucks to carry fair trade coffee in all their cafes. In October 2000, Starbucks introduced whole bean Fair Trade Certified coffee at over 2,300 stores.
For 2001, Benjamin focused on California's energy crisis, assisting low-income ratepayers and small businesses. She headed a coalition of consumer, environmental, union and business leaders working for clean and affordable power under public control.
In September 2003, Benjamin was in Cancún, Mexico challenging the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in November, she was in Miami protesting the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) while trying to bring attention to global peace and economic justice movements.
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 visited 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 sites in Gaza during November 2012, Benjamin led a delegation to deliver medical supplies to the Shifa hospital and the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza. She also helped to organize a yearly gathering in Washington, D.C., with the objective of exposing the "negative influence" of the United States lobby group American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
In January 2018, it was announced that activists from 20 American groups, including Code Pink, were banned from entering Israel because of their support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The Algemeiner reported in April 2014 that Benjamin's charitable foundation, which is worth $12 million, has shareholdings in Caterpillar, a company targeted by the BDS movement, as well as the Chevron oil company and the tobacco conglomerate Phillip Morris.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, 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.
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.
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 Benjamin, 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.
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.
As part of Code Pink'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.
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 said that the quote was "distorted" and "taken out of context" and said she did not support the tactics of that group of anarchists.
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 that "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.
Views on United States involvement in Middle East
Benjamin writes in The Huffington Post that the U.S. needs to end military interventionism and that the "U.S. military should close all foreign military bases and use our soldiers to protect us here at home."
Benjamin also 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."
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 said she was assaulted by police officers, resulting in a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder. She was later deported to Turkey. Questions arose regarding the role of the United States Embassy in her detention, as embassy spokesman Mofid Deak said that Benjamin left the country following assistance from the embassy, while Code Pink's Alli McCracken said the embassy did not help Benjamin.
In April and May 2019 Benjamin was part of an "Embassy Protection Collective" (formed by groups that include Code Pink, ANSWER Coalition, and Popular Resistance) which occupied the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington. Benjamin said the group had the permission of the Maduro government to stay in the embassy.
Awards and accolades
In 2010, she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 2012, she won the Marjorie Kellogg National Peacemaker Award and the Thomas Merton Center Peace Award. Also in 2012, she was awarded the US Peace Prize "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".
Benjamin has one daughter, Arlen, from her first marriage in Cuba and another daughter, Maya, from her marriage with activist Kevin Danaher. Her daughter Arlen is named after Sandinista revolutionary Arlen Siu, with her daughter once writing "I grew up believing that protest lines and teach-ins were normal family outings ... I was born in Cuba to an Afro-Cuban father and Jewish-American mother, and the fact that I was named for the first woman to die fighting for the Nicaraguan [Sandinista] Revolution gives you an idea of my politically oriented upbringing".
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