Medea Benjamin

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Medea Benjamin
Medea Benjamin 1.JPG
Born Susan Benjamin
(1952-09-10) September 10, 1952 (age 63)
Freeport, New York
Residence Washington, D.C.
Nationality United States
Education Tufts University
Columbia University
New School for Social Research
Occupation Political activist, author
Children 2
Website Global Exchange
Code Pink

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[1] and The Huffington Post.[2]

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".[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Benjamin grew up in Freeport, New York, on Long Island, a self-described "nice Jewish girl".[3] 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.[4]

In 2010 she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.[5] 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".[6] 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".[7]


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.[8] Since then she has remained active in the Green Party and has also supported efforts by the Progressive Democrats of America.[9][10] She is a member of the Liberty Tree Board of Advisers.

As of April 2015, she serves on the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States as "Secretary of State".[11]

Protest actions[edit]

Medea Benjamin speaks at a rally during the 2007 State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C.

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.[12] 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).[13][14] In 2009, Benjamin joined the steering committee for the Gaza Freedom March.[15] In February 2012 Benjamin was arrested and deported[16] for illegal entry to Bahrain and participating in an illegal protest.[17]

During 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.[18] 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."[19]

Organization efforts[edit]

Labor rights and corporate responsibility[edit]

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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24] In 1999, she produced the documentary "Sweating for a T-Shirt" about the sweatshop industry.[25]

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.[26]


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.[27] She also helps organize a yearly gathering in Washington, D.C., 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 sought 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.[28]


After the United States invaded Iraq, she created the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad[23] 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.[4]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31][32]


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,[33]

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.[34] Benjamin was dragged away by security, and although her protest aired live on C-SPAN,[35] 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.[36][37]

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.[38] 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,[39] The New York Times,[40] The Washington Post,[41] Al Jazeera,[42] the BBC, and over 100 major news outlet,[43] 09/28 – October 14, 2012). She also organized a public fast in Islamabad in sympathy with alleged drone victims.

In 2012, she authored Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, published by OR Books,[44] and toured the country speaking out against drone warfare.

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."[18] 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:[45][46]

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 ...

Other campaigns[edit]

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.

Benjamin organized the campaign Bring Our War Dollars Home,[47] 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[edit]

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:

WTO protest violence[edit]

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:

Anybody But Bush[edit]

Benjamin has been criticized by some Greens for her support for "Anybody But Bush" in 2004. Explaining why she supported this movement, she said:

Todd Chretien, a leading member of the International Socialist Organization, responded:

Views on United States involvement in Middle East[edit]

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."[53]

Interruption of President Obama[edit]

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.[54][55][56][57][57][58][59] 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.[55] 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."[54] After Benjamin was removed from the room, Obama stated that "the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to".

Arrest In Egypt[edit]

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 Code Pink's Alli McCracken claimed the embassy did not help Benjamin.[60]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Medea Benjamin author page at OpEdNews". OpEdNews. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Medea Benjamin author page at Huffintgton Post". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  3. ^ Garofoli, Joe (October 26, 2002). "S.F. Woman's Relentless March for Peace". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  4. ^ a b c "US Peace Registry: Individuals". US Peace Memorial. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Founders & Staff: Medea Benjamin". Code Pink. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Medea Benjamin Awarded 2012 Peace Prize". US Peace Memorial. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Medea Benjamin to Receive the 2014 Gandhi Peace Award". Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  8. ^ [1] Archived November 27, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Medea Benjamin, Peter Coyote, John Eder, Daniel Ellsberg; et al. (July 23, 2004). "An Open Letter to Progressives: Vote Kerry and Cobb". CommonDreams. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Medea Benjamin to Speak at Summit 2005". Progressive Democrats of America. Retrieved September 1, 2006. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Green Shadow Cabinet Members". Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  12. ^ "VIDEO: Maliki Speech Interrupted By War Protester". Think Progress Blog. July 26, 2006. 
  13. ^ "Update: US peace activists released". Common December 4, 2007. [dead link]
  14. ^ "Pakistani police arrest activists". December 5, 2007. 
  15. ^ Gaza protest planned on Cast Lead anniversary 05-12-2009, Andrew Bossone, Al-Masry Al-Youm.[dead link]
  16. ^ "Thugs attack police after funeral". Gulf Daily News. February 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Rioters on rampage". Gulf Daily News. February 18, 2012. 
  18. ^ a b Brett LoGiurato (May 23, 2013). "Here's The Protester Who Heckled Obama in the Middle of His Big Speech on Terrorism". Business Insider. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Medea Benjamin, the Woman Who Heckled Obama, Is Not Sorry". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  20. ^ Strasburg, Jenny (April 25, 2003). "Saipan lawsuit terms OKd / Garment workers to get $20 million". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Starbucks Campaign". Global Exchange. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Medea Benjamin". WIMN's Voices. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  23. ^ a b "Medea Benjamin". Global Exchange. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  24. ^ Amy Goodman (April 3, 2000). "Medea Benjamin Runs for U.S. Senate on Green Party Line". Democracy Now. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Sweating for a t-shirt". The Sociology Video Project. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Activist, Green Party Candidate to Speak at Middle East forum on Wednesday". Fresno State News. April 2002. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  27. ^ "CODEPINK : Support GAZA!". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  28. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (March 4, 2014). "U.S. Activist Says Egyptian Police Assaulted Her". The New York Times. 
  29. ^ Glantz, Aaron (January 9, 2007). "On Guantanamo Prison Camp's Fifth Birthday, New Pressure to Shut It Down". Common Dreams. Archived from the original on September 27, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  30. ^ Code Pink Press Release, accessed 14 Nov 09
  31. ^ Reuters News Blog
  32. ^ Big Government
  33. ^ "Drones Watch". Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  34. ^ Benjamin, Medea (May 2, 2012). "'Shame on You': Why I interrupted Obama counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan". Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. 
  35. ^ "What About The Hundreds of Innocent People WE Are Killing With OUR Drone Strikes in Pakistan!" (YouTube). C-SPAN. May 2, 2012. 
  36. ^ Brennan, John (April 30, 2012). "The Efficacy and Ethics of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Archived from the original on July 30, 2012. 
  37. ^ The Efficacy and Ethics of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy — John Brennan (YouTube). Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. May 1, 2012. 
  38. ^ "CODEPINK : CODEPINK Peace Delegation to Pakistan". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  39. ^ "CNN Coverage of CODEPINK Stop Drones Delegation in Pakistan". YouTube. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  40. ^ McDonald, Mark (October 7, 2012). "Western Peace Activists Protest in Pakistan Against Drone Strikes". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  41. ^ Leiby, Richard (October 7, 2012). "Imran Khan and Codepink blocked from tribal area". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  42. ^ "Medea Benjamin interviewed on Al Jazeera about CODEPINK Delegation in Pakistan". Drones Watch. October 8, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  43. ^ "Pakistan Delegation News". Code Pink. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  44. ^ "NEW Book: Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control". Code Pink. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  45. ^ Voorhees, Josh (May 23, 2013). "Watch President Obama Handle a Heckler During His Counterterrorism Speech". The Slatest (Slate Magazine/YouTube). Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  46. ^ Obama Heckler Escorted Out of Speech (YouTube). Washington, D.C.: The Huffington Post Politics, Video by Ryan J. Reilly. May 23, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Bring Our War $$ Home". Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  48. ^ Ben Johnson (July 28, 2003). "America's Fifth Column Goes to Iraq". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  49. ^ John Perazzo (November 15, 2002). "The Anti-American: Medea Benjamin". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  50. ^ Medea Benjamin. "Window-Smashing Hurt Our Cause". ZMag. Archived from the original on May 3, 2006. Retrieved September 1, 2006. 
  51. ^ Medea Benjamin (October 11, 2004). "Bush Can't Admit Mistakes, But We Can". CommonDreams. [dead link]
  52. ^ Todd Chretien (July 26, 2004). "Believing in a Green Resistance: A Reply to Norman Solomon & Medea Benjamin". CounterPunch. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  53. ^ Benjamin, Medea (July 2, 2011). "Osama Bin Laden Is Dead; Let the Peace Begin". Retrieved August 25, 2011. 
  54. ^ a b "Medea Benjamin v. President Obama". May 24, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  55. ^ a b "That Woman Is Worth Paying Attention To". May 24, 2013. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  56. ^ "Raw: Heckler interrupts Obama on Guantanamo". USA Today. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  57. ^ a b Live, HuffPost (May 23, 2013). "WATCH: Obama Heckler: I Will Get In Again". The Huffington Post. 
  58. ^ "Obama to heckler: 'Part of free speech is ... you listening'". The Washington Post. May 23, 2013. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  59. ^ "Obama on Guantanamo Heckler: 'Worth Paying Attention To'". ABC News (ABC News). Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  60. ^ "U.S. activist, CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin held overnight in Egypt jail, claims abuse". CBS News. March 4, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  61. ^ "Drone Warfare - OR Books". OR Books. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 

External links[edit]