WASHINGTON – On any given night,around dinner time,a woman in a pink apron in a cozy kitchen northeast of the Capitol is cooking dinner and thinking about war.
On Thursday that woman was Desiree Fairooz,51,a former librarian from Arlington,Texas,who moved to Washington to lobby against the Iraq war. In large black letters,her apron reads,”Clean up the House. Don't buy war.”
The small row house is rented by CodePink,a national women's peace organization,with more than 250 chapters nationwide. After dinner,sometimes into the wee hours of the morning,a group brainstorms for clever protest themes.
Though they accept male members,CodePink defines itself with femininity. Members often dress for protests in gowns and feather boas. These ladies find themselves at the intersection of the women's movement and the anti-war effort.
The organization was founded in November 2002 by about 100 women at a four-month vigil outside the White House. Last year,CodePink moved into the house on 5th Street NE.
For example,in October,Fairooz confronted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a congressional hearing. Fairooz put red paint on her hands and yelled,”The blood of millions of Iraqis is on your hands,Condoleezza Rice.”
She was arrested – as were five other CodePink women. Fairooz was charged with assault of a police officer and disorderly conduct,and was required to stay away from the Rayburn House Office Building. The disorderly conduct charge is still pending; the other was dropped.
“It was luck. It happened really fast,” Fairooz said. “There were no Secret Service agents right in front of me. When you watch it now,it sounds like I'm shouting it,but I feel like I just said it.”
At a White House press briefing that day,Press Secretary Dana Perino called Fairooz's actions “despicable,” and said,”Unfortunately,it seems that increasingly Congress is being run by CodePink.”
The women back at the house would disagree.
Carol Marsh,66,visiting from Missoula,Mont.,asked every senator to read Naomi Wolf's book,”The End of America.”
Marsh,a retired editor from a newspaper in Yakima,Wash.,said she met first with Sen. Jon Tester,D-Mont.,in October to give him the book.
“He said his mother actually gave it to him … and told him to read it,” Marsh said.
She blogged about the meeting. Within an hour,she got a message from the book's publisher offering as many copies as she wanted.
“I said,‘Great! I'll take 100 and I'll give them to the entire Senate,' ” Marsh said.
Members pride themselves on their sense of humor.
Marsh and other CodePink members sent a press release out under the name of Blackwater,a contractor for the U.S. military. The release said the contractor was creating a “department of corporate ethics” and listed the CodePink phone number as the contact. Within five minutes,Marsh said,confused Blackwater workers were on the phone.
“ABC called and scheduled an interview for the morning shows,but that fell through over the next couple of hours,” Marsh said.
“In the hindbrain of anyone who listens to us,we're momma,” said Eileen Coles,45 of New York who came to Washington for Wednesday's protest of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. “Somewhere in their head they're hearing their mother say,‘You're doing wrong. You're being bad. Cut it out.' We are the creators of life,and we have that power.”
Other members have a different perspective.
“It's violating gender stereotypes,” said Sarah Begus,65,a CodePink member and retired political theory professor from Baltimore,who wore a pink gown and beads at Wednesday's demonstration.
“Never in my life have I worn pink because I'm against gender stereotypes. But CodePink takes that and turns it on its head. It takes pink,which has always been a froufrou,passive,female color and makes it into something outrageous,something assertive.”
Begus said the group's super-feminine props have kept protesting fun and uplifting through the last five “depressing” years.
While it may seem natural for these political activists to take sides in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination,as a non-profit group,CodePink does not endorse candidates. The group targets both liberal and conservative lawmakers based on their war records.
“I'm a feminist for Obama because Hillary Clinton has betrayed the feminist movement by supporting the war. She's just a careerist,” Begus said.
Fairooz said the group counts four California Democrats among its strongest supporters – Reps. Barbara Lee,Maxine Waters,Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey.
Men who join CodePink tend to become followers instead of leaders.
Tighe Barry,51,a prop designer from Santa Monica,Calif.,is a regular helper in the basement of the house,where costumes and props,including oversized papier-mâché heads of administration officials are made and stored.
Though many members have families back home,they risk arrest,showing the high priority they give to ending the war in Iraq.
After five jail stays,Fairooz plans to file a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union about her treatment by U.S. Capitol Police.
“I'll file it,” she said,as she turned back to the sink,”when the house is clean and there are not quite as many people here.”
Scripps Howard News Service intern Thalia I. Longoria also contributed to this story.
For more photos of Wednesday's demonstration,including CodePink members,visit this photo gallery.