Reporter Lucas Daprile has covered politics and government,but he wanted to get a sense of how some other Washingtonians made their livings. He profiles a food truck owner,an artist and the founder of a peace movement.
WASHINGTON – Medea Benjamin has been arrested dozens of times,but she is no career criminal.
The arrests were intentional,done in the name of peace.
There was the time she was running for U.S. Senate under the Green Party ticket in California and was arrested for disrupting a political rally. Another time she was arrested for trespassing at the home of Erik Prince,founder of Academi,formerly known as Blackwater,and when she was violently arrested in Egypt and then deported.
Benjamin,62,the co-founder of anti-violence group CodePink has taken her message everywhere from San Francisco to Pakistan.
“I’ve been arrested many times for many different issues,” she said. “I don’t do it lightly,and I don’t do it because I want to get arrested. I do it because sometimes it’s the only way to bring attention to the issues.”
In the United States,she usually faces little more than a misdemeanor charge and a fine. When she protests abroad,her life can be in danger.
“Mostly,overseas I’ve had the biggest problems,” Benjamin said. “I’ve been shot at with rubber bullets,tear gas canisters,tear gassed many,many times from Bahrain to Palestine to Pakistan,where I’ve had 12 guys with guns to my head and my partner’s head,carjacked,kidnapped.”
After the ordeal in Pakistan,Benjamin,who is married,made it home to her two daughters,now aged 34 and 24.
The U.S. Embassy got her on a plane and out of Pakistan,but she suspects the U.S. Embassy wanted her out of the country to begin with. The day before,she protested a conference of U.S. ambassadors.
Benjamin lives a short walk from Capitol Hill – close enough to keep an eye on the country’s lawmakers.
Her home bristles with life,in contrast to the depressing topics she works to stop,including police brutality and torture.
A yellow,metal giraffe stands at about six feet in the front yard. It greets passersby from the yard. One might expect the outside of her narrow,three-story home to be painted pink – but it’s yellow.
Inside it’s painted pink. Her home is not to be confused with CodePink’s headquarters,which is painted pink inside and out.
Inside,CodePink interns,who live there,and employees were hard at work.
One day a few weeks ago,members were preparing for the grand jury in Ferguson,Mo.,to release a decision about whether to indict Officer. Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The decision came later in the day,but they already had a sign reading “STOP POLICE BRUTALITY” made.
“We operate in the sense that when something happens,we’re on it,” Anna Kaminski,25,a CodePink intern who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota,said. “We’re going to be there,and if that means that we have to work from a hotspot from our phones if we’re sitting and occupying a space in the city we’ll do that.”
The interns are not paid,but working with the organization can help them to start their own lives of activism.
“Every week,I have a new dream,but it’s always going to have to do with human rights,working with women on either a domestic or international level,” Anastasia Taylor,22,a CodePink intern and student at Northeastern University in Boston,said.
Benjamin receives no salary from CodePink.
The organization has a paid staff,but Benjamin is not one of them. She said she and the rest of the co-founders agreed not to take salaries from the organization.
CodePink was founded by Jodie Evans,Gael Murphy and Benjamin in 2002 when they held vigils outside the White House petitioning against the impending Iraq war. Of the original co-founders,Evans and Benjamin are still actively involved with CodePink.
One of those paid employees describes the organization’s interaction with lawmakers.
“We like to play,you know,good cop/bad cop,” CodePink National Coordinator Alli McCracken,25,said. “We support elected officials when they do something we like. … But we also like to name and shame those folks who are war mongers.”
As a 501(c)3,a nonprofit group,the organization does not support political parties or candidates.
Serving on the board of several organizations and royalties from Benjamin’s books help keep food on the table,she said.
She published her most recent book,“Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” in 2013.
In her time as an activist,Benjamin has seen plenty of volunteers come and go. Some,especially the younger demonstrators,often get discouraged by how slowly change can move on important issues.
“I have learned over many years … to recognize that the hardest issues to work on are the ones that are going to take the longest,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean we should stop working on them. It means we have to have a long-term perspective,” Benjamin said. “Recognize that it’s going to be a hard,long slog,and that it means a lifetime of dedication to these issues.”
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