As we we noted in this week's issue, CODEPINK co-founder, social justice and anti-war advocate Medea Benjamin will be honored by the Thomas Merton Center on Thu., Nov. 8. We chatted by phone last week; here's an extended version of the interview that ran in the paper this week.
City Paper: You’ve written a book about drone warfare and are constantly trying to reach public officials on the issue, but reaction seems mixed: You were thrown out of the Wilson Center for interrupting Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan. How do you educate, and then, mobilize people around the issues of drone warfare when you yourself say the American people know very little, if nothing, about it?
Benjamin: We write books, we go out on speaking tours, we take the delegation to Pakistan to get more media attention. We go to faith-based communities and get their leaders to speak out. We go to the law schools and work with professors and students on the legal issues. We go to the drone bases and protest and get media attention. We organize around protesting at the sites of the manufacturers of the drones. We go to the White House, the halls of Congress to protest. We look for every anyway that we can … because we think it’s so critical to educate Americans and turn public opinion around.
You've been a big supporter of the Occupy movement. In an interview in Zuccotti Park in New York City last September, you said you were excited about a growing movement of diverse people who wanted to "think about a new way to recreate society." A year later, have you seen any tangible impact from the Occupy movement?
On the national level in the presidential race, I see the Occupy movement framing the debate about [Mitt] Romney representing the 1 percent and then other levels as I travel around the country on my book tour, I see the transformation of the Occupy movement in many communities to really practical working groups that are working on issues that affect community members in a very direct ways. So there are groups working on issues for the homeless, housing and stopping foreclosures and the kind of movements that include getting a lot of young people involved. I see a lot of movement around the money in politics. … In many communities, the movements continue to focus on the problems caused by the big banks and the need for people to move into community banks. So this kind of works in cities, and that’s an outgrowth of the Occupy movement but it’s not as visible because there is no physical occupation. …. But there are very good outcomes that I’m surprised at everywhere I go and some of these activities are happening and are really changing people’s minds.
Do you see a lot of crossover in those movements into your own work at CODEPINK, from those who initially were involved with Occupy?
It has gotten a new crop of people into activism. I’d say before the Occupy movement, there were very few people involved in movements except for climate change and immigration rights. But otherwise, there wasn’t much of a youth movement and now there is, and that’s directly as a result of Occupy.