Medea Benjamin with American peace delegation in Yemen; June 2013 Photo Credit: codepinkhq

Medea Benjamin with American peace delegation in Yemen; June 2013 Photo Credit: codepinkhq

Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, reports back from a recent delegation to Yemen:

“In Yemen we are close to the bottom in all kinds of measures like income and education, but there’s one statistic where we come out on top: the number of prisoners in Guantanamo,” laughed Mohammad Naji Allaw, a successful Yemeni lawyer who ploughs his firm’s profits into the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms. “Over 90 of 166 Guantanamo prisoners are from Yemen. Most of them, 56 to be exact, have already been cleared by the US government for release but the US government still won’t send them back.”

Our American peace delegation spent the week in Yemen meeting with lawyers, human rights activists, government officials and most importantly, families with loved ones in Guantanamo.

While we were visiting, Congress passed an amendment saying that no US military funds could be used to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo back to Yemen. The families and Yemeni officials we met were outraged. “You mean that after detaining Yemenis for over 11 years without charges and trials, refusing to release even those prisoners who have been cleared of all wrongdoing, forcing them to starve themselves to call attention to their plight, you’re saying that Congress is going to make it even harder to send them home?,” they asked us. “How can this be?”

How could we explain this to the mother of Abdulhakeem Ghaleeb, who hasn’t seen her son since he was 17 years old in 2002, a mother who can’t eat a meal in peace, knowing that her son has been on a hunger strike since February 6 and is now so weak he can’t speak? How can we explain this to 12-year-old Awda, who was in her mother’s womb when her father Abdulrahman Al Shubati was carted off to the island gulag, and here she was, holding his picture with tears streaming down her cheeks? What could we say to Ameena Yehya, whose brother had been sending home letters with beautiful drawings of flowers and scenes from their village, but stopped even writing five years ago because he is too hopeless to lift his pen? Or to Ali Mohammed, who said that on video call arranged every two months with the Red Cross he barely recognized his brother—a lifeless skeleton with sunken eyes and a big, inflated nose from where the feeding tube is forced down his nostrils?

We couldn’t bear to tell them the truth: that their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers are simply pawns in the US game of politics where one party is always trying to “out hawk” the other, where concern about winning the next election far eclipses any respect for the rights of the prisoners. And we didn’t have the heart to tell them that most American have become so consumed by fear after 9/11 that they think that holding these prisoners in Guantanamo indefinitely somehow makes them safer?

So instead we hugged and cried together. Our delegation explained that we are totally opposed to this cruel policy. We told them that over 300,000 Americans have signed petitions calling for Guantanamo to be closed. We talked about Americans like CODEPINK co-founder Diane Wilson and Veterans for Peace Elliott Adams who are risking their own lives on a long-term solidarity hunger strike—Diane since May 1 and Elliott since May 17. We showed them photos of our protests outside the White House. I mentioned that I even interrupted President Obama’s national security speech on May 23, demanding that he take action to release the 86 prisoners cleared for release. But gnawing constantly on our minds was the fact that we are just not doing enough, not caring enough, not creative enough, not strategic enough to force a change in policy.

In 2009, President Obama had cleared 56 Yemenis for transfer home, 26 immediately with 30 others to follow. But days after Christmas Day attempt to bomb an aircraft as it was landing in Detroit, Obama placed a moratorium on the transfer of Yemeni detainees. The would-be bomber, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, who had hidden plastic explosives in his underwear, told U.S. investigators that he’d been recruited for the mission in Yemen by Anwar al Awlaki, the US-born cleric who was later killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashoohouras heard US officials say that Yemeni government is not stable enough or strong enough to make sure the released prisoners don’t take up arms against America. They have told her that even if some of the prisoners were totally innocent and unjustly imprisoned, now—after 11 years behind bars—they probably hate the US so much that they’ll want revenge. In our meeting with Mashoohourshe threw up her arms in exasperation. “So you abuse these men and then you keep abusing them because they might hate you for your abuse? Is that the way the US justice system works?,” she asked.

Mashhour said the Yemeni government has already agreed to assign 10 government ministries to monitor repatriated detainees to ensure they don’t threaten the United States. The returnees, she said, would receive counseling, job training and other aid. She also explained how she went to Washington DC in May to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to release the cleared Yemeni prisoners, but left empty handed, complaining that she was never received at the White House.

Now the US government is setting up another obstacle: it wants Yemen to set up a rehabilitation center, but it has not committed money to fund it. Many people we talked to in Yemen believe the US government should not only fund the rehabilitation center, as this is a problem that the US created and Yemen has no money, but that it should also compensate the prisoners who have been wrongly imprisoned.

Instead, the US Congress is trying to cut off funds that could even be used to send the prisoners home. The Congressional amendment passed on June 14 is designed just for Yemen, prohibiting Department of Defense funds from being used to repatriate Yemenis. This doesn’t become law unless it is passed by the Senate and signed by the president. So there’s still time to stop it.

When we spoke about this amendment to Nadia Sakkof, an extraordinarily talented young women who is one of the key organizers of the National Dialogue Committee, she sprung into action. “Excuse me,” she apologized, running over to her computer, “but this is simply unacceptable and I must do something about this right now.” She fired off a message of outrage to her contacts in the U.S. Congress and wrote a letter to her colleagues at the National Dialogue Committee, asking them to join her in complaining to the US government about this new affront. By the end of the next day, 136 members of the National Dialogue had signed on and she had delivered the letter to the US Ambassador.

The following day, June 17, we planned the first-ever protest of Yemenis and Americans outside the US Embassy in Sanaa. Our 7-person delegation arrived at 10 am, thinking that perhaps a few dozen Yemenis would join us. After all, it was a weekend, the place was hard to get to, and they had very little notice in advance.

We waited, we heard a commotion. Marching up with street, in bright orange jumpsuits, were several hundred Yemeni families and their supporters. They were chanting “Freedom, freedom, where are you? Human rights, human rights, where are you?”

After the chants and speeches, we brought out a letter to send to President Obama, via the Embassy, in the name of our delegation and the Yemenis. One by one, starting with the women, the Yemenis came up to sign the letter. The ones who couldn’t write stamped their fingerprints. Even the children signed. The guards allowed a few of us to cross the barricades so we could deliver the letter to an Embassy representative. We also reiterated to the Embassy staff that earlier in the week, Ambassador Gerald Feierstein had promised to us he would meet with some of the families, and we hoped he would fulfill that promise.

At the end of the rally, we visited the National Dialogue Committee, which has been meeting for several months to co-build the foundations for a more democratic, peaceful nation. We brought orange ribbons for delegates to wear as armbands to show support for the Guantanamo prisoners. Even the security guards and reporters wanted to wear them. The 300 armbands we had quickly disappeared, with people asking for more. The support for the prisoners among the different political parties and independents at the National Dialogue is nearly universal. They say the refusal of the administration to release the Yemenis is an affront to the nation’s pride.

Attorney Mohammad Naji Allaw told us he has lost faith in Obama but he still has faith in the American people. We must work together to turn a noble page in American history. These prisoners are nearing death; time is running out. Please, go back and tell your friends in America that these are real human beings with real families, all of whom are suffering every day. The American people must do more to stop this.”


The following post is written by Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat Ann Wright.

Leaving Truth Outside the Court House at Bradley Manning’s Trial

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who loves his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.” ~ H.L. Mencken”
It was an early morning, getting out to Ft. Meade, Maryland by 7am to join the group of hearty activists standing out (in) the rain, greeting the journalists coming into the Bradley Manning hearing with chants of “Whistleblowing is not a crime, Free Bradley Manning.” The activists, many with groups like The Bradley Manning Support Committee, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK and Iraq Vets Against the War, had come from all over the country to show support for Manning during the upcoming weeks of the trial.
After a stint at the bullhorn, we got into the car to drive onto the base and get on line to try to get into the courtroom or the overflow room. With Ann Wright’s retired military ID, we got to bypass the long line of cars snaking around the checkpoint and breeze right in. About a dozen people were already on line, in the rain. Some were well-known characters, like professor Cornell West, author Chris Hedges, lawyer Michael Ratner and ACLU lawyer Ben Wisner; others were individuals who had come from as far away as Ireland and Mexico to support Manning.

It’s great that court martial trials are open to the public. But it’s absurd that this epic trial is being held in a tiny courtroom that only fits a total of 50 people. “It’s a trial of the century being conducted in a shoebox,” complained attorney Michael Ratner. Only 16 spaces were allocated to the public; the rest had to go to an overflow theatre that seated about 100, or a trailer next to the courtroom with room for 35. The press had a separate room where they could bring their computers and phones, although they were not allowed to transmit anything during the trial—just during the breaks.

Going through security for the courtroom, we were not allowed to bring any electronics. And there was a bit of a dust-up around t-shirts: some people with slogans on their shirts were made to turn them inside out, while others escaped the censors. It seems that “LOVE”, “Peace” and “Stay Human” could sneak by, but “TRUTH” and “Free Bradley” didn’t make it.

Once inside, we immediately saw the back of Bradley Manning’s shaved head, and his wire-rimmed glasses jutting out from the side. “He looks just like my grandson,” said CODEPINK Barbara Briggs from Sebastapol, California. “How tragic that this 25-year-old is facing life in prison.”

It was also sad to see that almost none of Manning’s family was there—only an aunt and cousin.

Manning had requested a court-martial by judge rather than by a jury of his peers.The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said last month she would close parts of the trial to the public to protect classified material.

The Prosecution presented its opening statement using an extensive power point that detailed the charges and specifications, and a brief synopsis that the testimony each witness will give.  The Prosecution said that FPC Manning had purposefully aided and abetted the enemy through the Wikileaks documents that Manning downloaded. He concluded by saying that Osama bin Laden requested and received a copy of internal U.S. military logs of the war in Afghanistan from another member of al-Qaeda.

The Defense’s opening statement responded that Manning is young and naïve but with good intentions.  Manning’s attorney David Coombs said Manning thought that the public should know what goes on in war and how one’s government operates.  He was troubled by the response of the government to requests for information from the Reuters news agency concerning the deaths of their journalists from an Apache helicopter attack (the video now known as Collateral Murder), as well as the 2009 Gharani air strike that killed 150 civilians.  Coombs insisted that Manning made the documents available for the public, not for the enemy, and that the documents leaked were largely publicly available information with no critical intelligence sources.

At a pretrial hearing in February, Manning admitted to 10 offenses that could land him 20 years in prison. But the government insisted on upping the ante by accusing him of “aiding the enemy”—a charge that could result in life in prison. The court-martial may take 2 or 3 months to complete the presentation of evidence for the 12 counts to which Manning has not plead guilty. Numerous secret witnesses will be testifying for the prosecution.

While the “aiding the enemy” charge is going to be very difficult to prove, Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the fact that the government is pursuing this charge “sends a message to every soldier and every journalist that they are literally taking their lives in their hands if they dare speak out against wrongdoing.”

Manning’s trial, which is slated to last three months, is the most stark example of the Obama administration’s relentless stance against whistleblowers. “This president has the  tried to prosecute six whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous presidencies combined,” said Cornell West. “President Obama is determined to stop the public from knowing about government wrongdoing.”

In pretrial proceedings, Manning said his motivation was to “spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Certainly that debate is long overdue. So is the debate about (the) right of the public to be informed about what our governments are doing in our name.

Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, is author of “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.” Ann Wright is a retired US Army Colonel and former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

Ramah Casers is an Egyptian mother and graphic designer who lives in Cairo. On Tuesday, November 27 she was standing at the entrance to Tahrir Square holding a simple, hand-written sign that read, “I am an Egyptian citizen and I will not let my country become a dictatorship once again.” She had come to the plaza with her young daughter, who was proudly helping to hold the sign. “I was in this same Tahrir Square during the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak but I haven’t been back since then,” Ramah told me. “I didn’t think any of the mobilizations called during the last two years were that critical. But for this one, I had to be here. This is about the life or death of our revolution.”Ramah was one of the hundreds of thousands of people filling Tahrir Square to protest the decree issued five days earlier by President Morsi giving himself power to make decisions that could not be challenged by the judiciary.

The decree came just one day after the November 22 Gaza ceasefire agreement between the Israeli government and Hamas, an agreement brokered by Morsi that sent his international prestige skyrocketing. Perhaps the president deemed this a good time to make a move. After all, the transitional process had been dragging on for almost two years and Morsi found himself in pitched battles with both the judiciary branch and his political opponents. The democratically elected lower house of parliament and the first constitution-drafting committee had been dissolved by court orders, and there was speculation that the courts would soon try to disband the upper house of parliament and the Constituent Assembly, the body that is writing the nation’s new constitution. There has also been considerable political opposition to the Constituent Assembly. Many accused Morsi of stacking it with Islamists who had no expertise in constitutional law, leading a number of members to withdraw in protest.

Morsi’s declaration was a complicated one, as it included some positive things for Egypt’s revolutionaries. It removed the unpopular Prosecutor General who was a Mubarak-era holdover and opened up the possibility for the retrial of recently acquitted officials implicated in violence against demonstrators. But outrage was sparked by the proviso that all presidential decisions be immune from judicial review until the adoption of a new constitution.

The president’s insistence that this measure was merely temporary was not reassuring, especially to many of the nation’s lawyers. “This is not about whether you like or trust Morsi; it’s about basic democratic values. We can’t allow a precedent that puts inordinate powers in the hands of a single individual and relieves him of all judicial oversight,” said Cairo attorney Khalid Hussein.

The opposition mobilized immediately. Some headed straight to Tahrir Square to begin a camp out and on Tuesday, merely five days after the decree had been issued, the people responded with a mass mobilization.

Some of those flocking to the plaza had been opposed to Morsi from the beginning. “I was always wary of the Muslim Brotherhood,” one young man wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt told me. “I never wanted to see our society being run by a bunch of religious people. But they were more organized that we secular folks were, and they outmaneuvered us.” Others had no problem with Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood until this latest power grab. “I didn’t vote for Morsi but I supported him as the duly elected president in a process that I considered the first free and fair election in my lifetime,” said Ahmed Mafouz, a 50-year-old engineer who was in the square with his wife. “But this move makes me think that he wants to become another Mubarak, and I just can’t let that happen.”

While many in the square were chanting “Morsi must go,” Mafouz was more moderate in his demands. “I don’t say that he has to leave power, but he has to rescind this decree that would give him dictatorial powers, and show that he will represent all the people, not just one sector,” said Mafouz.

“The ability of the Egyptian people to mobilize in this post-Mubarak era is astounding,” said Tighe Barry, an American with the peace group CODEPINK, as he looked around at the huge crowd that had packed the square so tightly you could barely walk. “I was in Egypt under Mubarak. In those days people were brutally beaten and thrown in jail for simply protesting. Now they come out en masse—young, old, men, women, religious, secular. It’s like a human tsunami.” Most people in the square did not seem connected to a political party; they gathered as individuals who felt a real stake in their country’s future. “This is a living revolution, a world-class example of grassroots democracy in action,” said Barry. “The world has much to learn from the Egyptians.”

During the revolution almost two years ago, those protesting in Tahrir Square were putting their lives at risk. The plaza was ringed by military tanks. Police, mostly undercover, were beating people up at the entrances to the square. Tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition from snipers atop buildings left many dead and injured. The government even sent thugs on camels racing through the packed square, crushing and terrifying the crowd.

Now, there was not a policeman or a soldier in sight. The square belonged to the people.

But the recent gathering had been threatened with a difference kind of violence—clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi supporters. During the week several headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, had been set on fire and a young Brotherhood member was killed. Deepening the tensions, the Muslim Brotherhood had called for a pro-Morsi rally on the very same day as the opposition rally. At the last minute, they wisely decided to cancel it to avoid further violence.

Despite a few minor clashes, Tuesday’s mobilization had a festive atmosphere, with fiery speeches, drumming and chanting, while vendors hawked everything from Egyptian flags to baked sweet potatoes. People pitched tents all over the square, determined to make this an ongoing protest.

While clashes with pro-Morsi forces had been avoided, there was a group in the square who did not feel safe: women. Some of the women complained bitterly about being groped and harassed by young men. “When we were in the square during the revolution this was the safest place for women in all of Egypt, in terms of harassment from the men,” a young student named Nada Bassem told me. “Women even slept in the square without problems; everyone took care of each other. Now, this can be a dangerous place for women.” While there was a decent representation of women during the day, as the night wore on, few remained. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to make this square—and all of Egypt for that matter—safe for women,” Nada insisted.

Another issue casting a pall over the entire political scene is a miserable economy inherited from the Mubarak regime, one that has only worsened since the revolution. The chaos of the uprising dried up the flow of tourists, previously a considerable source of income, and many foreign investments. The country faces a massive budget deficit, crumbling infrastructure, soaring unemployment and rapidly declining foreign currency reserves. News of the decree and pictures of subsequent protests sent the stock market tumbling to its lowest rate since the revolution. And a controversial IMF deal that will probably lead to significant price increases could spark much more massive—and perhaps violent—protests.

But those gathered in Tahrir Square seemed steeled for the task ahead. “Don’t discount this country or this revolution,” said a young protester as she took a breadth from leading a cluster of protesters in boisterous anti-government chants. “We put Morsi in power and if we have to, we will take him out. We have people power and we will make this nation the greatest democracy on earth.” The crowd roared in approval.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK ( and Global Exchange (


Photo Credit: Code Pink

The following update is based on a press release issued by Code Pink. You can read the entire press release here.

CODEPINK Group Travels to Gaza to Bring Aid and Witness Devastation From Israeli Assault

In the wake of the ceasefire brokered by Egypt, a 20-person delegation of American journalists and peace advocates is traveling to the decimated territory to witness the hardships now facing the 1.7 million residents, deliver emergency aid and call attention to the need for a longer-term strategy to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians.

The delegates include CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin; former State Department official and retired Col. Ann Wright, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence co-coordinator Kathy Kelly.

“The U.S. government allowed Israel carte blanche for eight days while it pounded more than 1,000 sites in Gaza, disproportionately killing civilians,” noted Wright. “Americans of conscience must witness and report back on the heavy price exacted by our support of Israel, so that taxpayers back home will call for a more humane, productive use of their hard-earned dollars.”

A total of 162 Palestinians were killed during the attack. An estimated 73 percent were civilians, including more than 25 children. Five Israelis were killed. “We mourn the loss of lives on both sides,” said CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin, “but we think it’s important to recognize the that the Palestinians have suffered much greater losses, and that the Israeli armaments used in the attack were financed largely by the United States, which sends Israel $3 billion in military funds every year.”

Continue here to read the complete Press Release.



On November 16th I testified in Congress at a congressional briefing on drones organized by Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Here is her testimony.

Drones Create Enemies

I recently returned from leading a US delegation of 34 Americans to Pakistan, looking at the results of US drone attacks. We found that drones are actually jeopardizing our security by spreading hatred of Americans and sowing the seeds of violence for decades to come. Drones help extremists recruit more discontented youth. In the tribal society of Waziristan where the drones are attacking, we learned that people who have lost their family members in these deadly attacks are bound by the Pashtun honor code — Pashtunwali — to retaliate and seek revenge.

While for the most part we were received with great hospitality, we found intense anger over the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and what people perceived as a cavalier attitude towards their lives. “To Americans, we are disposable people; our lives are worth nothing” an angry young man told me. At a meeting with the Islamabad Bar Association, we were confronted by a group of lawyers yelling, “Americans, go home. You are all a bunch of terrorists.”

A June 2012 Pew Research poll found that 3 out of 4 Pakistanis considered the US their enemy. With a population of over 180 million, that means 133 million people! Surely that cannot be good for our national security. When Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked why there was so animosity towards the United States, she gave a one word answer: drones.

Suspending drone strikes won’t automatically make us loved or stop Islamic radicals, but continuing the strikes only exacerbates the problem. Whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia—Al Qaeda, the Taliban or Al Shabab may be callously killing innocent people, local police and armed forces, but by capitalizing on the fear of drones and the intrusion of Westerners, they cast themselves as defenders of the people.

The US Use of Drones Is Setting a Dangerous Precedent

The US is using drones as if it were the only country to possess them. But the overwhelming US dominance is coming to an end, with the technology falling into the hands of other nations, friends and foes alike.

According to a GAO report, by 2012 more than 75 countries have acquired drones. Most of these are for surveillance and reconnaissance missions but many countries—including Israel, Britain, France, Russia, Turkey, China, India and Iran—either have or are seeking weaponized drones.

Israel is the world’s leading exporter of drones, with more than 1,000 sold in 42 countries. China is producing some 25 different types of drones. Iran has already begun deploying its own reconnaissance drones and weapons-ready models are in the works. In October the Iranian government announced a new long-range drone that can fly 2,000 kilometers; just weeks ago, an Iranian drone launched by Hezbollah flew in Israeli airspace for three hours, beaming back live images of secret Israeli military bases before being shot down by the Israeli military.

A 2012 GAO study reported that “certain terrorist organizations” have acquired small, more rudimentary drones, such as radio-controlled aircraft that are available through the Internet. But if terrorists were able to equip these drones with even a small quantity of chemical or biological weapons, it could produce lethal results.

The proliferation of drones should evoke reflection on the precedent that the US is setting by killing anyone it wants, anywhere it wants, on the basis of secret information. Other nations and non-state entities are watching—and are bound to start acting in a similar fashion.

Surveillance Drones at Home

Here at home, the use of surveillance drones is about to explode thanks in large measure to the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus. Self-described as “industry’s voice on Capitol Hill”, this group of fifty lawmakers has close ties with the powerful industry lobby group: the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

The Caucus not only pushes to lift export restrictions, but also to relax regulations that limit the use of drones domestically. It pushed through legislation that requires the FAA to fully integrate drones into US airspace by September 15, 2015.

Some police departments have already applied for—and received—permission to test out various kinds of drones. From Miami to Houston to Mesa Country, Colorado, police departments have drones that can be equipped with tasers, stun batons, grenade launchers, shotguns, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

These drones can also be outfitted with high-powered cameras, thermal imaging devices, license plate readers, and laser radar. In the near future, they might add biometric recognition that can track individuals based on height, age, gender, and skin color and will soon have the capacity to see through walls and ceilings.

All the pieces appear to be lining up to introduce routine aerial surveillance into American life—a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States. This is especially worrisome since our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.

Drones at home also pose a threat to our safety because the technology is still in its early stages and many drones don’t have adequate “detect sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions. In 2009, the Air Force admitted that more than a third of their drones had crashed. In August 2012 a drone in Afghanistan collided with a C-130 cargo plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing.

In June 2012 the military’s largest drone, the Global Hawk, did not crash in some far-flung overseas outpost but right here in southern Maryland. The aircraft, valued at $176 million, was on a Navy test mission when the ground pilot lost control. Luckily, it crashed into a marsh, not a residential neighborhood.

The Way Forward

The burden is now squarely on Congress and the public to push back against the proliferation of drones as a military and law enforcement tool.

Peace groups such as CODEPINK, Voices of Creative Non-Violence, and Catholic Workers are part of a growing movement protesting at US bases where lethal drones are remotely operated and at the headquarters of drone manufacturers. Faith-based leaders are questioning the morality of killer drones.

More and more, people of conscience are calling for international guidelines to curb robotic warfare, as the world community has done in the case of land mines and cluster bombs.

We are calling on friends in Congress to act as a counterweight to the pro-drone Caucus and the drone lobby. We need congresspeople who will stand up to a lethal presidential policy run amok, who will advocate on behalf of the privacy and safety of Americans at home, and on behalf of the rule of law overseas, who will demand that the CIA revert to being an intelligence-gathering agency, who will say that after 10 years of waging a war on terror by terrorizing people, it’s time to try another way—a way that includes speeding up the US troop exit from Afghanistan, stopping the deadly drone strikes, promoting peace talks and helping to educate and provide economic opportunities to people in the conflict regions.

The response to the brutal shooting of 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousefzai points in that direction. While the police undertook a nationwide search for her aggressors, Malala’s shooting awoke Pakistani’s silent majority who are saying “Enough” to Taliban threats and oppression. Pakistanis organized rallies throughout the country; girls everywhere, even in SWAT Valley where Malala was shot, expressed their determination to return to school; fathers vowed to protect the schools themselves; and citizens delivered one million signatures to the government demanding free and compulsory education.

Right now, less than half of Pakistani children are enrolled in school; in the tribal areas the figures are less than 20 percent, and only one in five students is female. The numbers are even worse in Yemen and Somalia. For the cost of one Hellfire missile, we could educate 750 children a year.

For the cost of one Predator drone, we could send 37,000 children to school. What a great way to fight extremism, build a better future for the youth of these nations, and make ourselves safer by winning the hearts and minds of the people. Schools not drones should not just be a catchy slogan, but a radical shift away from a 10-plus year failed policy of endless war towards one based on making peace with our Muslim neighbors.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Foreign policy played a minor role in a presidential election that focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. But like it or not, the United States is part of a global community in turmoil, and U.S. policies often help fuel that turmoil. The peace movement, decimated during the first Obama term because so many people were unwilling to be critical of President Obama, has a challenge today to re-activate itself, and to increase its effectiveness by forming coalitions with other sectors of the progressive movement.  Over the next four years, this movement must grapple with key issues such as the Afghan war, killer drone attacks, maintaining peace with Iran, US policy vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, and the bloated Pentagon budget.

Despite President Obama’s talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military still has some 68,000 troops and almost 100,000 private contractors there, at a cost of $2 billion a week. And Obama is talking about a presence of U.S. troops, training missions, special forces operations, and bases for another decade. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Americans think this war is not worth fighting, a sentiment echoed in a recent New York Times editorial “Time to Pack Up.” It is, indeed, time to pack up. The peace movement must push for withdrawal starting now—and definitely no long-term presence! Veteran’s Day should be a time to take a hard look at the impact of war on soldiers, particularly the epidemic of soldier suicide.  We must also look at the devastating impact of war on Afghan women and children, particularly as winter sets in. Despite the billions of dollars our government has poured into development projects, Afghan children are literally freezing to death.

American drone attacks are out of control, killing thousands in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, many of them civilians. Drones are sowing widespread anti-American sentiment and setting a dangerous precedent that will come back to haunt us. Anti-drones protests have sprung up all over the United States at air forces bases where the drones are piloted, at the headquarters of drone manufacturers, at the CIA and in Congressional offices. Our job now is to coordinate those efforts, to launch a massive public education campaign to reverse pro-drone public opinion, pass city resolutions against drone use, and to call on our elected officials to start respecting the rule of law. If we strengthen our ties with people in the nations most affected, as we have begun to do on our recent CODEPINK delegation to Pakistan, and join in with those at the UN bodies who are horrified by drone proliferation, we can make progress in setting some global standards for the use of lethal drones.

Also looming ominously is a possible Israeli attack on Iran that would draw the US into a devastating regional war. Almost 60 percent of Americans oppose joining Israel in a war with Iran. We must make sure Obama and Congress hear that voice above the din of AIPAC lobbyists gunning for war, and steer clear of dragging the US into yet another Middle Eastern conflict.  Public opinion campaigns such as the “Iranians We Love You” posters on busses in Tel Aviv, and cross-cultural exchanges in Iran and the US bring humanity to a tenuous political situation.  We also must renew efforts to oppose the crippling sanctions that are impacting everyday citizens in Iran, and rippling out to spike food prices elsewhere, including Afghanistan.

Perhaps hardest of all will be to get some traction on changing US policy towards Israel/Palestine. The grassroots movement to stop unconditional financial and political support for Israel is booming, with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation building networks across the country. Campaigns to boycott and divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation continue to win victories and attract global support. We’re unlikely to see the Obama administration and Congress condemning settlements, human rights abuses, or the ongoing siege of Gaza, much less cutting off the $3 billion a year that helps underwrite these abuses. But we can continue to shift public opinion and gain more allies in Congress, with an openness to reaching out to libertarians and fiscal conservatives calling for cuts in foreign aid.  In the aftermath of the election, Jewish Voice for Peace and interfaith allies have pledged to continue efforts to call for US aid to Israel to be conditioned on compliance with international law.

And then there’s the bloated Pentagon budget. At a time when the nation is looking at how best to allocate scarce resources, all eyes should be on the billions of dollars wasted on Pentagon policies and weapons that don’t make us safer. From the over 800 bases overseas to outdated Cold War weapons to monies given to repressive regimes, we need a rational look at the Pentagon budget that could free up billions for critical social and environmental programs.

Key to building a vibrant peace movement in the next four years is coalition-building, reaching out to a broad array of social justice groups to make the connections between their work and the billions drained from our economy for war. Environmentalists, women’s rights advocates, labor unions, civil rights—there are so many connections that have to be rekindled from the Bush years or started anew.

Finally, we have to provide alternatives to the worn narrative that the military interventions around the world are making us more secure. It’s time to demand alternatives like negotiations, creative diplomacy and a foreign policy gearing toward solving global problems, not perpetuating endless war. The UN declared November 10th “Malala Day” in honor of Pakistan’s 15-year-old Malala Yousefzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for supporting education for girls.  This tragedy awoke international commitments to ensuring girls can get to school, a relatively inexpensive goal with major returns for the advancement of women’s rights, health, prosperity, and security.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see our government prioritizing funds for school over drone warfare and endless weapons stockpiling?

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King. If we can connect these foreign policy issues with domestic needs and climate change, if we can follow the powerful examples of mass direct action movements from Chile to Egypt, and if enough people practice democracy daily rather than waiting until the next presidential election, then maybe–just maybe—we’ll be able to push the arc of Obama’s second term in the direction of peace and justice.

Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Brian Moynihan and pink bra

“Stripping Protestors In Pink Bras Crashed Bank Of America CEO Brian Moynihan’s Speech,” declared Business Insider on March 8, showing Moynihan’s stern photo with a pink bra playfully dangling in the air beside him.

It’s true, things did get a bit wild at Citi’s Financial Services conference at New York’s Waldorf Astoria when Brian Moynihan got on stage and began flipping through his tedious powerpoint.

While the hotel security was busy watching anti-bank protesters rallying outside, CODEPINK cofounder Jodie Evans, dressed in a hot pink bustier, burst into the conference room. “Bust up Bank of America before it busts up America”, she shouted, before being hauled out by security guards. “As I was saying,” continued a deadpan Moynihan to the laughter of the crowd, returning to the dreary slides that tried to put a rosy spin on this dinosaur of a company whose share price has plummeted while it continues to foreclose on families’ homes and faces tens of billions of dollars in damages from lawsuits over mortgage investments.

Little did Moynihan know that the excitement at what is normally a bankers’ snoozefest had just begun. CODEPINK codirector Rae Abileah and I were already seated in the front of the room. Wearing dark business suits, we did our best to blend into the crowd of stodgy white men in black business suits.

While Moynihan was bragging that Bank of America ended 2011 with the most capital, liquidity and reserves ever in its history, I calmly walked on stage and began to disrobe while Rae deftly jumped on a table in front of the stage. As we shed our jackets and shirts, the startled CEO suddenly found himself flanked by women in pink bras, with Bust up B of A scrawled on our chests.

Taking the mic away from Moynihan, I addressed the audience of bankers and institutional investors. “Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and on behalf of 99 percent of women in this country who are disgusted by the unbridled greed of the big banks, we say it’s time to Bust Up the Bank of America.” I kept talking about the bank’s misdeeds as security guards jumped on stage and dragged me into the hall. To my delight, I could hear Rae, who was left standing on the table in her pink bra, shouting over the boos of the audience. “Stop foreclosing on people’s homes; stop the predatory lending; stop funding dirty coal. Mr. Moynihan, how can you justify making millions while bankrupting America?” she asked, as the security guards dragged her away. Indeed, in 2011, while millions of Americans were jobless and homeless thanks to the bankers, Moynihan received over $6 million in compensation.

Bank of America protestor on International Women's Day Credit: Rae Abileah

This protest was one of many taking place at Bank of America branches around the country on International Women’s Day. Organized by CODEPINK, Women Occupy and Occupy Wall Street, the protests were meant to highlight the effects of the financial crisis on women and the fact that, four years into this crisis, the same problems exist.

In the afternoon, those of us in New York moved on to protest at the Bank of America branch located across the street from famous Zuccotti Park. While protesters gathered outside the bank, a few of us, including Rae and myself, went inside early. Just as the “bank busters” tried to make their way inside, the manager locked the doors and refused to let anyone else in.

With only a three of us inside, we didn’t know whether to proceed or bail. We decided to say a few chants, sing a Break Up the Banks song we had practiced, and then make a quick exit. We had just taken off our shirts and belted out a few chants when the police stormed in.

I gathered my belongings, ready to follow what I assumed would be a request to leave. Instead, the police treated me like I was about to rob the bank, pinning my arms behind my back and putting me in handcuffs. “We were never asked to leave, we were only exercising our right to free speech, we didn’t harm anyone or block any doors,” I argued to no avail.

Meanwhile Rae, who had run outside, was brutally tackled to the ground, her head smashed against the pavement. Crying and clearly in pain, she was roughly pulled up and cuffed. So was Monica Hutchins, who was arrested by the same out-of-control officer for merely marching and singing on the sidewalk. Occupy Wall Street activist Mark Adams, who had come to Rae’s aid, was also grabbed and arrested.

I later learned that the gentle, soft-spoken Mark Adams had personal reasons for protesting the bank, and for joining the Occupy Wall Street movement. His father had been approved for a mortgage by a small private lender, but then his dad got sick and passed away. Mark tried to keep the house, but the lender sold the loan to Bank of America who then foreclosed, leaving him homeless.

The four of us, arrested at 2:30pm on March 8, were taken to the local jail, where we were booked, and then transferred to the infamous clink known as “The Tombs.” We were locked up in a dirty, freezing cell with about 15 women who had been picked up on various charges like prostitution, shoplifting, drug dealing and domestic violence. All our possessions, including our jackets, had been taken away, so we were stuck in the freezing cell with no coats or blankets. The sleeping accommodations consisted of three dirty plastic mats—meant for one person each—thrown on the floor to “share” among all of us. We spent a long, sleepless night shivering in the cold.

The women in the cell were proud of us for standing up to the banks; so were some of the police. “They were arrested for protesting against foreclosures at Bank of America,” one of the policemen told a policewoman while I was being fingerprinted. “I’m with you there,” she said. “Those bankers are thieves. They take government money to bail them out but then they refuse to lend money to black women like me. I lost my house because I couldn’t get a bank loan, even though I have a good, steady job.”

Her case is all too common. And minority women who do get loans have been targeted with the most expensive, punitive and toxic loans. Women are 32% more likely than men to receive sub‑prime mortgages, and Latina and African-American women borrowers are the most vulnerable.
After several rounds of fingerprinting, two iris scans, one disgusting peanut butter sandwich, and 26 hours in a cold cell, we finally got to see a judge. We were charged with two counts of trespassing, and have to return to court on March 30.

In jail, you see the stark contrast between those who create the economic havoc and those who really pay the consequences.
Meeting women locked up for such petty crimes as stealing a $40 bottle of perfume from Sephora, I thought about how much money CEO Brian Moynihan and his cronies have stolen from the American people. In fact, the very same day we were protesting, a whistleblower filed court documents charging Bank of America with knowingly and fraudulently seeking to limit homeowner mortgage modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program.

Occupy Wall Street has been tapping into the anger against these unaccountable, “too big to fail” institutions, not only protesting against them but spurring a campaign to move many millions of dollars from Wall Street to Main Street. In the past year over a million Americans took their money out of big banks and opened accounts with credit unions. Credit union profit jumped 41 percent to $6.4 billion last year. The exodus continues this year, as greedy financial giants continue to squeeze their customers by hiking up fees.

While many of us are protesting, our government has failed to hold the banks accountable, prosecute the wrongdoers or restructure our financial system. The banks that were too big to fail then are even bigger now. The top 6 banks that had 7 trillion dollars in assets now have 9 or 10 trillion, and the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department continue to prop up these behemoths, instead of breaking them up into smaller, more sustainable banks. The Dodd-Frank legislation passed to regulate the financial institutions is too cumbersome (2,300 pages compared to the 24-page Glass-Steagall Act); the big banks with their fancy lawyers can find all kinds of loopholes, while the smaller banks are now forced to pay for the avarice of the big ones.

Looking back on March 8, going to jail for justice was an appropriate way to commemorate a day that, starting in 1911, was a call by women workers for shorter hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to discrimination. Our foremothers like hell-raiser Mother Jones would certainly approve of standing up to rapacious banks and bankers. She might have even approved of the pink bras. After all, the feisty Mother Jones did have this advice for women: “Whatever your fight, don’t be ladylike.”

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of  and Please join us in calling on the bank to drop the charges against us.

Medea (right) holding photo of a boy in hospital who died from tear gas in Sitra, Bahrain

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, was deported from Bahrain for joining a peaceful women’s march that was broken up by tear gas.

John Timoney is the controversial former Miami police chief well known for orchestrating brutal crackdowns on protests in Miami and Philadelphia- instances with rampant police abuse, violence, and blatant disregard for freedom of expression. It should be of great concern that the Kingdom of Bahrain has brought Timoney and John Yates, former assistant commissioner of Britain’s Metropolitan Police, to “reform” Bahrain’s security forces.

Since assuming his new position, Timoney has claimed that Bahrain has been reforming it brutal police tactics in response to recommendations issued by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. He says that there is less tear gas being used and that while tear gas might be “distasteful,” it’s not really harmful.

I have no idea what country Chief Timoney is talking about, because it’s certainly not the Bahrain I saw this past week, a week that marked the one-year anniversary since the February 14, 2011 uprising.

I was in Bahrain for five days before being deported for joining a peaceful women’s march. During my stay, I accompanied local human rights activists to the villages where protests were raging and police cracking down. Every day, I inhaled a potent dose of tear gas, and came close to being hit in the head with tear gas canisters. Every evening I saw the fireworks and smelled the noxious fumes as hundreds of tear gas canisters were lobbed into the village of Bani Jamrah, next door to where I was staying. The villagers would get on their roofs yelling “Down, Down Hamad” (referring to the King). In exchange, as a form of collective punishment, the whole village would be doused in tear gas. I went to bed coughing, eyes burning, wondering how in the world the Bahrainis can stand this.

Tear gas is supposed to be used to disperse violent gatherings that pose a threat to law and order. It is not supposed to be used on unarmed protesters who are simply exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly.

“Shamefully, Bahrain has the highest tear gas use, per capita, in the world,” said human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. “And the police don’t just shoot outside to disperse crowds. They use the tear gas canisters as weapons, shooting them directly at people. And they shoot the gas right into people’s houses. If Mr. Timoney thinks the use of tear gas here is ‘moderate,’ he has obviously not spent many evenings in Bahraini villages.”

Timoney also told reporters that there is no evidence that tear gas has killed anyone. He should meet Zahra Ali, the mother of Yassin Jassim Al Asfoor.

On November 19, 2011, riot police—running around the village of Ma’ameer searching for a few people chanting anti-government slogans—fired three tear gas canisters directly into her home.

Everyone in the family started choking, especially 13-year-old Yassin, who suffered from asthma. Yassin could barely breathe.  Panicking, his parents called an ambulance. “I’m dying from the tear gas, I’m dying,” Yassin cried on the way to the hospital. He struggled desperately to survive for the next 29 days before his lungs simply collapsed.

Zahra lovingly showed me photos of Yassin donning a party hat, celebrating his 14th birthday in the hospital a few days before he died. “All the doctors and nurses loved him—Sunni, Shia, everyone. They even came here for his funeral,” she said proudly.

I asked Zafra if she had a message about the tear gas for Police Chief Timoney. “Just ask him if he has ever lost a child,” she whispered.

Timoney should also meet the parents of 14-year-old Ali Jawad al-Sheik. He did not die from inhalation. No. He was killed on August 31, 2011, when the police fired tear gas at protesters from roughly 20 feet away. A canister busted open the young boy’s face. To his parent’s furor, the autopsy said the cause of death was “unknown.”

The same thing happened exactly four months later to 15-year-old Sayyed Hashem Saeed. The police then used tear gas to disperse mourners at Sayyed’s funeral.

Faisal Abdali, a businessman who lives at the entrance of Sitra, would also love to speak to the police chief. He is hopping mad and wants some justice and accountability.

For months now, as the police enter the village of Sitra, they have been tossing tear gas directly into his house. Every time he lodged a complaint, the house would be targeted even worse the next day.

Faisal had taped up all the windows and sealed the air conditioners to keep the gasses out. On January 27, 2012 the police shot tear gas inside the garage. When Faisal’s wife opened the garage door, the gasses filled the house. Everyone felt sick, especially Faisal’s father—a healthy 58-year-old. He started vomiting, and went to bed early in the hopes that he would feel better the next day. When Faisal opened his father’s bedroom door the next morning, he found him lying on the floor. Five days later, he was dead. The doctor said he died from tear gas but he was not allowed to put that on his death certificate.

Faisal showed me about ten of the canisters that had been thrown into his house. Three of them came from Combined Systems in Jamestown, Pennsylvania and three from factories in Brazil. The rest had no markings at all. Faisal thought that the unmarked ones were the most toxic.

A Bahraini doctor told Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) about the different types of gas she found in the villages. “[There was] a white gas and a yellow one, but I also saw a third gas of a blue color from a distance. The gas felt like a poison, like a thousand knives and needles all over your body; what kind of tear gas is supposed to affect people this way? I have seen tear gas patients who are in a state of convulsion that never ends, like a prolonged seizure.”

Other Bahraini doctors have noted that the symptoms of the tear gas are unusual. When they asked the Ministry of Health to run tests on the gas canisters, their requests were denied.

Since the long-term effects of prolonged and repeated exposure to tear gas has never been studied, physicians and environmentalists in Bahrain have begun to worry about the impact that repeated exposure to these chemicals may have on the general population.

On January 26, 2012, Amnesty International called on Bahrain to investigate 13 deaths that followed the misuse of tear gas by security forces. At least three of those deaths occurred after Timoney was hired.

Environmentalist Moh’d Jawad Fursan told me that there are no accurate records of how many people have died from the tear gas, since doctors are not allowed to report this as the cause of death. He thinks more than 13 people have died and thousands have been affected, particularly the young and the elderly. Fursan says the rates of miscarriages and stillborn babies have increased, and he expects the rates of cancer will soar, as well as babies born with deformities.

The day before I was deported from Bahrain, I visited the home of a poor extended family where 44 people lived in an open-air complex. They had one tiny, windowless room that was covered; they called this the “safe room” for the little children. The day I visited, there was a nursing mother of a 2-week-old child, another baby and a two year old. This “safe room,” just like the open space around it, reeked of tear gas. “The babies cry, their eyes are all red and swollen, they get skin rashes, but what can we do?”, sighed the young mother. “We have no way to protect our children. We have nowhere to hide.”

Mr. Timoney, I suggest you take another tour of Bahrain, led not by government minders but by women from the villages. (Make sure you bring along a gas mask.) I also suggest you donate the blood money you’re taking from the Bahraini government to a fund for the tear gas victims.

Medea Benjamin holding a teargas canister in Bahrain

Yesterday we shared with you a report by Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, who is in Bahrain right now. Today, 6 US citizens were arrested in Bahrain. Here’s  Medea’s latest message:

I write to you from the front lines of the violence rocking Bahrain. Today six US citizens– including CODEPINK’s very own Paki Wieland– were arrested by Bahraini security forces in Manama during a peaceful protest on the way to the Pearl Roundabout. Protesters had marched into the city center to reestablish a presence of nonviolent, peaceful protest on the one year anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain.

February 14 isn’t Valentines Day in Bahrain. It’s the one year anniversary of the people rising up to demand freedom – an effort brutally crushed by their government and Saudi tanks. This year, they are commemorating February 14 with massive demonstrations, and I am in Bahrain today for the demonstrations with an observer delegation.

Asked by courageous Bahraini human rights activists to come bear witness, what could we say but yes? What a great way to spend Valentines Day, showing our love for activists who put their lives on the line for freedom. Unfortunately, many on the delegation were not allowed into Bahrain, and since we arrived in the country two days ago, we have been incessantly teargassed along with thousands of Bahrainis, with teargas made in the USA. It is shameful to know that my government continues to sell weapons to this repressive regime.

Show your love for the brave Bahraini protesters by signing this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!

Paki, now in custody, holds a canister of Made in USA tear gas in Bahrain

Here’s more about the US citizens arrested in Bahrain today, from our friends at Voices for Creative Nonviolence:

The international observers were in Bahrain as part of Witness Bahrain, an effort aimed at providing civilian presence to report and monitor the situation on the ground. Leading up to February 14, the one year anniversary of pro-democracy protests, Bahraini authorities had prevented journalists, human rights observers and other internationals from entering the country, leading many to fear a brutal crackdown.

Just yesterday, Secretary of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that the US wanted to see the “security forces exercise restraint and operate within the rule of law and international judicial standards.” But she failed to condemn the violent arrests of US international observers, the detainment of numerous Bahraini pro-democracy activists (including President of the Bahraini Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab) and the ongoing use of overwhelming amounts of tear gas.

The six US citizens were part of a peaceful protest marching towards the Pearl Roundabout – site of last year’s peaceful round-the-clock protest in Bahrain, modeled after Egypt’s Tahrir Square – when they were attacked. Bahraini authorities appear to have targeted the Witness Bahrain observers, as one volunteer was told that she was detained for reporting on the February 11th Manama protest.

The six observers remain in Bahraini custody in the Naem Police Station in Manama. This group of internationals is the second to be deported by the Bahraini government. Attorneys Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath were deported on Saturday, February 11th. The two were handcuffed for the duration of their flight from Bahrain to London.

Several international observers remain on the ground.

Biographies of the six arrested international observers:

  1. Kate Rafael works at a San Francisco law firm and is a radio journalist, blogger and political activist from Oakland, California.
  2. Flo Razowsky is photographer and community organizer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a Jewish anti-Zionist activist with Witness Bahrain and several Palestine solidarity organizations.
  3. Linda Sartor teaches graduate school, and is a community activists based out of Northern California. She has been a human rights activist in Palestine, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan and Bahrain.
  4. Paki Wieland is a retired social worker/family therapist educator in the Department of Applied Psychology, Antioch University, Keene, New Hampshire. Since the 1960s, she’s also been a dedicated anti-war and civil rights activist.
  5. Mike Lopercio is a restaurant owner from Arizona and has visited Iraq with a Military Families delegation.
  6. Brian Terrell lives and works at Strangers and Guests Farm in Maloy, Iowa. He is a long time peace activist and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Take Action! Once again, sign this petition calling on President Obama to stop new arms deals with Bahrain. Support the people in the street fighting for their rights, from Egypt to Bahrain and Oakland to Washington DC!



I had the privilege of starting out the year witnessing, firsthand, the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square. I saw people who had been muzzled their entire lives, especially women, suddenly discovering their collective voice. Singing, chanting, demanding, creating. And that became the hallmark of entire year–people the world over becoming empowered and emboldened simply by watching each other. Courage, we learned in 2011, is contagious!

1. The Arab Spring protests were so astounding that even Time magazine recognized “The Protester” as Person of the Year. Sparked by Tunisian vendor Mohamed Bouazizi‘sself-immolation to cry out against police corruption in December 2010, the protests swept across the Middle East and North Africa—including Egypt,Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. So far, uprisings have toppled Tunesian President Ben Ali, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Libyan leader  Muammar Gaddafi–with more shake-ups sure to come. And women have been on the front lines of these protests, highlighted recently by the incredibly brave, unprecedented demo of 10,000 Egyptian women protesting military abuse.

2. Wisconsin caught the Spring Fever, with Madison becoming home to some 100,000 protesters opposing Governor Walker’s threat to destroy collective bargaining and blame the state’s economic woes on public workers. Irate Wisconsinites took over the Capitol, turning it into a festival of democracy, while protests spread throughout the state. The workers managed to loosen the Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin state government and send a message to right-wing extremists across the country. This includes Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected Governor Kasich’s SB 5, a measure designed to restrict collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees. A humbled Kasich held a press conference shortly after the vote, saying: “The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public.”

3. On September 17 Occupy Wall Street was born in the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District. Protesters railed against the banksters and corporate thieves responsible for the economic collapse. The movement against the greed of the richest 1% spread to over 1,400 cities in the United States and globally, with newly minted activists embracing–with gusto–people’s assemblies, consensus decision-making, the people’s mic, and upsparkles. Speaking in the name of the 99%, the occupiers changed the national debate from deficits to inequality and corporate abuse.  Even after facing heightened police brutality, tent city evictions, and extreme winter weather, protesters are undeterred and continue to create bold actions–from port shut-downs to moving money out of big banks.  As Occupy Wall Street said, “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” Stay tuned for lots more occupation news in 2012.

4. After 8 long years, U.S. troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq. Credit the Iraqis with forcing Obama to stick to an agreement signed under President Bush, and the peace movement here at home for 8 years of opposition to a war our government should never have started. The US invasion and occupation left the country devastated, and Obama’s administration is keeping many thousands of State Department staff, spies and military contractors in the world’s biggest “embassy” in Baghdad. But the withdrawal marks the end of a long, tragic war and for that we should give thanks. Now let’s hold the war criminals accountable!

5. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was presented to three terrific women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist; and Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman. A total of only 15 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.These three women were recognized for their non-violent struggle for women’s safety and for women’s rights to participate in peace-building work. Never before in history have three women been awarded the prize simultaneously. How inspiring!

6. The bloated Pentagon budget is no longer immune from budget cuts. The failure of the super-committee means the Pentagon budget could be cut by a total of $1 trillion over the next decade — which would amount to a 23 percent reduction in the defense budget. The hawks are trying to stop the cuts, but most people are more interested in rebuilding America than fattening the Pentagon. That’s why the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for the first time since the Vietnam war, passed a resolution calling for the end to the hostilities and instead investing at home to create jobs, rebuild infrastructure and develop sustainable energy. 2011 pried open the Pentagon’s lock box. Let’s make the cuts in 2012!

7. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate and Rep. Barbara Lee continues to inspire. After the financial meltdown in 2008, Warren was appointed chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel to investigate the bank bailout and oversee TARP–and investigate she did. She dressed down the banks and set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect borrowers. Warren became so popular that tens of thousands of people urged her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, which she is doing. And let’s give a shout out to Rep. Barbara Lee, who worked valiantly all year to push other issues with massive grassroots support: a bill to “only fund the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan” and a bill to repeal the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Force bill that continues to justify U.S. interventions anywhere in the world.

8. Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi  is running for Parliament! Released last year from nearly 15 years of house arrest, this year Suu Kyi held discussions with the Burmese junta. These talks led to a number of government concessions, including the release of many of Burma’s political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. In November 2011, Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, announced its intention to re-register as a political party in order run candidates in 48 by-elections. This puts Suu Kyi in the running and marks a major democratic opening after decades of abuse by the military regime.

9. Opposition to Keystone pipeline inspired thousands of new activists, together with a rockin’ coalition of environment groups across the U.S. and Canada. They brought the issue of the climate-killing pipeline right to President Obama’s door, with over 1,200 arrested in front of the White House. The administration heard them and ordered a new review of the project, but the Republican global warming deniers are trying to force Obama’s hand. Whatever way this struggle ends, it has educated millions about the tar sands threat and trained a new generation of environmentalists in more effective, direct action tactics that will surely result in future “wins” for the planet.

10. Following the tragic meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the growing appetite for nuclear energy has been reversed. Women in Japan are spearheading protests to shut down Japan’s remaining plants and focus on green energy. Braving a cold winter, they have set up tents in front of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally considered in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy. “Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society,” said Chieko Shina, a grandmother from Fukushima. Meanwhile Germany, which has been getting almost one quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, has pledged to shut down all 17 nuclear power plants by 2022. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes Germany’s transformation to more solar, wind and hydroelectric power will serve as a roadmap for other countries. Power (wind and solar, that is) to the people!

* * * * *

The common thread in the good news this year is the power of ordinary people to counter the abuse of privileged elites, whether corrupt politicians, banksters or greedy CEOs. People all over the globe are insisting that social inequality and environmental devastation are not inevitable features of our global landscape, but policy choices that can be–and must be–reversed. That certainly gives us a full plate for 2012!

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the peace group CODEPINK.