The back-to-back political conventions offer female anti-war protesters in Code Pink a chance to showcase their particular brand of daring and endurance. This week two members tried to upstage Sarah Palin and two more disrupted John McCain’s speech.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WOMENSENEWS)–Two women clad in pink stole a moment of Sarah Palin’s oratorical thunder Wednesday night.
As the GOP vice presidential candidate energized the crowd with a diatribe against the Democratic nominee alongside praise for running mate Sen. John McCain, Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, co-founders of the theatrical Code Pink anti-war group for women, moved toward the stage.
But as they were on Palin’s right side, officers lifted them up and pulled them away, escorting them outside one at a time. The women’s exposed dress slips bore the message: "Palin is not a women’s choice."
The two women were taken outside and held until the end of the speech. They were told they’d face arrest if they tried to re-enter the convention.
Two other group members, Elizabeth Hourican and Nancy Mancias, were able to interrupt John McCain’s speech Thursday night before they were both removed from the convention.
These women join a roster of protesters in a city where more than 300 have been arrested while demonstrating during the Republican National Convention.
By Thursday morning, Code Pink’s national media coordinator, Jean Stevens, was already publicizing Benjamin and Evans’ attempt to upstage Palin.
Five Code Pink members have been arrested this week at the dozen or so events it has organized.
Evans said that policing in St. Paul has been more forceful than at the Democratic National Convention the previous week in Denver. There, she said, members were escorted by their elbows from a symposium while criticizing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for not using her power to end the war. But they were allowed to continue chanting with signs outside the building.
Here in St. Paul, Evans said, "They herd you with horses. It’s really insane."
Demonstrating How to Demonstrate
The back-to-back Democratic and Republican conventions have provided Code Pink activists a chance to showcase their particular brand of daring and endurance.
During both gatherings they have held two or three rallies, protests and mock events each of the four convention days and participated in others’ protests as well.
Stevens says Code Pink members paid their own way to the high-profile protest venues.
As media and public attention to the five-year-old war in Iraq has drifted, Code Pink has stayed focused.
In Denver, the group targeted Rep. Pelosi’s conversation with Swanee Hunt, head of Hunt Alternatives Fund and host of the Unconventional Women Symposium where Pelosi was speaking. They shouted "She’s a liar" and "Do your job" to protest the Iraq war. The nonpartisan group criticizes both Republicans’ support for the war and the Democratic Congress’ failure to end it, as well as its continued reauthorizations of funding.
In St. Paul, Code Pink attacked Republican positions on not only the war but also reproductive health and the environment.
Meeting outside the St. Paul Hotel before the rally began, group members practiced a song. Set to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," they made up their own lyrics: "Sarah Palin, we know what you stand for. Save a fetus in the womb, then send it off to war."
Palin speaks regularly about her position as a strong opponent of abortion and was scheduled to keynote the "Life of the Party" event Tuesday for anti-choice leaders. In her address to the convention Wednesday night, she praised the U.S. troops in Iraq. Her own son enlisted in the Army and is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next month.
Fighting Fear-Based Politics
Code Pink–whose leaders are based in Venice, Calif.–began in 2002 as a reaction to what their Web site calls the Bush administration’s "fear-based politics."
They protested the war in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. After a visit to the country, they decided the invasion was imminent, according to their Web site, and have since worked to end the war and help Iraqi citizens.
"We have a responsibility to repair the country," member Gael Murphy said Thursday, "but not on our terms, on theirs."
The name Code Pink is a play on the Bush administration’s color-coded stages of national security alerts. They say the "Code Pink" alert is a "feisty call to wage peace."
"The whole idea of Code Pink is to disarm," said co-founder Evans. But while some police officers smile at their singsong chants–"We are marching for a peaceful world," they sing repeatedly–Evans notes that some also go ahead and arrest members, who often stage protests without official permits and have engaged in acts of civil disobedience.
From the start the group has used their gender and the color scheme to mock and create satirical events.
"Can we get all the Miss Americas lined up please?"
This question shouted by a group member signaled the beginning of a Code Pink rally Wednesday. A flutter of pink scarves and Statue of Liberty hats made from foam accompanied the crowd of approximately two dozen women as they milled about in front of the downtown St. Paul Hotel.
"Banner discipline," one Code Pink leader reminded two women holding the corners of a crooked pink banner.
The Misses America–four women in pink dresses and sheaths accessorized with shoulder-to-hip sashes–strode along as the group sang their signature song, "I Miss America," without music or accompaniment.
Members say the song, set to the melody of "God Bless America" with the refrain "Come Save America," is meant as a tribute to a free nation that has been lost.
‘A Voice for Peace’
Nina Utne, the former editor in chief of Utne Magazine and a member of Code Pink, attended one of the group’s earlier protests, and stood outside the Hilton Hotel where Palin and McCain were meeting.
"We’d like a voice for peace," Utne said about their hopes for elected officials. "Sarah Palin doesn’t represent a departure from business as usual."
On Wednesday group members wrapped around the corner of a building in a crowd, led by four people holding a banner that said "All America is a Free Speech Zone." They followed a leader with a bullhorn and whistle, picking up an audience of media and onlookers while marching toward the convention at the Xcel Center a few blocks away.
At this rally, Code Pink attracted cheers and taunts. One man yelled, "Thank you for being here" as another yelled, "Go home."
"We are home!" the women responded. A man among a handful who joined the Code Pink protest yelled back to the taunter, "I am from Minnesota. Where are you from?"
After marching toward the Capitol and circling back toward the Xcel Center, four Code Pink women tried to crawl under the fence perimeter surrounding the convention complex.
They were arrested as officers pulled them to the other side of the fence, said Stevens.
At the group’s Code Pink Cafe event on Thursday, signs read "McCain Cooking Up Another War" as the women, wearing waitress skirts, gave "tabs" to passersby of $100 per month toward Iraq.
Group member Murphy said the tone in St. Paul is "unnatural" and likened it to martial law.
As she stood on a street corner she nervously watched three police vehicles pull up with lights flashing to block a nearby driveway.
"This isn’t for us," she said, deciding the cars did not arrive in response to their activity. "You’ve got to be really aware around here."
Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women’s eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.
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