This week, a friend sent me a YouTube video on Facebook of a couple arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial on May 28, 2011. I briefly looked at the video, shared it on my Facebook page, and went off to work. When I came home, I saw the link was shared again and that there were multiple comments. This video had clearly gone viral.
So I decided to take a closer look at the video. I began by searching YouTube. It was clear from the first video that there were several people recording the police action. In fact, this was a well-staged event, planned for the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend.
It seems clear this non-violent direct action was staged primarily for irony. The video is framed as an event by Adam Kokesh of RT news. To be honest, I had never heard of Kokesh or RT until this past weekend, but I know him now. I watched that video a couple of times and quickly realized that the cute blonde woman getting arrested for waltzing, was none other than Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange and CodePink. I voted for Medea Benjamin when she ran for California’s senator on the Green Party ticket. Medea is a woman I have long respected and adored. In 1988, Medea cofounded Global Exchange with Dr. Kevin Danaher, a well-respected author within the progressive movement.
In 2002, Medea cofounded CodePink with several other influential women in the progressive movement, including Jodie Evans and Starhawk. Starhawk is a best-selling author of books on Wicca and other Earth-based religions. I’ve met Starhawk a couple of times and, in the course of studying comparative religion, have read a couple of her books. To many, the book Spiral Dance is considered an essential reading on the history and rituals of the American Wicca movement.
Evans is also a founding member of Bad Babes and a former Director of Administration during ‘the first California Governor Jerry Brown’s Administration’. Along with Medea, Evans is the most vocal and prominent member of CodePink. And in some ways, she seems to have received the most scorn from the far Right. Reviewing the history of the organization and the articles on both the mainstream media and alternative media is an interesting process. My work with Project Censored has led me to do more searches. When it comes to the media, CodePink seems to have achieved moderate success with getting their message out to the mainstream media. In the realm of alternative media, CodePink is celebrated in the liberal media and demonized in Right- wing media.
While Google’s search algorithms have been shown to be biased, it appears the most ferocious criticism of CodePink was started back in June 2005 by the far Right-wing blog site the Free Republic. The site seems to have taken a statement by Evans out of context, provided a false source, and then linked to a video not of Evans, but rather a CodePink supporter, to support its claim. In this YouTube video you see a CodePink supporter say U.S. soldiers in Iraq are “terrorists.” This supporter is shadowed by Gael Murphy, a member of CodePink’s Board of Directors, who corrects the supporter and says U.S. soldiers are terrorizing civilians in Iraq, but they’re not the terrorists. This is a tricky semantics message with a distinctly different meaning.
Nonetheless, the CodePink supporter should have been onboard with the message, and she obviously wasn’t. She unwittingly gave fuel to the Right-wing fire. I can empathize with the CodePink supporter who misspoke and can also see why the Right-wing have twisted and demonized CodePink ever since.
CodePink grew out of a group of women progressive activists’ desperate desire to stop the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They lost that battle, and many more that followed. Yet, CodePink continues to make a name for themselves in the anti-war movement.
Last week, Prime Minster Netanyahu gave the most shameful speech on the floor of the U.S. Congress in recent history. Shameful in the way the U.S. Congress celebrated Netanyahu’s lies and revisionist history. Yet there was one young woman who openly spoke out against this disgraceful event. Her name is Rae Abileah. She is a Jewish-American activist (of Israeli descent) and a national organizer for CodePink. In the early part of Netanyahu’s speech, Abileah stood up in the congressional gallery and shouted, “No more occupation! Stop Israel war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians! Occupation is indefensible!”
Surrounding Abileah in the gallery were members of a pro-Israeli lobbying group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As Abileah began calling out against the illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, members of AIPAC jumped the young woman and began assaulting her in the balcony of Congress. Members of Congress then stood up and began applauding as the young girl was brutally attacked. As a result of the beating Abileah received, she was briefly hospitalized and then arrested for disrupting Congress. Netanyahu then went on to give one of the most nauseating propaganda speeches Congress has ever witnessed, filled with half-truths and outright lies. Only CodePink was brave enough to speak out against colonialism.
CodePink is a grassroots women’s initiative self-described as a, “peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs, and other life-affirming activities.” While CodePink was founded and created by women, they have always invited and accepted men to join and support their efforts.
In this past weekend’s stunt, Medea Benjamin dared to waltz with a man in front of the larger-than-life bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson. For this she was arrested, along with Adam Kolesh and a couple of his supporters. On Saturday, June 4, 2011, more dancers are organizing themselves to boogie at the Jefferson Memorial. As of the time of this article, there are over 2,500 people ready to get down and shake their thing at the Jefferson Memorial this weekend.
Believe it or not, there is a recent history of another couple arrested for dancing in front of the Jefferson memorial. According to a Washington Post article, in 2008, Mary Oberwetter, the daughter of the former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was arrested on Founder’s Day for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial, “They were dancing and just generally making a distraction, and the chamber is posted that you are to remain quiet so you don’t disturb other visitors,” said Sgt. Robert Lachance, a Park Police spokesman. “The chamber of the Jefferson Memorial is a restricted area for demonstrations or causing any kind of activity that could distract other visitors . . . [in order] to preserve a spirit of tranquility and reverence.”
The article describes the scene as it played in 2008, here is an excerpt:
“”Why?” a voice asks. There is a commotion. Protest. Cursing. A woman, a former ambassador’s daughter, is handcuffed, arrested and taken away. And within moments, an event that participants say was a simple libertarian celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday turns into a tense encounter between police and the public.”
Last weekend, Medea Benjamin, Adam Kolesh, and crew reenacted Mary Oberwetter’s crime of dancing in front of the Jefferson Memorial.
While many might not agree with Medea Benjamin and CodePink, most people can see the absurdity of a law prohibiting dancing designed to “preserve the spirit of tranquility and reverence” for a man who helped lead a violent revolt against the oppressive colonialist nation of Britain. This week, CodePink member Rae Abileah stood up in the gallery of Congress and called for the end of occupation and colonialism in the Middle East. For that, she was assaulted, hospitalized, and arrested.
I want to dance with Medea Benjamin inside the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. I want to celebrate with Mary Oberwetter on Jefferson’s birthday. I feel the need to shake my booty for the First Amendment. In the spirit of our Founding Fathers I want my life to be a dance, moving to end colonialism and imperialism. I yearn to join in and express my right to assemble in a funky way, to speak my mind openly, and to gyrate in any direction the spirit moves me.
Personally, I don’t want to dance to a boring one two one two waltz with Medea. Rather, I imagine we start out with some good ol’ high octane American West Coast Swing, Baby. Later we might move on to the more foreign expressions like the Samba and Tango. But I’m just as happy swinging all night. I imagine Medea is really fast on her feet. Anyway, while some may say such fast-paced dances are disruptive, I have found people can simply get caught up in the trance and find real reverence in both ballroom dancing and popular peaceful revolts. This Saturday, June 4, 2011, in the Revolutionary spirit of Thomas Jefferson, thousands of Americans will celebrate free expression, independence, and the right to dance their asses off. I’ll be with them in spirit, imagining myself dancing with Medea.