Code Pink: The Women’s Anti-War Movement
by John J. Tierney, Organization Trends, December 2006
Summary: The group Code Pink has seized the leadership of women activists opposed to the war in Iraq. Mixing radical feminists and pacifists with Old and New Left Marxists, Code Pink is determined to use opposition to the Iraq war to undermine America’s war on terror. The group’s most visible public face and most useful idiot is Cindy Sheehan, the media-anointed “peace mom.”
The women wear pink dresses and sportswear and carry pink parasols and pink protest signs that declare their opposition to the Iraq war. Mainly white and middle-aged, they proclaim themselves to be the wives and mothers and daughters of men and women in the armed services, and they say they are earnestly devoted to peace and opposed to U.S. war policies. Acting out bits of political theater, they denounce their enemies—no, not Osama bin Laden—but giant puppet figures who walk with them. The puppets have the oversized heads of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
The women call themselves Code Pink: Women for Peace. But don’t be fooled by all the theatricality of the ladies in pink. Behind the deceptive façade of stagy protests and moral outrage, the women running Code Pink (which the group spells CODEPINK in capital letters) are serious and very radical political activists. They subscribe in varying degrees to strands of Marxist, neo-Marxist, and progressive left-wing thought, and their ideas belong to a long and complex history of radical politics going back to the early Bolsheviks. As I pointed out in my book The Politics of Peace: What’s Behind the AntiWar Movement? (Capital Research Center, 2005), the leadership of the current anti-Iraq war movement is an outgrowth of the old Communist Party and of communist splinter groups that emerged in reaction to Stalinism. The women who lead Code Pink are in that tradition.
Of course, Code Pink describes itself as a “grassroots peace and social justice movement.” It was founded in November 2002 as the U.S. was about to topple Saddam Hussein, but more generally it has aimed to coordinate feminist protests against George W. Bush and the war on terror. The group is not just anti-Bush and anti-war, however: it is anti-everything about America—against the U.S. economic system, against U.S. foreign and domestic policies, and against the American culture of “racism” and “sexism.” Code Pink’s leaders are not pacifists; they are revolutionaries. They are not devoted to peace; they are dedicated to political turmoil. They are not even feminists in the ordinary sense of that term. While they hold themselves out to the public as women who have left the kitchen for the street on behalf of peace, the leaders of Code Pink are actually well organized political operatives on a radical mission.
Jodie Evans, a long-time radical activist, is the nominal founder of Code Pink, but she has had plenty of help from a cadre of other radical women. (Evans was briefly famous during the 2003 gubernatorial recall election in California when she helped engineer the Los Angeles Times story about alleged past sexual harassment by Arnold Schwarzenegger.) Along with Evans, Code Pink was created by Medea Benjamin, Diane Wilson, and the radical Wiccan spiritualist known as “Starhawk.” These women have close working relationships with the leaders of the other principal radical anti-war groups, including ANSWER (an acronym for “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) and United for Peace and Justice, which is led by longtime socialist and Fidel Castro devotee, Leslie Cagan.
Code Pink Funding and Leaders
Code Pink is part of a global network of leftwing activists. Individuals in the network may pursue diverse issues and programs, but all are united in opposition to the U.S. The network has a common ideology, but like an army on the march, it contains overlapping (and sometimes competing) political goals jostling for position.
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin had earlier set up Global Exchange, the group that in the U.S. is most responsible for organizing worldwide protests against “globalization”— the spread of free trade and free markets. Global Exchange shut down Seattle in 1999 (in protests against the World Trade Organization) and created chaos in Washington, D.C. in 2000 (protesting meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund).
Established in 1988, it takes in $4 million to $6 million annually, much of it by organizing “study tours” to places like Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Global Exchange also receives support from the Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Rubin Foundation, Tides Foundation and other groups warring against the war on terror.
As a matter of tax law, the IRS recognizes Code Pink as a project of a small Malibu, California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Environmentalism Through Inspiration & Non Violent Action. Code Pink currently claims over 250 chapters worldwide, from Norway to India and Costa Rica. According to the parent nonprofit’s tax form, Code Pink is run on a shoestring budget –$130,028 in 2004. A search of philanthropic databases reveals that it received $12,000 from the Tides Foundation (2003), $5,000 from the Barbra Streisand Foundation (2004), and $5,000 from the New Priorities Foundation (2005).
However, it’s likely that the Peace and Security Funders Group (PSFG) is of greater importance to Code Pink. Set up in 1999, PSFG is an umbrella organization for over 50 grantmaking foundations that underwrite groups on the left. Writer John Perazzo notes that PSFG has some $27 billion in combined assets and that its grants go to all the major leftist anti-war groups like Code Pink, Not In Our Name, United for Peace and Justice, War Resisters League, and the Ruckus Society. (See Frontpagemag.com, October 6, 2006, http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ ReadArticle.asp?ID=24682 ).
While the funding sources and organizational status of groups like Code Pink and Global Exchange are murky, the political ambition of these groups is clear: it is nothing short of world revolution:
“We are committed to incorporating the power of diversity and difference in our human rights work. We believe the antioppressive global society we are fighting for evolves from turning traditional power/privilege dynamics into interconnected communities.”
And it is the U.S. and international institutions that stand in the way:
“Whether it is U.S. companies such as Nike abusing the women who make its shoes, the U.S. government fueling an illegal, unjustified, murderous war in Iraq, or the World Trade Organization (WTO) undercutting consumer and environmental protections, Global Exchange offers itself as a partner for peace and social justice.”
In this grand strategy, Code Pink plays a specialized role—it is supposed to represent women—and it uses a specialized tactic—it claims to represent non-political women aroused by injustice. But one wonders why it bothers with the pretense.
One need only look at the biography of 54- year-old Medea Benjamin, a principal founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange. Born Susie Benjamin to a wealthy family, she changed her first name to that of the enraged woman in the Greek tragedy who seeks revenge against her husband by murdering her children. Benjamin’s own vengeance against America has led her to support murderous dictators across the globe. She is an ardent pro-Castro advocate, having once lived in Cuba and married a pro-Castro Cuban. For years she led guided tours to Cuba. After returning from her first trip to Cuba in the early 1980s, Benjamin told the San Francisco Chronicle that Cuban life “made it seem like I died and went to heaven.”
In the 1980s Benjamin helped form the Institute for Food and Development Policy (IFDP), which sent aid to the Marxist Sandinistas ruling Nicaragua. During the 1990s she and other Code Pink members were field marshals during the anti-globalist riots in Seattle. In 2000 she was the Green Party candidate for the California U.S. Senate seat held by incumbent Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat. She chronicled her radical, socialist agenda in her book, I Senator.
Code Pink’s nominal founder, Jodie Evans, has a pedigree equal to Benjamin’s. She is a trustee of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a coalition of anti-capitalist environmentalists. RAN’s co-founder, Michael Roselle, also founded the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which the FBI has ranked alongside the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) as one of the top terrorist groups in the U.S. (For seven years, according to the FBI, the two groups were responsible for more than 600 criminal acts of terrorism that caused $43 million in damage.) Evans’ most recent antiAmerican junket was in January 2006 when she joined Benjamin and their newest convert, Cindy Sheehan, on a visit to meet Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. (Sheehan is also a co-founder of the anti-war group Gold Star Families for Peace.) On an earlier trip to Iraq, Evans helped to found the International Occupation Watch (IOW) in Baghdad. With assistance from Benjamin and Leslie Cagan, IOW helps U.S. soldiers declare themselves conscientious objectors and monitors alleged American abuses in Iraq. Its declared mission is to be a “watchdog regarding the military occupation and U.S.-appointed government, including possible violations of human rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.”
Better Pink Than Dead
To mock the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded terror alerts (e.g. code orange, code red), the radicals of the anti-war left chose pink, the color symbolic of baby girls. Code Pink supporters say they will warn against the “extreme danger to all the values of nurturing, caring and compassion that women and loving men have held.” In 1917 the Bolsheviks cried out for “peace, land and bread” to fool the Russian people into believing they were patriotic, not ideological, and nine decades later Code Pink relies on the same Leninist tactic. Code Pink is selective in its criticism. The group condemns only American institutions, particularly the military. Rather than condemn war in moral terms, as pacifists do, Code Pink has a calculated anti-U.S. message. It is vocal and unceasing in condemning America’s alleged sexism, racism, poverty, political and corporate corruption, and environmental degradation, and it asserts that these failings are championed by the American elite. Proclaiming that “women have been the guardians of life … because men have busied themselves making war,” Code Pink calls on the women of the world to “rise up and oppose the war in Iraq. We call on mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters … and every outraged woman willing to be outrageous for peace.”
Code Pink’s modus operandi is street theater, which explains why it attracts media attention to its claim to speak for half of all humanity. The Left has learned how to create political theater and use it for its own advantage. For instance, during one Washington, D.C. demonstration, women dressed all in pink marched up the Capitol steps, unfurled their banners, and stripped down to their bras and panties, screaming, “We’re putting our bodies on the line … you congresspeople better get some spine. We say ‘stand back, don’t attack – innocent children in Iraq.’ We don’t want your oil war, peace is what we’re calling for.” Guess what story made the television evening news.
During one Code Pink political demonstration—a four-month-long anti-war vigil in front of the White House—protesters ceremoniously handed-out “pink slips” to argue that pro-war officials should be fired. The act captured national attention because the pink slips were just that – pieces of lingerie. The reasons for the war in Iraq, according to Code Pink leftists, have nothing to do with mistaken decisions by government officials who acted with the best of intentions. The Code Pink explanation is deeper, darker, and systemic. Leftists contend that America’s political culture and economic system inevitably create war, poverty and injustice by their very nature. This requires Code Pink to remove itself from the ordinary political system, as the Bolsheviks did. Its activists are neither Democrats nor Republicans, but revolutionaries. In explaining why the U.S. occupies Iraq, Code Pink claims the problem is not Saddam Hussein or the threat of terrorism in America. Instead, it is the nation’s refusal to deal with problems at home: “In the United States of America many of our elders … now must choose whether to buy their prescription drugs, or food. Our children’s education is eroded. The air they breathe and the water they drink is polluted. Vast numbers of women and children live in poverty.” In other words, the real causes of the war in Iraq are of less interest to Code Pink than the ideological arguments about war that it can use to produce political change in the U.S.
Similarly, Code Pink defines terrorism as a by-product of a corrupt system—America’s. The war on terrorism is a phony war. The U.S. system is the cause of war abroad and a threat to Americans at home. “Real threats” come from within: “The illness or ordinary accident that could plunge us into poverty, the violence on our own streets, the corporate corruption that can result in the loss of our jobs, our pensions, our security.”
The imagery and symbolism of Code Pink is a deliberate and creative effort to entrap the politically innocent. “We choose pink, the color of the roses, the beauty that like bread is food for life, the color of the dawn of a new era when cooperation and negotiation prevail over force.” The color of the roses? Beware the thorns!
At www.codepink4peace.org, Code Pink’s website recommends other left-wing collaborators who endorse its view of politics. The movement’s overall goal is to bully corporate America into submission. For instance, the Code Pink website contains a link to a group called the “Bioneers.” This is an ecological front group in the anti-war coalition. Code Pink’s Jodie Evans is on its board of trustees. According to its website (www.bioneers.org), Bioneers “conduct programs in the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, traditional farming practices, and environmental restoration. … Bioneers seek to unite nature, culture and spirit in an Earth-honoring vision, and create economic models founded in social justice.”
Another Pink ally is “OneWorld United States,” which, according to its website (us.oneworld.net), provides information links to “help build a more just, global society through its partnership community.” The group proposes to unify the global left “by providing access to information, and enabling connections between hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of people around the world.”
Most Code Pink allies arbitrarily link the Iraq war to their own social and economic agendas.
*The Rainforest Action Network will work for peace through a ten-step program to “end America’s oil addiction,” the proximate cause of the Iraq war
*Global Exchange wants to replace NAFTA with an “international system of cooperation that fosters social equality, human rights, cultural diversity, environmental sustainability and community well being.”
*The stormtroopers at the Ruckus Society announce that “You have been part of helping The Ruckus Society kick ass for ten years. We have fought for workers’ rights, clean air, clean water, and a future free from war. We’ve taken action to protect North American forests. We’ve marched together in the streets of Seattle and we’ve stood in solidarity with Native warriors to preserve their way of life.”
*The mission of the “Office of the Americas” is to “end the long standing culture of militarism” in the hemisphere. Naturally, it will “focus on the foreign policy of the United States.”
How are clean air, clean water, native warriors, cultural diversity, racism, sexism, and capitalism a cause of war? Being a leftist means you never have to explain the connection: Simply assert it.
Contrary to the Code Pink claim, there is little historical evidence to justify the position that capitalism causes expansion and war. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon were no businessmen, and Hitler led a movement called National Socialism. Today, it is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that seeks engagement with China. Indeed, businesspeople have been among the most fervent peacemakers. Consider the observations of famed economist Jacob Viner:
It was for the most part the middle classes who were the supporters of pacifism, of internationalism, of international conciliation and compromise of disputes, of disarmament – in so far as these had supporters. It was for the most part aristocrats, agrarians, often the urban working classes, who were the expansionists, the imperialists, the jingos. In the British Parliament it was spokesmen for the moneyed interests, for the emerging middle classes in the northern manufacturing districts and for the City of London, who were the appeasers during the Napoleonic Wars, during the Crimean War, during the Boer War, and during the period from the rise of Hitler to the German invasion of Poland. In our own country it was largely from business circles that the important opposition came to the American Revolution, to the War of 1812, to the imperialism of 1898, and to the anti-Nazi policy of the Roosevelt Administration prior to Pearl Harbor. (Quoted in Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, McGraw Hill, 1985, p. 65)
The Feminist Mystique: A Long Tradition
Just as the modern political Left distorts the historical record to link trade and enterprise to war, so also does it deliberately manipulate gender for its own political purposes. The Left’s “biological politics” tries to claim a necessary connection between women and peace politics. Appealing to women’s rights groups, it asserts that if men make war, then women must make peace. Historically, leftwing parties have been based on the concept of economic and social class. The working class is typically the agent of revolutionary change. But the modern left can’t rely on workers, so it appeals to the concept of gender and the political role of women.
But what about women on the political right, or in the Republican Party? Margaret Thatcher, Senators Elizabeth Dole and Kay Bailey Hutchison, activists like Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham— all have risen in politics. Yet the Right rewards individual merit, not gender. And most women who are political conservatives disdain the ideological baggage of modern feminism. “Class struggle” is not a cause for conservative women.
In American history, most women social activists have been classified as “progressives.” Modern historians put the suffragettes, women abolitionists, and women advocates for labor rights and anti-imperialism on the Left. Today’s feminist movement is almost completely dominated by the Left. At its extreme, ideological feminists adopt a form of biological politics that denies any significance to gender. When women professors broke into tears of rage after Harvard University’s then-president Larry Summers suggested a genetic cause for the scarcity of women mathematicians, they were rejecting biology for ideology. Radical feminist politics assaults the American campus with its “insights,” including the view that men seek to suppress and dominate everything. Long ago feminists adopted anti-militarism and anti-imperialism, claiming that these political causes were uniquely suited to their nurturing gender. Like the left-wing view that capitalism leads to war, the view that women in power produce peace is an anti-intellectual fraud. The claim also masks the historical record, which shows that men are mainly responsible for both war and peace, diplomacy and militarism. Nevertheless, the myth of gender-based causation dominates leftist opinion: To be a woman is to be a peacemaker.
The worst part of the ideology of the Left is not its blindness to evidence. It is the way it deliberately manipulates innocent people. Leftist groups like Code Pink tell women that they are the unique source of peace activism because they are a maternal and nurturing class, as opposed to men, who are aggressive and violent. Many modern ‘peace studies’ courses on American college campuses offer what is essentially a feminist critique of “patriarchy.” Writes the feminist scholar Susan C. Coates:
“Feminism’s approach to human nature claims that human-to-human violence is not natural, but socially constructed within the evolution of patriarchy. Instead, feminism points to social reproduction and symbiotic interrelation for the purpose of survival. … Feminists globalize subjectivity – illuminating masculinist biases within the ‘objective’ language of international relations and presenting a more participatory, inclusive and wholistic language for international relations and peace/security.” (from “Peace Feminism In International Relations,” see http://www.du.edu/ ~suscoate)
Code Pink and other women’s anti-war groups consider themselves anti-capitalist and pro-internationalist. Unfortunately, their version of “internationalism” includes sending “peace delegations” to Iran and meeting with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Code Pink has left the Christian and pacifist origins of the women’s peace movement far behind. (See inset box following this article.) Today feminist anti-war groups target the U.S. as the primary source of war and oppression in the world. American “imperialism” explains everything from NATO to NAFTA; it is the cause of global violence from Haiti to Iraq. This leaves Code Pink and its allies blind and deaf to the real issues of modern political reality, including the causes of war. Code Pink’s ideological twitches are not serious. Because all its opinions are predictable, there is no reason to ask its counsel.
John J. Tierney is the Walter Kohler Professor of International Relations at the Institute of World Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based graduate school. He is author of The Politics of Peace, published last year by Capital Research Center.
Post Script: Women in the Peace Movement
The first important peace group, the American Peace Society (APS), emphasized the critical role of women in establishing a permanent peace. Founder William Ladd (1778-1841), a wealthy Harvard alumnus, believed reason and Christian faith would triumph over militarism. He encouraged the recruitment of women, observing that “men make war, let women make peace.” (Quoted in Charles DeBenedetti, The Peace Reform in American History, Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 45) The audience for the APS was mainly women, but APS leaders remained firmly male.
The Universal Peace Union (UPU) replaced the APS after the Civil War. Led by the (appropriately named) Alfred Love (1830- 1913), a wealthy Philadelphia businessman, fully one-third of UPU’s membership were women. The feminist Belva A. Lockwood (1830-1917) became the group’s most effective advocate.
The most active woman peace reformer of the era was Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), who issued “An Appeal To Womanhood Throughout the World” in 1870. Like her predecessors, Howe was a Christian pacifist who urged women to issue a “sacred and commanding word” against war and militarism. She lobbied for an international women’s peace congress, to be called a “Women’s Apostolate of Peace.” Yet she was refused permission to address most international peace meetings, which were controlled by men.
The movement for women’s political rights began to fuse with the peace movement, especially after the carnage of World War I. The Women’s Peace Party (WPP), led by the suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, was formed in 1915, the same year as the International Congress of Women (led by Jane Addams and the Hungarian pacifist Rosika Schwimmer) met at The Hague to support mediation of the war. Of course, all of this came to naught, prompting the Wellesley College feminist/ economist Emily Greene Balch to quip that the whole effort was ridiculous, “but even being ridiculous is useful sometimes.” (Quoted in Barbara S. Kraft, The Peace Ship: Henry Ford’s Pacifist Adventure in the First World War, Macmillan, 1978, p. 20)
In 1919 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was formed, the first truly modern feminist/ pacifist organization. It still exists and is an ideological ally of Code Pink. Of WILPF, wrote historian Sondra Herman, “never was American feminism more militant than in its pacifist crusade.” (Sondra S. Herman, Eleven Against War: Studies in American Internationalist Thought, 1898-1921, Hoover Institution Press, 1969, p. 24)
In the 1920s feminist pacifism increasingly absorbed the ideology of the left, embracing socialism and communism as remedies for war and militarism. WILPF claimed U.S. foreign policies were a cause of war. Emily Balch called for an end to American “imperialism” in the Caribbean in the 1920s and wondered if “America may well be at a point where it must decide whether it should be an empire or a democracy.” Carrie Chapman Catt attacked the U.S. economic system for causing war and social unrest.
By the 1930s pacifists and socialists were essentially one. The WILPF called for governmental regulation of the domestic economy to prevent militarism. Pacifist Dorothy Detzer urged North Dakota Republican Senator Gerald Nye to hold the “Merchants of Death” hearings into how the arms industry spurred U.S. entry into World War I. The hearings led to passage of neutrality legislation which drove the U.S. deeper into isolationism before Pearl Harbor. During World War II the WILPF agitated against bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan, protested the failure to negotiate peace with Hitler and Tojo, and helped conscientious objectors.
In 1960, the group Women Strike for Peace was founded by Dagmar Wilson to protest nuclear weapons testing and U.S. Cold War policies. For decades it worked with WILPF on protest campaigns against the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War. These and other groups shaped modern feminist pacifism and set the stage for the emergence of Code Pink.
The women of Code Pink are a far cry from the first women’s peace groups. They lack the utopian pacifist idealism of Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican in Congress, who cast votes against America’s participation in both World War I and II. Rankin’s lone vote against war against Germany and Japan in 1941 cost her re-election, but it reflected her personal moral commitments. By contrast, Cindy Sheehan uses the loss of her soldier son to serve political ends. She takes a Code Pink trip to Venezuela and proclaims her admiration for its president, Hugo Chavez “for his strength to resist the United States.”
Like Jane Fonda sitting on the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, Sheehan’s actions can be neither forgotten nor forgiven. —John J. Tierney