I interviewed Medea Benjamin on May 27, 2013 a few days after she'd interrupted President Obama three times in a major speech.
This is part one of a two part interview. Here is a link to the audio podcast.
Rob Kall: OK. Have you prepped or trained other people to do this kind of thing?
Medea Benjamin: Yes. We have a whole cadre of people who have done, and do, this kind of thing. Sometimes, people get scared and just don't do it at the end, and that's fine. Sometimes they do it and it doesn't go too well, in that they don't get too much out. Sometimes folks really feel that they got their message out loud and clear, and were really excited about it, and wanted to do it again. So peoples' reactions are very different.
I remember once there was a woman whom we trained and trained, and she went into the event, and instead of pulling out her banner in front of everybody, she actually went into the bathroom (laughs) and put it up on the bathroom wall; and we were saying, "What? Why did you do that?" and she said it just got too scary there. Some people just feel very intimidated, and rightly so, because these venues can be extremely intimidating, especially when it's during something like a presidential race, and you're in a very partisan atmosphere where everybody is Republican/Right wing, and you're coming up with a totally different message. Or, what's extremely scary is when we do this inside the meetings of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, because that's where you're almost guaranteed that somebody is going to beat up on you. The audience there is very violent.
Rob Kall: Really!
Medea Benjamin: Yes, and we have had people like Rae Abileah, who worked with Code Pink for ten years, a young woman who interrupted Bibi Netanyahu, actually got her neck twisted and had to have over a year of therapy - ended up in the hospital.
Rob Kall: Was there any recourse legally, in terms of the people or person who did that to her?
Medea Benjamin: Yes, because she was brilliant. Instead of just letting it go, she found the person who did it, pursued him, and did a lawsuit against him; and he was forced to settle with her and pay for her medical expenses, and apologize to her.
Rob Kall: Beautiful. Yeah, Ray is another Code Pink force of nature, like you. So what do you advise people when they're preparing to do this? Do you give them any kind of advice or instructions on how to do it, what to do, and how to think about it, what mental mindset?
Medea Benjamin: Well the mental mindset we say is 1) to breathe deep, and 2) think about why you're doing it, think about what is motivating you. While I was sitting in the audience for such a long time before the President spoke, even not knowing whether I was going to speak out or not, I was preparing myself just in case. Part of preparing myself was to think about the innocent drone victims that I have met in Pakistan telling us the stories about losing their sons, and daughters, and loved ones. And I thought about the men in Guantanamo, and what it was like to be strapped to a chair with the tubing forced down your nose and throat and into your stomach, and what it was like to be held for eleven years when you had not committed a crime.
So you have to really think about the "Why?" Otherwise you shouldn't be in there. You have to be passionate about these issues, and then you have to go with your gut; and if your gut tells you, "This isn't right. Doesn't feel right," then just don't do it. But on the other hand, recognize that there's always two voices in your head. There's one voice saying, "Now is the time to stand up, and you've got to say this because somebody needs to hear the truth"; and there's another little voice that says, "Don't be disrespectful. You shouldn't be interrupting someone. Is this what your mother taught you to do?" (laughs) I mean, there is that other voice. Or, another voice saying, "You could get hurt. Don't risk it."
So while you listen to your gut, you have to listen to the voice that's speaking louder to you, and to remember that it's not about you: you might get arrested, you might get put in jail, you might face some risky consequences, but who are you representing that doesn't have a voice? And: is their issue powerful enough to compel you to take the risk?
Rob Kall: Let's talk a little bit about the arrest factor here. You've been arrested, right?
Medea Benjamin: Yes.