VIDEO: Code Pink Vigil and Arrest - 3/8/03

VIDEO: Code Pink meets Hillary Clinton - 3/6/03

    Exactly one year ago, I participated in one of the most extraordinary events of my life. My intention was to travel to Washington DC to film and take part in a weeklong series of events organized by women from the group Code Pink 4 Peace. I had no specific plans or expectations other than to attend the planned events and capture them on film. The video I have included with this paper and the following essay contains some of the most memorable moments of my life.

    I first heard about Code Pink at the Bioneers Conference in October 2002. There was a group of women at the conference who called themselves "Unreasonable Women for the Earth" They had a booth and held a forum that Saturday. I attended and video taped the forum.

    The forum started with several women on stage telling their stories of frustration, anger, inspiration, and action since September 11, 2001. (Since then, the Bush Administration's reactions to the destruction of the World Trade Center and other world events included talk of war in the Middle East and documents like the Patriot Act were being written up and passed by congress.) There were several women onstage - including Medea Benjamin (Founder of Global Exchange), Jodie Evans, Nina Utne (Founder of Utne Magazine), Susan Griffin (Author), Alissa Hauser (Director of the Circle of Life Foundation), and Nina Simons (Co-founder of Bioneers). These "Unreasonable Women for the Earth" agreed with it's founder, Diane Wilson who said - "A reasonable woman adapts to the world, an unreasonable woman makes the world adapt to her. What this world needs are more unreasonable women!" (This quote was adapted from a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.")

     Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans told the story of how they were having a conversation one day...the topic of the conversation was the new security code system administered by the Bush Administration. As a result of the traumatic events of September 11th - there was a new security alert system that had been devised by President Bush and his associates. Code Green meant that security was low and there were no major terrorist threats known to the administration. Code Yellow was a little bit higher, some threat of terrorism, but no major cause for panic. Code Orange and Code Red signified a heightened alert. The nations armed forces were on guard in the likelihood of a pending terrorist attack. There was talk of the protective qualities of duct tape in the case of a Code Orange/Red alert. Along with that ridiculous advice, came the topic that Jodie and Medea thought of. What if we had another color code...say, Code Pink. Code Pink will alert everyone to the fact that it's a great time for women (and men) to take action and create a more peaceful world. The two women then realized they were on to something. They chatted a bit with Caroline Casey - who suggested Code Hot Pink - and Starhawk. These well-known activists and "Visionary Activists" were about to be the midwives of a new feminist movement for social justice and peace.

    They purchased the websites and, opened a small office in Washington, DC (with the help of the National Organization for Women), and began a vigil in front of the White House on November 17, 2002. Medea and Jody moved to DC for the winter, organized and took part in the daily vigils, and outreached to women around the world who were fed up with current administrations plan for war. In February 2003 several of the Code Pink women went to Iraq to talk with people there. They got a first hand report of the feelings and fears of the women and children who lived in Iraq, waiting for the bombs to drop. I was keeping up with Code Pink on their website and found out that Jodie Evans was returning to the Bay Area to show a video of the footage they captured in Iraq. That video, the pictures on display, and Jodie's stories about the people of Iraq inspired me so much t hat night. I went right home and went to the Code Pink site to see how I could get involved.

    The Code Pink website had an announcement that there was going to be a rally and march the week of March 8th in honor of International Women's Day. It read:

Come to Washington DC

Stand Up for Peace and Justice on International Women's Day and Celebrate Women as Global Peacemakers!

Join thousands of women and men from all walks of like for this amazing women-led peace convergence.

Join with Alice Walker, Michelle Shocked, Janeane Garafalo, Dr Helen Caldicott, Granny D, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jody Williams, Medea Benjamin, Starhawk, and many others for the rally and march.

March 3-9, 2003 Activities to include concerts, teach-ins, exhibits, and actions

Thursday, March 6 A day of lobbying Congress and the Administration

Friday, March 7

9am-5pm Teach-in For a Just Peace and Real Security, Listen to the Women for a Change!
8pm Concert at Lisner Auditorium

Saturday March 8

11am Rally
1pm March to encircle the White House
Women's Community Festivities
Dance Party

Sunday March 9

10am-2pm Spiritual Celebration and Discussion - where do we go from here?

    At the time, Code Pink had an interactive page on their website where viewers could type in a message, their thoughts, concerns, and/or contact information so that they could connect with each other. Of course some people abused this privilege, so it is no longer in service. At the time, though, it was the only way I had to connect with other women who were interested in going to Washington for the rally. I put up an announcement that I wanted to go and that I would offer a video copy of the footage I took for anyone who would help me cover travel costs. One woman sent me a check for $200 with a note that said, "I am unable to travel at this time, but I have the money to invest in your venture. Please send me a copy of the video footage you capture. Thanks!" Wow. Just like that. Almost as easily, I found a place to stay while I was there... many people were opening their homes to travelers from out of town. A fellow Bay Area woman was staying at a friend's house in DC and said I could crash there. So - I bought a ticket, packed my bags and camera, and flew to Washington DC.

    I began filming the moment I got there. The first main action I filmed was the day of lobbying Congress. We started at about 10am and continued visiting various Senator and House Representatives offices all day until about 6pm. As you will see from the film, it was well worth it. The footage I took of Hillary Clinton meeting with our group of about 100 women was some of the most powerful and historic footage I have ever shot. I have since published it online and put part of it on the Indymedia sites as part of a tribute to International Women's Day.

The other video footage I have included and published online is also noteworthy and memorable.

    Just after the Code Pink rally on March 8th, the thousands of people who had gathered for a Code Pink rally, marched down the street toward the White House. The plan was to march toward the White House, try to get through the police barricades and on to Pennsylvania Avenue, and take our place in front of the White House (where the vigil had been held every day since November). Additionally, many people were to continue marching around to the other sides of the White House, with the hopes of getting enough people on the surrounding streets to link hand and hand and totally encircle the White House. I chose to stick with the group that included Alice Walker, Medea Benjamin, Amy Goodman, Susan Griffin, Nina Utne, Rachel Bagby, Maxine Hong Kingston, and about 20 other women.

    The police kept telling us that that street/sidewalk was closed; yet there were plenty of other tourists and people (basically anyone not dressed in pink) walking up and down Penn. Ave. After a long discussion with the police, we noticed that other Code Pink members had somehow made it onto Penn. Ave. As we were noticing this, the police that were holding us back had turned around to look. In doing so, they had stopped paying attention to us and we were able to gently push our way through their line. About 40 of us made it through before they started getting control of the crowd again. We were overjoyed!

    The next step in our strategy was to hold a peaceful vigil in front of the White House and wait for others to make it through the police lines. After about an hour, there were at least 100 Code Pink people gathered. We all joined hands and tried to stretch down the length of Penn Ave. Of course the police were not going to let that happen, so we eventually decided to gather into groups of 25. The organizers of Code Pink had called the police station the day before and found out that it is legal to gather in peaceful groups of 25 or less on Penn. Ave in front of the White House. With this is mind, 25 women (including the ones previously mentioned) gathered arm in arm behind the Code Pink banner. For three hours, these woman stood in solidarity singing "All we are saying, is give peace a chance" and "Peace, Salam, Shalom" over and over again. Every once in a while the police would come by and warn us that the street was closed and they were going to have to arrest us if we didn't leave. (The street is policed by the city and the National Parks Service polices the sidewalk) Since we were going to get arrested if we stayed on the street and the sidewalk had been closed and sectioned off by "caution" tape, Medea Benjamin coached everyone who was willing to get arrested. She told them that if they were willing to be arrested for holding a peaceful vigil, they could slowly and gradually move back out of the street, through the caution tape, and onto the sidewalk. The group agreed and gently broke through the tape...all the while singing "Peace, Salam, Shalom" in harmony.

    Now that the group was on the sidewalk, the city police couldn't arrest them. A whole different division, the National Parks Service, had to bring in their officers. It took another hour for them just to get there. They finally showed up with paddy wagons and a troop of about 20 officers. The footage you will see was taken at about 3:30 (after about 2-3 hours of holding the vigil and wondering if they were really going to arrest us). The footage shows Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Susan Griffin being interviewed live on the air by Amy Goodman from Democracy Now. After that part of the video, there is a portion that shows the entire group just before their arrest. At this point, the officer had given two warnings to leave the sidewalk or be arrested. Amy Goodman and I had agreed that we were reporting and that we would not be getting arrested. That's what we thought. As we were capturing the last and final warning to disperse, we both were inching our way off the sidewalk. I planned to be standing just off the sidewalk before the final warning. At this point I was trying to get through the only part of the area that wasn't taped off. They had made it so that the only way to get off the sidewalk and not get arrested was to pass through a narrow passageway, right next to several heavily armed officers. Basically we were trapped. They might have let us leave, but it wouldn't have been easy. In fact, if you listen closely, you can hear an officer tell me to get back up on the sidewalk as I was filming and trying to inch my way off the sidewalk.

    As you will see, I didn't get off the sidewalk fast enough for them. When they started to walk towards us with the handcuffs, I stepped of the sidewalk. At this point, they had already started to handcuff me. They grabbed my arm, grabbed my camera, and tried to take off my backpack while both of my arms were being held behind my back. I had previously had a little bit of training about strategies when getting arrested. (There was a Ruckus direct action workshop at Cellspace direct action workshop at Cellspace in San Francisco about a month before that I attended. I learned my rights and what to do if confronted by police in a civil disobedience action). As I was being forced into handcuffs, all I could think of was "What are they going to do with my camera and the footage I have?" Turns out they just looked at it and gave it back after we got out of jail. I guess I was lucky.

    I was the first one arrested and Amy was the second so we don't have any footage of the rest of the group getting arrested. I remember sitting in the paddy wagon with my hands cuffed behind my back and hearing the other women still singing - "Peace, Salam, Shalom. Peace, Salam, Shalom". It was very comforting to hear that, knowing that I was among friends, even if we had just met that day. I sat there as first Amy, then Nina, and then a couple of others came though the doors of the paddy wagon. The toughest part for me was when Alice Walker, handcuffs and all, walked through the door and into the back of the paddy wagon. The hard part was that my camera was in the front of the truck...I could even see it through the tiny little window that led out to the front seat. It was really frustrating wanting to take a photo of her getting into the wagon. Imagine, Alice Walker getting arrested. She is one of the most peaceful people on the planet. I've since talked with Alice and she and I agree that even though we don't have a photo of it, we will always have the very special memory.

    We spent 3-4 hours in jail, mostly just getting processed. They didn't read us our rights - instead they gave us a little "Miranda Rights Card" and ordered us to sign it. Amy kept asking to speak to her attorney. None of us ever got to make a phone call. There were 3-10 of us split up in one of three cells right next to each other. Each cell had a toilet, no toilet paper, and the only way to flush was from outside the cell. The whole experience was made better by the fact that Amy was in our cell. She told us stories for about an hour - it was like having our own private Democracy Now show. In the next cell, we could hear Alice Walker and other cellmates singing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine".

    We got out around 9:30 and found a group of Code Pink women, cars, food and water waiting for us. I was so happy to see one of the women that I knew from New College had come to pick us up. It really helps to have someone you know there for you when you get out of jail. (As it turns out, I was able to return the favor to a friend of mine who was one of the Oakland 25 arrested at the Oakland Docks last year). We got in the cars, drank the water and gobbled up the food on our way to the dinner and dance party that was scheduled that night. We arrived and were the hit of the party. We all celebrated, stuffed our faces with great food and danced until about 2am.

    The next day, there was an indoor gathering and Starhawk did a Spiral Dance. I left at about 3:30 to catch my flight back home. My flight was supposed to leave at 5:15. I rushed to the terminal and stood in line to go through security. Since I didn't want to be held up by the metal detectors, I made sure that I had nothing on me. No metal of any kind. Regardless, the buzzer went off and I was asked to step aside. I was searched with one of those hand held metal detectors and passed through that part just fine. I didn't suspect a thing until I got to my gate and there were two guys in suits with earphones on. They were the kind of earphones that the Secret Service has so I started wondering what they were there for. Then someone came over the loud speaker and said, "We apologize for the delay, but this flight will be held until about 6pm while we remove a seat cushion." Strange. I waited with some other Code Pink people and tried to just blend in with the scenery. I was a little bit nervous that the Feds had sent someone to the airport to spy on me. I got on the plane and noticed that the seat that they had removed was on top of the seat in front of me. They had taken the seat cushion out, for whatever reason, and had replaced it with another. Strange. We took off and about 1 hour into the flight they tried to start the onboard movie. The video worked just fine, but the audio portion was mixed up. I went up front to ask if I could be of any help in fixing the situation, since I know a bit about video equipment. I also wanted to investigate my suspicions. Turns out my suspicions were right on target. The audio system was malfunctioning from my seat to the back of the plane and that was mixing up the whole system. Its simple electronics, simple circuitry. If you put a bug or a block in an electrical line, it will not work from that point on and the rest of the system will malfunction. I thoroughly believe that they replaced my seat with one that had some sort of listening device in it. I asked a couple of the flight attendants why they replaced the seat and they said they didn't know..."they just got on board the plane, said they needed to change the seat, changed the seat, and didn't explain why."

    So, I tried to remain quite while in my seat. The guy on my left kept trying to engage me in conversation, particularly conversations about war and Saddam Hussein. The guy to my right (Mr. Nice from Pleasanton - as it said on his baggage claim tag) spent the entire flight reading the newspaper and only stopped to asked me if I was part of the Code Pink rally he was reading about in the paper. I lied and said no, even though I was wearing a pink scarf around my neck. It was pretty nerve racking to be on a flight for 4 hours in between two government agents after just being arrested for Civil Disobedience, but I'm proud for having gone through it.

    After getting home from my adventures in Washington DC, I started volunteering with local women to create a local organization called Code Pink Bay Area. I developed a website and helped to create local meetings and actions to get women involved with Code Pink in the Bay Area. I did this for about a year and then recently cut down on my involvement with the local group. Every once in a while I check the websites or hear news about what Code Pink is up to. I'm proud of the work that I did and am grateful that I had the opportunities I did. Overall it's a very creative, informed, fun-loving group that I hope will continue to act up and act out for peace and justice.