Activist and author Medea Benjamin talks about Ferguson, the militarization of police, US education, Obama versus the neo-cons and more.
Medea Benjamin is an American political activist and the co-founder of CODEPINK. She is a regular contributor to a variety of current affair publications and fights for fair trade advocacy with the group Global Exchange. Known for her protest actions and popular organization efforts, Benjamin has also authored several books.
Dan Falcone: You recently wrote a piece entitled “Beware of Exploding Gifts from Uncle Sam.” In the article, you reference the Ferguson situation and mention some small towns in America that have an overwhelming militarization of law enforcement. What is the meaning and danger of this trend?
Medea Benjamin: What we see happening across America, in Ferguson and beyond, is that billions of dollars worth of military equipment has been flowing from the federal government to state and local police departments. This is in direct correlation with the wars overseas winding down. But not only is it an incredible waste of taxpayer money, but it gets people – including children – accustomed to seeing military vehicles on their streets. Worst of all, it is causing police to act like soldiers.
You wrote back in early August that “the world awaits with bated breath to see if the interim truce negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry will lead to a long-term ceasefire. But if US mediation is to be sincere and effective, the American government needs to take Hamas off its terrorist list and allow Hamas to be fully represented at the table.” What do you think are the prospects for Hamas voices to be heard in this regard?
I worry that as long as the American government remains beholden to the ironclad grip of the Israel lobby AIPAC, not all warring sides will be appropriately represented at the negotiations table. If the UN steps in to play a stronger role in future peace talks, instead of the US (which is arming one side of the conflict), there will undoubtedly be a greater chance for Hamas to be represented.
Much of your work gained attention during the Bush administration and the disastrous foreign policy in Iraq. Recently, with many developments both at home and abroad, we see activism facing more challenges than ever. Are you finding this to be the case? And if so, how should we channel and prioritize in order to re-double efforts and actions in dissent?
When President Obama was elected, we saw a major dip in antiwar activism and activism in general, because so many people were hopeful about his campaign promises. Over the years, however, it has become clear that President Obama has not only continued, but strengthened, some of Bush’s worst foreign policy programs. Death by drones and spying on and lying to the American people have proven to be his legacy.
In general, how do you compare Obama to the neo-conservatives who served two terms before him?
Under President Obama, both the killer and spy drone programs have expanded exponentially, dwarfing those of his predecessors. While he succeeded in mostly taking “boots off the ground” in the Middle East (except now, as we have over 1,000 troops in Iraq again), he has declared himself judge, jury and executioner, condemning thousands of people in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan to death by drone. These drones are making the US hated across the world, and breeding more anti-American extremism in other countries.
I was admitted to the New School for Social Research a couple of years ago for graduate work and was proud to learn that you were a graduate of that institution. Can you tell me your views on American education and its importance, and perhaps mention some of your intellectual influences in the area of consciousness-raising?
I think the American education system could do a better job of shaping students to be more critical and global citizens that contribute to humanity. What we see instead is an education system that pushes students to be uncritical capitalist consumers – otherwise we would see more dissent from our youth.
I find your writing to be compelling along with the behind the scenes efforts you make in organizing a fight for labor rights, human rights, Palestinians, Cubans, and a host of solidarity activities with many other groups, people and places. Do you ever fear that some of this work is overlooked because of the media’s focus on your interruption of speeches (that I find inspiring personally)? In other words does the right try to label you as an irrational agitator, when in reality you are simply exposing illegality and crimes from on high?
We know that the media is going to frame our actions in a sensationalist way that often times dilutes our message, but we aim to inspire folks like yourself to take action for the issues you are passionate about. We like to make bold and loud moves to draw attention to the details – and it’s working.
Agreed. Thank you very much, Medea.