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'Code Pink' Comes to Washington - 2003-03-12

Washington was aglow in "pink" this past weekend as several thousand women and men participated in a series of events called "Code Pink: Women's Pre-emptive Strike for Peace." Named to contrast with the government's color-coded terrorism alerts, the week-long 'Code Pink peace convergence' included rallies, concerts and other events, all to protest U.S. involvement in a war with Iraq.

The 'Pre-emptive Strike' culminated on Saturday, International Women's Day, with a march and anti-war rally in front of the White House. But organizers of the Code Pink movement say their mission is by no means over they are only beginning to make their message heard.

The energy was palpable in the lobby of George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium Friday night as supporters of Code Pink's "No War In Iraq" evening of music, comedy and poetry, waited for the show to begin. Most of the audience members, as well as performers onstage, wore pink pink dresses and jackets, pink feather boas, even pink wigs, to show their solidarity in favor of a peaceful solution to the standoff with Iraq.

Along with the music and comedy, were appearances by some of the nation's leading feminist activists, including Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Alice Walker.

"Come out of the kitchen, come out of the fields, come out of the retirement villas, come out of the beauty parlors, come out of the television and step forward and assume the role for which you were created which is to lead humanity to health, happiness and humanity," Ms. Walker said.

Code Pink began in November, when a small group of women began standing vigil in front of the White House every day from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., as a constant anti-war presence.

Among them was Medea Benjamin, one of the group's founders. She took temporary leave from her position as founding director a San Francisco-based human rights organization, to participate in the peace protest in Washington. Ms. Benjamin, who worked for the United Nations for 20 years, says she has first-hand experience with the after-effects of war.

"Who knows what happens when bombs fall and I know that it isn't dictators who get killed, it's innocent people. I believe, as millions of women in this country and around the world, that in this day and age of weapons of mass destruction, we must find ways other than war to deal with conflicts," she said.

For four months, the Code Pink White House vigil took place without incident, until last Saturday, the day of the peace march and rally. Police arrested several members of their group, including novelist Alice Walker, a documentary filmmaker and a journalist. Code Pink activities organizer, Gail Murphy, says they were charged with "stationary protesting in front of the White House."

"This was an extremely peaceful march. We believe in peace, we believe in a peaceful resolution to this situation in Iraq. We were singing, arm in arm and we were quietly taken away, handcuffed behind our backs, put in paddy wages, taken down to the Anacostia jail," she said.

Some critics charge that Code Pink and other anti-war movements undermine the U.S. government position on Iraq, and unwittingly give the impression of supporting Saddam Hussein. For Gail Murphy, that is not the case.

"We are not fans of Saddam Hussein," she said. "But we do believe that that an international community pressure can bring about change and we believe that the Iraqi people have the right to determine their own destiny. We believe that the sanctions of the last 12 years have crippled them to such an extent that they are now more dependent on Saddam Hussein than ever before."

Although last weekend marked the end of the Women's Pre-emptive Strike for Peace, Code Pink's Gail Murphy says the movement continues to gain strength. It will open new offices in New York, southern California, and Florida.

And Code Pink is joining 200 other anti-war coalitions called "United for Peace" to lobby Congress. Code Pink's next events are another national peace march in Washington on March 15 and one on March 22 in New York City.