CODEPINK: Making the world stop and look

By Susan Van Haitsma

IThe handmade sign posted in the front of the bus read, “Bell broken. Please call next stop”.

The book in my bag that morning happened to be the collection of essays, Stop the Next War Now, produced by CODEPINK. The coincidence brought to mind political cartoons showing an oblivious George W. Bush driving a vehicle labeled “USA” or “Iraq liberation” or “No Child Left Behind” straight toward a cliff’s edge. Warning bells are not working. The system is broken and passengers have got to call out.

I had purchased the CODEPINK book when co-editor, Jodie Evans and founding member, Diane Wilson were in town during their book tour. They spoke about actions, arrests and travels that brought them closer to women in countries where the USA is at war now or threatening the next one. Describing with humor and candor the already legendary creativity distinguishing CODEPINK actions, Evans said, “If we’re going to be an alternative, let’s be somewhere people want to go.” Wilson, a fourth-generation Texas shrimper from the Gulf Coast whose gutsy environmental and anti-war activism has landed her in jail several times explained, “The only thing that stops you in an action is yourself.”

Riding the bus, staring at the “Bell broken” sign, I was thinking about an action planned for later that day in Austin by local CODEPINK people. It was to be a demonstration at an advertising firm that creates recruitment ads for the Air Force that feature young children. The protest was timed for that evening because the ad agency was hosting a reception to announce a book project called, The Amazing Faith of Texas, an effort to promote religious tolerance and explore common ground by focusing on five core values shared by faith groups in the state. CODEPINK wanted to dramatize the contradictions inherent in celebrating Charity, Humility, Forgiveness, Faith and Compassion while selling the military to children.

Reception goers and several lanes of drivers stuck in rush-hour traffic in front of the ad agency were greeted by about a dozen women, men and children carrying signs and dressed mostly in hot pink. Two CODEPINK women decided to risk arrest by entering the reception area and holding their banner near the podium where the agency’s president was scheduled to speak about the book project. Recalling Diane Wilson’s challenge, I decided to join them.

Turning the tables, the company president cited First Amendment rights, welcomed us, and invited us to stay and distribute fliers to the crowd. For one moment while a CODEPINK woman did a quick errand, the president offered to hold her end of the banner, which read, How can we create peace when we profit from war?

As part of the event, local religious leaders had been invited to offer brief reflections on each of the five shared aspects of faith. With the CODEPINK banner serving as the elephant in the room, none of the five speakers addressed in their prepared statements either the war or the militarism that feeds it.

But if the speakers that evening avoided the opportunity to talk about war in light of Charity, Humility, Compassion, Faith and Forgiveness, the women and men who contribute essays to “Stop the Next War Now” explore these themes with eloquence and directness. Contributors include journalists, teachers, politicians, businesswomen and artists. Many have experienced the effects of war firsthand.

A Mother’s Plea, by peace activist and educator, Nurit Peled-Elhanan opens with a dedication to a 13 year-old Palestinian girl, Iman El-Hamas. Peled-Elhanan’s only daughter, Smadar was killed at the same age by a Palestinian suicide bomber.

She writes, “Death has created a new identity for me and has given me a new voice. This new identity and voice transcend nationalities, religions, and even time; the identity overshadows all other identities and the voice deafens all the other voices I have been given by life.” My little girl was killed just because she was born Israeli, by a young man who felt hopeless to the point of murder and suicide just because he was born a Palestinian…. There she lies, alongside her murderer, whose blood is mingled with hers on Jerusalem’s stones …there they both lie, deceived …And they were both deceived because the world goes on living as if their blood had never been shed. Both are victims of so-called leaders who keep on playing their murderous games, using our children as their puppets and our grief as fuel to continue with their vindictive campaigns.

I have come here to ask you: please help us save the children that are left to us. Help us make the world stop for a moment to look at the small body of Iman, pierced by twenty bullets, and at the twenty-first hole at her smooth temple and ask with us, Why does that streak of blood rip the petal of her cheek?

These closing words of Peled-Elhanan’s appeal should have rung like bells in the hall in Austin where folks pondered a book about religious tolerance while tolerating military advertising to children. Attenders had to have noticed the two women in pink calling out, “Next stop. Stop the next war now!”

Susan Van Haitsma is active in the Austin Center for Peace and Justice and with Nonmilitary Options for Youth in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at jeffjweb at sbcglobal.net


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