Peace Activists at Hillary Clinton's Speech Try to Take Back "Take Back America"
By Medea Benjamin
The Take Back America conference, an annual event
held in Washington
DC this year from June 12-14, is
supposed to be a venue for prominent progressives to gather and debate the major
issues of our day. Their aim is to "provide the nation with new vision, new
ideas and new energy." But choosing New York Senator and probable presidential
candidate Hillary Clinton as a keynote speaker and then stifling dissent against
her pro-war position hardly seems the stuff of a new vision for
The peace group
CODEPINK is widely known for bringing its anti-war message to the halls of
power, including inside the Republican National Convention and at President
Bush's Inauguration. But it has also targeted Democrats such as Hillary Clinton
who support the war. "We have a campaign called Birddog Hillary," says
York coordinator Nancy Kricorian. "We follow her around
the entire state asking her to listen to the voices of her constituents and stop
her support of Bush's 'stay the course' policy in Iraq.
So far, she hasn't been listening."
Fearing that CODEPINK would openly confront
Clinton on her
pro-war policy, the organizers of Take Back America entered into negotiations
with CODEPINK a few days before the conference. "We had lengthy discussions
where they pleaded with us not to protest during her keynote breakfast address,"
explained Gael Murphy, one of the cofounders of CODEPINK. "Instead, we were told
that we could distribute flyers explaining Hillary's pro-war position to the
crowd inside and outside the hotel, and we would be called on to ask her the
first question after the speech. We agreed."
However, when CODEPINK showed up on Tuesday
morning in advance of Clinton's speech, the security guards refused
to allow them to pass out flyers, even outside the hotel. "Take Back America
violated the agreement from the moment we arrived," said Ms. Murphy. "Even
though we had a table inside the conference, burly security guards blocked us
and informed us that it was a private event, that we were not welcome, and they
escorted us out of the building. We telephoned the conference staff who then
told us that we couldn't enter the hotel, couldn't leaflet the event, the
hallways-anywhere. They went back on their word and tried to quash even
peaceful, respectful dissent."
A few CODEPINK women did manage to get inside the
breakfast, however, as they were legitimate ticket holders. Once inside, the
CODEPINK women soon realized that they had been deceived about the second part
of the agreement: They would not be allowed to ask the first question, or any
question, because Hillary Clinton would not be fielding questions from the
audience. "We were really upset that we had been lied to by Take Back America,
and that there would be no space at this 'progressive conference' to have a
dialogue with Hillary Clinton about the most critical issue of our time-the war
in Iraq," said Katie Heald, DC coordinator for CODEPINK. "We got up on our
chairs holding up our hands with the peace sign, and were pulled down from the
chairs. We tried to take out our banner that said "Listen Hillary: Stop
Supporting the War" and it was grabbed from us. And when Hillary started talking
about her Iraq strategy,
criticizing Bush but not posing a solution, we shouted 'What are YOU going to do
to get us out of Iraq,' but she ignored us."
Ann Wright, the army colonel and diplomat who
resigned over the war, was appalled by the actions of the conference organizers.
"They took away leaflets supporting Jonathan Tasini, the anti-war Democrat who
is running against Clinton in New York. They searched
people's bags for banners; they even took away an 'Impeach Bush' banner from
Veterans for Peace. Free speech needs to be upheld by progressives and trying to
curtail dissent undercuts the whole purpose of this conference," said
Many of the attendees agreed with the position of
the protesters, and as Hillary Clinton left the podium, they joined in chanting
"Bring the troops home; Stop the war now." The next speakers, Congresswoman
Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry, got thunderous applause when they called
for the troops to come home.
"We were amazed to discover that the organizers of
Take Back America treat dissent the same way that the organizers at a Bush rally
do," said Ms. Murphy. "Most progressives do not support Hillary
Clinton, and stifling our legitimate, heartfelt opposition to her pro-war
position is an outrage. I guess we have to take back 'Take Back
Medea Benjamin ([email protected])
is the cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange. For
Hillary Clinton's position on the war, go to www.ListenHillary.org.