Creative actions that challenge power at the heart of the United States and peace delegations in countries attacked by US imperialism. These are some of the movement-building strategies adopted by CODEPINK, a feminist organization that challenges the US war policy. In 2002, when the George W. Bush administration was paving the way to invade Iraq based on provenly false explanations, a group of nearly 100 women spent months organizing a vigil against the war outside the White House. CODEPINK emerged from this process. Since then, it became clear to the world that US imperialism employs different ways of waging war, including invasions, coups, and sanctions.
In the United States, women with CODEPINK have used their bodies to defend people’s sovereignty in Venezuela, challenged those responsible for war out on the streets and in spaces of political power, organized delegations to countries including Cuba and Palestine to learn about and denounce the impacts of imperialism on people’s lives, among other anti-war campaigns and activities. So it is not new that these women are targeted by different actors of the hegemonic construction machine, which engages in rampant disinformation, persecution, and criminalization. Capire spoke with the CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans. Echoing feminist voices struggling to change the world, Capire stands in solidarity in face of the recent misogyny-filled attacks on CODEPINK and US-based organizations that contribute to the anti-imperialist struggle. Read and listen to the interview with Jodie Evans.
Could you start by sharing the process of building CODEPINK as an organization defending peace inside the US?
We started it in the fall of 2002, when George W. Bush was using color-coded alerts to frighten the American people into war with Iraq. Those color codes were orange, red, and yellow, so we called CODEPINK for peace. We were just a few women doing a vigil outside the White House every single day and people came from all over the country to sit with us and say no to war. Then people would start a vigil in their own city, so out of that, 250 vigils started around the United States and around the world.
At some point, we decided we needed to go to Iraq, because nobody was listening to us. So we flew to Jordan and we drove across the desert, got to the border of Iraq and said, “We want to come in,” and they let us in. We had a week where we met the beautiful people of Iraq, we saw how poor it was from sanctions and what the sanctions had done to it. We were ashamed to think that anyone would think that they could go to war on this innocent country of beautiful people that had no way to fight back. They had no military, all the weapons were gone. We met with the military inspectors, and they said there were no weapons of mass destruction. We did a visual action outside of the information center the night the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, lied to the world and said there were weapons of mass destruction.
Then we came back and told people what we saw.
Over these two decades, how did CODEPINK agendas confronted US militarism?
We just kept being the women calling out for peace. Questioning the fact that 65 percent of taxpayers’ money in the US goes to war instead of education, health care, housing, and people’s needs. There is also the fact that it is the greatest contributor to climate change, so if you don’t end war, no matter what else you do. So we continued to push. Then, sanctions became a tool of war and so we pushed back against sanctions. We had seen what it did to Iraq, we saw that it fully eviscerated the middle class of Iran. We know what it does to Cuba. We have taken thousands of people to Cuba. We went to Pakistan and Yemen and talked to the families of drone victims. The drones were just being used locally as political tools to murder people, including two US citizens in Yemen.
So over the last 12 years, from the minute we all felt the horror of going to war on Iraq, when 12 million people in the world marched in the streets to say “no to war”, we have watched, since then, war, militarism, weapons, and violence increase and we have watched the United States of America, our country, get away with murder in so many ways.
The US is an empire and it has been violent. We’re very ashamed of our government, but like all countries, the people are beautiful. In the last 20 years, we have really watched the erosion of the fabric of society in the United States of America.
The heads of Congress and the Senate are authoritarian rulers. They don’t let anyone debate. It is like, “you have to do it my way,” “you can’t do that.” If the debate is not happening in power, it is going to happen in the streets.
Culture is changing and the realities of the world are changing. In the United States, as in the world, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The power gets more entrenched and more violent around keeping everything in check. Keeping Julian Assange in prison to show people that you can’t tell the truth or this will happen to you. So the collection of courageous people that will go to the streets around war has gotten smaller, which has to do with power not responding to anything we do. It just gets worse: the budget gets bigger, its violence gets bigger, there are more weapons, there is more pushing NATO to push Putin, now pushing on Taiwan. When they started to push against China, four years ago, I thought, “Do they really think they’re going to win a nuclear war?” Because otherwise they wouldn’t be doing this.
What about now, how are people within the US reacting to the ongoing wars and US involvement in them?
When Putin moved into Ukraine, we watched in the United States the fog of war literally land on everyone’s brain. All of a sudden everybody wanted to go to war, wanted to send weapons. I was like, ”Haven’t we been through this enough times? Don’t you know the power goes to war for power? So we were attacked violently for saying “diplomacy.” People said, “Oh, you are a Putin apologist.”
People’s brain entered into war mode. They said, “We have to take care of the Ukrainian people, we need to send them weapons.” But weapons are going to kill the Ukrainian people. Who do you think they’re going to kill if the war is happening in Ukraine?
The other horrible thing that happened at the beginning of the war was the full-out racism that was abundantly visible to everyone in the world. I would say to people, “Where were you when the United States was bombing Yemen? 350,000 people, women and children are dead with your bombs. Where were you with Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine?”
There is no truth told in the United States.
As soon as Russia moved into Ukraine, I wanted to show people the costs of war. Because they are showing buildings blown up. But they are not showing you blowing up people, they are not showing you the trauma that has already landed in the bodies of the people who are Ukrainian and Russian. They are not showing you the sex trafficking that is happening with women refugees. They were not showing the violence that was happening before the war, where Russians were being hung in the Donbass region. They are not showing you anything that really exposes the cost of war, the cost to the planet, nor the starvation in Africa, the drop in GDP of all the European countries. It is just this fantasy, this concept that has no blood on it. We have tried to tell these stories and people just freak out. They get angry at you.
CODEPINK has been targeted in different ways because of your actions, in the US. What are the sources of such attacks and your strategies to face them?
I get targeted mostly from people who work for the US government. They research all the stuff, tell lots of lies. I am not going to engage with them. I have been doing this for 50 years, people know who I am.
As CODEPINK, we are always out front of what feels safe to most people. We end up being right all the time. But, in the beginning, we were out there all by ourselves. When we went to protect the Venezuelan embassy, people wouldn’t be near us. They thought they were going to get arrested.
I might look into mainstream media to try to understand what the propaganda is trying to do. Research in the 1980s showed that 95 percent of the information in the United States about Russia was negative, and 95 percent of the information in Russia about the United States was negative. It was all propaganda from each government, but the Russians knew it was propaganda and the people in the United States did not know. It is similar to the crazy notions people have about China.
We have been seeing a change in the world order and a rising tension against China from the US. What are the strategies that you are building in the US, in that perspective that you shared previously about Iran, thinking that we must stop wars before they start.
You must stop the wars before they start—this is also a Chinese philosophy. We can see it with Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine. We stopped the bombing of Iran, but we did not stop the war on Iran. The war on Iran has been taking place and it is violent, and the people are suffering badly. Sometimes I think sanctions as a tool of war can be, in weird ways, worse than weapons, because it is silent. It is kind of like emotional abuse, that sometimes could be more damaging than getting hit, because at least you know you were hit. Emotional abuse messes with your brain. The sanctions are happening, but nobody feels sorry for you, nobody is showing up for you. But you are being violated.
Sanctions are violent weapons and the fact that the United States gets away with it is a crime against humanity. In the last 20 years the world has changed. We have less people fighting to stop wars and really standing up for peace. We have more people globally that really get the US Empire, its violence, and its hegemony. They can see it, name it, and they don’t want it.
I realized wars are not going to end, because wars serves the war economy.
The war economy is the extractive, destructive, and oppressive economy, that is killing our community and the planet. Everybody gives their whole lives to this war economy. But there’s a peace economy that has always been here. It is the giving, sharing, caring, relational, and resilient economy without which none of us would be alive. But every year it gets squeezed to death, privatized and devalued.
As a peace activist, I have to work where I am. People say it s a lot easier to see when you are on the outside. If you get that there is something wrong, take yourself out of the war economy and start cultivating a peace economy.
Part of it is building a global movement. It is really about holding hands in our community and holding hands globally, to think locally and act globally. The things that my government does affect the whole world, so I am responsible for that and that’s why I throw my body.
We will continue to disrupt. Every day, what we do is just hold up signs that say something different. “China is not our enemy,” “Money for the poor, not for war”. What we do is present another option. We don’t pretend we’re going to stop these warmongers because we know they are making tons of money. What is going to stop them is going to be the people of the globe that come together and say, “Enough! We’ve had enough.” It is not going to be activists in the streets of the United States, but we have got to play our role, extract ourselves out of the war economy, so that then we are useful tools for the future.
You have been one of the organizers of the campaign “China is not our enemy.” How is it developing inside the US?
I first started thinking, “This is feeling like Iraq all over again.” The US wants to go to war in China. They are pushing a war and there are already casualties. They are Asian-Americans, with the increase of xenophobia and Asian hate in the United States. People got killed and old people were getting beat up. It is Asian hate, not China hate, because in the US nobody can tell the difference between Asian countries.
In the beginning, everywhere I’d go I would hear, “You’re a member of the party, you’re being funded by the Chinese government.” All that kind of propaganda. I just take all the stuff that’s coming my way and then it quiets down because it doesn’t stick, and people can feel safer. I would show the map of 250 bases circling China and the abuses the United States is doing right now on all the islands around China, where they are building missile bases and destroying the ecosystem.
There is this new committee called the competition with China committee. We disrupted the first committee meeting and said, “China is not our enemy.” It was very well-received and my goal was that The Washington Post and The New York Times would have to print “China is not our enemy,” and they did. Now they are using it in their editorials and people are more courageous to talk about it. There are more people related to China that are smart enough to know that they don’t want Taiwan to be Ukraine. You have to create the space, you have to be out in the edge, and then move the engine, then move the edge in. And, so, the edge is moving in before the war starts. Except, obviously, the war has already started.