CODEPINK uses humor and politics to make a point
Last month, during the final weeks of the 79th Texas Legislature, a group of women dressed in hot pink shirts, hats, wigs, and boas made their way through the Capitol in Austin, delivering "pink slips" to offending legislators. Chanting "2, 4, 6, 8 high kicks can't impregnate," they draped a silky negligee on Representative Al Edward's (D-Houston) desk for his bill banning sexually suggestive cheerleading moves. Representative Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) received a pink slip for his bill allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions; Representative Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) for his bill blocking gay men and women from becoming foster parents; and Phil King (R-Weatherford) for his legislation requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.
|Dressed in hot pink, feminist activists from CODEPINK Austin visited the State Capitol in May, protesting the Iraq War and delivering "pink slips" to various state representatives.|
This is the work of CODEPINK, a national, women-initiated peace and social justice organization that uses humor and compassion to fuel non-violent political protests. The group has more than 100 affiliate chapters in cities around the world. In Texas, there are chapters in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston, Seadrift, and, since March of this year, San Antonio. "I have always admired the women who started CODEPINK," says Lori Ramirez, a stay-at-home mother of seven, peace activist, and founder of the fledgling San Antonio chapter. "I've seen what they're doing, and I think we need to spread it around. People are asleep - maybe that hot pink will wake them up."
CODEPINK began in November 17, 2002, when 100 women, led by nationally and internationally known activists Medea Benjamin, Diane Wilson, Starhawk, and Jody Evans, marched on the White House in protest of the imminent pre-emptive strike on Iraq. The group took its name from the Bush Administration's Homeland Security advisory system; whereas the advisory system raises fear by rating the risk of a terrorist attack from severe to low (the United States has been on yellow, or elevated alert since last November), the CODEPINK alert is meant to raise compassion, "a feisty call ... to wage peace."
Every day for four months after the march, CODEPINK held all-day sit-in peace vigils with other social justice groups such as GreenPeace, National Organization for Women, and Neighbors for Peace and Justice sponsoring days.
The vigil culminated on March 8, when 10,000 men and women converged on Washington to celebrate International Women's Day with a week of activities including a rally and a march.
Today the group is still focused on the Iraq War and related issues such as raising $600,000 last year for refugees in Falluja and protesting at Halliburton's shareholder's meeting in Houston last month, but CODEPINK has also branched out to champion local libraries with Books Not Bombs, civil liberties, environmental stability, responsible media and reporting, and voter registration.
Most local CODEPINK chapters range from 10-100 members. Ramirez says the organization is for women "but doesn't exclude anyone who's for peace." The San Antonio chapter has 10 members, men and women of varying ages. Ramirez says that most of the current members were already activists, but she also hopes to recruit people who have never been active. "I know there are thousands of people outraged by the human and financial cost of the war, but it's hard to get people out," Ramirez says. "I thought CODEPINK would give people another venue, and it's not the kind of thing you have to join. There are no membership dues, you just show up and you are part of CODEPINK."
On a national level, CODEPINK is run by consensus and funded through individual, private donations and T-shirt, pin, poster, scarf, and tea sales. Local chapters are responsible for their own "scheming and dreaming," but the central office in Venice, California, provides how-to information on organizing and coordinates the organization's national campaigns. The group also runs International Occupation Watch Center, a news portal focused on the War in Iraq, and Benjamin and Evans recently edited and published a book called Stop the Next War Now! Effective Responses to Violence & Terrorism, a collection of essays by artists and activists on peace, democracy, and the importance of organization.
To date, CODEPINK San Antonio has participated in two events: this year's International Women's Day rally in Washington, D.C., and a San Antonio demonstration marking the second anniversary of the Iraq War in March. On September 23, there will be a three-day peaceful demonstration to end the war and bring the troops home in Washington, D.C. Ramirez says CODEPINK will organize local activities in conjunction with that event, but she hopes some members of the group make the trip east. "Maybe we can get enough people to have a San Antonio CODEPINK bus go to Washington."
In the meantime, you can find her at the Peace Vigil that takes place every Thursday from 4-5 p.m. in the Main Plaza. She plans to be there with a sign bearing the amount the war has cost San Antonio (as of press day, $661,451,609, according to the National Priorities Project and based on estimated congressional appropriations) and a life-size portrait of George Bush, which she has dressed in a pink slip emblazoned with the words "Your Fired." "He looks good in pink," she says, laughing.
"Although it's not CODEPINK organized, I'd like to have a presence there; just to bring more visibility. You can't help notice a bunch of people dressed in hot pink. It really helps to deliver the message, which is the point," says Ramirez. "CODEPINK provides a different kind of outlet for dissenting voices - to be able to get all sparkly and glittery is really a creative approach to protest."
For more information about CODEPINK San Antonio, call Lori Ramirez at 491-0800. For more information about the national organization, visit codepinkalert.org. •
By Susan Pagani