Like any other group, Communists come in a lot of shapes, sizes and colors. This time they’re wearing pink, they’re on the nightly news, and more than anything, they want the mothers and grandmothers of America to identify with them.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the leaders of the women’s anti-war group Code Pink got lost on their way to the carpool line. Since October, these hot pink-clad "marching moms" have been spinning the same tale to reporters from coast to coast, the one about how concern for their families moved them to trade their oven mitts for placards and take to the streets in protest of an unjust war on Iraq.
They’ve played the part so convincingly that over the last six months, they’ve become the media darlings of war protest movement, raking in the television talk show invites and making national news when they were arrested in front of the White House. But the untold story is what they were doing before October.
Unless you travel in Marxist circles or work for the FBI or CIA, the names of the Code Pink moms may not ring a bell with you, though you’ve probably been reading news reports about their collective exploits for years. In the wake of their war against capitalism and self-determination, they’ve left a trail of anarchy and destruction that has cost property owners, corporations and consumers millions of dollars.
Naturally, they’ve toned their Marxist rhetoric down for their stint with Code Pink. Though they’ve taken great pains to differentiate themselves from the other, more radical anti-war protesters, they are one and the same. The leaders of Code Pink didn’t merely take part in the Washington and San Francisco protests that made international headlines – they also organized them. In the process, they’ve provided a rare public glimpse of the faces behind the modern, highly organized American Marxist movement. Needless to say, these women have little in common with the carpool moms of America.
At the center of Code Pink is legendary leftist organizer Medea Benjamin, the 50-year-old mother of two widely credited as a chief organizing force behind the 1999 Seattle riots in which 50,000 protesters did millions of dollars worth of property damage in their effort to shut down meetings of the World Trade Organization. In addition to Code Pink, Benjamin’s San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange was the founding force for United for Peace and Justice coalition, the nexus of the anti-war protests.
The United for Peace coalition, which includes Socialist Action and the Socialist Party USA, is also led by Leslie Cagan, who has a long history of activism with the American Communist Party. If you want to know what anti-war activities United for Peace and its more radical partner, Act Now To Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) have planned for the near future or contact information for how you can join in, you can click on the Communist World Workers Party website, one of the central grassroots clearing houses for communist organizers in the United States and around the world.
The mindset of Benjamin and her friends can best be summed up by her description in the San Francisco Chronicle of how she felt on her first pilgrimage to Cuba in the early 1980s. Compared to life in the United States, the communist social equality of Cuba "made it seem like I died and went to heaven," Benjamin enthused. Now it appears that Benjamin is trying to recreate it here.
The ties that continue to bind Benjamin, Cagan and the others behind Code Pink and today’s anti-war movement were formed in the early-to-mid 1980s when the still young Marxist-American activists found the cause that first unified them: a communist government in Nicaragua. Using the same sort of incestuous, sprawling coalitions they created to oppose the war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan after Sept. 11, they helped aid the Marxist Sandinista regime in its struggle against the American-backed Contras for control of the Nicaraguan government.
Benjamin worked as a project coordinator for Institute for Food and Development Policy (IFDP), which was widely credited with aiding the Marxist Sandinista regime while Cagan, coordinator of the National Mobilization for Justice and Peace in Central America, led marches against US aid to the contras at home that at times attracted upwards of 75,000 people.
When Sand Brim, the widely interviewed voice of Code Pink, insisted to the reporters who interviewed her in January that she was not an activist, just a businesswoman with reservations about war, her 1985 stint in Nicaragua must have slipped her mind. As the executive director of Medical Aid, Brim flew an American neurosurgeon to San Salvador to operate on Marxist Revolutionary Party Commander Nidia Diaz’s hand, which had been injured in combat. That Diaz’s group had claimed responsibility for the murders of four U.S. Marines and nine civilians two months before was apparently not an issue for Brim. Nor were such ironies a problem for Kirsten Moller, the current executive director of Global Exchange and Code Pink organizer who, like Benjamin, also worked for IFDP in the 80s.
In the 1990s, Benjamin and other Code Pink Marxists focused their energies on organizing sometimes-violent protests against free trade across the globe, targeting large corporations with high-profile campaigns and lawsuits that cost consumers and companies like Gap, Nike and Starbucks millions of dollars. As with the anti-war protests of the moment, the Marxist World Worker’s Party website has played a crucial organizing role in their anti-corporate activities, letting would-be agitators know when and where to show up for demonstrations.
Meanwhile, other Code Pink organizers were making a name for themselves in domestic and eco-terrorism in the 1990s. Code Pink Co-Founder Jodie Evans also sits on the board of directors of Rain Forest Action Network (RAN), a radical anti-capitalist, anti-corporate coalition of environmental groups co-founded by Mike Roselle, who also founded the domestic terrorist organization Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which along with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is ranked the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat by the FBI. The FBI attributes over 600 criminal acts and $43 million in damages to the two groups since 1996. Wherever RAN pops up, you’ll also tend to find the Ruckus Society, which has trained activists for ELF/ALF. Ruckus Society organizer Steve Kretzmann, also a Code Pink coordinator, has helped train activists in the agitation tactics that have earned the Ruckus Society its reputation. The Ruckus Society, it’s also worth mentioning, is a coalition member of Benjamin’s United for Peace and Justice.
Code Pink may be communism central for the moment, but if the past is any indication, the group will be left to die on the vine as soon as public attention shifts away from the war in Iraq. Like the other wedge issues these activists are so skilled at creating and taking advantage of, the Iraqi conflict is little more than an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with the American public and swell their volunteer rosters while energizing and solidifying the organization they’d been building since the Seattle riots.
While it may seem chaotic with its mass of groups with varied interests, "the movement" as the organizers like to call it, is built around a simple theme: that America and the rest of the world is increasingly controlled by corporate powers that threaten democratic rights. Its goals, as laid out by Benjamin and others in a variety of newspapers over the years, are clear-cut.
They want to redistribute wealth from the top tiers of society to the poorest Americans by raising minimum wages, choking off trade, pushing up inflation, limiting corporate growth and dragging down the stock market, cutting into the profits of the country’s largest corporations or shutting them down completely and prompting white collar layoffs.
As Benjamin explained to The Sunday Oregonian in 2000, these changes would be made slowly, perhaps over 20 years or more. Though she admits that the above would cause an economic shakedown or even a stock-market crash, she insists the changes would lead to a "healthier, more stable economy."
"Seattle was this kind of battle cry," Benjamin told the San Jose Mercury News in 2000. "We now know we can mobilize hundreds of thousands of people."
But to the dismay of the movement’s organizers, September 11 crushed some of that momentum. Ironically enough, September 11 was the day they’d planned to announce their biggest demonstration yet, which was slated to draw well over 100,000 protesters to Washington from around the world in late September. It was instead replaced with a small peace demonstration.
The Code Pink ladies have been biding their time ever since, reaching out to middle America, building their contact lists and dreaming of the Marxist America that might one day be.