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No Room For Bay Area Activist In Democratic Party’s Big Tent

By CHRISTOPHER KROHN Special to the Planet
Friday July 30, 2004

BOSTON—Global Exchange executive director and Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin was forcibly removed from the floor of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Tuesday night after unfurling a “Code Pink, End the Occupation of Iraq” banner right within several feet of the 502-member California delegation. In the end, it took three Boston police officers and eight plain-clothes security people to remove Benjamin. Three reporters with notebooks and a television camera were near her when the incident occurred a few minutes after 10 p.m. Tuesday.  

The good old fashioned Bay Area style guerrilla action took place inside the Fleet Center, the site of this year’s elaborately stage-managed Democratic convention, where each official event was highly scripted, often with carefully selected visuals. Before Tuesday night there were virtually no reported incidents of dissent inside the convention hall. Standing about 10 feet away, this reporter got a clear view of Benjamin’s protest and watched party officials scramble among themselves to explain how Benjamin got to the convention floor in the first place. 

As the action unfolded, Teresa Heinz Kerry was on stage speaking. “My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called ‘opinionated,’ is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish,” she said to loud applause. “My only hope is that, one day soon, women who have all earned the right to their opinions, instead of being labeled opinionated, will be called smart, or well-informed, just as men are.” And it was about at this moment that Benjamin began shouting, “What about the war? No war in Iraq! Bring the troops home.”  

Within minutes, an officer arrived on the scene and said to no one in particular, “She’s got the proper ID, what do we want to do with her?” Benjamin’s banner was unfurled in full view of conventioneers of the Colorado delegation and part of the California contingent. She turned around and held it high towards the stage, about 100 feet away, so that it could be within Heinz Kerry’s view. She wore a “Code Pink” head scarf, and scattered pink scarves could now be seen on others in the hall as well. Momentary uncertainty prevailed. Suddenly a party official was heard on the telephone asking for help: “What should we do? Take her off the floor? Surround her with signs?” Then he yelled to other party officials, “Surround her with signs, surround her with signs!” Almost immediately 10 or 12 arms appeared holding Teresa Heinz Kerry signs all around Benjamin. Another security guard, unaware of what was happening, yelled to clear the aisle. Benjamin’s banner was once again in full view as more uniformed police arrived on the scene.  

They questioned her and saw she had the proper floor pass. Visibly perplexed, the officers received orders from one of the plain-clothes security guards: “Get her off the floor, gotta get her off the floor.” This reporter, other reporters and convention-goers were physically shoved and pushed out of the way as the security guards made their way towards Benjamin. But she would not budge at first. As she was grabbed by the police chants of “Let her go! Let her go!” arose and then died quickly, chanters hushed by other Democrats present.  

The momentum of this small security force carried her out a side exit and away from the view of this reporter. As other reporters tried to pursue through the dense crowd, a wall of five security guards was quickly formed, effectively cutting off access to that exit of the arena. Later, when asked about Benjamin’s one-woman demonstration, a police officer denied knowing anything about it, and also would not divulge who was actually in charge of floor security at the time Benjamin was taken away, if in fact he knew.  

The incident is more than a little bit ironic, given that it came during a Heinz Kerry speech in which she advocated a well received notion that women should not be afraid or intimidated in speaking their minds. Later in her speech, after Benjamin was gone, Heinz-Kerry, perhaps unaware of the entire episode, said that “…as president, my husband will not fear disagreement or dissent. He believes that our voices, yours and mine, must be the voices of freedom.” 

Late Wednesday afternoon, Benjamin was in good spirits. She was not arrested, but simply thrown out of the arena. She said of it all, “Why are the Democrats clamping down on free speech? The biggest issue of our country (the war) is not being talked about,” she declared. “Kerry and the Democrats need to energize their base by presenting alternatives to Bush’s war.” Benjamin said she would seek to return to the convention floor Wednesday night.  

In an interview last Sunday, when asked about the plans of non-violent direct action practitioners like herself, Benjamin said, “We are not seeking confrontation, we are seeking our First Amendment rights.” Were people planning on getting arrested? “People I know are not trying to get arrested,” she said at the time. “We walk a fine line between understanding Kerry is the only one who can defeat Bush, but not giving Kerry a free ride.” P