By Medea Benjamin
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People are beginning to demand real change in the US

This article is over 8 years, 6 months old
Medea Benjamin of the anti-war campaign Codepink says the tide is starting to turn for social justice activists
Issue 2360
Medea Benjamin (centre) outside the White House

Medea Benjamin (centre) outside the White House (Pic: Codepink)

Last week exemplified the electric political atmosphere in the US today. 

In Texas state senator Wendy Davis received overwhelming support for her filibuster. She spoke for 10 hours to block new laws there against abortion rights.

And the Supreme Court overturned the Proposition 8 and DOMA laws against gay marriage (see back story).

It appears that there is definitely a growing political awareness across the country.

Organisations and whistleblowers such as Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden, have allowed the public to learn about what is being done in its name. 

While we have seen enormous victories, we have also seen some setbacks. 

Just this week, the Supreme Court gutted the famous 1965 Voting Rights Act that was enacted to prevent racial voting discrimination. 

Hopefully, we can connect the dots on all of these issues to rise, organise and work together for social and economic justice for all. 

The potential is definitely there. We had about 200 people for our action at the White House last week. 

Codepink cofounder Diane Wilson, on a hunger strike since 1 May, took the dramatic action of climbing over the White House fence. She was immediately arrested. 

Some 21 of us were also arrested when we refused to leave the White House fence.

For over a decade now, Codepink and many other groups have been working to close down the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Activists are mobilising now more than ever because over 100 of the prisoners are currently on hunger strike. 

Some of them haven’t eaten since February, and many of them are being force-fed. The American Medical Association says this procedure qualifies as torture.

Given the grave sense of urgency, I felt compelled to speak out during the President’s foreign policy speech at the National Defense University (NDU).

 I pointed out that he has been promising to close Guantanamo since he ran for office in 2008, but he’s yet to take any meaningful action. 

There are 86 men languishing in Guantanamo who have been cleared for release for years. 

I just returned from a peace delegation to Yemen where I met with family members of some of the prisoners. Their stories were heartbreaking.

The severity of the hunger strike in Guantanamo and the actions of concerned citizens has thrust this issue into the national dialogue. 

I believe the grassroots pressure was the reason that President Obama gave his speech at NDU. After years of so much talk and so little action, the public is beginning to demand real change.  

The overturning of DOMA is a huge victory. It has been a long, grassroots struggle on a state by state basis that has led to a sea change in public opinion and public policy.

What happened in Texas is a great example of individuals working for change from both inside and outside of the system. 

It is also a great example of women, both elected officials and activists, pushing back against the right wing patriarchal agenda. 

After Michigan Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor for using the word “vagina” thousands of women converged on Michigan state capitol to mobilise and organise. 

It seems we are constantly taking two steps forward and one step back, but at least we are moving forward!

Medea Benjamin is a co-founder of Codepink. Her new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control is available at Bookmarks

Back story

Two laws against equal marriage were overturned by the US Supreme Court last week.

DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, was enacted in 1996 and allowed US states to refuse recognition of same sex marriages legally performed in other US states.

Proposition 8 was amended  to California’s state constitution in 2008 and banned the recognition of same sex marriage.

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