Friday, May 18, 2012

Medea Benjamin, peace advocate

Last night I attended a gathering to hear Media Benjamin of Code Pink, a group of women who advocate for peace, including in Israel/Palestine. I've long followed the activities of Code Pink and Medea. They are known for their loud pink outfits and demonstrations held inside stores that sell products made in the occupied territories (such as Ahava and Sodastream).

Medea has written a book, Drone Warfare, and her talk was on that subject. She told us that drones are wildly popular with over 50 countries possessing them and the industry thriving in the U.S., Israel and China. U.S. manufacturers are eager to sell to police departments and several have test programs underway. Unlike much more expensive helicopters, drones are difficult to detect, so the popularity with law enforcement and the military are to be expected.

Medea's primary concern is with the innocents who are killed in drone strikes. In both Pakistan and Yemen, the United States acts unilaterally to kill those it sees as a threat. Though there was a unanimous vote in the Pakistani parliament against U.S. drone operations in that country, the strikes continue with the full support of President Obama. One of the few things he pledged before being elected that he has followed up on as President is action against militants in Pakistan. The message from the U.S. government to the world is that it will strike when and where it pleases.

As Medea pointed out, the killing of innocents is more than likely to create more enemies for the U.S., offsetting any gain from the elimination of those who are targeted.

She told us of the wide variety of drones, ranging from the size of an insect to that of an airliner. Development of autonomous drones is underway - drones that can act without human piloting. They will also be able to summon each other to attack in groups. Hovering in place like a helicopter is possible, so with tiny drones listening to private conversations might soon be done.

Speaking easily with a wonderful lack of "you know" and "like" that are the hallmark of youthful speakers these days, Medea was obviously in command of the subject and her talk was well worth hearing.

The most interesting comment she made was that Code Pink membership had collapsed after the election of Obama after thriving during the Bush years. Medea speculated that people were exhausted and expected everything to improve under the new president. Unfortunately, just the opposite has proven to to be true.

I bought a copy of her book that she signed it for me. She will be in Chicago until the end of the NATO summit.

Looking around the room I noted the audience was elderly, something I've come to expect when attending talks about peace or the Middle East. There was a singer who closed the program who was young, but he said his CD has the title, "The Protest Song is Dead"

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