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|As a founder of Global Exchange,
Benjamin has been a major factor in the success of recent anti-globalist demonstrations worldwide.
AMBER: After the November
elections, many people feel locked out of the political process. Did you feel that way after
running for the Senate in 2000?
MEDEA: I was totally marginalized when I ran in California for the Green Party. So during the last week of the campaign, when the Republican and Democratic candidates were debating and I wasn't allowed into the debate, we took over the local TV station.
One hundred fifty people infiltrated
the station lobby and we became much more interesting news. We were singing and dancing and having
our own teach-in, while the two very uninteresting candidates were talking to each other. That's an example of how you try to create the news and subvert the process.
AMBER: Was the campaign
worth the time and energy?
MEDEA: It was a fabulous experience on many levels. Just running for office challenges you to do things that you would never otherwise do you learn more about issues, you become a better public speaker and organizer, you figure out creative ways to stretch the dollar. On the other hand, the whole political thing of people wearing buttons and t-shirts with your name on them trying to sell yourself is really creepy. Running as an individual goes against the very grain of trying to build community. I fundamentally don't like running for office as an opportunity for organizing, but I do recognize that we need an electoral arm to our movement.
AMBER: Will you tell me a little about Global Exchange?
MEDEA: My husband Kevin Dannerhur, myself, and a friend, Kirsten Muller, who is the executive director now, started Global Exchange in 1988. We wanted to inspire everyday
people to get involved in larger issues. Now we have about forty staff
members and a budget of about
five million dollars. And we certainly stretch every one of those dollars to make them go a long way.
AMBER: What kinds of actions does Global Exchange organize?
MEDEA: We do reality tours, where
people see for themselves what's happening in other countries. We have fair-trade stores, where we show a model of
trade that benefits both producers and consumers. We organize campaigns
that try to change the practices of corporations. We were very involved in the campaign around Nike and the issue of sweatshops. We spearheaded the campaign around Starbucks and other companies to start carrying fair-trade coffee.
AMBER: What is a reality tour and where do you go on one?
MEDEA: We want to take people out of their everyday lives and let them see the world differently. One of the first trips we took was to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A group of people spent five days with peasant communities in each country. It was a life-changing experience. Now we go to Cuba, South Africa, Iran. We go to the Middle East to get a sense of what the conflict is all about. We go places in Mexico, like Chiapas, where the Zapatista uprising took place. We also go to Afghanistan just about every month.
AMBER: Last November you started a vigil in front of the White House.
MEDEA: We're trying to keep it going until International Women's Day,
on March 8. We'd like to turn the
vigil into a big rallying cry of, "Let's
re-orient our priorities." Economically and politically, our focus should
be on nurturing, compassion, and
the nonviolent resolution of conflicts.
AMBER: Why are you concentrating on women specifically?
MEDEA: I've been thinking about
which sectors of our population are most likely to be sympathetic to an
anti-war message. Certainly one of those sectors is women. A lot of women's groups have been forming spontaneously around the country,
calling themselves Women Against War, Women For Peace, things like that.
AMBER: How do you go about
getting your messages out?
MEDEA: There are two things to consider. One is to ask, what's the best way to build a movement? The other is the issue of media attention. They don't always go together. But events like the big demonstration on October 26 in D.C. are very important parts of building a movement. The media might not cover it the way we would like, but we can't build our movement around what
the media is and isn't going to cover.
AMBER: It's always an argument among activists, how much importance to place on media coverage.
MEDEA: We have to get so big and so effective that the media is forced to cover us. We have to do our own job, which is building a grassroots movement, working in our neighborhoods, at our high schools, community colleges, universities, PTAs, unions, our places of business.
It's the not-so-media-interesting part of the work, but it's what gives the movement its depth. When over one hundred thousand people get together to say no to war, those people go home and talk to their relatives, their friends,
their co-workers. That reaches a lot
of people. We have to find all kinds of ways of building a movement.
AMBER: Such as?
MEDEA: It's got to be something that makes someone, particularly a young person, say, "Wow, that's cool, I want to be part of that." For me, that means it can't just be a lot of fiery, angry speeches. It has to be infused with music, culture, and actions that are fun and attractive with signs, puppets, lots of color. The individual creativity that we encourage is part of building a lasting movement.
AMBER: Does that differ from the challenge of projecting the right image to the public at large?
MEDEA: Well, we also have to be creative in terms of how we get the media to cover us. I did an action in Congress during the hearings on Iraq. I had been watching the hearings. It was really just a debate about how many troops it would take, how long we would have to occupy the country the "experts" were all hawks. I found out that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was going to testify in front
of the armed-services committee. It was a public hearing, so I decided that I wanted to stand up and ask the kinds of questions that weren't being asked.
AMBER: You just showed up
and gave it a shot?
MEDEA: Another woman and I stood
on line for hours so that we could be
the first members of the public inside.
We situated ourselves directly behind Rumsfeld and a row of generals. When he started talking about how
this war was necessary for our
security, I got up. I had a whole string of questions that I think deserve answering How many innocent Iraqis will get killed? How many U.S. service people will get killed? Isn't this all about oil? Why is it coming up
at election time? How are they going to protect us from the anti-American sentiment that is going to be unleashed? The pictures of us unfurling our banners right behind the generals got out, not only to the front page of the Washington Post and the New York Times, but to the South China Morning Post, and to newspapers in Lebanon, Argentina, and Brazil. It was a big shot in the arm for the movement here. And people around the world said, "Yes! There are Americans
standing up in the very halls of power."
AMBER: I loved your speech at the Green Festival in San Francisco. You said that people who want peace are a global majority. Does that idea help you stay focused despite so much adversity?
MEDEA: I find this period very challenging, the most challenging time I've
experienced. I go back to Mother Jones, who said, "Don't warn, organize." We have to keep lifting ourselves out of bed, keep inspiring each other, and realize that, while our vision will win out in the end, it may take ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years. We've got to be the heavyweights in this. We've got to keep getting up after every blow.