This is part 2 of an interview with Medea Benjamin. Follow this link for part 1: Medea Benjamin Part One
Robles: What issues has CODEPINK been troubled with during these elections?
Benjamin: There’re two different issues. One is that CODEPINK has been very concerned that so many important issues didn’t come up in the elections, like climate change, like wars, like the policies that the US has of using drone warfare. That’s something that CODEPINK will continue to work on.
We’ve been one of the leaders in this country in trying to sound the alarm that the U.S. use of unmanned aircraft in places from Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, killing anybody that the U.S. Government wants, whenever it wants on the basis of secret information, is extremely dangerous, and sets a terrible precedent for the rest of the world. So that’s something that we will be working on.
There’s also the issue of the U.S. budget and there’ll be a big fight in Congress and the Administration about how to divide up the pie in the coming months. And, unfortunately, because of the corporate interests around the Pentagon, there’ll be many attempts by both the President and the Democrats and the Republicans parties in Congress to quote: “Protect the Pentagon from budget cuts” but meanwhile be taking large chunks of money out of needed social services, and cutting things like Medicare and Social Security that are key to the interests of the majority of middle class people in this country.
So we’ll be focusing on trying to bring to attention to the need to cut the Pentagon budget and how many billions of dollars could be saved by doing things like closing the over 800 US bases that we have overseas, ending the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible and stop the production of weapons that came out of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and are still being produced just because they create jobs, not because Pentagon either weants or needs them.
Robles: I see. What’s your opinion of the arrest of Cheri Honkala and Jill Stein and them being held in a warehouse for 8 hours chained to chairs so they were not near the debates?
Benjamin: It is just shameful that two very articulate women that are running for president and vice-president on the Green Party ticket were not only kept from speaking in the debates but were kept from even being in the hall where the debates were taking place, that they were arrested, that they were shackled, that they were treated like dangerous criminals is a terrible shame and blight on this country’s democratic system.
Robles: Is anything going to come out of that, I mean legally? Is there any recourse that they have?
Benjamin: No, there is no recourse they have. I think part of what they wanted to do was call attention to the black-out of third party candidates and in that sense they were successful in some degree, I mean not large enough because as you said there are still, probably the vast majority of people in this country, who don’t know who they are, who don’t know they are running and don’t know that they were even arrested. But that is part of the media blackout that tries to marginalize people who are not part of the two-party-system.
Robles: Do you see any differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in particular in their foreign policy which would be more interesting for our international listeners and in the internal US policies that they espouse?
Benjamin: I think there is a great difference when it comes to social issues inside the United States that the Administration of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are much more sensitive to: the issues of women, much more sensitive to gay rights, also to issues relating to the immigrant community. And those are all very important issues. But when it comes to foreign policy we haven’t seen much of a difference. I think the Democratic Party would be less likely to get us into a war with Iran but they have also been very much champions of strict economic sanctions that are hurting the ordinary Iranian people. And if pushed by the Israelis, they would probably feel obliged to support Israel in any kind of intervention with Iran. So in things like drone attacks I’m sure the Republicans would continue such a policy if not increase it. So, I think in general we are better off with a President Barack Obama than we would be with Mitt Romney.
Robles: I talked to presidential candidate Peta Lindsay. She said the Republican Party is fighting for white supremacy. How far it from the truth…or would you agree with that statement?
Benjamin: Well, I wouldn’t agree with the statement in the way that it is said but I would agree with the statement that the Republican Party represents the interests of white conservative people and is a stronger proponent of the interests of the “Corporate State”. That said, there are certainly a lot of people who are racist in this country and they would tend to be closer to the Republican Party than they would be to the Democratic Party. But then we have to recognize that there are also just a lot of ordinary Americans who vote Democratic.
In fact 40% of people in unions, just ordinary working class people in this country vote Republican. The majority of union households vote Democratic but 40% of them vote Republican. So, I’m saying that while Republicans tend to represent the interests of wealthier white people, there are a lot of ordinary working class people who vote Republican.
Robles: Why is that?
Benjamin: Well, I think because sometimes the Republicans are better than the Democrats at articulating issues around the economy. Many people think that the Democrats are for big government and that means higher taxes and people are very concerned that they are already being taxed so much and they want lower taxes and fiscal responsibility and they think that the Republicans stand for that.
Robles: Ok, I see. Regarding women’s rights and women’s issues what could you say about the Republican Party versus the Democratic Party?
Benjamin: The Republicans have just been horrific in this campaign season, saying terrible things about women, including talking about legitimate rape and women being able to shut down their bodies from getting pregnant if they were raped. And this has given a big black eye to the Republican Party and makes them look like morons.
The Democrats have certainly been much more supportive of women’s issues, from supporting equal pay for women which is something that even Mitt Romney has not been willing to support, which is so insane, to being more sensitive to women’s needs around reproductive rights.
So, definitely I think the Republicans have alienated a lot of women because of very stupid positions that they have taken as a party, but particularly what some of the individual Republican candidates have said and done during this election season.
Robles: This may not be a standard question: Republicans, Neo-Conservatives, for some reason, now this is my opinion, they seem to want to … They have a need to control women’s bodies. For example what you were saying about forcing a woman to carry a child after she’s been raped. Why is that?
Benjamin: Well, there are some Republicans who equate their religious beliefs with the sanctity of life and they say that life begins at conception. And so they think that because of their beliefs they have the right to tell women that they must carry through on any kind of pregnancy. And they also refuse to support a health care system that gives women the right to have reproductive needs met. So, I think it comes from their religious beliefs but it also comes from mere desire to have control over women.
Robles: Even in the Orthodox… the Russian Orthodox faith if something, for example rape happens, they look at each case, as far as an abortion goes. And it is really still the woman’s choice.
I think that sounds insane, I wonder have you ever heard of any Republican politician whose wife (I know it’s a horrible thing to think about) or sister, or somebody who was raped and forced the person to have the child, I don’t think that would happen.
Benjamin: They have been asked these kinds of questions sometimes during the campaign and some of them have said – oh, it is a terrible thing, but as one person said - it is God’s will. He then had to turn around and back down on that but it shows these are his beliefs and that was something that blurted out from his mouth. So, whether they would do it in reality if it was some member of their family – that’s another question. But certainly they have shown that they have no consideration for women having control over their own bodies.
Robles: I see. Isn’t that a problem of separation between the church and state? Nobody thinks about that anymore in the US or?
Benjamin: You know, it is odd that this is supposed to be a secular government but there are so many ways that issues around religion get snuck in. And that is one of them where people who legislate and they tend to almost always be men, will try to legislate their religious beliefs around things like women’s reproductive issues. So, unfortunately I think there are way too many ways in which religion is not separated from the state.
Robles: Medea, thanks a lot I’ve taken up a lot of your time. Is there anything else you’d like to finish up with, it is all yours.
Benjamin: No, thank you so much for calling and asking such great questions. I’m going to go off and vote right now.
Robles: Who are going to vote for?
Benjamin: I’m going to vote for Jill Stein, very proudly.
Robles:Oh WOW! Somebody actually told us. Thanks a lot.