- Anti-war activist
- Founder of Global Exchange
- Has said that living in Castro’s Cuba made her feel “like [she] died and went to heaven.”
- Organizer of Iraq Occupation Watch
Born in 1952 as Susan Benjamin, Medea Benjamin was raised as a self-described “nice Jewish girl from Long Island,” New York. During her freshman year at Tufts University, she joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and renamed herself after the Greek mythological character Medea, an enchantress/witch who murdered her own children.
After one semester at Tufts, Benjamin dropped out of school and spent the next four years traveling—sometimes by means of hitchhiking—throughout Europe and parts of Africa. During this period, she supported herself by teaching English, working in African refugee camps, and doing a variety of other odd jobs. Benjamin thereafter returned to New York, passed some undergraduate equivalency tests, and went on to earn master’s degrees in public health (from Columbia University) and economics (from the New School for Social Research).
From 1979-83, Benjamin lived in Fidel Castro’s Cuba with her first husband (a pro-Castro Cuban), who was the coach of that country's national basketball team. There, Benjamin found work as a writer for a communist newspaper. Her initial impressions of Cuba were overwhelmingly positive. Years later she would recall how, upon moving to the island nation, she had felt “like I died and went to heaven.” Over time, however, Benjamin's feelings regarding Cuba evolved into what she described as a “love-hate relationship.” When she wrote a piece critical of the Cuban government's restrictions on free speech, she was deported.
In 1983 Benjamin parted ways with her husband and moved to San Francisco to work as a project coordinator for Food First, a.k.a. the Institute for Food and Development Policy, which reportedly sent aid to Daniel Ortega's repressive, Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaraugua. Benjamin was highly supportive of the Ortega regime. Years later—in her 2000 book I, Senator—Benjamin boasted that she had “fought Ronald Reagan's illegal and immoral war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua” during the '80s.
In the mid 1980s Benjamin met the left-wing activist Kevin Danaher, who became her second husband. In 1988 the couple co-founded the anti-war, anti-capitalist organization Global Exchange.
In July 1992, Benjamin endorsed a national conference which the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)—an outgrowth of the Communist Party USA—held in Berkeley, California. The theme of this event was “Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the '90s.”
Throughout the decade, Benjamin and likeminded Marxist feminists focused their energies on organizing sometimes-violent protests against free trade across the globe, targeting large corporations with high-profile campaigns and lawsuits that cost consumers and companies like The Gap, Nike, and Starbucks millions of dollars.
The apex of this movement occurred in 1999 in Seattle, where Benjamin was one of the principal leaders and organizers of the infamous protests that escalated into riots where rampaging anti-globalization activists burned cars, smashed windows, and destroyed million of dollars worth of property in a failed bid to shut down a conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Benjamin hailed the riots as a signal that even bigger things were possible. “Seattle was this kind of battle cry,” she told the San Jose Mercury News in 2000. “We now know we can mobilize hundreds of thousands of people.”
Though Benjamin has long been a bitter critic of capitalism, she herself is a very wealthy woman. The Capital Research Center (CRC) reports that she is “a trust fund baby, that is to say, a one-percenter, who uses a family endowment to foment hatred, division, and revolution.”
In 2000 Benjamin ran, unsuccessfully, as the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate in California.
That same year, Benjamin spoke at the 18th annual Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.
Benjamin condemned America's military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, asserting that President Bush “has responded to the violent attack of 9/11 with the notion of perpetual war … a war in Afghanistan that included dropping over 20,000 bombs, many of which missed their targets and led to the killing and maiming of thousands of civilians.” “We must insist that governments stop taking innocent lives in the name of seeking justice for the loss of other innocent lives,” she wrote in April 2002.
When a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in 2001 asked Benjamin why she had repeatedly supported the enemies of U.S. foreign policy—including the communist Viet Cong and the Sandinistas—she replied: “There's no one who will talk about how the other side is good.”
In a July 2002 Committees of Correspondence National Conference and Convention at San Francisco State University, Benjamin participated in a “Plenary Panel and Discussion on Electoral Reform and the Struggle for Democracy.”
In October 2002 Benjamin spoke at a Washington “peace” rally organized by the Workers World Party, a Communist organization proudly dedicated to “fight[ing] against capitalism” in America’s “racist, sexist society.”
The following month, Benjamin co-founded—along with Jodie Evans, Diane Wilson, and a Wiccan activist calling herself Starhawk—the anti-war/social-justice group Code Pink for Peace.
Also in 2002, Benjamin exhorted Americans to examine “the root causes of resentment against the United States in the Arab world—from our dependence on Middle Eastern oil to our biased policy towards Israel.” “We [Benjamin and her fellow activists] are ... determined,” she said, “to stop the U.S. government from unilaterally dictating to other people—be they Palestinian, Iraqi or Venezuelan—who their leaders should be. This is for the people themselves to decide.”
In late 2002, Benjamin led a group of Americans, each of whom had lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, in a propaganda trip to Afghanistan to meet people whose relatives had perished in the U.S. bombing campaign there.
In 2003 Benjamin was a signatory to the widely publicized Not in Our Name (NION) anti-war statement, which asserted that America's war on terror posed “grave dangers to the people of the world” in the form of “[w]ar and repression” that “has been loosed on the world by the Bush Administration ... [in] a spirit of revenge.”
In April 2003, Benjamin denounced the recent U.S. invasion of Iraq as a symptom of the nation's unbridled militarism, writing that “military spending robs our schools, hospitals and housing programs.” Further, she stressed the importance of “making common cause with immigrant and ethnic groups that have found themselves under attack in the wake of September 11 ... [and countering] the erosion of our civil liberties.”
That same month, The Nation published a Benjamin essay titled “Toward a Global Movement,” which laid out a skeletal blueprint for the military defeat that Benjamin wanted the U.S. to suffer. “Working with local communities where U.S. troops are based,,” she wrote, “let's start a 'Bring All the Troops Home' campaign to stop the expansion of U.S. bases and start dismantling some of the hundreds of existing bases overseas.” Benjamin also exhorted “grassroots teams” to “link up with appropriate local and regional groups” in terrorist states.
In late 2003, Benjamin—along with Institute for Public Accuracy founder Norman Solomon—served as a consultant for actor Sean Penn's second propaganda trip to Iraq. Penn coordinated his trip with Benjamin, who, under the auspices of Global Exchange, was leading a contingent of military families to Iraq to: (a) meet with their American relatives who were serving there, and (b) try to persuade them to become conscientious objectors and lay down their arms. Echoing Benjamin's repeated references to America's “corporate invasion” of Iraq, Penn said: “The alienation bred by war on a people doesn't stop with armies, but instead continues with corporations and privatization dominating and shaping the very culture and economic participation that freedom might otherwise express.”
In 2004 Medea Benjamin and Leslie Cagan co-founded the organization Iraq Occupation Watch, whose express mission was to encourage widespread desertion by “conscientious objectors” in the U.S. military.
During the last week of December 2004, Benjamin announced that Global Exchange, Code Pink, Families for Peace, the Middle East Children's Alliance, and Operation USA would be donating a combined $600,000 in medical supplies and cash to the families of the terrorist insurgents who were fighting American troops in Fallujah, Iraq. Said Benjamin, “I don't know of any other case in history in which the parents of fallen soldiers collected medicine ... for the families of the 'other side.' It is a reflection of a growing movement in the United States ... opposed to the unjust nature of this war.” Rep. Henry Waxman provided a diplomatic courtesy letter authorizing Benjamin and her delegation to make the trip. Waxman gave the letter to delegation member Fernando Suarez del Solar, an amnestied illegal immigrant from Mexico whose son had been killed in combat in Iraq.
Among the others who took part in the mission were:
- Jodie Evans: co-founder of Code Pink for Peace
- Hany Khalil: This organizing coordinator of United for Peace and Justice had once spoken at the national convention of the Young Democratic Socialists, where he vehemently supported the Palestinian Intifada and compared “the United States’ restructuring of the Iraqi economy to Nazi occupation of Poland.” He also had worked closely with the pro-Palestinian organization Al-Awda.
- Gael Murphy: In February 2003, during one of her multiple pre-war visits to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, this co-founder of Code Pink and Iraq Occupation Watch had joined with Saddam loyalists in demonstrating against the imminent U.S.-led invasion.
- Malia Everette: director of Global Exchange's Reality Tours Program
- Dr. Jeffrey Ritterman: member-at-large of the steering committee of the Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility
In 2005 Benjamin spoke at the annual Left Forum conference, successor to the Socialist Scholars Conference. She subsequently spoke at Left Forum gatherings in 2011 and 2012 as well.
In the mid-2000s, Benjamin was a steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice. Also in the mid-2000s, she was an editor of the Peace Majority Report along with such notables as Kathy Kelly, Michael Lerner, Kevin Martin, Dave Robinson, and Susan Shaer.
In January 2006 Benjamin traveled to Caracas with Jodie Evans and Cindy Sheehan for a friendly visit with Venezuela's communist president, Hugo Chavez. Following the visit, Benjamin described Chavez as a “doll” and said that “George Bush—and John Kerry for that matter—could learn a thing or two from Hugo Chavez about winning the hearts and minds of the people.” By Benjamin's telling, Chavez's economic policies had placed his country at “the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.” “There are few countries,” she said, “where everyday people actually receive the benefits of cooperation with multinationals: a redistribution of oil profit, a guarantee for healthcare written into the constitution, and record-breaking achievements in education. ... Venezuela has embarked upon some of the most innovative regional programs that Latin America has ever seen.”
In March 2006, Benjamin and other members of Code Pink brought a delegation of six Iraqi Muslim women to the United Nations in New York and to the Capitol in Washington, DC, where they lobbied senators and congressional representatives, met with the leaders of NGOs and think tanks, and delivered a petition (with more than 100,000 signatures from people around the world) calling for an end to the Iraq War.
In August 2006, Benjamin was part of an eleven-person delegation of American radicals who traveled to Jordan to meet with eleven members of the Iraqi parliament. According to Benjamin, the parliamentarians had invited the group Code Pink for Peace after hearing of its 28-day “fast” in protest of the U.S. war effort. The goal was, in Benjamin’s words, “for the U.S. peace movement to meet directly with Iraqi parliamentarians working on a peace plan. We hope to return to the U.S. to build support for their plan.” Team member Geoffrey Millard referred to this trip as “diplomatic communication.” Notably, the trip may well have been illegal, violating the prohibition against private citizens conducting their own foreign policy.
Other notable members of Benjamin's delegation included:
Among the Iraqi representatives with whom the aforementioned American leftists bargained were:
- Sheikh Ahmad al-Kubaysi: This Baghdad-based cleric and Muslim Brotherhood affiliate once gave $50 million to the terrorist leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Moreover, he declared: “These young men who came here from other Muslim countries to defend Iraq [from the Americans] are very brave. They left their homes and comfortable lives to protect fellow Muslims. That is the most important form of Jihad. These Mujahideen are guaranteed Paradise.”
- Saleh al-Mutlaq: Al-Mutlaq was the leader of the Iraq National Dialogue Front (INDF), the coalition that: (a) was the prime sponsor of Benjamin's delegation of leftists; and (b) led the charge against the Iraqi constitution when it guaranteed the Shi’ites an autonomous region. Like al-Kubaysi, al-Mutlaq condoned armed “resistance,” offered to join the “insurgency,” and regularly called upon the United States to disarm itself in the face of terrorism. In a May 18, 2006 op-ed titled “Our Problem with America,” al-Mutlaq wrote: “The biased people are trying to shuffle cards to brand as terrorists the honorable national resistance movements, which should have a peaceful role in building the country and preserving its economy, unity, security, and the dignity of its people. We cannot give peace, because someone cannot give what he does not have.” When asked in a radio interview if he supported the “insurgency,” al-Mutlaq paused before answering: “I don’t support the insurgency, but I must be very frank with you. If the American strategy will stay as it is, maybe one day I will be part of the insurgency.
By the time the discussions were over, Benjamin and Code Pink had come to accept nearly the entire platform of their Iraqi counterparts. Said Code Pink: “The common thread among this diverse group of Iraqis and Americans was a desire to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, ensure no permanent bases in Iraq, and secure a U.S. commitment to pay for rebuilding Iraq. Other issues that emerged in two-days of intensive talks include the need to dismantle militias, provide amnesty for prisoners and the various armed groups, compensate victims of the violence, revise the Constitution and preserve the unity of Iraq, and reverse U.S.-imposed de-Baathification and economic policies. We left this historic meeting with a commitment to make sure that the voices of these Iraqi parliamentarians are heard here in the U.S., and we will bring a group of them to the U.S. in the Fall.”
In November 2006, Medea Benjamin and Cindy Sheehan together traveled to South Korea to publicly denounce a U.S. government plan for expanding an American military base near Seoul. The Benjamin/Sheehan visit was strongly supported by pro-North Korean groups, hard-left student movements and labor organizations, and Communist sympathizers.
In January 2007, Benjamin and Sheehan traveled jointly to Cuba to publicly call for the closing of America’s Guantanamo Bay detention center there.
In September 2008, Benjamin and Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York. They were subsequently invited to meet with Ahmadinejad again, in Iran, two months later. There (in Iran), Benjamin and Evans met with high-level government officials and offered to help fund environmentally friendly businesses as well as the construction of a “peace park” in Tehran. Benjamin marveled at the low prices of public transportation in Iran, and said she was “struck by how much more open Iran is than I had thought.” “We hope the Obama administration will begin direct talks with Iran, without preconditions,” added Benjamin. “On this visit to Iran, we are modeling the policy we would like to see.”
When Benjamin and Code Pink headed a 66-person delegation to Gaza in June 2009, Hamas officials handed Benjamin a letter calling on President Barack Obama to use his influence to help the Palestinian people in their struggle against alleged Israeli abuses. Benjamin delivered the letter personally to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where Obama was visiting at the time. Benjamin subsequently penned an article in the Huffington Post praising Hamas for what she called its commitment to “mutual respect and adherence to international law.” The letter, she added, “represents a significant development in an effort by Hamas to present a new face to the Western world”—on behalf of a Palestinian population that, according to Benjamin, had been victimized by “vicious” Israeli attacks in the recent Operation Cast Lead conflict.
In July 2010 Benjamin attended a National Peace Conference in Albany, New York, where the keynote speakers were Noam Chomsky and Donna DeWitt (president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO).
In a February 2012 interview, Benjamin gave voice to her underlying awareness of the fact that to openly acknowledge her socialist/communist ideals would be politically counterproductive for the radical cause: “We have such a reactionary population and such a lack of a broad spectrum of dialogue, that even talking about socialism in the context of the United States marginalizes you to such an extent that your voice is barely heard.” In the same interview, Benjamin said that “capitalism has generated a system in which corporations have a voice that drowns out the voice of the majority of the people.”
In August and September 2012, Benjamin and other Code Pink activists sought to promote “respect” for women's health and abortion rights by wearing large costumes representing female reproductive organs. “We are … focusing on the issue of the GOP’s war on women and trying to take away women’s reproductive rights, so we have been going around in our vagina costumes,” said Benjamin. “We were the dancing vaginas. One of the things we have found is the surest way to make the police go away is try to get your picture in front of them wearing a vagina. They will blush and disappear.”
During a February 2013 radio interview, Benjamin was asked whether she believed that President Barack Obama's use of drone warfare to kill suspected terrorists was an impeachable offense. She replied: “Sure. Just like I called for President Obama and George Bush to be taken to the International Criminal Court for war crimes, but it’s not going to happen.”
In March 2014, Benjamin and Code Pink were on their way to Gaza when they were stopped by Egyptian authorities at Cairo airport. After spending one night in a Cairo detention cell, Benjamin was deported to Turkey, where she was promptly hospitalized in Istanbul. In a Twitter post, she claimed that Egyptian authorities had “broke[n]” her arm during her detainment. And in a later press release, Benjamin said: “I was brutally assaulted by Egyptian police, who never said what I was being accused of. When the authorities came into the cell to deport me, two men threw me to the ground, stomped on my back, pulled my shoulder out of its socket and handcuffed me so that my injured arm was twisted around and my wrists began to bleed. I was then forced to sit between the two men who attacked me on the plane ride from Cairo to Istanbul, and I was (and still am) in terrible pain the whole time.”
Benjamin is a member and supporter of the Free Gaza Movement, a pro-Hamas initiative that seeks to “break” Israel's “siege of Gaza.” Turning a blind eye to Palestinian terrorism, she has repeatedly condemned Israel for visiting “massacre[s],” “bloodshed,” and “destruction” on the Gazan Palestinians.
Benjamin currently serves on:
- the advisory board of the Progressive Democrats of America (along with such notables as John Conyers, Keth Ellison, Raul Grijalva, Thom Hartmann, Tom Hayden, Barbara Lee, and Jim McGovern)
- the advisory board of Healthcare-Now! (along with Leo Gerard and Dr. Quentin Young)
- the advisory board of the Chelsea Manning Support Network (along with Daniel Ellsburg, who leaked classified government documents known as the “Pentagon Papers,” and filmmaker Michael Moore). (Formerly known as Bradley Manning, Chelsea Manning is an ex-U.S. Army soldier who in July 2013 was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses.)
- the advisory board of Peace Action (along with Phyllis Bennis, Julian Bond, David Cortright, Daniel Ellsberg, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Frances Fox Piven, and Cornel West). (A former fellow member of this advisory board was the late Pete Seeger.)
In early 2016, Benjamin was a key supporter and organizer of Democracy Spring, along with such notables as Heather Booth, John Cavanagh, Jodie Evans, Bill Fletcher Jr., and Jim Hightower.
Benjamin has authored or co-authored eight books, including No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today (1986); Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart (1987); Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds (1989); Greening of the Revolution: Cuba's Experiment with Organic Agriculture (2002); The Peace Corps and More (2003); and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (2005).