- 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
Anti-war activist Medea Benjamin was born in 1952 (with the name Susie Benjamin) and was raised as a self-described "nice Jewish girl from Long Island," New York. During her freshman year at Tufts University, she renamed herself after the Greek mythological character Medea. After one year at Tufts, she dropped out of school and spent some time hitchhiking across Europe and Africa, supporting herself by teaching English, working in African refugee camps, and doing a variety of other odd jobs. She thereafter returned to New York, passed some undergraduate equivalency tests, and went on to receive master’s degrees in public health (from Columbia University) and economics (from the New School for Social Research).
Ms. Benjamin then lived for some time in Castro’s Cuba with her first husband (a pro-Castro Cuban), who was the coach of that country's national basketball team. (Years later, Ms. Benjamin, reflecting on her years in Cuba, said she had felt "like I died and went to heaven.") Cuban authorities deported Ms. Benjamin, however, after she wrote an anti-government article in the government-run newspaper for which she worked.
Benjamin moved to San Francisco in 1983 to work for Food First / The Institute for Food and Development Policy.
In 1988 she co-founded (with Kevin Danaher) the activist organization Global Exchange, which devotes its resources and manpower to a variety of leftist causes -- most notably an anti-war, anti-capitalist agenda.
In July 1992, Benjamin endorsed a national conference titled "Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s," held in Berkeley, California by the Committees of Correspondence (an outgrowth of CPUSA).
Benjamin was one of the principal architects of the 1999 protests in Seattle where rampaging anti-globalization activists burned cars, smashed windows and generally sowed disorder in a failed bid to shut down a conference of the World Trade Organization. Benjamin hailed the riots, which caused millions of dollars in property damage, as “a battle cry.”
In 2000 Benjamin ran, unsuccessfully, as the Green Party's U.S. Senate candidate in California.
In 2000, Benjamin spoke at the 18th annual Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.
In Benjamin's view, America's war on terror is itself a form of terrorism. She asserts that President Bush "has responded to the violent attack of 9/11 with the notion of perpetual war ..."
Late in 2002, Benjamin led a group of Americans, each of whom had lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, to Afghanistan to meet people whose relatives had perished in the U.S. bombing campaign there. "We must insist that governments stop taking innocent lives in the name of seeking justice for the loss of other innocent lives," she said.
In November 2002, Benjamin co-founded -- along with Jodie Evans, Diane Wilson, and a radical Wiccan activist calling herself Starhawk -- the anti-war group Code Pink for Peace.
Also in 2002, Ms. 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 [she 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 2003 Benjamin was a signatory to the widely publicized Not in Our Name (NION) anti-war statement, which asserted that the U.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 wrote that "military spending robs our schools, hospitals and housing programs," and 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."
In 2004 Benjamin co-founded -- along with Leslie Cagan, the longtime pro-Castro communist who established United for Peace and Justice -- the organization Iraq Occupation Watch, whose express mission is 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, and Families for Peace 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."
In 2005, Benjamin spoke at the Left Forum, successor to the Socialist Scholars Conference. She would also speak at the Left Forum in 2011 and 2012.
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 November 2006, Benjamin and Cindy Sheehan together traveled to South Korea on a mission designed to publicly condemn 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 jointly traveled 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, Benjamin and Evans et al. 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.” Said Benjamin: "We hope the Obama administration will begin direct talks with Iran - without preconditions. On this visit to Iran, we are modeling the policy we would like to see."
According to Ms. Benjamin, the economic policies of Venezuela's communist President Hugo Chavez have 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 says, "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."
"When most Americans hear of human rights abuses, they likely think of atrocities in some far-off country in a forgotten corner of the globe," says Benjamin. "…[But] abuses against individuals' basic rights also occur regularly here in the United States, and our money-saturated political system hardly deserves the title 'democracy.'"
In June 2009, when Benjamin and Code Pink headed a 66-person delegation to Gaza, Hamas officials handed Benjamin a letter – which she proceeded to deliver personally to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, on the occasion of President Barack Obama's visit to Egypt – in which the terror group called on Obama to use his influence to help the Palestinian people in their struggle against alleged Israeli abuses. 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, added Benjamin, "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 February 2012 Benjamin gave voice to her underlying awareness of the fact that to openly acknowledge her socialist/communist ideals would be politically dangerous to the 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, she said that “capitalism has generated a system in which corporations have a voice that drowns out the voice of the majority of the people.”
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."
The Capital Research Center reports that Benjamin, who is president of both the Benjamin Fund and Global Exchange, is a woman who inherited great wealth -- "a trust fund baby, that is to say, a one-percenter who uses a family endowment to foment hatred, division, and revolution."
Ms. Benjamin is currently married to Kevin Danaher. She has authored eight books, including Bridging the Global Gap, The Peace Corps and More; Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism; and Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.