I'd booked my flights six months in advance. Another trip to DC. Another political junket to be a mega-pixel in the ever-growing portrait of American discontent. Before the war in Iraq, I'd hit the streets with the other dissidents, the right-wing dubbed un-patriotic, anti-troop throwbacks to the hippie era of Vietnam. I do cop somewhat to a measure of that identity. In the thirty-five years since 1970, I still don't like war, don't aspire to great wealth, or gravitate toward staid, wrinkle-free business wear. That's just not me.
The one thing that has changed, however, is for the first time in my political life I've become a "woman" activist. Not through a sex change or cross-dressing. Biologically I've always been a woman, but my activism never evolved through my gender. Certainly subconsciously, my politics were always influenced by being female, but I had never joined women's organizations, fought principally for women's issues, or felt comfortable in large or small groups of women. But even so, two and a half years ago, I joined the women's peace group, CodePink.
I'd started hearing about CodePink several months prior. But my interest toward the organization didn't fully peak until June 26, 2003, when CodePink women rented a suite at Los Angeles' famed Century Plaza Hotel to greet visiting despot George W. Bush. That evening, during a huge anti Bush demonstration, the group dropped a 45 foot pink slip from an upper balcony that draped across successive floors and spelled out, "Bush You Lied, You're Fired!" That was enough for me. The next day I got on the phone, located that evening's event, slipped in, and "pink slipped" up. From that moment on, barring a few personally instigated diva dips in the road, I've been CodePink devoted ever since.
And so, when September 22nd finally arrived, my day to fly to DC to sleep four nights in the temporary CodePink house, commandeered for a week to accommodate the many out of state CodePinkers participating in the weekend's political actions, I thought about how tired I'd been lately, the menacing principal of my Adult School who would surely retaliate for my two day absence, and made the difficult decision to cancel my flights and stay home. You see, until you've experienced a long weekend with CodePink, ensconced in one deliciously creative political action after another, you've never known what it's truly like to be out of breath for days on end. It's enthralling and exhausting, fulfilling and depleting, and focused on one thing and one thing only... achieving peace through non-stop, non-violent, ambitious, outrageous and over-the-top creative means. Indeed, the current face and pace of women activists are radically different from ever before.
Since the pioneer days of the suffragettes, who fought valiantly for women's rights, activist women have experienced a metamorphosis in method, mission and manner. "The early suffragettes were viewed with contempt, physically assaulted and even imprisoned. Later feminists were perceived by most men and many women as distasteful and threatening. Their critics deemed them unladylike and unfashionable.... Except for a small band of devoted husbands, fathers, boyfriends and friends, these hyper-independent freedom fighters usually fought alone. But current public opinion has shifted dramatically... In today's society, the once spurned feminist/activists are acknowledged as credible protagonists, skilled at social change. They are welcome partners to those who share their views and worrisome adversaries to those who do not. And in this imperiled new global world, imperially governed by George W. Bush.... highly evolved women activists are more necessary than ever." And so I've become one.
On Saturday morning, at home in Los Angeles, I watched C-SPANs coverage of the pre-march festivities. As the camera panned the massive crowd, I saw no one from CodePink. I wasn't at all surprised. You see, there is no time in CodePink to be still. There is no time to stand silently, listening to a procession of speakers. It's not out of disrespect for what the speakers have to say. It's out of lack of time for what CodePinkers have to do. There's the store to stand up for the thousands who clamor for signature CodePink regalia. There's the pre-march gathering where CodePink gear is dispensed, chants are composed, and marching orders are delivered. In fact, there's so much shared adrenaline, most of the women had likely pre-envisioned the march from beginning to end... their hearts racing to pre-contrived rhythms, their shoulders naturally setting back as their postures assumed the powerful position of pride. Political yoga, perfectly balanced tai-chi, the honorable way of the Tao, flowing gracefully onward toward peace.
I understand the power of purpose and am desperately seeking peace. Later that Saturday morning, I went to our smaller pacific time rally and marched through downtown L.A. Ten thousand activists swarmed the streets of Los Angeles. Inventive signs were everywhere. I'd been too tired to keep up with CodePink in DC, but I had the strength to march through Los Angeles. As I marched, my heart raced to a pre-contrived rhythm and my shoulders set back in a position of pride. I was right where I needed to be.
This morning, Sunday morning, I turned on C-SPAN again. This time pro-war folk were on TV. A procession of speakers supporting the war in Iraq shouted tirade after tirade from their stage in DC, deriding the 300,000 peace makers crowded across the street. Their venom was palatable. The paltry audience, 300 in all, applauded the shredding of Cindy Sheehan and her passion for peace. They looked uncomfortable. They were obviously embarrassed that their turnout was so small. I observed their postures. Their shoulders were forward and their backs weren't straight. They'd stand a hell of a lot prouder if they'd just cross the street.
Linda Milazzo is a writer/educator/activist and member of CodePink