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Overcoming Censorship

The bland, corporate culture of mainstream media coverage has gotten more and more effective at stifling dissent. (See Matt Rothschild's piece on the squelching of antiwar protesters by the police and CBS in Kansas City.)

Part of the problem is that we're used to living in such a mediated climate that even activists have acquiesced to protest pens with Orwellian names like "Free Speech Alley," where dissenters are conveniently walled off from the main event at both major party conventions.

The insidious message from TV coverage of politics that looks more and more like celebrity journalism-with bouncers keeping the riff-raff away from the stars-is that scruffy protesters are just a few weirdoes trying to crash the party. In fact, polls show that antiwar protesters represent a majority of Americans.

How does the silenced majority get heard? I reached Medea Benjamin of Code Pink on her cell phone as she was marching in Washington. Benjamin, who has been arrested many times, is a master of funny, creative, and eye-catching protests. How does her group deal with the increasingly censorious media?

"We've got to get smarter and smarter," she says. "We go in disguise. We change our tactics. Wear an American flag lapel pin-you can get in most places with that."

Code Pink got a lot of press coverage last spring, Benjamin notes, from the Fox News Channel to the Washington Post, after one of its protesters appeared prominently on camera during the Valerie Plame hearings. CNN did a piece about the group.

Afterwards, Benjamin says, "They got very sophisticated about cutting us out of the hearings. They [Congressional staffers] even got C-SPAN to change the camera angles to cut us out."

Code Pink protesters have since arrived at Congressional hearings to find all the seats within view of the cameras blocked off.

"We've been kicked out of John Conyers's hearings just for wearing pink," she says. "We have to fight with the Democrats and the police-not just the media."

Benjamin and her colleagues are undeterred. "We want to be on camera because we want the American people to see there's dissent, and to join us," she says. "If there's no sign of opposition there's nothing to join."

At this week's rally, as Code Pink descended on Washington to "Whip Congress into Shape," Benjamin, as usual, was having a blast.

The flash video and more pictures are on the group's web site: http://codepinkalert.org

"We have beautiful new outfits," Benjamin said from her cell phone as she marched. "Shirts that say 'Whipping Congress into Shape,' and riding crops and those riding hats. . . . Now we're transforming into sheep to impersonate Congress."

The street theater went on throughout the early part of the week, as Congress arrived back from its summer break. On Tuesday, Code Pink activists, working with demonstrators from the Backbone Campaign, dressed as chimps, handing out bananas, as part of a protest of wimpy politicians that involves running a chimp named Bonzo for Congress in 2008.

The section of the Backbone Campaign's web site promoting Bonzo's campaign explains:

"Congress is polling at an 18% approval rating . . . more than 10 percentage points lower than that of the 32% rating . . . of a disintegrating, lame duck Bush Administration. We have no more time for rubber stamps or spineless wimps - we'd be way better off with a bunch of chimps."

As she slipped into her sheep outfit, Benjamin sounded optimistic about getting her message across: "We're showing them we're back and there's dissent and it's great."

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