“It’s not easy to be warm and fashionable at the same time,” smiled Nina Human of Atlanta, who, ensconced in a billowing pink scarf, was succeeding admirably. It was a sunless late afternoon in January, and Human was at the Women’s Peace Vigil in front of the White House, protesting the Bush Administration’s impending war on Iraq. Human has never protested anything before, but she has spent many sleepless nights worrying about this war. She learned about the vigil, organized by the Code Pink Women’s Pre-emptive Strike for Peace, on the web. “I told my husband and my boss: ‘I’m going,'” she said.
The name Code Pink is, of course, a clever spoof on the Bush Administration’s color-coded terrorism alerts. The idea grew out of the observation of organizers–including Starhawk, Global Exchange’s Medea Benjamin and Diane Wilson of Unreasonable Women–that women were leading much of the current antiwar organizing and that more women than men opposed the war on Iraq.
In October, women all over the country began wearing pink to protests, while Benjamin and her cohorts conceived the Women’s Vigil, a constant, rolling presence in front of the White House. The vigil began November 17 and will conclude with a week of actions in the first week of March, ending on March 8, International Women’s Day. Code Pink-inspired vigils are regularly held in Utah, Texas and elsewhere, and a group of women in Albany, New York, will keep a rolling fast and vigil until March 8. Code Pink is not an organization but a phenomenon: a sensibility reflecting feminist analysis and a campy playfulness, influenced in style and philosophy both by ACT UP and the antiglobalization movement.
Though everyone is moved by the seriousness of the issue–many participants feel that the survival of the planet is at stake–the actions have been high-spirited. In December a Code Pink posse disrupted a press conference held by Charlotte Beers, a public relations expert hired by the State Department to market the war on terrorism, especially in Islamic countries. In the middle of the event Code Pink activists unfurled a pink banner, which admonished, Charlotte, Stop Selling War. An action in New York City on Martin Luther King Day targeted Laura Bush, who was speaking at the Sheraton, holding signs urging her to Tell George Not to Go to War. Even when Code Pink actions are small, says Medea Benjamin, “we’re dressed in pink, so it’s hard to ignore us.”
Code Pink is part of a rising tide of creative and memorable feminist antiwar activism. In early January a group of Point Reyes, California, women spelled out PEACE on a beach with their naked bodies, protesting Bush’s “naked aggression.” A few weeks later and many degrees colder, a group of New York women did the same. The Lysistrata Project, named for the Aristophanes character whose name means “she who disbands armies” (Lysistrata organized Athenian and Spartan women in a sex strike in order to get men to stop making war), is working to make the connections between peace and reproductive freedom. The Raging Grannies, a guerrilla theater group with origins in the Canadian antinuclear movement, have also been a vibrant presence. These activists are joined by established international groups like Women in Black and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Historically, women’s resistance to militarism has taken many forms–and ideas about it have varied. In her 1938 treatise Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf argued that as a woman, she had no reason to be patriotic, as the state denied her equal property and citizenship rights. She wrote, “If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting…to procure benefits which I have not shared…in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”