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The shows on Wise Women Media Radio are in depth profiles and stories that show us that women of a certain age are dynamic forces, empowered spirits and tenacious voices for creating the change we need to see in the world. We cover everything the way our Mothers and Grandmothers would; Environment, Sustainable Living, Art of all genres, Food Storage, Gardening, Crafting, once in a while Political Issues with Special Guests. These women will inspire you! There is no other radio format like this!
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Friday, October 29, 2004
Interview with Code Pink's Medea Benjamin Part 2
Medea Benjamin is an expert in shopping the right way! For those of you that do not know, Medea Benjamin was one of the first people to get the anti-sweatshop movement going and spearheaded campaigns against such companies as Starbucks, Nike and the Gap.
She has written eight books, including "Bridging the Global Gap, The Peace Corps and More," and the award-winning book "Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart." She has assisted in the production of TV documentaries such as the anti-sweatshop video "Sweating for a T-Shirt."
Medea received a Masters degree in Public Health from Columbia University and a Masters degree in Economics from the New School for Social Research. She worked for ten years as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the Swedish International Development Agency, and the Institute for Food and Development Policy.
Anita: Did you expect Code Pink to take off like it has?
Medea: We thought of it as just a lark…
Anita: Like a fun thing to do?
Medea: We were laughing about it, we looked around and all thought, “well, we can all wear pink, then we all looked around again and thought, “we hate pink.” I’ve worn pink every day I think for the past two years. And while we were doing our vigil in front of the White House, we started to see all these Code Pinkers cropping up all over the country and now there’s over a hundred of them. Everywhere that I’ve been going in this country there is a local Code Pink Group, it might be two girls in a High School or a couple of people at a college campus…
Anita: We are new here in Tampa and Michelle is a great organizer. I wanted to touch base on a few other things that are not Code Pink, too. What is your current status with the Green Party? Do you still consider yourself a Green? And this is a double-header question, what is your opinion of Nader running in this election? Do you think he is the spoiler of all spoilers?
Medea: Well, I am still a member of the Green Party and I am disappointed at how the Green Party has really split over this issue. It’s not so much that we have split because that is OK, different people have different ideas about strategy, but a certain nastiness that has crept in and a lot of the division without respecting people who have different opinions. And along that vein, I respect Nader’s right to run, but I think it is misguided. I think it is a lack of understanding on just how dangerous another 4 years of Bush will be, on just how much the world community is desperate to hear from American people, that we won’t give Bush another 4 years in office. That we will hold him responsible for what he has done, and I don’t think Nader understands how deep that responsibility is with the American people. And I think it is unfortunate that his campaign, instead of being a campaign about the issues has become a campaign about his ballot access and whether it’s the Republicans getting him on the ballot and the Democrats trying to get him off and it’s gotten sidetracked, the issues that he’s trying to get out aren’t even getting out there, so I haven’t been supporting Nader this time around. I worked hard to make sure that he did not have the Green party nomination this time, and I wish that he would do a last minute change of heart and tell people in the swing states to vote for Kerry.
Anita: Michael Moore was here a few weeks ago and I was able to sit in on his press conference, Gloria Steinem was there too, very fun, very cool, and he said the same things you just did. He said that it isn’t that Nader does not have the issues down, he does! He has all the issues down! But do the people a favor and step back and let it be between Bush and Kerry. And Gloria Steinem said the same thing. Now these next questions have to do with shopping, which is very important to women! (We both laugh!) What are some of the best online sources for finding goods that are sweatshop free? Online or specific companies that you and Code Pink endorse, that you think are right for progressive women?
Medea: Well, let’s start with the Code Pink Store for shopping online!
Anita: I knew she would say that! (I say this to Deborah, another woman from Global Exchange sitting at our table.)
Medea: Go to http://www.CodePinkAlert.org. We have great T-shirts. I wear a Code Pink T-shirt every day. I really like the whole uniform thing every day. And it makes getting dressed in the morning really easy and quick.
Anita: And you look good in pink!
Medea: Amazingly, everyone does! And we even have sweatshop free sneakers.
Anita: I saw those!
Medea: We’ve never had those before. You know, for years we did our work around Nike athletic shoes and people would come up and say “this one’s bad, this one’s bad, this one’s bad…” and others would say, “well, which ones are good?” and we never had an answer. So finally, we have an answer, the Code Pink high top sweatshop free sneakers or this other group called No Sweat that does other sneakers. No Sweat, in general is a good place to go for sweatshop free clothing. There is another group called American Apparel, some people are not happy with them because they are not Union. But they are in the US, pay good wages and treat their workers decently. Also the Fair Trade Federation.
Anita: I saw that on the Global Exchange site.
Medea: Club America has a good list, and my other hat is Global Exchange who put on these regular Green Festivals. And if you look at the businesses that are part of the Green Festivals and a lot of companies as well at http://www.greenfestivals.org. And the Unions have their own lists. And you can find them if you go to the ACLU’s website.
Anita: What are some of the ways that we as women in our communities can educate other women about being discriminating about where they shop and why? How can we get people to go to these websites and purchase goods from these companies?
Medea: There is a campaign in the works that is going to be seriously launched after the elections and that is the campaign against Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart by far is the biggest and the baddest and it has done so much to push the race to the bottom. It is important that we focus on Wal-Mart and that people recognize that Wal-Mart is being subsidized by us, the taxpayers to pay such low wages to their workers that they go to the state and federal government to get health care, food stamps, subsidized housing. We are paying over a billion dollars as taxpayers to subsidize Wal-Mart—not to mention over a million women that have been discriminated against by Wal-Mart policies. NOW are on board for this campaign and we will be going out in front of the Wal-Mart stores on a regular basis to try to convince people not to shop there. So I think that is the best that people can do. And with the Christmas season coming up, people can go out where people are doing their Christmas shopping and encourage them to frequent locally owned stores instead of the big box franchises. We are going to be launching the campaign and I hope we will be able to do it for this December, a bilocal campaign and that encourages shops that are locally owned to put signs in their windows so that people will know when they go to shop if the store is indeed locally owned or part of a big box franchise. To support locally owned stores would be a good thing. And then the other thing which is not clothing but is around consumer purchases goes back to origins in Code Pink and anti-war, the campaign against war toys for the Christmas season! To encourage women to go out to toy stores with materials, dressing up as Santa or an elf and saying “there are real soldiers out there dying, let’s not teach our kids to play with war toys.”
Anita: Or to sell toy guns…what would you say to people who say, “I don’t have any choice, but to shop at Wal-Mart—I don’t have any money. I’m poor. I can get things for half price at Wal-Mart in comparison to other stores. What would you say to those people?
Medea: I’d say to them that it would be preferable to one, cut down on their consumption and to live more simply. And two, try shopping especially for clothes at second hand stores or to swap with friends. In the end the core bargain that you think you are getting is not a real bargain because it’s wiping out the local businesses in your community. And as soon as they are wiped out, the prices go up. So you are not getting anything cheap, as there are all kinds of hidden costs. Consumers need to start to think about the billion dollar subsidies that we talked about, but even more visible in many cities is the destruction of Main Street and the way that small businesses have been unable to compete because of the big box boys. And to think of the kind of community that you want to live in, that the local business owner has kids in the same school as your kids, goes to the PTA meetings, knows the community, cares about the community or do you want the businesses to be here one day, gone the next, have no roots in the community or take part in the community? Go back to this whole idea of having local economies that will have a stake in the long term on what goes on in the community. And one thing I would add to that too, is this emphasis on local resolutions passed by cities and sometimes by counties that focus on the kind of economy and the kind of world we want to live in. Whether it’s resolutions that say we don’t want the cities to make any purchases that support sweatshops like police uniforms or nurse’s uniforms for public hospitals or it can be around the issues like, that we won’t endorse the Patriot Act or parts of it that go against the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Like what we have in San Francisco now with resolutions on the ballot that say that we support the end the occupation of Iraq. All kinds of issues on the local level that people can take up and that we can use as organizing tools to force local officials to take positions on.
Anita: What do you think of the consistent price gauging with foods that are termed or labeled organic? Are they really organic or are we just getting a bunch of fluff on the packaging?
Medea: Well, there have been attempts by the big food companies to water down the whole definition of organics. And the last time they did it there was such an outcry from the public! Hundreds and thousands of people responding saying, “No we want organic to really mean organic.” But that particular attempt, they were not allowed to push it through. But, there is a trend of the smaller organic companies being bought by the larger companies. It is a very negative trend and I think we end up going back to this issue of wanting to support the smaller companies and local companies. That is why when you look on sites like the Green Festival site you will see a lot of groups that do sell really good organic foods and they are the ones you want to support. And of course locally any kind of food co-ops. And when you see a conglomeration of businesses gobbling up small ones, like Echo Products, or organic foods, it’s negative farming, diversity is the best thing, in nature we have diversity; we should be using our tax dollars and our consumer dollars in supporting that diversity. And to work against the legislation and market forces that push this conglomeration.
Anita: Last question! Where do you see yourself in ten years? You haven’t even thought that far, I am sure!
Medea: In ten years, I will be 62 years old. I would like to be a little more bicoastal in the sense that as I am in San Francisco. And a lot of the issues that I am working on are either focused in Washington, DC, some in New York, issues around the media. Spending more time in those more of those centers of power that we really need to change. I have a daughter that is still in high school and an older one that is in college, when the younger one is out of the house I will be freer to spend more time in some of those lovely cities like Washington, DC, it might not be as much fun as living in San Francisco, but it makes more sense when you need to get things done. I would really like to spend more time trying to rebuild the United Nations, it has become a shell of itself, thanks to the US and this invasion of Iraq, really going against the will of the international community, the United Nations has taken a beating and it is going to be important in years to come to build up the UN and to build the PEACE MOVEMENT and the ties with the United Nations. Right now it’s really two separate things. And there is a our peace movement, and grassroots movement and we have build up global links that the UN is going to put bureaucratic things off to the side—we are going to strengthen those links and as a grassroots movement are able to have an influence on the inside. And have new functions, to try to democratize the UN, change the way the Security Council works, and strengthen those links between people’s movements and the UN. I think the world would be much better off.
Anita: Well that is all I have and thanks so much!
Medea: Thanks for asking a nice and interesting array of questions!