Human Rights Advocate, Anti-War Activist, Author : b. 1952
Medea Benjamin was born Susan Benjamin. In college she changed her name to Medea, after the complex figure from Greek mythology. She has a Master’s Degree in both Public Health and Economics, and has spent over twenty years advocating for human rights all over the world. Benjamin worked for ten years in Latin America and Africa as an economist and nutritionist for such organizations as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, and lived for five years in Cuba. She is the author of eight books, including Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds (1989), and Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture (1995).
Benjamin and her husband Kevin Danaher co-founded Global Exchange, an organization dedicated to promoting “fair trade” practices where environmental concerns and fair wages for the production of goods take precedence over corporate profits. She has fought against sweatshops, particularly in the garment and shoe industries, and with Global Exchange persuaded corporate giant Nike to investigate and monitor its overseas factories to ensure safe working environments and living wages. Global Exchange helped organize the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization.
It was after the attacks on September 11, 2001, however, that Medea Benjamin’s activism took on a different tone and color – pink. She co-founded CODEPINK: Women for Peace in 2002. It’s a “women-run, women-led peace organization”, whose activities range from personal meetings with members of Congress to dressing in pink surgical scrubs and handing out “prescriptions for peace.” Their approach is inventive, often playful, and always in pink, but their goal for peace is serious. Their acts of civil disobedience can be confrontational and often involve members being arrested.
Code Pink’s Members include prominent figures such as Ann Wright and Diane Wilson, but also “regular” women from all over the country who have formed at least 250 local chapters of the organiztion. In 2006, Benjamin and Code Pink brought six Iraqi women (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd) to the US for International Women’s Day to travel and lobby to end the war. She is co-editor of Code Pink’s 2006 book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism, a collection of essays whose contributors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Helen Thomas, and Arianna Huffington.
Medea Benjamin has involved herself in the peace and justice movement in a myriad of ways beyond Global Exchange and Code Pink. In 2000, she ran for US Senate (for California) on the Green Party ticket. She helped to bring groups together to form the coalition United for Peace and Justice. She’s traveled to Iraq several times and assisted in establishing an occupation and watch center in Baghdad. In 2005, Benjamin was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the project, “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005,, a collective nomination representing women who work for peace and human rights everywhere.
In 2012, Medea Benjamin was awarded the US Peace Memorial Foundation´s Peace Prize in recognition of her "creative leadership on the front lines of the anti-war movement." Previous recipients include Noam Chomsky, Dennis Kucinich and Cindy Sheehan.