Protesting for Peace With a Vivid Hue and Cry

Toby Blome of El Cerrito, Calif., is in Washington to protest with others from the 250 chapters of Code Pink.
Toby Blome of El Cerrito, Calif., is in Washington to protest with others from the 250 chapters of Code Pink. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of the women's peace group Code Pink, wears pink every single day, and sleeps in it, too.

Her shoulder bag, her wallet and her cellphone are all pink. When she visits Washington from San Francisco to lobby Congress against the war in Iraq, she stays in Code Pink's new group house on Capitol Hill, where nearly everyone wears pink, where her bedspread and her pillow and her bedroom curtains are pink, as are the drinking cups in the kitchen and the flowers that grow out back.

Code Pink's signature color is a bright, vibrant shade, the hue of Barbie dolls and Victoria's Secret panties. It's a color for those who believe that even in the midst of serious political activism there is room for pink feather boas and pink-ribboned dog biscuits. There is also room for Statue of Liberty pink crowns -- which several women are wearing now as they walk up Fifth Street NE toward the seat of government.

They're planning a little impromptu chat with the nation's senators.

"We wanted Code 'Hot Pink,' " Benjamin says as she walks with six others, "but it was already a porn site."

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The Code Pink house is the sort of lefty group home you might expect to find on the outskirts of a college campus. Here, though, some of the lefties double as grandmas.

The rent, $2,200 a month, is paid by member contributions. The chairs are donated, the forks are donated. The women come for a week or months at a time, and when the house is crowded, they sleep three or four to a room, many in bunk beds.

In the basement, where the group holds strategy meetings and pink fabric swathes the exposed pipes, there are rules posted in the perfect handwriting of a former schoolteacher. They include "Come on time!" and "If you hear 'Pink,' listen." During one meeting of about 20 people, Elizabeth Barger, 71, who wears pink and purple ribbons in her long gray braids, stretches out her bare feet. Another woman wears a pink police officer costume, complete with cap and badge. Soft guitar music wafts in, perhaps from the front lawn.

Benjamin, who is leading the meeting with co-founder Gael Murphy, encourages the group not to be afraid of approaching their representatives. Not everyone is a natural at Code Pink's style of activism, which is polite toward those in power but not terribly awed by them. Benjamin calls on Barbara Hilton, a white-haired retiree from Portsmouth, N.H., to share her experience.

"I was a little bit shy, but by the end, I tell you, I was chasing those representatives down the hall," Hilton says.

Code Pink was founded in 2002 as a women-run, women-led peace organization with a creative approach to protest. There are at least 250 chapters, mostly in this country; in recent months, the groups' focus has coalesced around lobbying Congress to end the Iraq war. In March, Code Pink started renting a group house so women descending on the District would have a place to stay.

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