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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)

They arrive from Plano, Tex., and Kalamazoo, Mich., and Provo, Utah. Some cut their teeth protesting the Vietnam War. Some have served in the military. There's Barger, who lives in an "intentional community" in rural Tennessee and wants to "stop the war machine." There's an Arlington, Tex., schoolteacher and librarian named Desirée Fairooz who cashed in her retirement fund early so she could live here full time as the "house mama." (That meant leaving her husband behind -- a decision about which, she says simply, "he's not happy.")

There's the group's national media coordinator, Dana Balicki, 26, who one night rescues a sick baby bird outside a bar, cradles it in her pink dress and makes a nest for it down in the basement. Deidra Lynch of Orlando gently chews some sunflower seeds and offers them to the bird for sustenance.

There's Lynch's daughter, 8-year-old Autumnrain, who comes into the kitchen one morning wearing a pink-and-white polka-dot dress for a constituent coffee with one of her senators, Democrat Bill Nelson.

"I like your dress," one of the Code Pink women tells Autumnrain.

"I'm going to see the senator," Autumnrain says. She does an impromptu tap dance in her pink flop-flops.

Code Pink's activities on the Hill range from one-on-one meetings with members of Congress to heckling and holding up signs during congressional hearings to spectacularly theatrical productions. They've brought a gospel choir into congressional office buildings to sing about ending the war and hopped like kangaroos when the Australian prime minister came to visit. They've unfurled a pink banner, nearly three stories high, in the lobby of the Hart Building: "VOTE PEACE / FIRE BUSH."

They've dressed in pink surgical scrubs to hand out "prescriptions for peace," and in pink slips to call for the president's ouster. (Get it? Pink slips?) They've stalked the streets around the Capitol with shopping carts ("don't buy Bush's war"), evoking some resemblance to bag ladies. They've worn pink police costumes to seek "citizen's arrests."

"The Capitol Hill police loved 'em!" co-founder Murphy says.

The group enjoys friendly relations with certain Capitol Police officers, but its members get arrested a lot. Sometimes this is for being disruptive in hearings or, as on one recent occasion, deciding to block Independence Avenue. Benjamin says she has been collared about a dozen times for Code Pink activities. Another woman writes on the group's blog about being threatened with arrest and becoming "a bit weepy." (She winds up being released.)

"We're trying to change the culture and say, 'Listen, these are not your hallowed halls of seclusion,' " says Murphy, 53, who served in the Peace Corps and used to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development here and in Zaire. "They can call us smelly hippies . . . but we are not going away till the troops are home."

Benjamin, 55, who worked for the United Nations in the 1970s and later founded with her husband a human rights group called Global Exchange, says the idea for Code Pink was conceived around a picnic table at a retreat for female activists after Sept. 11, 2001. The name emerged as a mocking response to Homeland Security Department's color-coded terrorism warning levels: Code Orange, Code Red, etc.

They thought a playful approach toward activism might succeed where an angry approach would not. "Crazy male testosterone" was already poisoning the planet, Benjamin says; fun and outrageousness might save it.

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