Code Pink activists are all about the visuals — those pink pussy hats, the huge, dancing vaginas outside the White House, the hands smeared with fake blood at Senate hearings.
Provocative, all of it.
But this one? Seriously? The optics of a handful of white people, from professional activists to a barista, occupying a foreign embassy while the brown people from that country protest outside — demanding they get out — were, um, challenging.
“This feels like an SNL skit, it’s so ridiculous,” said Victoria Mattiuzzo, 32, who was wearing the red-yellow-blue flag of Venezuela as a cape and looking up at the left-wing protesters camping out in her homeland’s embassy, waving to their fans outside earlier this week.
“It’s kind of infuriating. They don’t even speak Spanish,” Mattiuzzo said. “They’re literally saying ‘Hands off Venezuela’ while they moved in and are living in our embassy.”
On Thursday, police finally pulled the protesters out of the building, more than a month after they took up residence.
Did they help save Venezuela? Did the protest shine a light on the plight of a declining country?
The divisive stunt did little more than frustrate Venezuelan expats, tarnish the activists’ cause and further divide Americans along the President Trump axis.
Yes, it comes back to Trump and our nation’s ongoing, infuriating culture war.
This became clear on Thursday, as crowds and online folks cheered the arrest of the Code Pink and Popular Resistance activists who had been inside.
Venezuelans looked on.
“We don’t want to be used as a platform for America’s arguments,” one Venezuelan activist said.
So why did the protesters do it?
Depends whom you ask.
Code Pink claims its goal, while beating drums and getting food deliveries hurled into windows, was to keep that outpost from being turned over to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president in January.
This was after embattled President Nicolás Maduro won reelection, despite presiding over the unraveling of what had once been one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations. You’ve read the stories of staggering poverty, violence and hunger that is feeding a historic exodus out of Venezuela. It’s a humanitarian calamity.
Fishy that he won that election, right?
Yeah, most of the world thought so, too. So they backed the new guy who swept in and said he was going to take over.
But Code Pink activists — and the Embassy Protection Collective that formed for this action — said Maduro’s folks invited them in, gave them the keys and told them to hold tight as long as they can. And they did, even as all of Maduro’s folks had to leave because their visas expired.
The power was cut off. The entrances were locked tight. The entire place was surrounded by a phalanx of officers, and the street was blocked. Venezuelans who needed passport renewal of any kind of service were out of luck.
So why did a bunch of American activists get involved in this, when our own country’s democratic institutions are being challenged, one by one? Shouldn’t the pink pussies be in Alabama right now?
They were living in the embassy to speak for the poor people of Venezuela, they said. And because the United States doesn’t need yet another war.
The chaos in Venezuela felt familiar to Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of Code Pink and the face of the embassy protest.
It reminds Benjamin of Iraq in 2003, when Saddam Hussein was in power and the Iraqi people begged for U.S. intervention.
“A year later, when chaos reigned and so many of their loved ones had died, they cursed the American invaders and rued the day they had welcomed them,” Benjamin wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week.
The Venezuelans outside the embassy weren’t buying it.
They were there to speak for their starving grandmas, their shopkeeper uncles who have been assaulted, their cousins trying to leave.
That’s not what this was about, they believed.
“This is all about Trump. And they are using us and our country as a way of protesting Trump,” said Adriana Fernandes, 20, a Venezuelan American who wants to someday return to her family in Venezuela and live there. But not while Maduro is there.
In Maduro’s corner: Russia, China, Belarus, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and a 22-year-old barista named Kei.
Guaidó, meanwhile, has the backing of most of South America, Australia, the European Union, Canada and the United States.
“You know, Trudeau backed him, too!” one of the Venezuelan expats said. “Not just Trump.”
Code Pink was using Venezuela as an anti-Trump prop.
“Trump supported Guaidó, so they have to be against him because they’re against Trump,” said Fernandes, a political science student at nearby George Washington University. “They don’t even understand how deep all this is, how far back this all goes. They are using our crisis just to go after Trump.”
For Code Pink, who are masters of political theater and provocative statements, this one was a stinker. And, finally on Thursday, the last four of its protesters holed up in the embassy got what was inevitably coming: eviction and arrest.