United States of America: Medea Benjamin

We who oppose war, and who now represent the majority of Americans, must force our representatives to represent us."

— Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin, a powerful force in human rights activism, has struggled for justice in Asia, the Americas, and Africa for more than 20 years. Her mission as founding director of Global Exchange has been to make labor and environmental concerns more important than corporate profits. After September 11, she mobilized thousands of women when she cofounded the peace group, Code Pink: Women for Peace. Believing in the power of people-to-people communication to change the course of war, she organized delegations of families to travel to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"How do you know when darkness is over? When you can see the face of your brother or sister in everyone you pass." This saying became real for Medea Benjamin when she saw the light in the face of a six-year-old boy, Mohammed, during one of her post-September 11 visits to Iraq. She and her delegation gave food and medicine to Mohammed, who suffered from leukemia, a disease on the rise in Iraq following years of US bombs that have polluted the soil and water with depleted uranium. "Mohammed, who has every reason to be sad, mistrustful, and angry, has nothing but a smile for the world," Medea writes. "What Mohammed needs is not food or even medicine–he needs to be spared." By linking ordinary American families with ordinary Iraqis, Medea Benjamin has made it possible for many people to "see the face of their brother and sister," and to tell and retell their stories. In 2002, she went to Afghanistan with four Americans who had lost loved ones in the September 11 attack to meet with Afghanis who had lost relatives during the US bombing of their country. Their extraordinary journey received such international attention that the US government was pressured to discuss civilian causalities and to create a compensation fund for Afghan victims. Closer to home, she mobilized to join a four-month vigil in front of the White House. Medea believes that issues of fair trade and peace are closely tied, and has used her organization, Global Exchange, to lobby on issues such as sweatshop conditions, the role of big energy companies in California's energy crisis, universal health care, and the necessity of a living wage for all.

Global Exchange Code Pink: Women for Peace