INTERVIEW: Protester Medea Benjamin explains what it’s like to yell at President Obama

Medea Benjamin, an activist from the organization called Code Pink, shouts at U.S. President Barack Obama while he speaks at the National Defense University May 23, 2013 in Washington, DC.  Credit: Getty Images
Medea Benjamin, an activist from the organization called Code Pink, shouts at U.S. President Barack Obama while he speaks at the National Defense University May 23, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Getty Images

Long-time activist Medea Benjamin was at the center of attention Thursday after she repeatedly interrupted President Obama as he spoke about the U.S. drone policy and Guantanamo Bay. Obama paused several times to address her and let her speak for a good minute before moving on with his comments. Benjamin, co-founder of the social justice movement CODEPINK, refused to budge from her seat and was eventually escorted away. Metro spoke with her after she was released to ask more about her spur-of-the-moment decision literally heard ’round the world.

Metro: What is it like to yell at the President like that and be heard by the entire nation?

Benjamin: It’s really scary! I was listening intently and was more and more disappointed as I heard him talk about drones and not using his power to say they will take them out of the CIA. There were rumors he was going to put an end to signature strikes and yet he didn’t do that. And then Guantanamo Bay — he is Commander in Chief! He could close it today.

Did you go in there planning to address him like that?

I thought that perhaps I would be happy with what he would say. I really went in with an open mind.

Did they try to silence you? Did you have to resist?

It’s a very formal setting and I think they would have been embarrassed to have pulled me out in a brutal way. They tried to and I insisted on staying in my seat. I appreciate that we have the ability to speak out, but more important to me is to have policies that coincide with the Geneva Convention and international law.

What did you think when the President said, ‘That woman’s voice is worth listening to’?

I thought that was really great but I think rather than just more nice words, we need action. There are 102 men in Guantanamo Bay who are starving themselves,  30 being brutally force fed. They need justice.

What did you think of his responses to you?

I’m not content with words. What we want to see is actions.

Have you been to one of Obama’s press conferences before and addressed him like this?

This was my second one. Yes, I have spoken to him privately but nothing like this.

What was it like when they came over and tried to silence you?

It was really scary. They were saying they were army  and FBI and Secret Service. It was intimidating. I insisted on remaining in my seat and getting a chance to speak out more on the drone program because I had only talked about Gitmo. I don’t think anyone would do anything like this lightly… I’m still shaking…

How did the people around you react?

[Laughs] They were kind of shocked. They didn’t know what to do. The police asked them to get away from me so I was by myself surrounded by other press and law enforcement.

Were you arrested?

No. I was taken to a room and asked a lot of questions and I was very forthcoming and then I was allowed to leave. They just asked basic questions about everything from where I lived, my phone number, social security number to why did I do it.

Do you plan to show up to another Obama press conference?

I have no idea. One day at a time.


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