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Code Pink crashes tea party, looking for converts


At this afternoon's Tea Party Express rally, on the left of the stage, a small woman in a bright pink shirt milled around conducting friendly interviews. The interviewer was Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, a left-wing activist who excels at showing up at conservative events, congressional hearings and military recruiting stations, and getting herself arrested. She listened to tea party activists, patiently marking down their answers to questions like, "Israel, a wealthy country, gets $3 billion a year from Uncle Sam with no strings attached and no accountability. The second largest recipient is the autocratic government of Egypt. Should Congress cut the foreign aid budget by cutting funds to Israel and Egypt?"

"I find more hawks here than Ron Paul supporters," Benjamin told me, right after an interview with a tea party activist (who didn't want to give her name) who blamed "Walter Cronkite and Bob McNamara" for America's defeat in Vietnam. "I think it's fascinating! There's a lot of myths about 'the other,' on both sides. Like, somebody came up to me and said 'You're a Castro lover!' I said, you don't know, I was actually put in jail and deported from Cuba. Let's talk, let's inform each other."

Benjamin didn't find any full converts -- some people I saw loudly (but peacefully) suggested that she should leave -- but she did find common ground on economics.

"We found we were both against the bailout," she said, "against government subsidies to corporations -- the Chrysler/GM takeover. With cash for clunkers, one woman told me she had a lot of friends who could buy new cars but some who didn't have the money. The common ground was on bailing out those who don't need a bailout."

I pointed out to Benjamin that Republicans, in pushing back against stories of tea party extremism, have cited Code Pink as an example of real hate on the left. She shook her head. "We never curse. Never. We don't do that. We're totally non-violent. We never say anything racist."

Benjamin avoided the pushing and shouting matches that have marked some of her videotaped confrontations with Republicans. Tea partyers, she said, were a different breed. "Sometimes when I talk to them I find out that they're scarier than I ever thought. Sometimes I find that they are really nice people who think differently than me."

Photo by David Weigel

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By David Weigel  |  April 15, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Tea Party  | Tags: CodePink, Conservatism, Egypt, Medea Benjamin, Ron Paul, Uncle Sam, United States, United States Congress  
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Next: The Tea Party Express comes to D.C.

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