By Robert S. Becker
No one outdoes Texan Diane Wilson for unflinching, off-the-wall, over-the-fence, ingeniously brilliant protests. That insight struck me after a phone chat about her dramatic, face-to-face White House fence insurgency against relentless Guantanamo abuses. Then, for perspective, I asked her celebrated CODEPINK cohort to pinpoint Diane’s special gifts and activist standing.
“One of a kind,” says the anti-war group’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, amazed how this “fearless, clairvoyant visionary” brings to every protest action an “enormous compassion” for those wronged by official powers. “She gets it,” Benjamin explained, “how separate parts are linked, intuitively connecting human suffering with key corporate, environmental, legal and political focal points.”
Consistent with hardscrabble, heartland origins – Pentecostal upbringing, mother of five, Native American grandfather, fourth-generation Gulf shrimper – Diane’s heart-felt pragmatism is liberated from both constraints of ideology or fear of bodily injury. Her first book, “An Unreasonable Woman,” sets forth her evolved wisdom: 1) “Prison doesn’t greatly bother me,” and 2) “Risking one’s life can be strangely liberating.”
Fortified with Convictions
Her moral driver, as CODEPINK co-founder, is simplicity itself: justice and empathy for the defenseless against hypocrisy. In action, Benjamin verifies, “Diane enters war zones more courageously than Marines armed to the teeth. Her legendary courage means she goes anywhere, fortified only with her convictions.”
Skeptical about high-falutin theories or defeatist planning, Diane uncorks a tactical tornado that unnerves, even disorients foes. “When you have no voice,” she once said, “no other way to get attention, you think outside the box.” Early on, this “accidental” activist rattled a gang of the nastiest Gulf plastics polluters, with hunger strikes, surveys tying carcinogenic spills with cancer outbursts, knowledge greater than plant managers, climbing a “secure” factory tower, even sacrificing her beloved fishing boat.
Spurred by Bhopal’s (India) deadliest of all environmental crimes, she managed to picket the fugitive CEO’s home, moving on to prisoners’ rights before challenging the Iraqi War kickoff by fence-sitting at the U.N. This past year called for more hunger strikes, confronting the Keystone XL pipeline, and today the moral and political calamity of keeping open a prison that mocks American justice. Along the way, her multiple arrests led to multiple, grimy imprisonments.
The Great Fence Insurgency
Naturally, as one who knows confinement first-hand, Diane figured, “Since Obama had neglected putting Guantanamo on his itinerary, we figured to bring Guantanamo abuses to Obama.” Literally, to his White House residence, to remind this high-sounding exec this accelerating flashpoint must be resolved.
Since no one invited the Texas visitor in – or her merry, intense band from CODEPINK – she invited herself, orange inmate jumpsuit and all, climbing over the White House fence. Her wobbly drop-in, alas, met guard dogs and machine-gun-packing security forces who mistook her good citizen mission by arresting her (D.C. trial later this month). Sometimes busy hosts just don’t know how to return southern hospitality.
Though met with skepticism, even CNN sneers about being crazy or rude, genuine patriots still dramatize messages by matching moral force with physical courage. Moral testimony doesn’t mandate brazen ideology, nor call for bloody rebellion. Like Martin Luther King or Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience,” Diane dramatizes conspicuous, human suffering caused by human blundering, whether environmental assaults, failed foreign wars, or perpetual confinement. Like our other great radicals, Diane looks no further than oft-forgotten July 4th ideals: freedom from abuse, equality before the law, neighborly support for the needy, and fair-dealing seasoned with mercy.
Are demands to free unjustly-held, colonial-prisoners not consistent with our Founders, insistent citizens must keep government honest, just as government must serve an honest citizenry? What bonds CODEPINK with Veterans for Peace and Witness Against Torture, and others, bridges them with heroic civil rights protesters whose love of country – and public service – are crowned now with national holidays. Talk about two Americas.
Testifying FOR America
Thus Diane, whose cheerful reasonableness is textured with southern grace, is obliged to call herself an “unreasonable woman,” even an “eco-outlaw.” Note the paradox, outlaw for justice. For the transcendent reason behind CODEPINK reinforces what Glenn Greenwald says about Edward Snowden: “He had not fallen out of love with America, only its government,” believing “America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing.”
And Diane’s defiance, like Snowden’s, is not without great cost, forfeiting a house, a husband, a treasured boat, trucks and assets, and repeatedly her liberty. Right now, she’s rebuilding a small barn as residence. “To fight the worst of capitalism, you have to give up materialism,” she confirms, as fear of loss blocks our “duty as Americans to make it right and to correct these wrongs.” Ditto, fellow hunger striker, Elliott Adams, ex-Vietnam paratrooper, “I just can’t sit and enjoy my life when my country is doing such terrible things to these people.”
Compare this unpaid, heroic citizen band who risk all vs. the ever-wary, no-drama Obama. Here’s a military commander who smites any perceived, foreign security menace; who alone okays massive troop retreats when foolhardy wars implode; who oversees invasive spying and civilian-killing drone attacks –and who punishes “enemy combatants” without recourse. And yet, this administration in court defends extra-legal force-feeding of inmates that Obama’s own task force declared not dangerous. Two full years ago.
Such transparent contradictions leave non-violent patriots no choice but enact what the “audacity of now” means. How paltry a president who defers to rightwing Congressional bluster, mouthing “not yet,” “can’t do,” or “time isn’t right.” Reinforcing Diane’s fence insurgency, a federal judge this week exposed Obama’s empty chair, confirming his sole authority to halt “degrading, painful, humiliating” force-feeding and “restart the process of transferring detainees out of the facility.” Her blunt message: just do it.
The Living Slave Compound
Finally, interviewing Diane brought home how Guantanamo replays southern slave compounds – horrors once banned now sustained with federal (!) legal sanction. Like African slaves, prison inmates were/are not arraigned, let alone found guilty (even under onerous Patriot Acts), thus capture qualifies as arbitrary and malicious. Talk about being at the wrong place, wrong time. Like seized slaves, inmates are ruled by force, stripped of human rights, and demonstrably tortured.
Moreover, echoing the Emancipation Proclamation timing, inmate liberty won’t depend on just law or moral rights, even public opinion, but crass, political expedience, that is, when it suits the president. In some ways, slaves had more options: escape, freedom up north or in Canada, even the ability to attack slavers and rebel. And one final irony: unlike plantation-enriching slave labor, “productivity” here still serves the Bush-Cheney war propaganda machine, Pentagon prison budgets, and Obama’s hawkish image (what, insurance against impeachment?).
What transcends all irony is a black president who imprisons Muslim detainees under slave conditions. Like President Lincoln, this commander-in-chief ends injustice with a signature, at least force-feeding (a depravity that escaped slave-holders). That force-feeding is depraved comes not just from Judge Kessler but scores of legal experts, hawkish senators (Feinstein), the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, NY Times’ editorials, even those radicals at the American Medical Association.
So, if or when detainees are released, will this lawless government apologize, or compensate them, for violating human dignity (theirs and ours), international law, American due process, and moral bedrocks of Judeo-Christian, western civilization? So far, to hundreds already released, zero formal regrets.
Final Note: Diane’s intention was to rest atop the White House fence (a tactic she knew well), allowing much longer protest time before security intervenes. But upper body weakness (from 57 days privation) prevented this muscular ex-shrimper from pivoting, thus her awkward-looking, dangerous flop. Had she intended to reach the grass without injury, why not stop, turn, and climb down, feet first? That would have better protected this 64 year-old body. Yet, like another resourceful, unreasonable woman, Cleopatra, Diane proved “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety.”
To experience more of Diane’s infinitely varied, wildly entertaining and heroic escapades, get her two marvelous books on a 25 year life of protest, joy, loss, gain, incarceration, and nervy, targeted, liberating breakouts.
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