Medea Benjamin, who successfully heckled President Barack Obama multiple times during his speech on drone policy Thursday, is no stranger to political protests. When George W. Bush was president, Benjamin, who is the founder of anti-war organization Code Pink, heckled numerous cabinet officials including Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. She has protested at numerous Democratic and Republican conventions. When the National Rifle Association held a news conference in December after the Newtown shooting, Benjamin was front and center with a sign that read "NRA - Blood On Your Hands."
Benjamin was forcibly removed from that press conference, and she was removed from Thursday's presser too – but not before Obama engaged her heckling directly. "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to," Obama said. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn't listening to me and much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."
These days, Benjamin's protests are most often focused on the White House's drone policy. She regularly protests drone events in Washington, took a delegation to Pakistan in October to meet with drone victims, and authored the book "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control" about what she sees as the legal and moral implications of current policy.
Below, Benjamin tells Whispers in a Q & A more about why she heckles and what she hopes it can accomplish.
Q) What do you hope to achieve when you heckle the president on drone policy?
The main motivation I have is not to reach the president. It is to tell people that we are targeting, particularly in the Muslim world, that there are Americans that care about them. I want them to know that there are people that are working on this issue. I think that's important for national security, to make distinctions between what the government does and who we are as a people.
Q) But President Obama engaged you directly several times throughout his speech. Is that also one of your goals?
Yes. I think the president is way too insulated in his bubble of very narrow foreign policy people, who say we can either leave thousands of American troops on the ground or use drones. He doesn't talk or listen enough to people who believe in diplomacy, in non-violent resolution of conflict, or in using creative means to resolve conflict. When he says that it haunts him when innocent people are killed, I want him to focus on that and see there are ways of dealing with that and to compensate them.
Q) Did you go into the press conference yesterday with a goal to heckle the president?
No. I went into it hoping that I would hear some significant policy changes, and not necessarily with a determination to speak out. I thought we'd hear some things that would indicate that the current drone policies are counterproductive. That's why I waited until it was the end of speech, and he said he was going to talk about Guantanamo. And then I heard him blame Congress again. Once I spoke out it was hard for me to shut up.
Q) What specific policy changes were you hoping to hear?
We thought this was going to be a real mark of a policy shift, that drones would not be in the hands of the CIA. He did not even mention the word CIA. We also thought he might put an end to targeted strikes, but he didn't say that, he didn't say that we wouldn't kill people on suspicion alone.
Q) How do you think the administration should be thinking differently about drones?
I think our drone policy is wrapped up in notion that our lives are more important than the lives of people in those countries. The Muslim world has been listening and watching for the last over 10 years, and seen how easy it's been for us to dismiss their lives. Children in Pakistan... have been killed by drones. If that were American children. I think we would go to war over it.