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The Pink Ladies Take Over

Convention needs a dash of color.

One woman is walking down the street in her underwear, on the back of which someone has inscribed the message “Let me be brief. Impeachment is on the table.” Another is bicycling past her on a bright pink bike, with a giant pink hat adorned with pink feathers. A third is seated on a bench waiting for the mall shuttle with a pink bumper sticker on her chest that says, “Make out, not war.”

For a party that takes pride in its diverse swath of constituents, the Democratic National Convention has been surprisingly muted visually this week. There are scores of young people who look like they graduated from Brown, Vassar, Yale or Wesleyan, and there are lots of handsome black women in their 50s. Blondes and brunettes, whites and Hispanics, young people and old people, they are all here in droves. But there is surprisingly little quirkiness, which is at least part of the reason the women of Code Pink are so hard to miss.

Born out of an opposition to Iraq, the organization since has come to form a more general progressive antiwar platform, and is raising money to help Cindy Sheehan defeat Nancy Pelosi in her race for Congress this fall.

“Sixty percent of Americans opposed the war by 2006,” said member Renay Davis, who is riding on a bus toward the organization’s temporary clubhouse: a dilapidated hippie-dippy coffee house called the Mercury Café. She’s dressed for the occasion in a bright pink fireman’s hat and enough bumper stickers on her chest to cover every car for miles. “Why aren’t people speaking out? The silent majority needs to become the vocal majority.

“People say, ‘All you do is preach to the choir. I say, ‘When did you last call your congressperson to tell them that you didn’t want more funding of the war effort? Nancy Pelosi, as speaker of the house, has not done what she could have to stop the war by stopping the funding. I’ve heard the argument that if she introduced a bill to bring the troops home, Bush would just veto it. But at least she would be doing her part.”

What Davis and her fellow members want is enough money to bring the troops home, some money for the Iraqis to begin rebuilding their country themselves and the end of contracts to government contractors such as KBR and Halliburton.

They are somewhat less dogmatic about who should be the next U.S. president. Some are in favor of Obama, partly because Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the war. “We helped paint Hillary Clinton as a war candidate, which helped give Barack Obama an edge,” said co-founder Medea Benjamin. “We went to meet with her before the war began. We told her, ‘We want to support you [in your political career].’ She gave us a rap that sounded like George W. Bush and we were left so disgusted that we gave her a pink slip instead.”

Benjamin is not speaking metaphorically. It was a giant version of the traditional piece of paper, and as the organization’s co-founder clarifies proudly a moment later, her partner in crime, Jodie Evans, actually threw it at the New York senator. (Evans’ other accomplishments include getting herself ejected from the Republican National Convention in 2004 when she interrupted the President’s speech to lambast him about the war in Iraq.)

For the record, Benjamin does not see anything strange about her organization’s categorical rejection of the first would-have-been woman president. “We’re women, we’re feminists, but to us, it’s the positions that matter, not the package they come in.”

She’s also heard the argument that the outfits of her Code Pink cohorts — the very thing that gets them so much attention — also risks turning them into a joke before they even open their mouths. But without them, she says, the organization would sink.

“Last night was boring,” she said, discussing the first night of the convention. “Then we show up and people light up because of what we wear. It’s provocative, it’s interesting. If we dressed the same as everyone else, we wouldn’t get any attention.”