LOCAL PEACE ECONOMIES: ENDING MILITARISM WITH A VISION FOR A SOCIALLY JUST WORLD – INTERVIEW WITH JODIE EVANS
In this series of interviews our volunteer interviewer and writer Louise Turner has been speaking with leading voices in climate activism, discussing why climate justice is a feminist issue.
Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK, a grassroots, women-led feminist organisation that works internationally to end U.S. militarism and promote peace and human rights initiatives. Jodie is a peace advocate of several decades who uses documentary film, journalism, writing, speaking, and activism to effect change and communicate her vision. She chairs the board of the Rainforest Action Network and serves on many feminist, socio-political and environmental organisations. Her primary focus is naming, challenging, and disrupting the war machine to establish a paradigmatic shift to local peace economies across the globe.
Jodie, thank you so much for speaking with me today. Can you tell us about CODEPINK and how it came to be created?
Sure, I was working with young gang members in Watts, a neighbourhood in Los Angeles where 20,000 people had died in 20 years. I learned that all of their fathers had been in the Vietnam war and realized war came home to our communities. Then, in 2002, we heard from the Bush administration they wanted to do a preemptive strike on the innocent country, Iraq, because it might have weapons of mass destruction. This reminded me of being in Watts where cops would kill black youth because they maybe had a weapon in their pocket. This is horrible, we’re taking what we do in the streets to what we do to countries.
“Militarism is the greatest contributor to climate change. So let’s just start there.”
Photo courtesy of CODEPINK
I flew to D.C., met my friends Medea Benjamin, Diane Wilson, Starhawk and Caroline Casey. We sat down in a friend’s living room and said, we’re going to call Code Pink because Bush was frightening the American people with the colour-coded alerts orange, red and yellow. The next day we disrupted the White House.
Diane Wilson was arrested for hanging a banner that said “no war.” The media thought she was a terrorist and covered the story until they found out she was an anti-war activist. We went on the steps of Congress and took off our shirts, had doves of peace on our bra and on our bellies that said, “read my tits NO war in Iraq.” We got a lot of attention.
We spoke with many members of Congress, and disrupted the hearing where they presented a declaration for war. So that was the start of CODEPINK, and ever since that day, we have been disrupting power whenever they are advocating for war, violence, and the degradation of the planet. CODEPINK is now 18 years old. We started to end a war, and we’ve continued because now the US has created even more wars and ways to violate life and the planet.
Here we have 2021, a world where the U.N. report has come out and articulated the devastation of the planet, the price that’s going to be paid by many communities where hundreds of millions of people live. We live in a world where trillions of dollars of weapons have been sold in the last 20 years and a world of unbelievable inequality.
“We live in a world where trillions of dollars of weapons have been sold in the last 20 years.”
What types of action do you engage in?
Out of CODEPINK, we started a feminist foreign policy project because the policies of the United States and many Western countries that happened to be white; policies that oppress, violate, extract, and dominate countries of the global south and countries of people of colour. So that has continued.
We work to stop drones. We travel the world; we go to war zones. We’ve worked in Palestine for almost all of our existence. We’ve been to Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Lebanon during the bombing of Lebanon by the Israelis.
We also work to rise up and break through the propaganda. We try to disrupt the narrative. Right now, we have a narrative in the United States that says we need to start an aggression on the country of China.
The United States has planned to decimate islands outside of China where it will violate the human rights of the indigenous people that live there, where they want to put nuclear missile bases, destroying pristine ecosystems. In the United States, people’s lives have already been taken for this war on China. Xenophobia is on the rise. There have been 3,500 attacks on Asian people. So, we’ve never been busier and never been more concerned.
“Feminists create conducive conditions for life and there’s nothing less conducive for life than war.”
What is the significance of being a woman led organisation?
So that was very intentional and not only women-led but feminist.. First of all, a feminist is not going to take anyone to war because feminists work to end systems of domination, exploitation, and oppression. Also, feminists create conducive conditions for life, and there’s nothing less conducive for life about war.
Then, militarism is the greatest contributor to climate change. So let’s just start there. It’s the greatest contributor to loss of life. We talk about the United States dropping bombs on Japan, and a quarter of a million people lost their lives either that day or days later from the disease that was caused, but a million people have lost their lives from the testing of nuclear weapons.
Women-led because women usually pay the greatest prices in war. We are the ones that are the frontline of life, the ones that usually have the essential jobs without which there would not be life.
How has a focus on war contributed to your vision for creating a more peaceful, just world?
Many years ago, I said, we are not going to end war until we end the war economy. War is in the service of this violent economy, it is killing us, our communities, and the planet. In that process, I discovered there’s a peace economy. It’s the giving, sharing, caring, thriving, relational, resilient economy, without which none of us would be alive, but the war economy continues every year to strangle to less and less.
We work in local communities for them to understand that everyone is invested in war. Our cities, states, even women’s foundations, philanthropy, universities, and churches all have investments in war. Each and everyone one of us has been infected by the war economy culture. Who we are is the culture we live in.
The war economy creates conditions that make us think we’re alienated instead of understanding that we are all connected and survive by being connected. It creates conditions where we think we live in scarcity instead of on an abundant planet that shares with us every day. So much has been privatised of what was free that we are led to believe that we live in scarcity. One of the hardest things that COPEPINK works with is that we live in a world of transaction. We are relational. We are human beings, but if we watch our habits, they’re very transactional, and they don’t make us happy.
We have ways to divest from the war economy culture. Collaboration and cooperation instead of aggression. As for China. We need to be collaborating with and cooperating with China. How did they figure out how to get their entire country out of poverty? The country that was poorest in the 1970s has taken every single person out of poverty, 850 million in the last 15 years. I mean, a process that has taken a long time, but they finally this year announced that everyone is out of poverty. I want to know how that happened. I live in a city and a country where in every city people are living in tents. People are unhoused in all of our cities. Let’s figure that out together.
“With a feminist foreign policy, it would be about cooperation instead of aggression”
How do you think the peace economy can bring new perspectives to the climate debate?
Well, first, you bring attention to the war economy and what it’s doing. It’s what’s destroying the planet. It’s the extraction, destruction, and the oppression of the earth. So by engaging in the peace economy and divesting yourself from habits of the war economy, your capacity to see (a) what you give your life to, and (b) what is happening in the world, becomes crystal clear.
There’s a lot of grieving that has to happen because we got caught up in the war economy and think that’s life. We forget to pay attention to what it’s doing. And when we start to pay attention, it’s painful what’s happening in our world today, and how we were serving it.
With a feminist foreign policy, it would be about cooperation instead of aggression. Another reminder, militarism is the greatest contributor to climate change. If we start paying attention to creating conditions conducive to life, we will stop these violent behaviours towards the planet. If we go to war with China, that is a nuclear war. If nuclear warheads are dropped, it’s the end of life on the planet because nothing will grow in a nuclear winter. So, that itself is an existential threat to life.
For our readers, could you briefly outline what the peace economy is?
The peace economy exists already. It’s like I said, it’s the giving, sharing, caring, relational, economy that starts with parenting, mothering, fathering. It’s those years that someone gave to you with nothing in return. The pattern of generosity.
You go to Iran, a country the United States is starving to death, but no matter who you meet, how little they have, the first thing is you are invited in for a cup of tea and the food they have. That’s what it is to be human. That is where we thrive because, in that place, there is no fear. In a peace economy, you’re living connected to the generosity that it is to be human, to the conditions of sharing that we do every day.
One of the things that happens when people start practising the peace economy is “oh my god, the world is so generous.” It’s always been generous. We’re caught in these ideas of alienation and scarcity that we miss the abundance that we live in.
I think COVID was a great teacher of the peace economy because what did COVID teach us? It taught us what was essential to life. Too many of us had forgotten to value teachers. We’d forgotten to value food, who grows it and who picks it, without which we’d have no life. We forgot to value the caregivers. So I think COVID definitely brought some lessons and I hope we don’t forget them. I hope we continue to share those lessons and remember to invest in what is essential to life to have a future for our children, grandchildren, and those we love.
“We’re caught in these ideas of alienation and scarcity that we miss the abundance that we live in.”
This series has been about climate justice and feminism. How do you see the interconnections between the two?
I would say that to be a feminist is to care for the earth. For me, I’m in my late sixties, so I definitely came of age in that wave of feminists in the sixties. The policies that you work to change as a feminist are oppressive, destructive, and extractive. So to be a feminist is to be protecting the earth, to be creating conditions of equity and equality. In creating those conditions, you are up against the war economy. You can’t be for capitalism or for capitalist-run governments because that is the patriarchy. A feminist is taking down the patriarchy, and the first thing you have to do is name it, see it, articulate it, and disrupt it.
Across your lifetime of activism, what is it that gives you hope and inspires you personally?
Every day of my life, it’s the people and the women that I work with that inspire me and the really courageous people around the world. There are so many courageous people who fight the fights locally because that’s where each of us needs to be. You really can only affect what you have in your hands.
I call it the folly of fretting to worry about things you can’t affect. Yes, we can look at the complex problems on the planet, but they’re solved locally. So, I encourage everyone to know what it is in their community that lights their heart up. One of the things we’ve forgotten to do is to be simple because we live in the most complex time that has ever existed. I talk to people in technology; they’re creating things they don’t understand. That’s a scary thought. We live in a complex time, but we ourselves are the most complex thing on the planet. Think of all the philosophers, the scientists who have tried to figure out this human being that we are.
So first, we just have to value this complex being. How many people fought so that I can have life right now? How many people struggled? How many struggles have there been, both personal and heroic, so I could live in a time as a woman where my life actually has value.
I wake up every morning thanking all of those women that went before me and the struggles that they have struggled. And I am buoyed by all those women around the world, the daily fight, the fights that one inch at a time can create change because that’s how real change happens. It happens slowly.
The complexity of everything that’s happening out there, it exists where you live. It’s the fractal, you know, it’s all right here. And if you can name, teach, expose, disrupt, you are changing the world.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Jodie. It’s been a pleasure.
Louise Turner is an MSc Environmental Governance student at The University of Manchester and volunteer at Wen.