Video by Ford Fischer
Photos and Article by Alejandro Alvarez
It’s the holiday season in Washington, and Christmas carolers with bells and funny red hats are everywhere. But CODEPINK’s carolers weren’t interested in decking the halls with boughs of holly on Monday. Instead: “now’s the time to stop the killing.”
CODEPINK visited Senate offices against a record-breaking arms deal with Saudi Arabia amid the ongoing Yemeni civil war and deepening proxy conflicts with Iran. “We will call out the Senators that support or profit from these sales to give an idea of what making a killing on killing actually looks like,” read the group’s Facebook invite.
Washington and Riyadh concluded the largest arms deal in American history this May, immediately providing the Saudis with billions in combat-ready equipment. Thousands protested the deal in the Yemeni capital, and a Saudi blockade imposed following an attempted missile attack by Houthi rebels stoked fears of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Senator Rand Paul joined his Democratic colleagues in forcing a vote that would have blocked the new arms deal, citing Saudi Arabia’s lackluster human rights record. That effort ultimately failed after a 53-47 vote. Five Democrats defected from their party, siding with a majority of Republicans to ensure the deal’s survival.
“We’re going to visit those five Democrats to say that if they’d voted the right way, it would have been a historic cut-off for weapons to Saudi Arabia,” said CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, who would later refer to those Senators as the “naughty five.”
Among them were Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Bill Nelson of Florida, who have received campaign contributions from interests in the defense industry like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Benjamin and her fellow activists pressured those five Democrats to change their position, anticipating more votes over Saudi Arabia and Yemen down the road.
Inside McCaskill’s office, CODEPINK’s small group of Santa hat-clad anti-war carolers asked to meet with McCaskill’s chief of staff. They were ultimately welcomed into a conference room by foreign policy adviser Nick Rawls, who agreed to meet with them on the condition cameras not be rolling because “we can’t control how that video is edited.”
Benjamin said they discussed their opposition to McCaskill’s vote and touched upon her connections with Boeing, asking that the Senator release a statement condemning the Yemeni blockade and recognizing the “devastating humanitarian situation.” Three other offices also agreed to impromptu meetings, all on the condition that they be off-camera.
“We often claim that we make these decisions for defense, when really they’re destabilizing,” said Brie Kordis, a CODEPINK activist and a constituent of Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, one of the five Senators visited during Monday’s action.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Warner has received a total of $71,750 in contributions since 1995 from individual donors and PACs affiliated with defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which is headquartered in Virginia.
“I talked to staff members about how, if he really wants to stand for defense and safety, he would not be supporting these bills that are selling weapons,” Kordis said. “He should really ask the moral question of why he’s accepting money from weapons companies that are not making our world more safe, they are actually jeopardizing it.”
CODEPINK also held concurrent Yemen protests in Los Angeles and New York City. At least one participant was arrested outside the Saudi consulate in New York on Monday. There were no arrests during the Washington action.
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