I wish that I could say that nothing good comes of war, but in truth the War in Iraq gave me one of the most wonderful things in my life: The Code Pink Book Group. CODEPINK, you may recall, was founded in November 2002 by approximately 100 politically active women. The name CODEPINK was chosen as a humorous twist on the Bush Administration’s color-coding of the level of terrorist threat “alert” that the country was on at any given time. The CODEPINK website (here is the link) describes the organization as follows: CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.
The original CODEPINK founders include Nina Utne, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, Starhawk, Susan Griffin, Jodie Evans, Diane Wilson, and Medea Benjamin. I know a funny story about their first arrest at the White House. These women, along with many others, established a four-month-long vigil (it ended when the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003). I heard Maxine Hong Kingston speak at the Sonoma County Book Festival, where she related the story of the first time that she and her comrades engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience and got arrested. The police told them they couldn’t stand in a certain spot in front of the White House or they would be arrested for trespassing. So several of them deliberately went and stood in that spot. A young Black police officer took Alice Walker by the arm (she was the first to get arrested) and he apologized to her profusely before informing her that he was going to have to arrest her and then he turned to the officer standing next to him and said, “Please don’t tell my mother that I arrested Alice Walker.”
When CODEPINK started the CODEPINK Book Club campaign, my friend Liz was on top of it. CODEPINK encouraged women to form book groups to read books together that focus on ending war and to use the Book Club to open dialogue about peace and justice issues in the U.S. and around the world. Liz called several of her women friends and invited us to form the Code Pink Book Group with her. (Here is the link to the CODEPINK Book Club page.) I would describe all of us who were in the original group as liberal and/or progressive in our political leanings (despite the fact that our opinions vary widely). Many of us have been arrested for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience (myself included) and, of course, we all love to read. How I adore talking about books with avid readers! Over the years, the group has evolved and only three of us original members remain. Liz relocated to Hawaii last year so she no longer attends (although we Skyped her in for a book group a few months ago). We also moved beyond being a women’s group so we include a couple of spouses. By a pleasant coincidence (for me and Ron), quite a few of us in the group don’t eat gluten, so we enjoy an excellent gluten-free potluck meal together at book group.
We meet once a month to discuss a book that we have agreed to read together as well as anything else we have read and want to share with the group (sometimes prompting the rest of the group to read it). We also talk about films, music, politics, and more. One of the things that I particularly value about the group is that it is a space where I feel safe and comfortable to express my characteristically liberal views without fear of being belittled, of angering others, or of getting into an ugly or fruitless exchange. I also appreciate the intelligence of the group members and their ability to stay on track in discussions and to inspire me to re-examine my own perceptions and ideas. Although we often have differing opinions, we share some fundamental beliefs about the necessary paths to meaningful change and we share a passionate commitment to justice, equity, and nonviolence. Having lost a couple of group members in the past year (one moved away and another has medical issues), we have recently invited new members to join us to enrich and diversify the group. Our core group has been meeting for about four years.
On the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I find myself reflecting on how much my book group means to me and remembering where we began and why. For the curious, here is a sampling of the many books that our group has read over the years and would recommend:
The Storyteller's Daughter by Saira Shah
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolman
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Meena by Melody Ermachild Chavis
An Unreasonable Woman by Diane Wilson
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hossseini
Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe
Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
1491 by Charles C. Mann
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Occupy the Economy by Richard Wolff