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About the Benjamin
Canada to peace activist: “And stay out!”
Great; another assignment covering the peace movement. Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK cofounder and notorious congress-interrupter is in town. She’s small with big eyes, a pointy nose and protruding ears. Very mousy.
“Why’d you change your name to Medea?” I ask her as we approach the Rainbow Bridge conjoining Niagara Fall, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. “Were you scorned?”
“I was eighteen, a freshman in college, and I was studying Greek mythology,” she trails off and vacantly sings along to “Your Mother Should Know” by the Beatles, which is being pumped through speakers in the adjacent parking lot, ostensibly to facilitate a sense of existentialism.
“Oh,” I say to myself, as she stares ahead purposefully. In Euripides’ ancient tragedy, the character Medea brutally slays her two children to spite her unfaithful husband Jason. A charming literary namesake.
Nothing as newsworthy as infanticide is going on, unfortunately. It seems Medea and her CODEPINK posse are having trouble entering Canada. They’ve found themselves on an FBI list of criminals. They’ve been arrested numerous times, after all. But not to worry! For the low, low price of two hundred dollars, the Canadian government will let the two troublemakers in for “criminal rehabilitation.” No joke.
On the steel span between nations walks Medea, fellow activist and former army colonel Ann Wright, a single AP reporter, BEAST publisher Paul Fallon, a father/daughter peacenik team and myself. This is a non-story. “I’m surprised there aren’t more reporters here,” remarks the regional AP woman. She and I are the only press, and I hardly count.
The CODEPINK press release says Benjamin and Wright are attempting to attend a Toronto peace conference. In reality, they have a 5:30 flight to DC. They know they’re not getting in. This is public relations, and it’s boring. Ann and Medea unfurl their “We come in peace” banner. A stiff breeze kicks up. “The wind may take them over, I’m afraid,” facetiously remarks the AP woman. “Now that’s a story!”
The FBI says this list contains the names of people who’ve broken the law. Medea says their inclusion on the National Crime Information Center list is politically motivated, as all their lawbreaking has taken the form of nonviolent protest. The Canadian government says it has always barred the entrance of people on the NCIC list regardless of the crime committed. Wright says this isn’t true. Wright’s right.
“What’s your business in Canada, sir?” the border guard asks Fallon, once he’s directed the two criminal-activists to a building across the street for detention.
“We’re just going to stick around to see if they get into the country,” Fallon replies collecting his ID. Fallon is acting as their temporary legal representation on behalf of the NYCLU.
“Oh, they’re not getting in,” the officer shoots back glibly.
And they didn’t. We stand around for a few hours wondering why the Canadian side of The Falls is commercially prosperous while the US side smells of urine. Benjamin and Wright missed their plane to DC. The AP reporter is long gone to file her story. Fallon has to go pick up his kid from school. We jet.
Back on the American side of the bridge, Fallon and I wait to check in at the customs desk. There’s a large contingent of Asian people already waiting. The next two in line walk up to the desk. “Get back! Get back!” shouts a furious American officer. The two girls freeze in their tracks and affect a frightened expression. “Americans first!” he yells at them with disdain, waving us toward the desk. I apologize as we pass them.
Americans truly are an ugly people on the whole: ignorant, authoritarian and exceedingly temperamental. I’ve always taken heart that if the shit got too thick here, I could just take the short walk from Buffalo to Canada and find me some socialized sanity.
Those days are over.
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