Medea Benjamin wasn't expecting to run for the U.S. Senate in November. She had a busy enough life already: community activist, mother of two, co-founder of Global Exchange. But last December, when Global Exchange garnered international attention after its WTO protests in Seattle, Benjamin was approached by the Green Party and asked to run against Dianne Feinstein on the Green Party ticket.
"At first I told them that I wasn't interested in electoral politics," Benjamin laughed. "I'm a social activist and I love doing this, but then ... someone gave me Dianne Feinstein's record on positions that are very near and dear to me: trade agreements that violate workers' rights, issues around the death penalty, privatization of our schools, and I thought, she really doesn't represent what a majority of people in California care about. We have to challenge her."
Benjamin grew up in a Jewish family in Freeport, N.Y., during the late 1960s, a time of civil unrest and Vietnam War protests. She went on to study economics and nutrition, receiving a master's degree in both. For the next ten years, she traveled in Latin America and Africa working as a nutritionist and economist for the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Institute for Food and Development Policy. In the '80s, she founded the San Francisco-based Global Exchange with her husband, social activist Kevin Danaher.
Although Benjamin doesn't consider herself religious, she looks to a Jewish tradition that values social justice and equality issues. "If you look at what these last few years of the Clinton Administration has done for us, we are in the greatest economic boom ever, yet we have a fifth of our children living in poverty, 47 million people without health care, public schools falling apart, and more people in prisons in California than higher education," Benjamin said. "This is a political system gone awry!
"So I tell people, when you go to the voting booth in November, vote out of your passions and dreams, not out of your fears," she said. "Anybody who considers their priority to be social justice, then you have to vote for Ralph Nader. And certainly anyone in California, looking at Dianne Feinstein's record, you have to vote Green."