Fight the power

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin

Photo By Jill Wagner

Next week, she’ll be standing trial for trying to march into Gov. Gray Davis’ office last month to talk to him about giving the public more control over energy markets. Last week, she was at his door again, risking arrest for the same reason.

Medea Benjamin is nothing if not persistent, particularly when it comes to trying to force state officials to discuss solutions to the current energy crisis other than bailing out utilities, spending public money on inflated energy prices and otherwise protecting the framework of deregulation.

Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and last year’s Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, was thrown into jail Feb. 7 and charged with resisting arrest and battery on California Highway Patrol officer Mark Wilson after she and other activists showed up at the governor’s office.

While Wilson said he could not comment on the specifics of the case because of the ongoing investigation and pending trial, he noted that interfering with an officer’s job—including trying to force one’s way into the governor’s office—is illegal.

When asked about the battery charge filed against Benjamin, who is under 5 feet tall and less than 100 pounds, Wilson replied, “Speaking hypothetically, do you think a small person is less likely than a big person to hurt you?”

He added that any person, petite or otherwise, “who is in your face and pushing you,” is committing “unlawful touch,” also known as battery. But Benjamin insists the charges against her are baseless and politically motivated.

“Going ahead with these charges is so outrageous,” she said.

To emphasize that point during her March 1 arraignment, Benjamin pleaded not guilty, refusing to pay a $250 fine and do 25 hours of community service as penance for the charges filed against her. Benjamin’s trial in Sacramento County Superior Court is set for March 20, but the outspoken activist hasn’t let the criminal charges slow her down.

Following an unpermitted “Power to the People” rally outside the Capitol on March 7, which included a play on the issue by guerilla theater group Teatro Campesino, Benjamin led a group of about 200 protesters up to Davis’ office door, where they were met by CHP officers.

The group was trying to present the governor with a petition urging him to seize power plants in California by eminent domain action. CHP officers wouldn’t allow the large, sign-like petition into the building, but a Davis representative accepted a hastily hand-written note with the petition’s message.