Earlier this month, about 15 activists gathered in front of Toys “R” Us in Santa Monica to encourage shoppers not to buy toys that promote war.

Organized by Code Pink, a Venice-based organization, the women and men demonstrated for about three hours and held large pink banners bearing the words “Teach peace through play” and “Say no to war toys,” according to Jodie Evans, one of the founders of Code Pink.

The group also walked the Third Street Promenade, handing out flyers that provided suggested alternatives to “war” toys, such as toys that use the imagination, or a ball or Frisbee.

Founded in 2002, Code Pink is a grassroots peace and social justice movement that seeks to bring about positive social change through proactive, creative protest and nonviolent direct action, according to the organization.

Playing on President Bush’s color-coded homeland security advisory system that signals terrorist threats and is based on fear, organizers say the name Code Pink is based on compassion and is a feisty call for women and men to “wage peace.”

Tiffany Burns, who helps Code Pink chapters all over the country organize their strategy, says the group chose the Santa Monica Toys “R” Us because of its prime location close to the busy Promenade.

Organizers say they decided to use the holiday season as an opportunity to show that war is not a game and to urge the public to “shop their values” and teach children nonviolence.

Concentrating the protest on any toy that focuses on war, including guns, GI Joe, and violent video games, Code Pink members believe choosing nonviolent toys can create nonviolent children.

Evans says that what was most shocking to her was how grateful people were to be reminded of the correlation between “war” toys and violence.

She adds that “People weren’t connecting the dots and said ‘thanks for waking me up.'”

Burns says quite a few people stopped and supported the demonstrators.

“I think it’s encouraging to see so many families conscious of and making an effort to teach their little ones we are all affected by war.”

In November 2002, Evans and approximately 100 other women gave Code Pink its solid start by marching through the streets of Washington, D.C. and by setting up for a four-month, 24-hour-a-day vigil in front of the White House to protest the preemptive strike in Iraq.

Organizations such as Greenpeace, Women for Women International and Neighbors for Peace and Justice sponsored days throughout the four-month vigil.

On March 8th last year, more than 10,000 people joined Code Pink’s week of activities and march to encircle the White House in pink to celebrate women as global peacemakers.

Evans says Code Pink’s focus is to “inspire women and men to stand up and speak out for the world they want to create.”

Since the walk in 2002, Code Pink has grown to include 80 active Code Pink communities worldwide committed to working for peace and social justice.

According to the organization, each group acts on its own but receives organizing tips and guidance from the central office, which connects Code Pink groups with the international network.

Evans says Code Pink speaks aloud what people are afraid to say.

“We’re ahead of the curve because Code Pink deals with the moment, what needs to be done now.” She adds that the group doesn’t wait for someone else to do it and it doesn’t wait for permission.

The first all-women Code Pink peace delegation went to Iraq in February 2003, followed by another Code Pink group early this year.

Evans says Santa Monica and Venice residents have been very active in Code Pink and have even accompanied the group to Iraq and Washington, D.C.

Code Pink is expanding its focus to other areas such as elections and voter registration by encouraging women and other minorities to register to vote, and to environmental sustainability by advocating more fuel-efficient cars and protesting Hummers at the L.A. Auto Show.

In addition, the organization responded to reports on the medical situation in Iraq and has raised over $30,000 to benefit those in Baghdad refugee camps, according to Evans.

“It’s so horrendous what’s happening there,” Evans says. “What do you do in the face of this horror? Help.”

She adds that when reading about such situations it’s helpful to know there’s something a person can do.

“Money went to supplies,” Evans says. “The temperature had dropped, so the money bought stoves, heaters, blankets, water purification systems and some medicine.”

Evans claims that 500,000 children in Iraq have already died from inadequate health care, water and food supplies due to sanctions. Because of the relationships Code Pink has developed with doctors in Iraq, refugees are getting more of what’s needed.



Julie Kirst can be reached at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com