"It's in your hands, Nancy"

Antiwar protest group Code Pink stole the show from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke in Denver on Monday.

Published August 25, 2008 8:47PM (EDT)

DENVER -- Some very pink, very loud, very awkward protest drama erupted in an unexpected venue on Monday morning when more than a dozen members of antiwar group Code Pink hijacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's appearance at an event sponsored by a group called Unconventional Women.

Pelosi had just taken the stage at about 10:30, sitting in one of the comfortable white chairs for her conversation with Swanee Hunt, when a crowd of women clad in eyeball-bursting neon pink began to quietly stream down the aisles of the packed Buell Theater in Denver's Performing Arts Center. At first, the crowd reacted warmly to the invasion of the now-ubiquitous peace protesters, and as the women amassed in front of the stage, unfurling a huge "Impeach" banner, Hunt stood up and gestured at them almost affectionately, exclaiming, "Code Pink! Welcome!"

But all politesse drained from the room as the protesters began to yell, "Liar, liar" at Pelosi, who remained smiling and composed in her chair. The mostly female audience began to stir uncomfortably, and started to rally to Pelosi's defense, chanting "Nancy, Nancy" over the disturbance. The protesters held their ground, though, and continued to yell: "Accountability for war crimes"; "You said you'd impeach Bush"; "You lied to my face"; "Explain yourself"; "It's in your hands, Nancy."

Security then started to round up the protesters and shoo them up the aisles as the audience booed, hissed and continued to chant Pelosi's name. But Code Pink had scattered so effectively that the process took more than five minutes. Hunt was still talking inaudibly onstage while the protesters who were being escorted out continued to shout "Answer, answer." When most of the group had been removed, Pelosi piped up to say, "We are a party and a country that welcomes freedom of expression."

Pelosi's presentation, which included a slightly wan appreciation of Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency, centered on the increased participation of women in politics but was continually interrupted by Code Pink members who'd managed to sit down and remain in the hall. When one of them bellowed, "Support peace, not war," Pelosi finally seemed to snap. "I wish all these people who have all these concerns about foreign policy would get out there and use their energy to support Barack Obama," she said.

A few minutes later, when yet another Code Pink member interrupted a Pelosi anecdote about a meal she'd shared with her fellow female members of Congress to say, "Do your part, Nancy, stop the war," Pelosi responded, "I'm going to end on the war," and she did, bemoaning the 4,100 lost American lives and the many veterans suffering from PTSD for what she called "a grotesque mistake." "So fix it," shouted the last remaining Code Pink member. Pelosi looked squarely ahead of her into the audience. "The only way to fix it is to elect Barack Obama," she said.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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2008 Elections Nancy Pelosi D-calif.