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Tucson native trades career for full-time Code Pink anti-war activism

Tucson native Tighe Barry holds a sign while talking to interested passers-by about his opposition to military action against Syria, as part of a week of protests by Code Pink near the Capitol. (Cronkite News Service photo by Pei Li)

WASHINGTON - Tighe Barry believes in nothing less than saving the planet. And if he has to wear pink to do it, so be it.

That's why the Tucson native could be found on a recent humid Washington morning camped out on Capitol Hill, basking in a pink chair under an umbrella with pink strings hanging like tassels, holding a pink-lettered sign reading, "Diplomacy, not war."

It's just another day for Barry, a sort of unofficial spokesman for Code Pink: Women for Peace, an anti-war group to which he now dedicates most of his time.

"We don't really have an official spokesperson, but he is definitely the guy for us," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink. "He can talk about political issues without stop."

Code Pink members have made a name for themselves protesting - sometimes silently, sometimes loudly - at Washington events, holding signs and getting arrested to get their anti-war message across.

They were on Capitol Hill last week urging Congress to oppose U.S. military action against Syria. They interrupted some hearings, but the protesters spent much of the week on the street, holding signs, talking to passers-by and running up to lawmakers when they spotted them.

More often than not, the protesters are ignored by lawmakers, who walk past and stare straight ahead. But sometimes, Barry said, they get a legislator's ear.

"Rep. Maxine Waters came earlier today and we had a simple talk right here. And I had lunch with Rep. Henry Waxman yesterday," Barry said last Wednesday of the two California Democrats.

He said he often spoke with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, who invited him to her office to hear him out, even though they did not share the same perspective on issues. And when Sen. Jeff Flake was in the House, the Arizona Republican would always talk to him in a respectful manner, Barry said, though they have not interacted much since Flake moved to the Senate last year.

Victoria Walter, a tourist from Florida who was in Washington for a 9/11 rally, said she found Barry quite passionate and that she would have a hard time voting for lawmakers "who blow the protesters off."

Not every exchange is respectful. As Barry stood by the street holding a big "Don't bomb Syria" poster, a supporter of military action holding a handful of American flags started yelling at Barry and calling him cockroach.

"You think you are patriotic? You are phony, you are just phony," said Barry, before managing to force a smile and look away.

Barry was a fixture at last week's protests, setting up tents, staying outside all night and trying to stay awake to keep the group's space, as well as their loudspeakers and signs.

He wasn't always a full-time anti-war dissident. Barry said he is a father of two college kids and has an elderly mom in California, where he used to work on theater sets. He said he first started protesting for his children, against the Iraq war in 2002. He was on his own then, but gradually became involved with Code Pink.

That involvement allowed him to travel the world and shift his focus from his own children to children around the globe, Barry said.

"I saw children dying, being killed," said Barry, who traveled to Pakistan, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere on Code Pink-sponsored trips. He said he saw "little children, running around, without parents," not knowing where their next meal will come from.

Although he goes home occasionally, he said he has been immersed in Code Pink since moving to Washington in 2009. Besides an unstoppable ability to talk, he offers the group his artistic talents, using photography, sculpture, creative painting and fabrics. He built a 9-by-11-foot drone replica for an anti-drone protest earlier this year.

"If you have a list of things you want, he is the go-to person you want to talk to," said Joan Stallard, a Code Pink volunteer. "He is very resourceful, articulate and courageous."

For a 250-person Code Pink trip to the Middle East, Barry was the advance man, getting supplies and setting up logistics. This year Code Pink is planning a trip to Cairo, Stallard said.

"We joke that he is the leader of men's auxiliary," she said.

Barry said he had intended to spend more time with his family and on hobbies like surfing, but that the chances of that happening seem slim at the moment. Until he thinks he can hold the government accountable for its actions, Barry said, he does not plan to back down.

"We have the heart, we have the soul, for ending the human suffering on the planet," he said.

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