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Jodie Evans Has a Code

How the Political Insider Turned Activist

ISSUE:  Summer 2015

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong There she is, brandishing handcuffs at Karl Rove, interrupting a Beverly Hills book signing to make a citizen’s arrest. Or she’s holding a banner, or marching, or doing a video interview. Sometimes she’s camouflaged under a big floppy hat or behind enormous peace-sign sunglasses, recognizable only by her mane of red hair. But other times she’s exposed, vulnerable, incontrovertibly herself, as in 2004, when she stripped off a layer of clothing during George W. Bush’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention to reveal a carnation-pink slip with the hand-lettered demand, fire bush—women say bring the troops home now! Clearly not appreciating the pink-slip pun, operatives quickly hustled her off the convention floor. She’s been arrested numerous times. 

Jodie Evans, one of the founders of Code Pink, is not afraid to put herself on the front lines of the organization’s political actions. Since coming together in 2002 to protest the war in Iraq, the mostly female, mostly peace-focused Code Pink has put the theater back in politics, its pink-clad denizens relentlessly crossing boundaries of taste and decorum to make their voices heard. Take, for example, a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in January 2015, where the ninety-one-year-old Henry Kissinger hobbled to his seat to join other former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and George Schultz. Code Pink activists shouted that Kissinger was a war criminal, unfurled banners, and held up blood-red hands behind him. As they were being ushered out, a furious Senator John McCain called them “low-life scum.”

“At Code Pink, if people aren’t mad at us for a long period of time we wonder if we’re doing something wrong,” Evans says, laughing. 

Evans chose the activist path instead of others that would have been far more comfortable—where she could sit in banquet halls with former secretary of state Colin Powell instead of confronting him and being promptly removed; fly first class without having conservative critic Andrew Breitbart tweet about it; help to fund Senator Barack Obama’s presidential bid and simply relax during his tenure, like many of her old friends did.

Once there was no better-positioned Democratic insider than Evans. During Governor Jerry Brown’s administrations in the 1970s and 1980s, she held key positions, including director of administration. Her name regularly appeared in society pages next to big-money Democrats Stanley Sheinbaum and Norman Lear. Even when Brown campaigned and lost, Evans’s fundraising skills struck envy into the hearts of fellow operatives.

A motto during Brown’s 1992 presidential run—Evans was campaign manager—was “Speaking truth to power.” In the 1980s, Evans had been so close to power that she didn’t have to speak—she could just whisper. Why walk away? Why leave the insiders’ cocoon for a cold sidewalk in front of the White House with a ragtag group of women wearing fuchsia, shouting from the wrong side of the fence?

I worked for that 1992 Brown campaign, first volunteering in the Santa Monica office and then going to New Hampshire and beyond. Everyone on that campaign called her Jodie, which is why it sticks with me, even though it’s more journalistic to call her Ms. Evans. After the convention I worked for Jodie a few more months, wrapping up campaign paperwork and doing occasional errands, like driving her son Matt to his father’s house, maybe in her electric-powered car. She used her guesthouse as an office. Phones were always ringing, lots of projects were in progress. She had an open-door policy so wide that some pretty kooky people floated through. Jodie is glamorous with a slightly spacey glow, something that I think hides her acuity from those who are dazzled by a shapely redhead.

Even though she’s just across town, I’m not in her office—we’re talking by phone for this profile. I’ve caught her in the twenty-four-hour window between a New York trip and one to Asia with Gloria Steinem, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, and dozens of others who will join in a women’s peace march across the DMZ between North and South Korea.

It’s not the first time she’s taken her Code Pink message abroad. She has been, usually in the company of other activists, to Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.

The efforts aren’t always appreciated. A delegation of Code Pink activists trying to bring supplies to Gaza was turned back at the border. And closer to home, they’re frequently subject to criticism.

“Code Pink has never been more than a nuisance—an ineffective, self-indulgent, obnoxious and tone-deaf organization,” Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas told Politico in 2009. “I’m sure their antics make them feel good about themselves, make them feel as if they’re accomplishing something, but in reality they’ve done nothing but piss off everyone around them, including potential allies.”

But what does it take to be on the political vanguard? Can an organization allow infuriating people to be part of its modus operandi and still be effective?

Code Pink’s mission has been fluid, morphing from focusing on peace to embracing fairness, justice, and economic equality. That mission creep may make it harder for the organization to boast of its results. The book Jodie and Medea Benjamin coedited, Stop the Next War Now, did not end war. Its missions to Cuba have roughly coincided with America changing its policies, but Code Pink wasn’t directly involved in those efforts. One of its most effective campaigns was an old-fashioned awareness-raising about unpleasant business practices: Ahava cosmetics were being made in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Code Pink stated in a press release that its boycott led the shopping site Gilt to drop the products. 

Code Pink continues to get involved in issues that, like war, are enormous and intractable. In 2011, Jodie went to Occupy Wall Street in New York and, when the demonstrations started after Michael Brown’s death, to Ferguson, Missouri.

“I love being with the activists in the street in Ferguson. I love the passions of people that understand what’s happening in this country, and are willing to talk about it, and are courageous, and are willing to throw back gas canisters because they’re getting fucked,” she says. “Nobody cares about them but they care about themselves and they care about each other and they care that somebody was left in the street who was dead for four and a half hours and that’s not how you treat people.

“It was really inspiring to be in the streets with these youth that could brilliantly articulate exactly what was happening to them and how they’d been used,” she continues. “Every one of them had been arrested for no reason—they could speak to the experience they were having and clearly understood that it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. They kind of put a line in the sand and said, ‘No more.’”

There is something curious about this—the antiwar, affluent, white Californian showing up on the street in Ferguson, where African Americans had been the victims of police violence and had taken the lead in the protests. A Code Pink photo from what protesters called the Weekend of Resistance shows Jodie standing in a bright-pink hat and quilted vest typing into her cell phone in a crowd, TV cameras in the background. “I’m somebody who cares about equality and justice. I’m a feminist. I’m a socialist,” she says. But she’s not unaware of how her presence might appear.

“What do you do as a white woman with privilege?” she asks. “Where can you enter the problem and do something useful? I just show up and say, ‘What can I do to help?’”

I ask if that means what she mostly does is write a check.

“I don’t like to show up and be a person with money, because that’s not really what’s useful in the beginning, especially when people are trying to figure out what to do,” she says. “When it’s something as overwhelming as how do you fix a broken city like Saint Louis and surrounds, that’s wildly racist and violent and has systems set up that work against whole communities, I’m more likely to show up and say, ‘How can I help?’ I’m an activist first. And then watch and see what’s needed.

“I don’t like in those situations to show up with money because then I’m really just being my privilege, and I don’t think that’s useful.”

But she does have considerable privilege. 

Jodie was born September 22, 1954, in Las Vegas. Her origin story in politics begins after a young man she’d gone to school with was killed in Vietnam. “That they could come home in a body bag; that I could watch their mom just lose it. I watched everything, up close and personal, destroy a woman and a family—it all was very, very real.” At the time, eighteen-year-old males could be drafted into the armed services, but the minimum voting age was twenty-one. “I thought, we can’t vote but we have to go to war—that became the first way I got engaged, was to win the vote.”

And then, in 1970, “I was a maid in one of the big hotels in Las Vegas, and we got organized to march for a living wage,” she told the Progressive. “Jane Fonda came and marched with us. In that process, I found my power.”

The sense of personal loss, the surprising effectiveness of the disempowered acting together, plus the boost of celebrity: That’s what teenage Jodie took with her when she left Nevada. Like many looking for reinvention or a fresh start, she came to California, where she volunteered for Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. 

The campaign threw a party—probably at the Daisy, a private club in Beverly Hills—that McGovern was supposed to attend. “Jerry [Brown] was there, he was the state head of the campaign; my future husband was there, Max, because he was on the national steering committee and lived in L.A. I met Warren Beatty that night. So it was a big night,” she says.

I have to ask: Did she go home with Beatty, then Hollywood’s most notorious womanizer?

“I wasn’t even eighteen when I met them,” she says, as if that might have made a difference. Over the years, she and Beatty have remained friends. “One time [recently] I had him introduce me at an event and he made some joke that I’d never go to bed with him,” she says, laughing.

Her first husband, Jan Krajewski, came from that same circle of wealthy Democratic activists. More than three decades her senior, Krajewski was a Polish-born businessman who’d flown for the British Royal Air Force in World War II. After the war he’d gone to South Africa and founded the company that manufactured the Krugerrand; he moved to the US in 1961 and got into telemarketing and high-level insurance. As oxymoronic as it sounds, he was described by the Los Angeles Times as “a suave LA insurance firm executive.” Jodie worked for his company, and they married in 1975. 

In 1978, Jodie Krajewski, a law student, was named deputy finance director of Governor Brown’s reelection campaign.

Brown was constantly in the news. When he went to Africa in 1979 with his girlfriend, the pop star Linda Ronstadt, they landed on the cover of Newsweek in a strangely candid shot, surprised in their airplane seats. In Kenya, they were so swarmed by journalists at their hotel that they found refuge with the US ambassador. Jan Krajewski was on that trip. 

Jodie was busy managing Brown’s fundraising campaigns. In 1980, while still California’s governor, he took a shot at the Democratic presidential nomination against President Jimmy Carter (and lost). He served as governor through 1982, when he ran for US Senate (and lost). By this time, Jodie and Jan had two small children.

In November 1983, in need of a vacation, Brown and about two dozen friends, including Jodie and her family, went to Mexico. One morning, Jodie and Jan were at the beach with their son, Jasiu, daughter, Lala, and Jan’s twenty-one-year-old daughter from another marriage. 

A rogue wave—waves—came from nowhere and swept the family into the sea. Jasiu, Jan, and his adult daughter were thrown back onto the sand. Jodie was pulled from the ocean by rescuers. A half hour later, 200 yards from shore, searchers found Lala in the water. The little girl could not be revived. Her funeral, back in California, was held on what would have been her second birthday.

There is a portrait of Lala by the artist Lori Precious that shows a little redheaded girl with a sideways smile and indigo eyes. It is made of butterfly wings.

In her public life, Jodie doesn’t talk about the death of her daughter. But in a 2009 Code Pink video, she said, “I was born to understand the gap between tremendous personal loss and loving my life exactly as it is.”

Jodie’s marriage to Jan didn’t survive the tragedy. She started keeping company with Max Palevsky, the political player she’d met back at that significant McGovern party. 

Like Jan, Max was some thirty years older than Jodie. Like Jan, he was affluent, only more so. Born in Chicago to immigrant parents, Max had served in the US Air Force and, in the early 1960s, cofounded the computer company Scientific Data Systems. He had a 10 percent share when it was sold to Xerox for a billion dollars in 1969—“when one billion meant something,” he later said. Max leveraged his wealth—he was one of the first major backers of Intel—and turned his attention toward culture. He became part of the liberal “Malibu mafia,” supporting left-leaning Democratic candidates; he bailed out the floundering Rolling Stone magazine; he collected art and made major donations to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Palevsky had been divorced three times already, but that didn’t stop him and Jodie from getting together. Their son, Matt, was born in 1984; his parents married three years later.

As Jodie attended tony events on Max’s arm, society pages liked to note what she was wearing (“a strapless black dress”). She raised money for female politicians and women’s causes. She became restless. The glowing society-page stories disappeared. Something wasn’t working, and they split. The year 1991 found her meeting with Jerry Brown, helping to plan his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. As campaign manager, she was described to the New Republic by an anonymous staffer as “the last of the die-hard Brownies, who sees herself as his Joan of Arc.”

Brown’s political misfortunes made him an outsider—ignored by the mainstream media when he wasn’t the brunt of late-night jokes. Understanding that status, he launched a campaign that took advantage of it and that railed against the corruption of money in politics. They were either the worst or best pair to raise the issue—Brown had spent a few years raising big bucks as head of the California Democratic Party; wealthy political operative Jodie had once conceived of intimate $1,000-a-head dinners for supporters to get to know her candidate. In an unexpected twist, the “Brown for President” campaign decided to accept no more than $100 from any donor.

“I remember telling Jerry when I threw the idea out, ‘Here’s an idea to run on a $100 limit.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not going to win ’cause they’ll kill you first.’ That remains what I believe.” As if reading my mind, she continues, “I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t think it’s crazy. When you watch what’s happened and who wins, it’s gotta be somebody safe for the status quo, for the moneyed interests. That’s who’s winning.”

Brown stumped on his strong environmental record, his stewardship of the state of California as governor, his progressive politics, and an unfortunately regressive flat tax. He won six states and went to the Democratic National Convention with almost 600 delegates, but his appearance there was controversial, and he was forced by the Clinton camp to address the convention before prime time.

“By the end of the campaign I quit the Democratic Party and said it was all corrupt,” Jodie says. She had been working in party politics for twenty years, and she gave it up. I wonder if she misses hobnobbing with the political elite.

“Are you shitting me?” Jodie says. “Those people are horrible.”

Jodie didn’t expect Code Pink to become the center of her world. “It’s my life. It’s not like I’m doing a job, it’s just my life,” she says. Except that, for five years, there was another centrifugal force in her orbit.

Max. She remarried Max.

“Well, that’s a story,” she says.

Her ex-husband was hospitalized; their son, Matt, was in the Far East on a trip before starting college. “Max’s kids had called me and said, ‘You have to bring Matt back, because his dad’s dying and they say he’s only going to live a few more days.’” It could take days for the news to reach Matt and for him to return.

“For some reason I thought, if I just sit at the foot of the bed, at night, I can keep Max here long enough for Matt to see him.” Jodie was turning her notes from Iraq into an essay for a book being published by the actor and artist Viggo Mortensen, and she wrote at the hospital. “I didn’t want to get in the way of the kids being there, so I would go from two in the morning to six in the morning and just sit at the foot of the bed and work.”

Max was extremely ill. “It was the day Matt was going to get home, so it was like the last day I was going to do this, and somewhere in the middle of the night I just looked up, I looked up at the sky, and I said, ‘No, you can’t take him, not when Matthew’s just starting college. He can’t lose his dad. Sorry. I’ll do anything, if you just leave him, if Matt doesn’t have to lose his dad right before he goes away to school. I can’t bear it.’” There was something else, too: “I said, ‘It feels like there’s still something we need to do together. Some healing or something.’

“The nurse said that Max woke up and said his [long-dead] dad came to him in his dream and said, ‘We’re not ready for you yet,’ and Max started to get better.

“Who knows why,” Jodie says. The three of them were together often while Max recovered. “And then he [Max] started saying he wanted me back, and I was like, ‘No way. [Laughs.] It didn’t work, we’re too different, it’s not going to happen.’ And slowly it just kept happening. He said he wanted to marry me at one point, and I said I don’t think you have any clue who I am. I’m not who you knew, I work 24-7, I’m never around. You’re not going to like this; it ain’t pretty. I’m in war zones.”

Max persisted. “We’d grown very close and our love had really deepened,” Jodie says. “It was quite beautiful, actually. I mean really, we couldn’t either of us believe the gift that it was. It was kind of like the love that was always there, that we could never get to, finally showed up. All the things had gotten out of the way.”

They married a second time in 2005 at a private ceremony in Malibu; director Terrence Malick was the best man.

And then, in 2010, Max, who was eighty-five, died. “It was a very great love those last years,” Jodie says. “I feel blessed.” 

If you Google “Jodie Evans,” you might come across her IMDb page—she served as executive producer of The Square, a documentary on the revolution in Egypt, which was an Oscar nominee and won three Emmys. Her other credits include the documentaries The People Speak and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. You might find her writing on the Huffington Post—she’s known Arianna since the media mogul went by Stassinopoulos. You might see her profile on Women Moving Millions or working with Dave Eggers, with whom she founded 826LA.

But you’re equally likely to bump into one of the right-wing websites that tracks her actions with paranoid intensity. Discover the Networks calls her a “radical activist”; the Gateway Pundit dubs her a “Hamas Supporter”; the Weekly Standard, a “Terrorist sympathizer.” Jodie and Code Pink even show up on the Target of Opportunity, a website that declares itself “a list and record of people that betray and endanger America by their Seditious, Treasonous, and/or Terrorist activities….these people present a serious threat to all Americans. Each and every one of them should be considered a TARGET OF OPPORTUNITY.”

“In the beginning, we got bomb threats, death threats,” she concedes. Code Pink appeared on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard, a rant-driven display of purported leftist conspiracies. “In a weird way, it’s gotten better.”

Maybe that’s because some of the things Code Pink raised its voice about—like an unjust war in Iraq—have come to be more widely accepted as truth by the general public. And yet there remains a pressure to talk about certain things in certain ways: the Guantánamo Bay prison, ISIS, the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning, Afghanistan—and Code Pink continues to say the wrong thing, or do so in a manner unbecoming a serious organization.

They may be photographed waving penis-shaped anti-Bush signs, videotaped chanting abrasive demands, or scolded by former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank to stop their “silliness.” But each time they act out and get on camera—even if they’re being chided by not just the mainstream media but their own friends on the left—their message is reaching someone out there who is unhappy with war, unhappy with the inequality, unhappy with the status quo, and has not yet found a voice. 

 “It’s all just gotten so frickin’ crazy,” Jodie says. “How do we get out of the rat race that is modern culture, and start to be related to each other, start to not see each other as others but see all of us as on this planet together that we need to share, that we need to be in relationship with each other. Let’s talk about that. Instead of what we’re against, what are we for.

“I think a lot of what we do is get overwhelmed by what’s happening instead of related to it. I think there’s a lot of heads in the sand, because it is overwhelming,” she says. But, she counsels, “It’s not our job to fix it, it’s just our job to be related to it. In that relationship, it becomes life.”

She stays positive.

“So, we’re knee-deep in a flood. What does the ark look like that we’re going to build?” 


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