Friday, October 28, 2005

No Combat for Grannies Full of Fight

No Combat for Grannies Full of Fight
By Clyde Haberman
The New York Times

Tuesday 18 October 2005

To use a hand-me-down phrase from a more gallant time, they were women of a certain age. More precisely, they were women of a certain age in an uncertain age.

They were not kids, that's for sure, these women who went yesterday to the armed forces recruiting station in Times Square.

Ostensibly, they were there to enlist. Send them to Iraq, they said. They've led long lives, long enough to have grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Better, they said, to put them in harm's way than young people just starting out.

"I'm a double grandmother," said Betty Brassell, who is 75 and lives on the Lower East Side. "I have a great-grandson. I'm sorry, I forgot to bring his picture."

It will not shock you to learn that the Army was not interested in signing them up. Same went for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. The crisp-looking young men in uniform who staff the Times Square booth had locked their doors, having been warned that the women would come knocking.

It will also not shock you to learn that the grannies - their word - never thought that anyone would take their volunteering seriously. The military is not in the habit of offering enlistment bonuses to people on walkers.

They were there to protest the war, having perhaps unconsciously taken a page out of President Bush's book. If he can use the troops to sell his war, as he did last week in a scripted Q. and A. session with soldiers in Iraq, why should the grannies not use a military prop to sell their opposition?

"One of them asked me, 'What happens if they accept us?' " said Norman Siegel, the civil liberties lawyer, who was the group's go-between with the police. "I told her: 'Then you're off to Iraq. I'll have to get a habeas writ to get you out.'"

That proved unnecessary.

No question, these were serious women with a serious message, agree with them or not. They understood that if you want the cameras and microphones to pay you and your cause some attention, a bit of street theater helps. It doesn't hurt, either, to march under banners like Raging Grannies, Grandmothers Against the War, and Elders for Peace and Justice for the Next Seven Generations.

It had been arranged with the police that 15 or so would try to enlist and then, once that failed, hold a sit-in outside the booth.

First in line was Joan Wile, 74. She carried a bucket of cookies. Behind her was Marie Runyon, a former state assemblywoman who has fought more left-wing battles than AARP has members. At 90, Ms. Runyon can barely see, but that did not stop her from banging on the booth's door, to the right of the poster of Uncle Sam pointing and saying, "I Want You."

"You" did not include her. "Are you hard of hearing?" Ms. Runyon hollered at the young men inside. "Let's get cracking here. We want to enlist. What's the matter with you?"

After the door-banging went nowhere, it was sit-in time. For some, that was easier said than done. "I can't sit," Ms. Brassell said, clinging to a walker. "I'll stoop as much as I can."

As she went into her best crouch, a police lieutenant, Kevin Lee, approached with a bullhorn and a script of his own. "I'm ordering you to leave this pedestrian area," he read from a sheet of paper.

No way. "We insist we enlist," the grannies chanted.

Minutes later, the police moved in to make arrests. In some recent antiwar protests, they have been accused of unnecessary roughness. Not this time. This time they were solicitous.

"Is that too tight?" an officer named McMinn asked one woman as he cuffed her hands behind her back - standard procedure. An officer named Frias bent to help another protester, the actress Vinie Burrows, get to her feet. "You all right?" the officer asked.

Watching and chanting "Grannies rock" were about 50 supporters. One of them was Herb Hecsh, a "partner or companion or whatever you call it these days" of Ms. Wile. He could not help observing, he said, that "the cops are the only ones here with their original hips."

In all, 18 women were arrested, some quite familiar with the back of a police van.

As they were taken away, Times Square quickly returned to normal. Tourists snapped their pictures. The recruiting booth unlocked its door. A strapping young man walked in, possibly to enlist.

The war was still on.

Vigils: 4 PWAL members report

Friends, brothers, sisters, and colleagues:

MoveOn reports that there were more than 100,000 people gathered at 1,354 candlelight vigils in all 50 states and DC. American Friends Service Committee reported an additional 611 vigils organized by their network -- total, that's just shy of 2000 vigils!

Our vigil here in Richmond, Indiana, included 20-25 people in the course of the evening. We were out front of the municipal building and the post office, and we lined the street with luminaries. We read the names of Indiana service-people killed in Iraq since the war began, ringing a bell after each name and pausing in prayerful silence. We had folks in from both Michigan and Ohio who found it through the website -- which was a really fun surprise. It was very good to grieve together, to express our feelings of helplessness and resolve in the face of the killing, and to share the sources of hope we each depend on. We ended with a song by Ravyn Stanfield:

"We are the rising sun,
We are the change,
We are the ones we've been waiting for,
and we are dawning!"

On Earth Peace staffer SUSANNA FARAHAT attended a vigil in Westminster, Maryland. She writes, "I think that one notable thing about the vigil in Westminster was that the people there appeared to be from a variety of paths. This was true of the anti-war demonstration in September, as well. It isn't just your "activist types" that were there. Some moms, some businessy looking types, some with that wizened-demonstrator look, the college kids seemed pretty mainstream, the people to my right weren't speaking English. Maybe the image of activist is changing? I'd guess there were 20-25 gathered--pretty small. A handful of kids, a small handful of college students."

KATE SPIRE, pastor of the Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren in Durham, North Carolina, shares about their vigil in her report to MoveOn:

Light the Hearts of the World with Peace, the Vigil for 2000 Killed in Iraq
Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, October 26, 2005
Luminaries set in the shape of a dove on the front lawn of the church. Vigil member Kim Winz stayed down at the road as we read over 300 names of fallen soldiers and shared in the ecumenical prayers available through your links(Hindu, Celtic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim). 20 or so attended, more than half were from the community not connected to our church – 7 children were also there. Baptist, Catholic, Mennonite, Brethren and undeclared were present.

PHIL O'MARA, a professor at Bridgewater College, wrote of the vigil in Lexington, VA:
31 people in attendance, including a couple from California, tourists, who noticed us assembling and joined the crowd. One of the organizers spoke briefly, mourning the dead, praising the dedication of those who sincerely serve the nation, and expressing a hope that the war will end soon and that, whether or not war can be brought to an end, the U.S.A. will move toward a peacemaking stance immediately.
We read the names of the dead from Virginia, which took quite a while, unhappily, and had a few moments of silence, after which we sang three verses of "We Shall Overcome." One participant voiced the hope that we would begin to hold monthly vigils. Age range was from early childhood to about eighty. The group was gender balanced, interracial, and included military veterans, pacifists, churchgoers, unbelievers, and people whom I had never met, although I get to as many anti-war gatherings in the area as my duties permit.