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Life Arts

Schmoozing with Founder of Grandmothers Against the War, Joan Wile

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My guest today is Joan Wile, the founder of Grandmothers Against the War. She also wrote a book by the same name whose subtitle is: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace . Welcome to OpEdNews, Joan. Please tell our readers what got you up off your fanny in the first place.

Like everybody, I was opposed to our invading Iraq from the very first mention of the possibility. I signed petitions, went to rallies, all those things we all did, and was just horrified when we did the Shock and Awe monstrosity on those innocent people in Baghdad. Shortly after, I saw a photograph in TIME Magazine of a 12-year-old Iraqi boy, Ali, from that beleaguered city. He had lost his arms, he was horribly burned on a large area of his torso, and his entire nuclear family was killed -- how did this unspeakable tragedy occur? From our bombs!

It broke my heart, and I felt I had to do something! I conceived the idea of a grandmothers anti-war group and followed up my idea by contacting people, mostly by email (a wonderful tool for organizing things), to see if like-minded women would join with me.

In retrospect, this was a PR stroke of genius. But how did you first glom onto the idea of grandmothers? Also, you're in New York City. Did that make it easier or more difficult to gather other like-minded souls?

The idea hit me in the middle of the night, actually. I'm an insomniac and it came to me in a wakeful period. I have no idea how it happened, it just did. The thought sprang into my mind -- "Grandmothers Against the War. Now, there's a cool idea," I said to myself. "Grandmothers are perceived as wise, nurturing, stable. We won't be dismissed as a bunch of rebellious kids, we'll be taken more seriously."

I felt the fact I was in New York City was a definite advantage. It's the media capital of the world, and I figured for my granny group to be effective we'd need publicity. Where better than here in Manhattan, therefore,to try to make some noise? However, this is retrospective reflection -- I don't think I thought much about getting us publicized when I began. But, it was in my subconscious, certainly.

Did you come together quickly or did it take a while? And is it a diverse bunch?

My grandmothers group came together rather quickly, thanks, again, to email. I would guess there was perhaps a one- to two-month interval between the idea and the first public action, a neighborhood rally by the beautiful Eleanor Roosevelt statue a block away from me at the entrance to Riverside Park. I emailed and telephoned my older friends and also visited one or two local Democratic clubs to recruit participants. I also invited speakers for the rally, scheduled for November 22, 2003. A friend put me in touch with the well-known actress, Barbara Barrie, who agreed to speak, and several local politicians accepted my invitation, also. Approximately 50 people showed up for the event, including a few people from the Staten Island Peace Action group (Staten Island is a bus, ferry, and subway ride away from where we rallied).

It is a fairly diverse group, although not as diverse as I would like. Most of the women are professionals -- social workers, therapists, teachers, a doctor, a lawyer (no Indian chiefs, though), a couple of artists, an actress or two, a singer/musician/songwriter (me), and so on. Ethnically, we only have a few African Americans, which troubles me. The group is split fairly evenly between Jews and Christians. We also have a number of men who participate regularly in our weekly vigil at Rockefeller Center (we've held it every Wednesday for six and a quarter years), among them several Veterans for Peace. In terms of sexual orientation, we have a tiny smattering of gays -- I wish they were represented more. Occasionally, young people join our vigil, but our core group has only one person under 50. The average age is probably around 75. The astonishing news, though, is that we have at least 4 women past 90!


That is astonishing. And you all seem to have an unlimited amount of energy and enthusiasm. It's inspiring. Beyond your weekly vigils at Rockefeller Center, your group has ventured into more alien territory, courting arrest and incarceration. Tell our readers about that, please.

We have gone "far out" in our activities. Our most famous venture was our arrest and jailing at the Times Square recruiting center. Eighteen of us older women, almost all of us grandmothers, attempted to enlist in the military so we could hopefully replace our young G.I.sin harm's way. We had lived long, full lives, we reasoned, so better us than the young people to take the bullets and explosive devices. The center appeared to be empty -- it was locked down -- but we knew they were in there, as I saw a head pop up from under a desk and then quickly duck down again.

We banged on the door, but nothing happened. So, we sat down on the concrete ground near the entrance -- those of us who COULD sit down, that is. Our aging arthritic bodies made it difficult. The police came and demanded that we disperse, but we refused, figuring it was our Constitutional right to protest. Finally, they handcuffed us and took us in two paddy wagons to jail, where we were locked up for several hours. It was a huge worldwide media story, and our six-day trial in criminal court for "blocking a public entrance" was also a huge story.

After our acquittal, we tried to capitalize on our new-found notoriety by touring the East Coast to Washington DC speaking, and performing at churches, peace meetings, and rallies. Since our arrest, we've regularly organized events, trying to make them as colorful and newsworthy as possible. We trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of times in a sort of parade; some of us went to Europe to speak, perform and participate in protests; we went to Washington again in an event we called "100 Grannies Lobby 100 Senators;" we held a six-day dawn-to-dark "Endless Memorial" at the Times Square recruiting center, where 300 people recited non-stop the names of our military and Iraqi civilian fatalities; and many other occurrences.

I personally wrote songs, comedy sketches and small playlets that we performed at colleges and peace meetings. For instance, I wrote a comedy monologue for one of our grannies, Carol Husten, to perform as if she were Barbara Bush. We also had the asset of one of our grannies, Vinie Burrows, being a marvelous actress. She performed deeply moving, dramatic monologues. Incidentally, some of the grannies have been arrested in subsequent actions since the Times Square enlistment one.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 
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All the while I'm thinking of Lillian and George W... by Margaret Bassett on Saturday, Apr 10, 2010 at 3:57:37 PM
this was definitely a fun interview to do. part tw... by Joan Brunwasser on Saturday, Apr 10, 2010 at 8:30:25 PM
Yes, I thank you, too. Thanks for the interesting ... by Joan Wile on Monday, Apr 12, 2010 at 9:04:13 AM