A group of grandmothers and a claque of supporters stood for an hour in the bitter cold at Rockefeller Center in New York City on January 14 to commemorate the end of five years of their anti-war vigil. They were mostly unnoticed by the media, which was rife with the hot news about Bernie Madoff, the inauguration hoopla, Hillary Clinton's testimony before Congress, and, deservedly so, the Gaza crisis.
The women, some as old as 93, and some hanging on to walkers and canes, had a message for President-Elect Obama to dramatize the vigil anniversary.
MESSAGE TO PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA (photo by Masahiro Hosoda)
They were telling Mr. Obama that they enthusiastically support his presidency but want him to know they wish he'd bring the troops home from Iraq AND Afghanistan. They hoped to alert him to the fact that they would like him to consider reversing his stance on Afghanistan (which seems to favor an escalation of the war there) and bring ALL the troops home from both areas of conflict as soon as humanly possible. To emphasize their concerns, names of G.I.s and Iraqi and Afghan casualties were read out loud.
READING OF THE NAMES OF DEAD IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN (photo by Masahiro Hosoda)
The old babes call themselves Grandmothers Against the War. Two women began the vigil on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Plaza on a freezing Jan. 14, 2004, with a healthy amount of trepidation. To be opposed to Bush's war at that time was definitely a minority position and one was possibly subject to some super patriot's verbal or even physical assault. Luckily, the women remained unscathed. Gradually, the vigil expanded as more and more people took up the anti-war cause, including a group of Veterans for Peace who have joined the grannies every week for almost the entire five years. Now, an average vigil has about 25 or 30 participants.
At first, the activists encountered some hostility from passers-by, but as the war progressed and more and more people became disenchanted with it, the grannies saw many thumbs up, often heard smatterings of applause, and once, in a burst of Latin enthusiasm a man from Italy kissed all 20-odd grandmothers on the cheek. Particularly supportive of the vigil all along have been tourists from all over the world, who since the beginning have made it clear that they despised the war (and, no surprise to learn, W himself).
As the weeks turned into months and the months into years, the vigil grandmothers determined that more dramatic action was required in order to get their message heard. Accordingly, they organized, along with members of Code Pink, Peace Action, the Raging Grannies, and others, the protest that was heard around the world overnight. On Oct. 17, 2005, 18 grannies attempted to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting station, were denied entrance and were arrested and jailed. They were put on trial for six days at Criminal Court, and, with the assistance of legendary civil liberties attorney, Norman Siegel, and his very able co-counsel, Earl Ward, were acquitted of blocking the entrance.
Using their 15 minutes of fame to best advantage, the jailbirds called themselves the Granny Peace Brigade and organized treks to Washington, stopping at cities along the way, to colleges, senior groups, etc. locally and even to Europe, giving speeches, performances and other actions designed to rally grass roots support to oppose the war.
Asked if she thought the grandmothers' efforts have been effective, 93-year-old Marie Runyon said: "You're damned right we've made an impact. In fact, we grannies have been at the forefront of the anti-war movement before hardly anybody else was doing anything about it. We're extremely worried about what kind of world we're leaving to our grandchildren, and that has given us tremendous motivation to do all we can to stop these insane wars."
President-Elect Obama, are you listening?
Joan Wile is the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press, May 2008 - on amazon.com)