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Life Arts    H3'ed 4/11/10

Part Two: Schmoozing with Joan Wile, Founder of Grandmothers Against the War

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Welcome back for the conclusion of my interview with Joan Wile, founder of Grandmothers Against the War. In part one, we talked about your group's brushes with the law. But over the years, you've found other clever ways to garner media attention, a key to getting attention for the anti-war cause. At one point, a documentary team followed you around. You also went to Europe. Why was that important?

It was quite a strain on one's creativity to get constant media coverage, but I think that what worked in our favor was the word Grandmother. I think I kind of knew that word would be an attention grabber when I originally created Grandmothers Against the War, and it proved to be. There is something magical about the concept of old grannies taking to the streets and doing daring acts on principle. I was in charge of publicity, and I just kept churning out press advisories, trying to make them as interesting as I could, and also aiming to think up headings that would pique interest.

We tried very hard to create colorful, striking, and sometimes amusing actions. Early on, for instance, shortly after our jailing, we had the first of several court appearances. I got an idea involving buying 18 pairs of realistic-looking toy handcuffs. A block before we arrived at the courthouse, we handcuffed ourselves to each other and then walked to the court. I had invited the media, and some of them showed up. There we were on the evening news -- an aged chain gang.

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Joan in action;

As far as documentaries go, I think practically every graduate film student in New York City -- from Columbia, New York University, the New School, the School of Art and Design, for instance, has made a documentary about the grannies. Several professional teams did, also. One team, Bob Sands and Fran Sears, filmed us before and during our entire ten-day trek to Washington. A Japanese grad film student made a documentary which he submitted to a Tokyo film festival. Others have been submitted to various film festivals, also.

I really don't know how all these people found's kind of mysterious. But, they are still tailing us around with their cameras.

I and two other grannies, Molly Klopot, then in her late 80's, and Barbara Walker, then in her mid-70s, went to Berlin at the invitation of a minister who had originally tried to get Cindy Sheehan, but turned to us when she wasn't able to go there. I think he probably read about us on the Internet, quite possibly kin to OpEdNews. I really didn't want to go, because I have a phobia about airplanes and hadn't flown for years. But, I eventually realized it was vitally important to go because at that time, in 2006, people throughout the world thought all Americans supported the war in Iraq and we needed to demonstrate that there were many who opposed it. So, I forced myself to fly, and we had a marvelous four days in Berlin with wonderful peace people. We spoke and I sang at three or four different churches and did some fascinating sight-seeing.

It's seven years and counting and the soldiers and civilians over there are still dying. It's premature for you all to retire from your efforts. Can you keep going as long as it takes?

I've said for some time now, as we see the wars go on and on and on, that, sadly, most of us will probably die before they are finally concluded. Yes, I'll continue my vigil and other activities relative to anti-war issues as long as I'm physically and mentally able. I'll be 79 this summer, so perhaps I won't be able to carry on a lot longer...but I have some wonderful role models among the REALLY elderly women in my group in their late 80s and 90s, who are still active, committed and engaged.

What a wonderful circle of giving. You inspire one another and have the same effect on us. What do your grandchildren and kids think of what you're doing?

I think my kids and grandkids are so caught up in their own lives and pursuits that they don't give much thought to what I'm doing. Perhaps my two children are proud of me but they don't get involved -- they live too far away, really, and are busy with their careers and their children. My five grandkids may be proud, too, but they don't let me know. I'm fine with the fact they are largely indifferent to the wars. They're all adolescents, except for one in his 20s who is quite liberal and works for community betterment, and they have enough problems at this point in their lives without being anxious and upset about the peril their government has placed them in. Once in a great while, they come to a vigil or action, and my 19-year-old college student grandson is arranging for me to speak to his Libertarian club. I know they have beliefs that I don't share, but maybe I'll convert one or two of them.

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Before becoming a grandmother against the war, you had a vibrant, successful career. What were you doing?

That question makes me sad. I miss my career very much. Singers have a much longer professional life than dancers, of course, but the business is ageist after a certain point, and I am no longer called for gigs. I do still have most of my "chops," though, and sing my own songs (and sometimes others) at anti-war meetings, in college lectures, etc., usually related to my activities as an anti-war granny and author.

When I was a working singer-musician-songwriter, I pretty much covered the gamut. I did everything except opera, for which I am not trained. I sang in nightclubs and cabarets, in concerts, on movie sound tracks, on TV shows, on recordings and on tons of commercial jingles. I did a lot of gigs as a piano bar singer-pianist, I often had a trio in which I played bass, and another in which I played piano...always singing, too, of course.

Later, I began to write -- first songs and jingles, movie and TV themes and later after that, theatre musicals. Five of my musicals have been produced Off- and Off-Off Broadway. It was an extremely diverse career. And, although I don't earn much money at it any more, I am still active -- writing more musicals and "issues" songs which I perform and which are on YouTube, and, as indicated above, performing my material at various occasions.

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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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