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GRANNIES DESCEND ON THE SENATE!

January 22nd, 2007

GRANNIES FROM ALL OVER THE U.S. DESCENDED ON THE SENATE JANUARY 18 TO URGE AN IMMEDIATE END TO THE OCCUPATION

Text by Joan Wile, Founder/Director, Grandmothers Against the War, and Granny Peace Brigade Times Square Jailbird 18

Photo below by Ann Shirazi, a Granny Peace Brigade Times Square Jailbird 18 and member of Code Pink

On January 18, almost 100 grandmothers from all over America descended on Washington and lobbied every one of the 100 Senators and/or their staffs to end the war in Iraq. It was historic, to say the least. Has there ever been another occasion where so many grannies, some in their 80's and 90's, some in wheelchairs, some with canes, some legally blind and legally deaf, descended on the Capitol to press their concerns with every single Senator?

The concerns in this case were about the immoral, illegal, senseless and catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq. Our generation of grandmothers knows too well the dreadful consequences and futility of war, and does not want our grandsons and granddaughters or ANYbody's grandchildren to sacrifice their lives just as they are on the brink of living them for a phony, hopeless and destructive cause. We grannies have observed with horror as more and more of our young people have been killed or maimed. We have observed with horror as, first, our casually dropped bombs killed and maimed thousands of innocent Iraqis, and, then, as more and more of our troops and Iraqi citizens have been slaughtered and wounded by the insurgency, suicide bombers and warring sects stirred up by our brutal assault.

We've tried marching, petitioning, phoning, holding vigils, being arrested and jailed, and many other forms of protest, but the war goes on...and on. So, we decided to try talking directly to all the Senators and a few House members on Thursday, January 18, to see if we could put some steel in their spines and encourage them to be brave and honorable and stop the funding of the war.

GRANNIES KEPT OUT IN THE COLD

We arrived at the Capitol before 9 A.M. at the security check facility. But, we were not permitted entrance for about 45 minutes while names were verified. It was very cold, and some of the elderly grannies were in wheelchairs and hanging on to walkers. We pleaded with the guards to at least let some of the disabled women wait inside until they finished checking names, but they refused. It's apparent that disregard of the elderly starts before you even get into the hallowed halls where the lawmakers take (inadequate) care of the people's business!

DRAMA IN THE PRESS CONFERENCE

We were incredibly lucky to have Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D. Ohio), the great anti-war Representative and presidential candidate, sponsor a press conference with us the morning of the 18th, at which he spoke eloquently about the need to get out of Iraq and applauded us for being what he called "the conductors on the train of peace." We feel that If we're the conductors, he certainly is the engineer...he has boldly opposed this shameful war from the beginning and been consistently vocal in his opposition, and on January 15 presented a plan for exiting Iraq, which the Granny Peace Brigade fully supports. Newly-elected Maryland Congressman Albert Wynn appeared at the press meeting and spoke passionately about the need to bring the occupation to an early conclusion, and strongly anti-war Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California was able to make a brief stop-by on her way to a meeting.

 

Another eloquent speaker was the heroic Ann Wright, representing Hawaii. Ann, a former Army Reserves colonel and diplomat, resigned her diplomatic post in protest the day before "Shock and Awe" was launched. Since then, she has been a tireless advocate for bringing the troops home without delay. She had just returned from a few days in Cuba where she investigated conditions at Guantanamo when, without skipping a beat, she joined the grannies in our mission.

Also speaking was Geoff Millard, an Iraq Veteran Against the War, who accompanied the grannies on their rounds and is described by them as "highly articulate and knowledgeable" and of great help as they presented their demands and argued their case.

Iraq Veteran Against the War, Geoff Millard, with some of the New York grannies. Note that many of the grannies are wearing tee shirts emblazoned with the words WE WILL NOT BE SILENT, the theme of the New York and Philadelphia Granny Peace Brigade, and heartily endorsed by all the participating grannies on January 18

We were all moved to tears by the words of Elaine Johnson, who lost her son in Iraq. Elaine came to Washington from South Carolina, and we are so grateful to her for sharing her tragic story with us. She is a committed member of Gold Star Families for Peace.

A highlight of the press conference was Marie Runyon, the feisty 92-year-old New York Granny Peace Brigade jailbird, and former New York State Assemblywoman, who, in her usual outrageously amusing style, told the room what she thought of George Bush. Marie just received the New York State Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, on Martin Luther King Day. It is worth mentioning that Marie is both legally blind and deaf, but that she considers these conditions mere inconveniences and goes everywhere and does everything nevertheless.

Also speaking was the New York Granny Peace Brigade "celebrity," well-known Broadway actress/playwright and great-grandmother, Vinie Burrows, still acting almost non-stop in off-Broadway and regional theatre productions.

GRANNIES VISIT THE SENATORS AND A FEW CONGRESS PEOPLE

The grandmothers then fanned out in teams to meet with all senators, to give them white roses attached by a black ribbon to a card saying, WE WILL NOT BE SILENT, the theme for the granny groups; the granny "12 Points of Peace" demands; and a copy of George McGovern's fine book, "Out of Iraq." They were able to secure face-to-face meetings with a few Senators and Congress people, but mostly met with staff -- not surprising, it is supposed, given the enormous numbers of meetings on Capitol Hill that day.

However, a few "catches" occurred. The New Jersey grannies met with their very receptive senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both opponents of the Iraq War. Mr. Menendez opposed the original resolution authorizing George Bush to conduct a preemptive war on Iraq. Mr Lautenberg was not in the Senate at that time but has been a consistent opponent of the Iraq debacle. The New Jersey grandmothers were very impressed with the exhibit outside his Senate office, which shows pictures of every fallen military man and woman who was a casualty in Iraq.

Gold Star mother, Elaine Johnson, had a lenghty meeting with her South Carolina Senator, Republican Jim DeMint, who agreed that it was time for the troops to come home. He said that they were giving Bush one more chance (it is assumed he meant the "Surge") but if that didn't work, they would take action. He was very kind to Elaine, and she was most pleased. She had a personal situation for which she requested his assistance, and he immediately offered help. In fact, his aides called her the next day to begin the process.

Other Senators and House members with whom some grannies had face-to-face meetings were Senator Arlen Spector (R. PA) and Pennsylvania representative Chaka Fattah from Philadelphia, who told the Philly women, "I'm on your side."; Also, some of the New Yorkers had a very cordial meeting with Rep. Charlie Rangel, now head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, who knows the New York Granny Peace Brigade well, has supported them in many ways in the past and offered on Thursday to give them a substantial monetary contribution. A few grandmothers had a brief encounter in the hall with Nancy Pelosi as she was scurrying to open the Congress, during which she praised the grannies for their peace work.

For the most part, however, the lobbying group met with assistants and advisors. Debbie Hardy, who came from Ohio to join the grannies, met with aides to Sen. George V. Voinovich, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Cong. John Boehner, all representing Ohio, and with Sen. Patrickl Leahy of Vermont, and asked three questions formulated by her son, Jeremy Brooks: 1) In your opinion, what needs to happen before we can begin withdrawing American troops? 2) Do you support a deadline for the Iraqi government to start taking control of the security of Iraq? 3) If the situation in Iraq does not improve after we send in additional troops, at what point in time would you suggest to the President that enough is enough? The advisors promised written replies to the three questions from each Senator, and suggested that the questions be asked of ALL Senators. Debbie spoke to them about her missing fiance, an Iraqi policeman she met while he was assigned to the United States for training in a police academy so he could return to Iraq and train the police there. He disappeared in October 2005 and Debbie has been desperately searching for him ever since.

Generally, the grannies were treated with respect and, for the most part, felt they had made a significant impact. The New York delegation, for instance, had a very cordial meeting with Senator Schumer's aides, who listened attentively and had a give-and-take with the grannies that was quite satisfactory.

 

A NOT-SO-FRIENDLY ENCOUNTER WITH SENATOR MCCAIN

There was another face-to-face meeting with a real, live Senator. A few of the grandmothers came across Senator John McCain in the Capitol rotunda holding an impromptu press conference. They listened politely as he ranted on about the need for more troops, about how we must respect George Bush and so on, and then followed him as he walked back to his office. One woman, Laurie Arbeiter, approached him as he was about to enter his domain and asked, "How did you feel when Bush nullified your torture amendment using the signing statement? What did Iraq have to with 9-11? Justify the illegal invasion." McCain said: "I appreciate your views." His inquisitor said, "You do not appreciate our views." "I DO appreciate your views," McCain insisted. "No, you DON'T appreciate our views," she countered. "How could you support the Administration policies regarding Iraq if you did?", at which point McCain quickly ducked into his office.

IRAQ VET'S RUN-IN WITH HILLARY'S AIDE

As cordial as their meeting with Sen. Schumer's staff was, the New York delegation was disappointed with their meeting with Hillary Clinton's people. The New Yorkers were shunted for about 15 or 20 minutes through the halls and up and down steps in order to find a bigger room to hold the meeting. There was a degree of animosity between some of the grannies and her Chief Policy Advisor, Laurie Rubiner, and a hoped-for open exchange did not take place. Nor was there any indication of a commitment on Hillary's part for a swift end to the war. At the end of the meeting, Ms. Rubiner said to Iraq vet, Geoff Millard, '"I'm proud of your service." He asked, "Which service -- my tour of duty in Iraq or my service in the anti-war movement?" "Your service in Iraq," she replied. Geoff said, "If you understood that I participated in an illegal war, you would be ashamed to be proud of me." "I'm still proud of your service," was her answer, totally missing the point -- just as Hillary has continually missed the point about the wrongness of the Iraq occupation.

THE GRANNIES SCOLD THE CAPITOL POLICE AT DAY'S END

After completing their arduous lobbying through the long, long corridors of the Capitol and the various office buildings, the grannies gathered at 4 PM in the atrium of the Hart Building. They softly read the First Amendment and then intoned quietly the names of the fallen soldiers with a gentle meditation bell sound at the end of each name. As they augmented the volume of their voices, the Capitol Police approached and said that they had better stop the ringing of the bell and lower their voices, that they were "disturbing the peace." One of the grandmothers said to him, "You are concerned that our reading the names of the dead is disturbing the peace? The peace has already been disturbed by some of the people that work in this building. We are here to restore the peace."

IF ONLY!!

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