|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
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
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
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
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
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."