Friday, January 16, 2009


by Joan Wile, author, "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press, May 2008 - on

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. 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.

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?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Grandmothers Against the War, which began a Wednesday vigil at Rockefeller Center on Jan. 14, 2004, on the west side of Fifth Ave. between 49th and 50th Sts., will commemorate its fifth anniversary this coming Wednesday, Jan. 14, from 4:30-5:30 p.m., with a special vigil dedicated to President-Elect Obama and the grannies' request to him to bring the troops home from Iraq AND Afghanistan as soon as possible upon taking office.

"With the Gaza crisis currently taking precedence over all other international issues, we grandmothers are concerned that the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts are being ignored. We are urgently concerned about Gaza, of course, but do not want the public to lose sight of our vigil's focus of five years, Iraq, where people are still being killed and maimed, and the escalating crisis in Afghanistan," said Marie Runyon, one of the oldest grannies at 93.

"We hope to remind the President-Elect that he was supported by us principally because of his promise to bring the troops home quickly," said grandmother Nydia Leaf. As such the grannies will hold a 10-foot banner with a message to the President-Elect; well-known people will read the names of New York State G.I.s and Iraqi and Afghanistani civilian deaths during 2007, and the Raging Grannies will sing their unique songs of protest. All this will be accompanied by a color guard carried by a group of Veterans for Peace who have been standing with the grannies during the five years.

The Rockefeller Center vigil began with two women and gradually through the years expanded to its present-day average attendance of 25-40 people. Special occasions -- the vigil held for the 3,000th G.I. death announcement, and the one immediately following the arrest and jailing of 18 grandmothers (a related group known as the Granny Peace Brigade) who tried to enlist in the military -- have drawn as many as 100 people.

The fifth year vigil will be held despite any bad weather. The vigilers have never missed a single scheduled vigil no matter what the weather and will certainly be there this Wednesday. Please join us, journalists and camera people.

DATE: Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009
TIME: 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
PLACE: west side of 5th Av. between 49 and 50 Sts.