Thursday, April 29, 2010


Don't despair, folks. All our young people are not indifferent to the fact that the United States is still engaged in reprehensible occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. We anti-war grandmothers had heartening proof of this yesterday, April 27, when 20 African-American and Latino Brooklyn high school seniors joined our Grandmothers Against the War vigil at Rockefeller Center.

These teens from the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, every single one college-bound, were led on a field trip to our protest by their outstanding teacher, Stephen Simons, and his co-teacher, Jacques Hoffman. The class is entitled Social Economics -- they had been studying the economics of warfare, and came to us for a little enlightenment and, we hope, inspiration. To say we were knocked out by the fact that such a class is in a high school curriculum is an understatement, and the teachers are to be highly commended.

In our six and a half years conducting the vigil, we had often bemoaned the fact that American youths, unlike those during the Vietnam War, seemed oblivious to a crisis we believe is of the utmost urgency to them. After intermingling with these wonderful young people, however, we feel a little more hopeful.

We are well aware that the draft is largely what drew our youth to the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 60's and 70's. They felt threatened, of course, as well they should have. Without a draft in the current combustible circumstances, however, somehow young people feel immune to the dangers confronting them, not only the potential for their someday having to fight in the military, but the effects the wars have on their lives in very immediate terms. They are largely unaware of the relationship between the huge costs of war and the lack of funds for education, health care, and, so important for their eventual lives after school, jobs.

But, not these kids. Mr. Simons and Mr. Hoffman have educated them well in the economics of war. The underlying emphasis of the class is to consider the old dilemma -- guns or butter. To help them draw conclusions in that regard, they've been made aware of the enormous part of the budget delegated for the wars, and they know the impact of military spending on their own Brooklyn community. They've learned that according to the National Priorities Project, $88,000 of Brooklyn taxpayer money goes to the war in Afghanistan every hour.

One of the grannies, Carol Husten, a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, and Peace Action New York State (PANYS), welcomed the students with a review of the statistics of war and our consequent depleted economy. She explained that the United States military budget is almost as large as that of all other countries combined. It was impressive how much the kids already knew of the facts she presented to them. She then gave them a True Majority Scroll pen with its pull-down flag that illustrates with vertical bars the U.S. global military expenditures on one side and domestic spending priorities on the other.

Chaplain Hugh Bruce, a Vietnam War veteran and member of Veterans for Peace who is a regular attendee at the grandmothers' vigil, spoke eloquently about the futility of the wars we are engaged in. He explained that our war in Vietnam in which 58,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese died, accomplished nothing positive and ultimately we retreated in defeat. He discussed the fact that many other countries have non-diverse populations with non-varied mores and cultures not necessarily compatible with our multi-assorted ones and that we can't impose our values on them. "We're not anti-American, we love our country," said Chaplain Bruce, "but if you had a friend who was doing something wrong, you'd try to set him or her straight. That's what we're doing here. We're trying to steer our government onto a path of peace."

The students and the grandmothers and their supporters then fanned out along Fifth Avenue holding banners and signs, some made by the kids, while Mr. Hoffman sang "Guantanamera" and "This Land Is Your Land," accompanying himself on guitar. It was a beautiful sight to behold -- the shining, hopeful faces of these intelligent young people interspersed with our old granny ones.

We women feel so encouraged by yesterday's event. The wars seem to go on and on, and we won't be here forever. We desperately want to be assured that others will take up our quest for peace after we're gone.

The marvelous Brooklyn students who joined us gave us an exhilarating little boost, a feeling that we needn't worry. Perhaps America will be in safe hands.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


One had always thought of the Gray Panthers as an admirable organization advocating for the dignity and rights of older people, as so brilliantly represented by its founder, the magnetic Maggie Kuhn.

But, one would have been not fully informed. On Saturday, April 17, the Panthers celebrated their 40 years of existence, and held two actions in Washington DC which made it clear that they are a multi-issue group on behalf of persons of all ages. Their struggle against ageism is still a very important part of their agenda, but they vest other causes with as much weight.

The first of their actions on Saturday was a mixed-generation rally at the White House with unique features exemplifying the theme of environmental protection. They carried three faux open coffins with fabric effigies of a man, woman and child. Rally attendees wore white protective masks to symbolize the dangers of global warming on the air we breathe. Other colorful touches were the repeated throwing of many facsimiles of Earth globes made of cotton into the air, another symbol of how we are all affected by the dangers of global warming. Two people wore hazmat suits while pushing two participants in wheelchairs. A Hazmat suit is a garment worn as protection from hazardous materials or substances and is generally combined with a breathing apparatus. Further, the demonstrators chanted repeatedly such slogans as "Don't Bury the Earth," and sang parodies of three familiar old songs, "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain When She Comes," "On Top of Old Smokey" and "God Bless America" with revised lyrics reflecting their environmental theme written by the Raging Grannies. For instance:


Hundreds of spectators responded with delight as they watched the Panthers' spectacular presentation. "I think we really connected with the crowds and got our message across, which is that the Gray Panthers are going green to protect the environment for all people, young and old, rich and poor," said Brooke Hollister, 28, Vice-Chair of the Gray Panthers National Board and an Assistant Professor at the Univ. of California San Francisco.

On Saturday evening, the Panthers repaired to the International Trades Center where they held a festive awards dinner honoring three persons of stature for their extraordinary efforts in three major areas of concern to the group -- health care, peace and the environment.

The first to be honored was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was posthumously awarded for his decades-long championship of health care reform, the details of which need no reiteration here.

The award for environmental protection and justice went to Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx. Ms. Carter is credited with many restoration projects in the area, such as, for instance, turning an illegal garbage dump into the Hunt's Point Riverside Park, and creating the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program, one of the nation's first national urban green collar training and placement programs.

Colman McCarthy, long-time journalist, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, and teacher, received the award for peace activism.
Among his many activities, he founded the Center for Teaching Peace, a nonprofit that helps schools begin or expand academic programs in Peace Studies.

And, reverting back to the issue it is most known for, Sally Brown, immediate past Chair of the Gray Panthers National Board, gave a speech about ageism, in which she stated, "We should be really proud of the ages we are and know that at any age we can contribute significantly to the world and lead productive, fulfilling lives."

The current chair of the National Board, Judy Lear, said that the two Washington events launched 40 actions planned to take place throughout the U.S. for the entire 40th birthday year. "We want to raise awareness of the Gray Panthers and highlight our three top priorities of the environment, health care and peace. We hope to raise our voices for everybody, all ages, about these urgent matters." she stated, "and we want to encourage people to be active -- everybody has a right and a responsibility to take some action in some way."

Friday, April 2, 2010


90 is the new 60 these days, it seems, as so impressively demonstrated by several nonegenarians of my acquaintance. In 2003, I founded a peace group in New York City, Grandmothers Against the War, and gradually grannies from all over the Big Apple started gravitating to the group, among them four astonishing women past 90.

I thought I was a real hot shot in that I was in my 70's and still out there protesting what I considered an unconscionable and unnecessary war in Iraq. But, I soon discovered I was nothing special, a mere baby compared to some of the hardy specimens in their 80's and 90's who joined up and often out-walked, out-thought, and out-braved me as they protested and sometimes went to jail for the cause.

I am particularly in awe of those four 90-plus women who are part of my group and amaze me with their energy, intelligence, and passionate commitment.

Allow me to introduce you to Lillian Pollak, teacher and marriage counselor, who will be 95 on April 12. There is absolutely nobody like her, I'm convinced. She hasn't one single symptom, if you will, of her age. Always meticulously made up, coiffured and dressed, she is in good health, goes all over the place to cultural events, and is always on the front lines of every anti-war protest within reach of a subway or bus. But, her youthfulness is not merely in her physical stamina. Her MIND is perhaps the most incredulous aspect of this unbelievable woman. Her brilliant analysis of plays, films, books, for one thing. Her memory of names, places, dates, movements, events from her long-ago past, for another. Her quick and sharp mind without the slightest trace of diminution. Her contemporaneousness -- she knows everything that is going on today. And, to top it all off, this brilliant woman recently published a 376-page novel, "The Sweetest Dream: Love, Lies & Assassination," based on her political life in the 30's. An excellent read, by the way, available on

Three weeks ahead of her is Marie Runyon, who was 95 on March 20. Marie, a former New York State Assemblywoman, housing advocate and founder of Harlem Restoration Project, among her many accomplishments, is not in as great physical shape as Lillian -- she is legally blind and partially deaf -- but her personality and mental acuity are incomparable. She is, quite simply, a firebrand. Marie has never hesitated to speak her mind whenever she sniffs injustice, in often very salty language. When she was 90, despite her hearing and sight impairments, she willingly got arrested when our spin-off granny group, the Granny Peace Brigade, tried on Oct. 17, 2005, to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting station to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way. Denied entrance, we sat down on the cement ground (not so easy for our arthritis-riddled old bodies) and refused to get up when the police came. We were then carted off to jail in a paddy wagon, Marie among its inhabitants. After a six-day trial in criminal court, I'm pleased to say we were acquitted of disorderly conduct and went on to be a powerful symbol of peace activism here and abroad with our lectures, rallies, performances, and workshops. Interviewed many times on television and radio after our legendary arrest, Marie, with her colorful and outspoken personality, served often as our spokesperson, to the delight of audiences.

And, let me tell you about another one of our Times Square arrestees, 91-year-old Molly Klopot, Co-Chair of the New York branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Molly lives way out in Coney Island in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn. It is an hour's subway trip into her office in Manhattan, but do you think that stops Molly? Not on your life. This, despite the fact that Molly is legally blind! She navigates alone, often late at night, the underground trains and the streets of the Lower East Side where her office is located. This is super courageous, given Molly's diminutive size and her almost non-existent eyesight. They just don't make them like her anymore.

In addition to her tremendous guts and commitment, Molly, a former college teacher and union organizer, is a living representation of labor history beginning when she was a shop leader as a young girl in the Ford Motor Company's plant in Detroit during the Second World War.

Another remarkable woman, who is active at the ripe young age of 90, is Lillian Lifflander. Lillian is a Jill of all trades who mainly worked for organizations she felt contributed to the various causes she was concerned about -- unions, education, the destructive use of Vieques for U.S. nuclear testing, and other crusades. She has put herself on the line many times, getting arrested for the issues she passionately supports. Most recently, she did some jail time with the Granny Peace Brigade in protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This indomitable lady has had a late-in-life career in movies beginning in her 80's -- she is often called upon to be an extra. Of late, she appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," and, to prove that sex is not the province only of the young, she was cast in the film, "Sex and the City."

So, dear readers, you have nothing to fear about old age. Be heartened and inspired by the examples of these wonderful elders, who demonstrate that one can make a difference, contribute to society, and lead rich, productive lives well into one's 90's, and, I daresay, one's 100's as well. Be assured these four wonders will prove that thesis!