Tuesday, January 26, 2010


You don't have to tell me how depressed you are. I know, because I have sunk into the black depths, also. More troops sent to Afghanistan -- POW! No single payer, no public option -- ZAP! Republican conservative wins Kennedy seat in Massachusetts -- CRACK! Supreme Court okays corporate takeover of our political system -- BOP! And on and on the litany of assaults hits us in our minds, hearts and pocketbooks.

Gone the hopes for a new and better America. Gone the faith in a dazzling new, seemingly Progressive President. Gone the belief in the people's good sense. It seems so hopeless -- one wants to crawl into bed and pull the covers up and stay there. I know, I know.

BUT -- let's not. I'll tell you why. Fighting back not only fights the evil forces, it fights one's depression. I remember the day after W was re-elected for a second term. Talk about depression! The helpless, aching improbability of it -- we just wanted to give up, didn't we? I certainly did.

However, the day after his 2004 re-election was a Wednesday, the day every week that my group, Grandmothers Against the War, with an assist from the Granny Peace Brigade and some Veterans for Peace, holds a peace vigil in front of Rockefeller Center. We'd been doing it without missing a single Wednesday for almost a year. So, in order to sustain our spotless attendance record, I had to go despite my lethargy, my sadness, my utter misery. The other people standing on Fifth Avenue with me were equally distressed and ready to give up the struggle. You've never seen so many long faces.

Then, an amazing thing happened. As we stood there with our peace signs and banners, the black clouds in our minds began to waft away. Slowly, we began to smile and chatter with our usual good spirits. By the end of the vigil, we were practically jubilant. Nothing had changed -- the grim reality was still the fact that the worst President in history was going to head the government for another four years and reap hideous injustices and catastrophes. But, WE had changed. We had decided to press on and continue battling for our issues.

It was clear that in the act of fighting back, we were able to banish our hopeless feelings. The psychiatrists say that depression is repressed anger. Maybe there's something to that theory. Certainly, in our case it seemed to be at least partly true. By taking action, we were in a sense expressing our anger -- but in a constructive way.

The nation survived that crisis, and ultimately things turned around -- a bit. We got a President who is both a Democrat and a black man. We put a Democratic majority in the Senate. It's true that these promising steps have not yet produced hardly any of the progressive reforms that we envisioned, but I think we could agree that we moved a little bit forward.

All right, we've fallen back. Big time. But, isn't that the pattern of history? I'm no historian, so I can only refer to things that have happened in my lifetime. For instance, the war to end all wars -- that didn't. The war to end poverty --that didn't. The liberals followed by the neocons followed by the liberals followed by the neocons. It seems there is no such thing as lasting progress. But, that mustn't defeat us.

Instead, let's pick ourselves up, yet again, dust ourselves off, and get back into the arena. We may not yet save the planet, we may not yet save our economy, we may not yet save our democratic institutions...but at least we'll save our sanity.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll inch forward more than we slip backward.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Good God, are our country's priorities mixed up! Imagine! The number one story recently before the Haiti earthquake in what is laughably called The News was about two super-rich show biz boys of arrested development whining like toddlers over their million dollar late-night toys. In addition, the other prominent stories in print and on the air waves which claim to deliver us vital coverage, diddled around about a golfer's sex life and a Senator's time-warped political remark, whipping the unfortunate but not ill-intentioned comment into the politically incorrect gaffe of the decade. Where is the sense of the media functioning as the truth-telling chroniclers of the people's business, I ask you?

One could easily despair of having one's message communicated to the public. Despite that, New York City peace granny groups -- Grandmothers Against the War, the Granny Peace Brigade, and the Raging Grannies -- held an historic event on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center Wednesday, Jan. 13, commemorating SIX years of their weekly peace vigil there begun on Jan. 14, 2004. Approximately 30 people stood in the bitter cold on Fifth Avenue to mark the long dedication of the vigilers.

Every effort was made to induce the media to cover the occasion, but no one showed up except for a journalist from Afghanistan radio and press. Perhaps this was attributable to the Haiti disaster, not just the sensation-seeking bent of today's reportage, but nevertheless one would hope there were a few journalists left to cover other substantial stories. The grannies were naturally disappointed at the press and media inattention but welcomed the chance, as they do every week, of showing passers-by, most of whom are tourists from around the globe, that at least some Americans have not succumbed to the apathy of the masses and are passionately struggling to end the terrible and immoral wars.

New York State Sen. Bill Perkins spoke of the importance of the grannies' weekly protest of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and remarked about the appropriateness of the occasion because of its conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday this coming Friday, Jan. 15. He suggested that the vigil attendees sing "We Shall Overcome," The group formed a circle and sang the stirring hymn out there on the sidewalks of New York, twice.

Names of the dead in Afghanistan, both our American military and Afghan civilians, were solemnly read, each name accompanied by the mournful sound of a ringing bell.

Among those marking the end of six years was a contingent of Veterans for Peace, who have stood with the grannies "On the Avenue" for almost the entire six-year watch. One of them, Chaplain Hugh Bruce, a Vietnam vet, spoke movingly at the vigil, noting that it we weren't pouring billions into these destructive and unjust wars we could ensure health care for everyone. Jenny Heinz, one of the original vigil stalwarts. also spoke to the group. "It's very sad to still be here at the beginning of the seventh year," Jenny said, "and to recognize that things are worse, not better -- policies that we thought were limited to the Bush administration now seem to have become institutionalized."

Said 94-year-old Lillian Pollak, a regular at the vigils, "It is imperative that our presence be known to the public. Mostly, the American people are oblivious to the fact that our young soldiers are dying and being grievously wounded more and more as the Afghanistan occupation is escalated. Also, people need to be made aware that we have continuing casualties in Iraq. This is to say nothing of the many, many innocent civilians who've become victims to our unethical bombs and drones. We grannies have tried in vain to stop these wars, but have to face the fact that we may not be able to do so in our lifetimes. We feel a duty to keep on keeping on as long as we are able and hope the American people will carry on our struggle after we are no longer here."

Barbara Walker, the Associate Director of Grandmothers Against the War, which initiated the vigil in 2004, and a co-founder of the Granny Peace Brigade, made a point of noting that the vigil has been held every single week all six years no matter what the elements throw at it -- rain, sleet, heat or cold. The only time the grandmothers were unable to hold a vigil was recently before Christmas on tree-lighting day when the vigil site was blocked from access. "That's a pretty good record for us old ladies, some in their 90's," she said proudly. One would have to agree, observing several of the women standing for the entire hour hanging on to walkers and canes.

Makes one marvel at the sterner stuff of these elder women of conscience, doesn't it? Let's hope they are not a dying breed.