Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Miracle Operation That Enabled Me to Become an Anti-war Activist

When I was 72 years old, I felt like 100. Now that I am 79, I feel like 35 (well, most of the time). What caused this turnaround? The scuttling of an arthritic old left hip and its replacement with one made of cobalt chrome and polyethelene.

I had been suffering for more than a year with lots of pain which gradually immobilized me to the point where I couldn't walk more than a quarter of a block without having to sit down. A normally active person, this was, to put it conservatively, a decided nuisance. I visited the eminent New York orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Phillip Bauman, who informed me that I would ultimately require the replacement surgery, but that it was up to me to decide when. Being an inveterate coward, I kept postponing it even long after the miserable old bone had become intensely painful to keep in my body. Finally, the discomfort and inconvenience became great enough to overcome my bounteous lack of courage, and I scheduled the surgery.

Dr. Bauman is right out of Central Casting. He is slim and handsome with just enough gray hair peppered among its darker neighbors to add a big dose of distinction. He is soft-spoken, sympathetic and reassuring. His stellar reputation helped a great deal to give me the guts to undertake the cure. I knew he had operated successfully on many of our great ballet dancers, and I saw that he had been chosen for many years as one of New York Magazine's 100 Best Doctors in New York. How could I go wrong?

Well, I couldn't. The surgery was relatively untraumatic, and I recovered quickly with little pain. In five or six weeks I was walking without a cane and without discomfort. From a crippled old woman, I had materialized into an active young one again. I asked myself, as does practically every hip replacement veteran who postpones surgery beyond a reasonable time, "Why on earth didn't I do this sooner and spare myself all that agony?"

Within a year of my operation, on March 20, 2003, the United States conducted its immoral and unjustified Shock and Awe assault on Baghdad. Like so many other right-minded people, I marched in protests prior to the actual attack -- MARCHED, mind you, inconceivable without my new hip -- and then, once the war was an awful reality, became a full-time anti-war advocate.

A few months after we invaded Iraq, I saw a photograph in TIME Magazine of a 14-year-old boy, Ali, who had lost his arms, was hideously burned all over his torso, and, as if that weren't enough torment for a child to endure, lost his entire nuclear family -- his parents and many siblings. These tragedies were caused, to our eternal shame, by OUR bombs.

I thought, "I have to DO something." And, I did. I started a group, Grandmothers Against the War, and initiated a rally at the Eleanor Roosevelt Statue in Manhattan's Riverside Park. Next, I began a vigil on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center on a freezing January day in 2004, which continues every Wednesday to this day. It began with just two of us and now has escalated to an average of 15-20 people. I could never have possibly even considered such an action prior to my surgery. There is just no way I could have stood on my feet for an hour and done the walking necessary to get to and from the vigil site.

Our next big event was the arrest of 18 of us grandmothers, our jailing and subsequent six-day trial in criminal court for attempting to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting center in order to replace the young people in harm's way so they'd have the opportunity to live long lives as we had. We were arrested because, denied entrance to the recruiting station, we all sat down on the concrete ground and refused to move, knowing we were within our Constitutional rights to peacefully dissent. Even with my artificial hip, getting down on the ground was a laborious effort. Getting up was even more problematic. I looked like an ungainly elephant as I untangled myself from the ground and clumsily pulled myself up. But, because of my faux new hip, I did it! Sitting in jail later for five hours on a hard wooden bench would have been unthinkable, also, with my old diseased hip. I tell you, that surgery really opened up new vistas in my life! After all, who wouldn't want the fascinating experience of being incarcerated in a prison cell? Incidentally, we were acquitted of all charges. The whole episode created quite a media stir.

I was able to participate in many activities of the group we now called the Granny Peace Brigade -- song-and-dance performances by us grannies in shows we created; a trip to Berlin to give speeches to peace groups; a ten-day trek from New York to Washington DC with stops along the way at various cities and towns; marches across the Brooklyn Bridge, and many other endeavors requiring LEGS and, therefore, HIPS. By the grace of the good Doctor Bauman, I was able to do all this.

I wasn't the only granny in my group to have a hip replacement. Three others had them, and one, Beverly Rice, had a double hip replacement in one surgery. All recovered well and have marched, protested, stood for long hours, and gone to jail without any physical limitation whatsoever.

There are now 500,000 hip replacement surgeries performed in a year, a huge increase since 1990, when there were 119,000. In Dr. Bauman's vast experience, for instance, he has performed well over 1,000 of such operations. Though it has been reported recently that certain implants have been found to be faulty and are being recalled, Dr. Bauman fortunately never used any of the deficient ones. The increase in such miracle surgeries is attributable, of course, to the fact that so many people are living longer. And, the Baby Boomers, now entering their 50's and 60's, are requiring this type of surgery in large numbers, perhaps because of the exercise and fitness craze indulged in by that generation which wears out joints more rapidly than previous generations with their less physically active life styles. And, even people of advanced ages can have their hips replaced. Dr. Bauman did so recently on an 85-year-old person.

Many complain about the failures of medicine, and its pitfalls. Yes, it is deplorable that there still is no cure for cancer, for Alzheimer's, for ALS, and a slew of other awful diseases. Yes, it is terrible that so many deaths occur in hospitals because of mistakes in medications, and rampant staph infections.

But, modern medicine has made stupendous strides forward, too. Were it not for this advance in orthopedic surgery, I would now be living in a wheelchair, loaded up with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, cranky from pain and restless inactivity. The fact is, Dr. Bauman gave me back my life. In fact, he enabled me to start a new life I had never contemplated. I am able to do what I consider my patriotic duty and go out on the streets to oppose the misguided foreign policies of my government. At this stage of my life, that feels damned good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


President Obama often expressed during his campaign that if he became President he wanted we, the people, to let him know when we thought he needed a reality check. Accordingly, New York City's Granny Peace Brigade has been out on the City's streets lately conducting a survey of citizens as to how they want their tax dollars spent. I think their results would surprise him and would perhaps motivate Mr. Obama to make some serious adjustments to the federal budget.

The grannies have been conducting their survey with the aid of a unique gadget named Ms. Gizmo, consisting of eight tubes representing eight major budget items. They are marked Arts and Culture; Education; Environment and Clean Energy; Health Care; Housing; Jobs; Military; and Transportation. The women give each person participating twenty pennies which they are then invited to put into the tubes of their choice. At the end of each session, the grandmothers total up the numbers of pennies in each category.

In addition to getting a sense of where people want their tax money to go, the Ms. Gizmo actions provide an opportunity to educate and motivate the public. Those joining in the fun are very enthusiastic, and there is much dialogue between the grannies and the survey takers. It seems to be an excellent way to get people to think seriously about how the obscenely high military budget drastically reduces funding for domestic needs.

It's amazing how the priorities of our citizens differ markedly from the current budget. For instance, whereas today's federal budget spends 48% on current and past military expenses, the survey reveals that altogether the participants want to devote only 5% to the military. Interestingly, the ONLY group that put a good supply of pennies into the military tube were young adolescent boys in East Harlem. We speculate that this is a result of the relentless military recruitment conducted in minority schools and the lack of jobs for these young people forcing them to turn to the military for economic survival.

On the other hand, for example, the U.S. budget only earmarks 38% to ALL human resources, which includes health and human services; education; food/nutrition programs; housing and urban development; and other human resources. That seems woefully small, does it not, when compared to the enormous amounts of money allocated for the military? The Ms. Gizmo participants want to devote 19% to just health care alone, 21% for education alone and 19% solely for jobs.

Of course, it can't be claimed that this is a scientifically accurate poll. However, it does cover a variety of populations -- Brooklyn workers, the lower east side community heavily populated by university students and artists, the upper West Side professionals and yuppies, East Harlem Latinos, the opinionated denizens of Union Square, and the fun-seeking crowds from everywhere who flock to 42nd Street.

It is known that Mr. Obama is a very punctilious person when it comes to getting the facts right, so perhaps he would be interested in learning the full results for the budget which 538 people in six different locations wished for:

Arts & Culture -- 8%
Education -- 21%
Environment & Clean Energy - 9%
Health Care - 19%
Housing -- 12%
Jobs -- 19%
Military -- 5%
Transportation -- 6%

It is urgently hoped that President Obama "gets the message!"

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Just because one is 80, 90 or older, don't think for one moment one doesn't still retain the power to effectively protest the wrongs committed by our Government.

Many old people wished to go to Washington DC Saturday, October 2, to join the One Nation March to advocate an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but were too infirm or disabled to make the long, difficult trek. Did that stop them from participating in the day's protests? Not on your life.

In Manhattan, a group of very old residents of the Hallmark seniors apartment building in Battery Park City, average age 88, solved that dilemma by holding their own alternative demonstration. Approximately 75 people, many in wheelchairs and leaning on walkers and canes, circled a little park on North End Avenue for about an hour and a half carrying such signs as "How Is the War Economy Working for You?" and "Bring them Home from Afghanistan and Iraq," and occasionally breaking into chants of "Peace...NOW," and the like.

One of the main organizers of the event, 94-year-old Harold Hirschlag, a retired CPA, declared, "We at the Hallmark senior residence are shocked that our government has allowed and participated in the killing of thousands of human beings in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the thousands of U. S. soldiers. There is no end in sight. The troops and funds for that war are desperately needed for the very poor conditions here in the U.S."

The Hallmark is unique, it is believed, in having a very active political action committee, the Hallmark PAC. It was begun when the facility was first completed 10 years ago. The group has supported candidates for public office and arranges regular talks by politicians, administrators of government programs and experts in areas of interest to the residents.

Its current president, former New York City public school early education teacher Frances Berrick, almost 90, explains the motivation for their anti-war event: "In the 50's and 60's, our kids were involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement. It worries us that there isn't the same push against these unnecessary wars among the younger people. So, even though we can only walk around the park twice before we have to sit down, we felt it necessary to show our strong feeling that we have to stop this needless slaughter that is going on in the middle east."

The Battery Park City protesters were joined by members of Grandmothers Against the War, the Granny Peace Brigade, and the Raging Grannies, turning the event into far more than a local event but rather an anti-war rally of determined and dedicated Peacenik oldsters from all over the City. There was also a small contingent of Veterans for Peace. The great civil liberties attorney, Norman Siegel, who had defended the peace grannies when they were on trial for trying to enlist in the military at Times Square in October 2005, also marched in the rally (though he is far from being in the oldster category).

The numbers of marchers were small compared to those in DC, to be sure, but inasmuch as it was the first public protest by the Battery Park old folks, it can be perceived as a hopeful sign that more and more people are waking up to the reality that the U.S. must end these wars right away if we are to solve any of our problems of joblessness, inadequate health care and education, and all the other urgent dilemmas we are facing today.

Perhaps these elderly patriots don't have the energy of their younger days, but nevertheless they continue to struggle to end the wars and build a better society. Ms. Berrick, who is legally blind, sums it up when she says, "You don't give up. You just do what you're able to do."