As part of the week-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirt Factory fire of March 25, 2011, the first Clara Lemlich Award was presented to thirty older women on March 21 in a ceremony at the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Three of the recipients are members of the legendary anti-war group, the Granny Peace Brigade. The Award was given "in celebration of unsung activists."
The members of the Granny Peace Brigade receiving the Award were Marie Runyon, 96; Lillian Pollak, 95, and Joan Wile, 79. Another Granny Peace Brigader, actress-activist Vinie Burrows, presented the Awards.
The Granny Peace Brigade came to the forefront of public awareness on Oct. 17, 2005, at which time 18 women were arrested and jailed at the Times Square recruiting center when they tried to enlist in the military as a means of replacing America's grandchildren in harm's way. The grannies felt they had been privileged to live long lives and didn't want young people denied that privilege because of a war based on a lie.
The grandmothers were on trial for six days at the end of which they were acquitted of the charge against them -- blocking a public entrance. Each of the 18 women were given the opportunity during the trial to express their reasons for engaging in civil disobedience and were, in essence, therefore able to turn the tables and put the war on trial.
Marie Runyon, one of the 2005 arrestees, was honored for her life-long work as a housing activist; Lillian Pollak for her years of activism and recent publication of a novel, "The Sweetest Dream," a historical novel about the radical politics of the 30's; and Joan Wile, also an arrestee, for founding Grandmothers Against the War in 2003 which led to the formation of the Granny Peace Brigade. Vinie Burrows, another one of the "Times Square 18,"
in addition to her internationally acclaimed reputation as an actress-playwright, is also known for her role as Permanent Representative for the U.N. Women's International Democratic Federation.
Clara Lemlich was a young woman garment worker who, after the fire, successfully organized women workers in the industry to go on strike for better, safer working conditions. Her organizing was the basis of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).
"We are very honored to be chosen for this significant award," said Ms. Runyon, "particularly in view of the fact that so many of us Granny Peace Brigaders are among the recipients. Three out of thirty is pretty awesome.
And, I hope we inspire elderly people with our ability even at our ages to continue contributing to peace and social justice."