Culture seekers streaming through Lincoln Center Tuesday evening, Oct. 18, were undoubtedly surprised to see a tableau not usually seen at the arts complex. Approximately 60 members of the Granny Peace Brigade and their followers formed a semi-circle around the fountain located in the midst of the plaza surrounded by the Koch Theatre (home of the New York City Ballet); the Metropolitan Opera House, and Avery Fisher Hall.
The mostly elderly women, interspersed with a few men, stood silently from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. wearing placards with messages such as "AGAINST WARS, INVASIONS, OCCUPATIONS" and "AGAINST U.S. MILITARFY BASES ABROAD." The main purpose of the action was to challenge the rules forbidding private public spaces being used to advance political agendas, in essence preventing freedom of speech. And, as always, the grannies meant to convey their anti-war, anti-militarization message. They chose the date to celebrate the six years since 18 of them were arrested and jailed on Oct. 18, 2005, when they tried to enlist to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way in an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
The grannies believe that because of the national and international crises currently prevailing, which sorely demand resolution, it is essential that there be opportunities to rally, to vigil, to demonstrate on behalf of peace and social justice wherever people congregate.
After about 20 minutes, an official from Lincoln Center came over to the group and said that they would have to disperse, and, if not, the police would be called. The peace people stood their ground. No police came, though they were at a nearby location ready to pounce. More time passed, and again the woman from Lincoln Center warned the grannies to leave the premises or the police would be called. The grannies continued standing silently, and again there was a notable absence of the men in blue to carry out the threat.
Promptly at 8 p.m., the grannies broke ranks and, as cameras flashed and the watching crowd burst into applause, spoke happily about their feelings of having accomplished their mission. They had, after all, held their vigil without interference.
One wondered why the police backed off from removing and presumably arresting the vigilers. Was it because they retain vestiges of their childhood respect and fear of their elders -- they were psychologically unable to clamp handcuffs on old women like their grannies?
Or was it because they've been getting a bad rap lately as stories have circulated about young women being pepper sprayed while peacefully marching with the Occupy Wall Street people, and for randomly brutally mistreating OWS persons on Brooklyn Bridge, in Citibank? If so, it was a wise decision. YouTube videos circulating throughout the world showing cops dragging white-haired old ladies into paddy wagons would not exactly enhance the reputation of New York's Finest!
So, have the grandmothers created a new precedent paving the way for future vigils and rallies to take place in public private spaces (or is it private public spaces)? Was this a unique event resulting from intimidated police confronted with their elders? Or if it's a younger assemblage next time, will the police revert to their old aggressive tactics?
Time will tell. One hopes, however, that a new chapter is beginning, allowing for more freedom to peaceably assemble in order to alert the public to the perilous circumstances confronting us all.