Two years ago I heard about a weekly anti-war vigil at Rockefeller Center. Low-key, with handmade signs, an unrelated group of grandmothers made their statement.
Joan Wile, on left in photo, started it. She asked her grandchildren to use their colored markers to create the banner, selected the location for its high visibility to natives and tourists. Rain, snow, sleet, Joan is there--4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday. People walking by would ask if they could join—you don’t have to be a grandmother, she explained. Veterans for Peace, men who served in Vietnam, became regular vigilers with the grandmothers.
As the Iraq war dragged on and on, Joan met with local chapters of national women’s groups.* They’d heard about grandmothers in Tucson, Arizona, who tried to enlist in the military. Would that get attention in glamour-driven New York? They decided to do it. As Joan said, “We’ve had our time…let us replace young people…We’ve lived long lives, so better us than them.”
October 17, 2005 was the day. The Times Square Recruiting center was the place. The 18 women, from 49 to 90, rang the bell to enter. Immediately the door was locked from the inside. Sitting down on the sidewalk, the group began to chant, “We insist, we want to enlist.” Helping them to their feet—there was one woman with a walker—the NYC Police put plastic handcuffs on them and loaded them into paddy wagons. And that was just the beginning.
One of many supporters, I answered bystander questions--knitting in hand--as this new chapter in the life of Grandmothers Against the War began. Their trial is April 20.
[Look for a chapter near you at
*Gray Panthers, WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), New York City Raging Grannies,
Peace Action New York State, Code Pink NY Women for Peace