Grandmothers of Invention

Older is bitter—when it comes to the war in Iraq. A peek inside the granny-power movement.

"I'm not too worried about the trial," Wile says confidently.

Jail time doesn't faze some of the more experienced types. Huston, 74, of Brooklyn, has decided she'd rather spend time behind bars than accept any other form of punishment—such as community service or a $250 fine.

"Oh hell!" says Runyon. "I would go to jail if I had to just to make the goddamn point! You've got to make a statement."

Grannies hold court at their weekly vigil outside Rockefeller Center.
photo: Mark Manley
Grannies hold court at their weekly vigil outside Rockefeller Center.

Of course, the New York grannies have done more than make a statement. They've sparked something of a movement. When Marjorie Lasky, 66, of Berkeley, read the headlines about the local grannies, she recalls, "I said to myself and to a group of women friends, 'We could do this.' "

By November, she and dozens of other grandmas had formed the Bay Area Grandmothers Against the War, in honor of their New York counterparts. By February, they had designated Valentine's Day a national enlistment action day, prompting 15 anti-war granny groups to try to enlist in 15 cities from Oakland to Cleveland and Baltimore to Barre, Vermont. Last Monday, the Bay Area group spearheaded another action around tax day, with anti-war grannies hitting the streets in Philadelphia, Madison, Detroit, and naturally, New York City.

"Our numbers are growing," Lasky says. Her group has plans to host a national gathering of anti-war granny groups some day. "Cool, huh?" Lasky enthuses. "Isn't it cool?"

So why are all these little old ladies taking to the streets? Simple, says NYU's Zimmerman. "These grandmothers come out of a political context in which vivid and loud protest was the norm," he notes. Ask the grannies, and they will likely tell you that they took to the streets to end the Vietnam War and segregation and a myriad of other causes that defined the 1960s and '70s. By contrast, Zimmerman says, "it seems to me that young people haven't engaged in that kind of mass protest. It isn't part of their political experience."

Maybe that's why the 18 members of the Granny Peace Brigade remind their own lawyer of the good old protest days. As Siegel has it, "The grannies remind me of the whole 'We Shall Overcome' movement. They're very positive and upbeat and warm. Recently in New York, I have not found that spirit."

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