Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Terrorist Grannies Arrested

These dangerous ladies in their colorful outfits were arrested yesterday at a sit-in held at the Army recruiting center in Capitola south of Santa Cruz. They are members of the Raging Grannies, the entertainment wing of the local chapter of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and before they were taken off to the slammer for their crime, they sang songs at a rally on the steps of the small shopping center where the military recruiters do their dirty work. The crowd of about 100 carrying anti-war banners, posters and flags, sang along with them. Here is their version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again":
The Grannies went marching one by one,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
They marched to where recruiting's done,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
Their message simply was "No War"
Please send us there, we'll stop the gore,
and we'll all be safe when Grannies run the World!!
Other subversive lyrics were written to the tunes of "Down by the Riverside" ("Won't Take This War No More"), John Denver's "Country Roads" ("Bring 'em Home") and "You'll Never Walk Alone" ("You'll Never Talk Alone" about illegal government wiretaps).

The lady in front (above) with the "Honk for Peace" sign is the tiny but indefatigable Ruth Hunter, 91, who has been in and out of jails and prisons most of her life for peace and social justice protests. Also arrested was Ellie Foster, 81, seen above with her walker as the burly cop took her to the waiting police car. Ellie, who spoke passionately to her supporters before being arrested about her hatred of war, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa when she was younger, She is also a Quaker and a long-time peace activist. In a flier passed out at the rally, the Grannies announced their plan to risk arrest "for exercising our First Amendment rights." They promised to eschew violence and not to destroy any property. Presumably that was reassuring to the Army and Navy recruiters who met with them after the rally, even when they refused to leave the offices and police were called. Arrested along with Ellie and Ruth were Phyllis Greenleaf, 64; Jan Harwood, 75; Stephanie Keenan, 63; Barbara Riverwomon, 69; Judy Geer, 67, and musician/artist Russ Brutsché who had entertained the rally earlier with his songs.

Along with Ruth (photo at right) and her radical comrades, those taken into custody included David Hofvendahl from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He accompanied his 16-year-old son Trevor who had made an appointment with the recruiters to protest the unwanted literature he receives in the mail which attempts to entice him into joining the war machine. ("Play video games with us!", "We will pay your college tuition!") When asked to leave by the recruiters, the building manager (who claimed to also be against the war) and the police, the Raging Grannies responded by reading a list of names of soldiers killed in Iraq. They sang another song with the lyrics "they're our children, stop the killin'." Rally organizer Sherry Conable offered the authorities a bowl full of organic strawberries, and another woman handed out carrots. During the rally before the arrests, one recruiter in Army fatigues could be seen taking pictures of the crowd with his cell phone camera. Protesters were given three warnings that they would be arrested for taking part in an unlawful assembly on private property. When the ten remaining did not leave, they were taken in police cars to the Capitola Police station and then released.

I left the rally with a heavy heart before the arrests took place. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, symbols of America's swaggering hegemony in the world, I have been to countless rallies, marches and vigils for peace, in my home town and also in San Francisco. For nearly six years I have carried candles and held placards and signs, banners and flags, and I have waved the peace sign at both friendly and angry drivers in passing cars. Once I was hit in the leg by a thrown egg. As a driver myself, I have honked like hell for peace. And yet the war goes on and the madness in Washington continues.

The median age at the rally in front of the recruiting offices yesterday was the same as me, which meant that half the crowd were in their 70's and 80's. There seemed to be more photographers and voyeurs with video cameras than participants. The only young people there were the teenage Trevor, undoubtedly influenced by his pacifist father, who got himself arrested, and the young daughter of another protester. School was out for the summer and vacationing students were not doubt at the beach on a sunny and warm Tuesday afternoon. Responsible adults were at work (although the noon time for the rally allowed workers on to come during their lunch breaks). Surely, now that most of the people polled in this country are against the war, there should be a bigger and more representative turnout?

The news could not be worse. The Vice President is claiming that he is immune from any limits put on the Executive Branch of government. The politically motivated Attorney General (an office that should be bipartisan if any should be) refuses to resign. The CIA has been forced to reveal documents going back 30-40 years that detail High Crimes and Misdemeanors around the world (especially illegal when they take place in the U.S.). Powerful Republicans, including the respected Sen. Richard Lugar, are telling Bush that his war strategy and foreign policy is toast. Michael Moore is exposing the unhealthy and corrupt American medical system in his new documentary "Sicko." Besides the continuing slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, American inaction in Israel has allowed the oppressed Palestinians to undergo even worse suffering from a civil war. And if all that wasn't bad enough, Apple released its new iPhone and Paris was released from jail (her first act was to get her hair done). Now really, people, is this what we want for our world?

It's easy for me to criticize America now because I'm leaving. This is a nation of ostriches, people with their heads stuck firmly in the sand, ignorant of what is going on around them. It's too easy to say that reality TV trumps reality every time. While I appreciate the political theater that was staged by my respected elders yesterday at the recruiting center (hopefully it might produce a sound bite on national TV), it was only a tiny gesture, ignored by Simon on "American Idol" and the Paris chasers on Entertainment Tonight. Are we (I use "we" loosely now that I am leaving the ship) doomed? Is it too late to keep this nation, which once seemed to hold out so much promise to the masses yearning to be free, from self-destructing?

The answer, I think, is no. Just as it is probably too late to prevent the consequences of global warming (we would have to stop usual fossil fuels NOW for that to happen), I doubt that America can be saved without immediate and radical surgery (didn't Jefferson say we needed a revolution every generation to keep healthy?). Global free trade dictates that incomes in this country must go down, down, down (while the CEOs buy yachts and islands with their inflated compensation). Homeland Security means that individual rights will be sacrificed at the whim of corporate lackeys in high government office. As for entertainment, we are already drugged into early senility by bread & circuses.

A correspondent asks me to explain why Americans seem more stressed than Europeans. I think she is looking for a way to describe the terminal anxiety she sees in the Americans she meets. And Americans who travel abroad, a distinct minority, are probably more relaxed than those they left behind at home who are locked into private spaces, fearful of terrorists and muggers and child molesters, to name only a few of their demons. The root of the problem is the insularity of a country hidden behind two oceans to the east and west, behind a tall fence to the south which inefficiently keeps out brown immigrants, and from its inferior cousins to the north. Americans are traditionally isolationist even when they are trying to control the rest of the world with their bloated military police. Unlike citizens of other countries, most Americans cannot speak another language. They think "un-American" is the highest form of insult, when people elsewhere consider it a blessing. George Bush has managed to put an ugly face on a culture that once welcomed the world into its arms. A Thai friend who likes to travel and has been just about everywhere told me that the last place she would visit is the United States.

Enough doom and gloom for today. The fog over Santa Cruz is lifting its dismal head, and the only way I can get away from these dark thoughts is to go outside into the sun.

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