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Joan Wile

Joan Wile is the Founder of Grandmothers Against the War and the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace" (Citadel Press)

October 4th, 2010 3:20 PM

New York City Super-Elderly Take a Lead in Protesting the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Hold NYC Supplement to One Nation March in Washington DC October 2

Just because one is 80, 90 or older, don't think for one moment one doesn't still retain the power to effectively protest the wrongs committed by our Government.

Many old people wished to go to Washington D.C. Saturday, October 2, to join the One Nation March to advocate an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but were too infirm or disabled to make the long, difficult trek. Did that stop them from participating in the day's protests? Not on your life.

In Manhattan, a group of very old residents of the Hallmark seniors apartment building in Battery Park City, average age 88, solved that dilemma by holding their own alternative demonstration. Approximately 75 people, many in wheelchairs and leaning on walkers and canes, circled a little park on North End Avenue for about an hour and a half carrying such signs as "How Is the War Economy Working for You?" and "Bring them Home from Afghanistan and Iraq," and occasionally breaking into chants of "Peace...NOW," and the like.

One of the main organizers of the event, 94-year-old Harold Hirschlag, a retired CPA, declared, "We at the Hallmark senior residence are shocked that our government has allowed and participated in the killing of thousands of human beings in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the thousands of U. S. soldiers. There is no end in sight. The troops and funds for that war are desperately needed for the very poor conditions here in the U.S."

The Hallmark is unique, it is believed, in having a very active political action committee, the Hallmark PAC. It was begun when the facility was first completed 10 years ago. The group has supported candidates for public office and arranges regular talks by politicians, administrators of government programs and experts in areas of interest to the residents.

Its current president, former New York City public school early education teacher Frances Berrick, almost 90, explains the motivation for their anti-war event: "In the 50's and 60's, our kids were involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement. It worries us that there isn't the same push against these unnecessary wars among the younger people. So, even though we can only walk around the park twice before we have to sit down, we felt it necessary to show our strong feeling that we have to stop this needless slaughter that is going on in the middle east."

The Battery Park City protesters were joined by members of Grandmothers Against the War, the Granny Peace Brigade, and the Raging Grannies, turning the event into far more than a local event but rather an anti-war rally of determined and dedicated Peacenik oldsters from all over the City. There was also a small contingent of Veterans for Peace. The great civil liberties attorney, Norman Siegel, who had defended the peace grannies when they were on trial for trying to enlist in the military at Times Square in October 2005, also marched in the rally (though he is far from being in the oldster category).

The numbers of marchers were small compared to those in D.C., to be sure, but inasmuch as it was the first public protest by the Battery Park old folks, it can be perceived as a hopeful sign that more and more people are waking up to the reality that the U.S. must end these wars right away if we are to solve any of our problems of joblessness, inadequate health care and education, and all the other urgent dilemmas we are facing today.

Perhaps these elderly patriots don't have the energy of their younger days, but nevertheless they continue to struggle to end the wars and build a better society. Ms. Berrick, who is legally blind, sums it up when she says, "You don't give up. You just do what you're able to do."

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