On the surface, it might be puzzling to try and connect a grandmother with the music profession, anti-war protesting and Occupy Wall Street. Let me enlighten you.
I’m a grandmother of five who happens to be a singer/keyboard player/yricist/composer. I’ve worked for years in Manhattan as a studio singer, playing night clubs and cabarets, television, writing and singing commercials, writing and recording songs, and evolving into writing seven musicals, four of which were produced off- and off-Broadway. In other words, I’ve covered almost the entire gamut of the music business except for opera and classical music ensembles. And, when the gigs slowed down at times, I did my share of duty at piano bars in lounges and gin mills.
I also raised two kids, both very talented musically. My son, Ron Wasserman, is the principal bass of the New York City Ballet and a regular sub at the NY Philharmonic. He also composes and orchestrates concertos and such. My daughter is a very talented singer who opted to become a speech therapist.
And, then, there are the grandchildren. No, I won’t bore you, in nauseatingl grandmotherly fashion, by extolling their virtues and accomplishments. But, they definitely play a role in my connection to the anti-war movement and Occupy Wall Street.
In 2003, shortly after we Shocked and Awed Iraq practically into oblivion, I saw a photo in Time Magazine of a 12-tear-old Baghdad boy, Ali, who had lost both arms, whose body was severely burned, and whose entire family had been killed. The reason for this catastrophe, I regret to say, was our dastardly bombing of his City. Horrified, I told myself that I had to DO something.
I conceived the idea of an anti-war group, to be called Grandmothers Against the War. I felt the concept of grannies protesting the war would carry some weight for a public mostly in favor of the invasion at that time and who tended to think of anti-war people as a bunch of hippie slobs. I began a weekly vigil at Rockefeller Center nearly 8 years ago which continues to this day. We engaged in numerous other actions, prominent among them being our arrest and jailing on Oct. 2005, when 18 of us old dames tried to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruitment center to replace America’s grandchildren being used as cannon fodder. We had lived long lives, we decided, and we wanted them to be able to, also, instead of being slaughtered in a criminal, unjust war. After a six-day trial in criminal court, defended by the legendary civil liberties lawyer, Norman Siegel, we were acquitted. It was a big story all over the world.
During this period, I employed my musical skills on behalf of our movement. I wrote songs and skits and playlets for us grannies to perform. I figured that protesting should have an element of fun and entertainment to it so it could be more easily digested by a public wary of actions challenging the Establishment. As the Granny Peace Brigade, we performed some memorable rally shows — one in the middle of Times Square on Valentine’s Day, one outside the Federal Penitentiary, many on our trek from New York to Washington and points in between. Some of my anti-war stuff is on YouTube, in fact.
One thing we grandmothers kept asking during the years of our activism: “Where are the young people? Why aren’t they protesting, as they did during the Vietnam War?” Without the kids, we knew we could never stop the wars as they had in the Vietnam era. Slowly, our hopes for peace began to waver, though we never stopped trying. The lack of activism among America’s young was disheartening, to say the least. Without their energy and commitment, it seemed as if we were just going to sink further and further into a morass of carnage, deprivation, poverty, and general economic decline, with endless wars sucking up our human and material resources. As a grandma, this was a source of great worry to me. The thought of my grandchildren’s futures in such darkness shadowed my days and dampened my spirits.
And, then, miracle of miracles! Occupation Wall Street began! My hopes began to soar as it quickly gained a toehold on the public’s consciousness. In a flash, our world turned right side up. No more babbling about debt ceilings and corporate personhood. Now, we were focused on the nitty gritty of our existence — the oppression of the uber rich on the lives of the 99%; the greed and cruelty of the banks kidnapping people’s homes; the government’s obeisance to the 1% and its consequent neglect of everybody else’s most basic needs.
I wanted to be part of this wonderful thing. It seemed to me that it would be helpful if there were more stress put on the relationship of the obscene costs of our wars to the sinking of our economy, and I wanted to help make that point. As soon as I became aware that there was now an anti-war committee as part of OWS, I joined up.
So there it is — musician to grandmother to anti-war activist to Occupy Wall Street member. And to complete this circle now….OCCUPY MUSICIAN! Scooby dooby oolya du bop!
Joan Wile is also author of Grandmothers Against the War; Getting Off Our Fannies And Standing Up For Peace (Citadel Press)