Grannies Rage Against the Machine

The five elderly women stood in front of a U.S. Army recruiting office in Tucson, Arizona, and began to sing. To the tune of "There’s No Business Like Show Business," they belted out the lyrics they had written:

"There’s no business like war business
The worst business we know
Never mind the homeless and the hungry,
Never mind the people without jobs
Nowhere can you get that special feeling
Than when you’re piling up the bombs.

"There’s no business like war business
The best business we know
Multinational profits going through the sky
They multiply while children die
The same amount buys food and clothes
For everyone all over the world."

The group, known as the Raging Grannies of Tucson (RGT), has been performing its "act" outside the recruiting office every Wednesday for the past three years as a protest to the war in Iraq.

But this Wednesday was different. They decided to go inside the office – to enlist in the Army.

"We would rather offer ourselves up and have our grandchildren brought home out of harm’s way," said RGT spokesperson Pat Birnie.

"We were told protesters weren’t allowed on the premises, but we said we were there to enlist," she said. "We went in saying we were here to enlist, but they didn’t believe us. We read a statement, sang songs, and then we left."

Birnie, 75, said the protesters were well outside the recruiting office when police arrived and said they were trespassing, a criminal offense.

The group – five "grannies" and two journalists – were charged with trespass and appeared in court earlier this week. They entered not guilty pleas and were told to appear an Aug. 19 pretrial hearing.

The women, who range from 55 to 81 years old, are decades older than the maximum allowable age for recruits.

Birnie said the charge was an "overreaction," and that the grannies had been serious about joining the Army.

Nancy Hutchinson, an Army spokeswoman in Arizona, told the Associated Press that those opposed to the Iraq war should contact their legislators rather than bother recruiters. "They need to direct their frustrations at people who have the power to change things," she said.

She added that the protesters were not serious about enlisting and were harassing recruiters.

The RGT are associated with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

The women are "pretty thoroughly antiwar; we’re concerned about the environment and what’s happening to civil liberties," said Birnie, who was with the women when they entered the recruiting center on July 13, but was not charged.

She said two recruiters told the group not to enter, but the women said they had come to enlist, read a statement, and sang two protest songs. By the time they returned to the sidewalk outside, police had arrived.

The RGT members contend that recruits have been lied to, said Birnie. "We feel that our lives are pretty well used up and that the young people so many times are killed in battle or come home traumatized," she said.

The Raging Grannies was founded by Canadian activists 19 years ago. The idea has spread throughout the world, and can be traced on the Internet.

The mission of the Tucson Raging Grannies, according to its Web site, is to promote global peace, justice, and social and economic equality by raising public awareness through the medium of song and humor.

"Our goal is to challenge our audiences to work to bring about the social changes that are required in order to end economic oppression, particularly of women and children, and to end racial inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, and arms proliferation."

An independent journalist who was with the Grannies when they entered the recruiting center wrote that they "were hoping the recruiters would have shown more humor with the activists. Instead, [the sergeant in charge] called Tucson police and had everyone cited."

Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at the University of California, warned that "antiwar grannies could become a new target for FBI surveillance."

"We can expect the authorities to deal more harshly in the legal system with the Grannies than the Pentagon has with soldiers in Iraq accused of murder who have gotten off scot-free," he told IPS.

According to an Army battalion commander from Phoenix, the charges were pressed by the landlord of the building, not by the Army itself. He declined to give any other information about the incident.

"My sense is that it’s such an absurd charge that the judge will excuse it," Birnie said.

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Author: William Fisher

William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.