"Peace on YOU!" shouts Irv Horowitz, edging dangerously off the curb and into weekend traffic.
He shakes his fist at a young man in a Volvo, who is frowning and giving a thumbs down to the crowd carrying signs with such slogans as "No blood for oil."
"We want peace, not war!" Horowitz cries.
Not bad for a 76-year-old grandfather and snowbird who lives in a Deerfield Beach retirement community.
Peace activist Alice Jarvis, 93, spoke at a recent rally at the Boca Raton campus of Florida Atlantic University to protest a war with Iraq.
(Sun-Sentinel/Nicholas R. Von Staden)
Go to any rally or gathering these days, as the peace movement accelerates to full throttle, and there are plenty of senior citizens waving signs and raising their voices.
There were more than a few silver heads, including those of Horowitz and his wife, among about 75 demonstrators clustered at a busy intersection recently in Sunrise as part of a worldwide uprising against the possibility of a U.S. war against Iraq. The same was true at a Feb. 14 rally at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where a 93-year-old and her walker took the stage.
And when Peace South Florida held an organizational meeting last month, at least one-third of the 26 people in the room appeared to be in their late 50s or older.
Some are newcomers to the demonstration scene. Others were civilly disobedient way back when, even hauling their children to demonstrations about the Cold War, the Vietnam War and nuclear war.
"I've been a Democrat since 1932, and I've fought against just about everything," said Alice Jarvis, of West Palm Beach, the 93-year-old speaker who was a union organizer in her youth.
Jarvis attaches a string loop to her protest signs so she can sling them around her neck because her walker requires her to keep her hands free. She had to give up her driver's license three years ago, so now her daughter, Kathy Jarvis, or friends drive her to peace appointments.
She compensates for limited mobility by grabbing the phone whenever she has a minute and calling people, picking names randomly from the telephone book. "Listen, my name is Alice Jarvis. I'm 93 years old, and I don't support this war," she'll say.
Talk to enough senior peaceniks, and a common goal emerges: They want to stop the country they love -- and that many of them or their family members fought for in World War II -- from charging into what they consider an unnecessary and unjust war. They're worried about their grandchildren's future. They're worried about the world's future.
"I don't think President Bush is getting us into this for purely democratic reasons or with the purest of motives," said Murray Hirsh, 78. Drawing on skills honed during local campaigns for national Democratic candidates, he organized Seniors For Peace out of his Century Village retirement complex in Pembroke Pines.
The group is demonstrating today on Pines Boulevard, not far from the village gates. Members are carrying their posters because their police permit forbids them to have signs on sticks. "They thought we could use the sticks as weapons," Hirsh said.
Most senior protesters still remember World War II as a just conflict that they supported then and now. But many older veterans promoting peace today have powerfully mixed feelings about the morality of that war and the reality of the battlefield.
Hirsh was so eager to fight the Japanese he tried to enlist in the Navy at 17. When he finally got to the Pacific the following year, as part of a chemical-warfare division, what he saw during the invasion of Luzon appalled him.
"We were there for months and saw an entire hillside fill with bodies," he said. "It's easy for people who have not seen the gore of war, or who don't have kids in the service, to be hawkish."
E. Charles Chatfield, a retired Springfield, Ohio, college history professor who spent his career researching and writing about the U.S. peace movement, said Americans today typically are moved to protest war on either moral or political grounds or both. People in their 70s and 80s were more likely to have grown up with an idealized vision of America, he said, experiencing World War II as a public cause with international allies.
They also are more likely to see the United States as "a city on the hill," Chatfield said, a nation that leads by shining example but doesn't force its policies on other countries, especially not through something as drastic as a pre-emptive war.
Observers shouldn't be surprised that the Iraq conflict is pushing the peacenik buttons of seniors, he said.
More time to rally
They also shouldn't be surprised to see grandmothers and grandfathers, typically pictured playing cards or golf, spending their leisure time making protest signs and shouting on street corners. Residents of all ages have marched for peace since the movement began in America almost 200 years ago, said Chatfield, a professor emeritus at Wittenberg University.
"But Vietnam came, and the radical, the young got the media attention because we had television," Chatfield said. "That's the image that stays with us today."
Still, waging peace is not for sissies, especially for older folks. Hirsh worries about skin cancer; he and most senior protesters wear protective headgear, such as golf caps and sun hats. Others bring lawn chairs, doing their own version of a sit-in.
Sleeping on the Mall is out, as some did years ago when they were part of the massive 1963 March on Washington during the Vietnam era.
The Horowitzes timed their annual snowbird migration south so they could participate in the rally at the U.S. Capitol last month, a place where they had protested more than 30 years ago.
"It was so cold. I had someone sit on my feet to keep warm," Helen Horowitz said. They quickly beat a retreat to a local hotel.
But the rebellious spirit still burns bright, undimmed by poor eyesight or arthritis. Police politely threatened to arrest Jarvis and some other members of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom as they handed out fliers at a West Palm Beach post office.
"Go ahead, son," she told them. "I've been in jail before."
Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel