Forsaking picnics and hotdog contests, two staples of New York City July 4 celebrations, area peace grandmothers held a unique holiday event, the Third Annual Reading of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence in beautiful Strawberry Fields. The readings were conducted on a gorgeous day in Yoko Ono's Central Park oasis dedicated to the memory of her husband, John Lennon. It is believed that this celebration is unique in the United States.
More than 100 people attended, many volunteering to read various amendments. Among the readers were 94-year-old Marie Runyon, and 90-year-old Molly Klopot, both members of the legendary Granny Peace Brigade. Marie and Molly were arrested and jailed in October 2005 when they, along with 16 other Brigade women, attempted to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting station.
The grannies were on trial for 6 days in Criminal Court, defended successfully by eminent civil liberties and Constitutional scholar, Norman Siegel, who led the ceremonies today. At times, Siegel commented on how some of the amendments were being subverted today, as well as giving interesting background information on the creation of the documents. For instance, he pointed out how Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies that only Congress shall declare war, and yet since the end of World War 2, we've been involved in too many wars not declared by that body in too many places we shouldn't have been and shouldn't now be. He also explained that the 1st Amendment, which guarantees the right of citizens to peaceably assemble has been abused right in Central Park where it is now forbidden to gather in large groups to peacefully protest. He urged the attendees to fight to "take back our park."
Code Pink and Granny Peace Brigade member, Ann Shirazi, reading Article 2 of the Constitution on July 4. Norman Siegel is on the right. (Photo by Masahiro Hosada)
Siegel remarked: "The Constitutional system -- we should try it sometime. If we followed the Constitution, many of our civil rights and civil liberties problems would be substantially reduced."
Other readers included Progressive Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Jonathan Tasini; long-time gay and civil rights activist, Andy Humm; members of the Raging Grannies (who sang some of their satiric songs about contemporary issues); Grandmothers Against the War; Military Families Speak Out; the Gray Panthers; Veterans for Peace, and Code Pink.
"These are the true patriots," remarked Norman Siegel, "The real Red, White and Blue. People who care about the principles on which our nation was founded and want to see them maintained and celebrated."
Joan Wile is the author of "Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace"
(Citadel Press, 2008)