Their hats adorned with artificial flowers identify them at many of the protests in which I participate. The Grannies also show up on New York City's Union Square to sing their signature anti-war lyrics to well known tunes.
I hold in mind a vivid image of some of them who were arrested for trying to stop military recruitment, onstage in Philadelphia, outside Constitution Hall the Saturday after the 2006 elections. Behind them stood young Iraq Veterans Against the War - two of the bravest groups of patriots in the United States, standing together, opposing US aggression.
Earlier this month I joined these valiant women and their colleagues of all ages, races, and both sexes at their teach-in about US global militarization in Manhattan.
"This series of teach-ins began," explained Nydia Leaf, the Granny who introduced the program, "when some of our members attended the Women's International Democratic Federation in Caracas. They were surprised when delegates from Japan said that something must be done to close the US military bases there." When delegates from Germany, Italy and Korea expressed the same desire, the New York Grannies realized that they needed to go home and begin raising awareness of the level of resentment of US military presence abroad.
The speakers at this event included Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ambassador to the United Nations from the Republic of Ecuador; Greg Grandin, Professor of History at NYU and author of Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism and Ann Wright, retired US Army colonel, former member of the US Foreign Service who resigned that post in protest of the US invasion of Iraq, and activist against US aggression ever since.
Granny Leaf concluded her introduction by quoting Noam Chomsky and set the tone for the speakers, "During the past decade, Latin America has become the most exciting region of the world."
In her previous position as Foreign Minister, it was Espinosa's job to tell the United States that the agreement governing the presence of a US airbase at Manta would not be renewed at the end of 2009. "Ecuador is a sovereign and peaceful country," she says. "Our new constitution forbids territory for military bases and constellations." She read the Spanish text of the Constitution approved in September of this year addressing this issue. "We also recognize that peace is more than the absence of war. It means being democratic, inclusive, just and equitable." The new constitution is "the dream not just of President Correa, but of all the people of Ecuador."
Espinosa says that there is currently discussion at the UN on the concepts of preemptive war and the "responsibility to protect." Ecuador is opposed to both of these, including the generally less objectionable responsibility to protect, which Ambassador Espinosa says is often "an excuse to establish a military presence" by a powerful country in a weaker one. "Responsibility to protect does not respect the sovereignty of nations," she objects.
I rejoiced to hear Ambassador Espinosa talk about her part in the democratic revolution in her country. As I search for examples of what we might do here in the US, where our constitution has been badly mauled and is in jeopardy, it was inspiring to see someone who has done what she and her compatriots have for her country.
Professor Greg Grandin focused his remarks on the role of Latin America as "the canary in the coal mine" as opposed to the "back door of the US." He comments that the New York Times tends to see a "good left" and a "bad" one among the new governments that are resulting from what he calls the "explosion of democracy" in the region.
"The Latin Americans themselves do not see things at all the way the Times does," he says. Rather, they would be inclined to see among themselves multiple approaches to democracy. The region is unique in producing an array of countries with governments dedicated "to the good of their people, not to the interests of an elite [few] and of corporations". He describes the US response under the Bush regime as "repressive and heavy handed."
Grandin spoke of the controversial US "Plans" such as Plan Colombia and Plan Merida (Mexico) that ostensibly wage "war on drugs" but are really aimed at "controlling a region that is rapidly getting out of control." Plan Colombia, an aid package of which large amounts go to Colombian military and police, contributes significantly to militarization while the production of coca has actually increased. Plan Merida similarly purports to further the "war on drugs" and limit drug trade in Mexico - both in the region, and with the US. Much of the money goes to purchase military equipment from US corporations. Again, the result is increased militarization and stronger ties between US military and local authorities.
Grandin notes that Obama endorsed the Plan Merida. He wondered aloud if Obama "will make peace with Latin America" and suggests that "it is not enough to talk about cooperation," but that it is necessary "to repudiate preemptive war and to demonstrate absolute respect for the sovereignty of other countries." He predicts no substantial change without this.
Professor Grandin articulated for me some of the challenges I want to see the president elect address. While glad to see the US willing to elect an African American man, I am not sanguine about my country's future in his hands. I want to see the US respect the sovereignty of every other country, including Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Syria and Pakistan, which the US has recently violated.
The third speaker, Ann Wright voiced a concern that I share: "Obama promises 100,000 more troops. It is increasingly difficult to meet recruitment goals now. Where will these additional troops come from?" She encourages the Grannies, whose focus is counter-recruitment, to step up their activities as Obama tries to enlist more of our young people for war.
"The US," she says, "has not historically supported the democratic revolutions of Latin America." She urges us all to be vigilant and active until:
1) the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are stopped;
2) Guantanamo and all the other secret prisons around the globe are closed and torture stopped;
3) Plans Merida and Colombia are dismantled;
4) the new "Prosperity and Security Partnership" with Canada and Mexico, which are aimed at giving the US more say in the affairs of those countries is stopped
"The military uses slogans to make aggression sound less aggressive," Wright explains, warning us to "be on guard against slogans like 'Peace time engagement,' 'War on drugs,' 'War on terror,' 'Disaster assistance.'"
Ann Wright is a special person to me. She was Commander of Camp Casey in Crawford Texas, where I first met her, and has led many of us in peaceful protest against the war crimes committed by the US. Her presence at this event both inspired and comforted me at this time in my own history of activism and in the history of my country.
As the audience stretched before the event’s Q&A, the Grannies sang their anti-war songs. At the end, I left feeling grateful to them for their continued activism and committed to continuing my own against US aggression.