"Take us instead!" -- Grannies at the recruiting office on Valentine's Day

by Daniel Borgström
This report is in the April 2006 issue of Z Magazine

As St. Valentine's Day neared, the "Raging Grannies" called for grandmothers from around the Bay Area to gather at the Oakland military recruiting office on Broadway at 21st. There they would enlist en masse, to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are demonstrating our love for this country and its young people by enlisting in the U.S. military to replace the children and grandchildren too long deployed there," the women pledged in an announcement. "This is not a show of support for [Bush's] military action in Iraq; we are totally against it. Rather it is a Valentine's Day gift to our children and grandchildren. We grandmothers have had long, full lives. Our young men and women deserve the same. We are prepared to take their place."

One of the volunteers was Pat Maginnis. For her it would be a re-enlistment, because she'd already served three years in the U.S. Army back in the early 1950's. Since her discharge she's been a life-long activist for peace, women's issues and animal rights. Pat is now 77.

"But suppose the Army takes you up on this?" suggested a friend. "Military life is dangerous. You might wind up in an outfit with a guy like Dick Cheney."

"At least it would be friendly fire," offered another. News of Cheney's quail hunt had just come out.

"I wouldn't worry too much," said a third. "Mostly they don't let guys like Cheney into the Army. He was deferred from Vietnam, you know. Presumably for a reason."

"So how do you plan to spend your enlistment bonus?" asked yet another. "Perhaps you'll share some of it with your friends?"

A similar group of grandmothers attempted to enlist at a military recruiting center in New York's Times Square last October, and eighteen of them were arrested. The upcoming Valentine's Day action was coordinated to take place in several cities across the U.S., in Oakland from 12 noon to 1 p.m.

"If I wind up in jail, will you look after my animals for a few days till I get out?" Pat asked me. She has two dogs and several cats who live together peacefully.

February 14th, I went with the others to picket outside while the grandmothers enlisted. There was a good turnout, something over three hundred people attended. Most were elderly women, and it looked like the recruiters stood to fill their monthly quota in the short space of an hour. However, the recruiting personal had somehow failed to show up and open the doors.

Disappointment swept through the ranks of the volunteers. Exciting military careers, delicious army food, battlefield glory -- none of this would be theirs after all. Nevertheless, recovery was swift, and a good energetic rally ensued. We all crowded around the empty recruiting office and sang songs: Give Peace a Chance, When Every Woman, Dona Nobis Pacem, and Johnny I Hardly Knew You.

They're rolling out the drums again
But they'll never take our sons again
Johnny I hardly knew you

Then it was Down by the Riverside, and that was followed by more songs. The rally filled the sidewalk and gradually expanded out into the street, taking up the outbound lanes of Broadway. Motorists in the inbound lane honked in support. The day was warm, and a soft, gentle California sun shined down on us as we sang on:

Oh deep in my heart
I do believe
we shall overcome
some day.

The St. Valentine's Day demonstration was sponsored by: Grandmothers Against the War, Grandmothers for Peace, Women for Peace, NOW Oakland/East Bay, East Bay Progressive Democrats, Bay Area Women in Black, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Daniel Borgström
February 2006