by Joan Wile, founder, Grandmothers Against the War, and Author, “Grandmothers Against the War: Getting off Our Fannies and Standing up for Peace” (Citadel Press, May 2008)
Here in New York City, we don’t have access to barbecues and picnics unless we either live in penthouses or shlep food and supplies many blocks to one of our parks. We peace grannies, being neither wealthy nor physically spry enough to take advantage of these possibilities, must find alternate ways of celebrating our great national holiday, Independence Day.
Of course, there is always Macy’s great fireworks display, but at our ages we’ve been there, done that more times than we can count. And, we can do without the crowds or the traveling necessary to get where we could watch. In any case, it only lasts half an hour. No longer worth the trouble, we feel.
So, we’ve created a new ritual. For the second year, on July 4, 2008, we grannies, the great civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel, The Rev. Billy and members of his Church of the Stop Shopping Choir, State Senator Bill Perkins, and many others, convened in Strawberry Fields and read aloud the Declaration of Independence and parts of the Constitution. As people read the various amendments, Siegel and Perkins commented where they felt a particular provision was being abused by the national government and, in some instances, local powers. Other members of the crowd also addressed contemporary issues that were subversive of the founding document.
For instance, Norman Siegel analyzed Article I, which states that war can only be declared by Congress. He noted that, to his knowledge, there has been no declaration of war by Congress regarding Iraq. Therefore, according to the Constitution, our attack and occupation of Iraq is illegal and unconstitutional.
Norman Siegel reading the Constitution
Sen. Bill Perkins discoursed on the Fifth Amendment concerning eminent domain and pointed out how this principle was being abused in several instances locally where big institutions are taking over the property of small ones and individuals. He discussed how Columbia University, for instance, is gobbling up property of community residents in order to expand its campus.
State Senator Bill Perkins reading the Bill of Rights
Strawberry Fields is absolutely the most ideal location for our unique commemorative. A beautiful little oasis in Central Park donated by Yoko Ono in tribute to her late husband, John Lennon, its main feature is a a circular black and white mosaic emblem in the pavement, containing a starburst pattern and the solitary word, “Imagine,” the title of one of Lennon’s most famous songs. Symbolic of peace, Siegel and the peace grannies could think of no more appropriate place to celebrate the Constitution and the Declaration.
Yoko Ono wrote a small poem which was read at our event, as follows:
It’s that time again,
to do our best
and give peace a chance
To put the war to rest
And spread the word
that we are all here
to heal the world
Joan Wile assisted by Jonathan Tasini reading a poem by Yoko Ono
During the proceedings, we called on volunteers from the audience to read the various amendments and articles. Among the readers was 89-year-old Granny Peace Brigade member and New York director of WILPF, Molly Klopot; actor Dan Jacoby; former candidate for U.S. Senator Jonathan Tasini; union lawyer, Arthur Schwartz, and psychotherapist member of Code Pink, Jenny Heinz. Many readers spoke of constitutional abuses from their perspectives. For example, one reader pointed out that according to the Constitution, our President has committed impeachable offenses.
Legally blind Molly Klopot reading the Bill of Rights with Norman Siegel’s aid
Jenny Heinz reading the Bill of Rights; Norman Siegel standing beside her
A highlight of the day was Rev. Billy’s rendition of the First Amendment, followed by his Church of the Stop Shopping Choir diva, Laura Newman, who then sang the words of the 45-word Amendment.
Laura Newman, a member of Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping Choir, belting out the 1st Amendment
Mr. Siegel, who has been reading the Declaration and Constitution on the 4th of July since 1969, summed up the day by saying: “It was an inspiring and uplifting afternoon. The grannies, Sen. Perkins, Rev. Billy and so many civic minded people, all together in Strawberry Fields, Central Park, embracing the concepts of Freedom, Independence, Free Speech, the Right to Protest, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press, Equal Protection under the Law, Due Process of the Law and other cornerstone American values is important because it celebrates the principles and mores upon which our nation was founded. Independence Day gives all Americans an opportunity to reflect on our heritage and to appreciate our constitutional system and demand that our government officials adhere to the principles set forth in those great American documents more consistently. It is a message Americans need to absorb.”
We’ll be back again next year and hope it will become an annual New York City July 4 celebratory institution on a par with Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest and the Macy’s fireworks display — the former a feast for the belly, the latter a feast for the eyes. Ours is a feast for the soul providing much food for thought, we believe.
I am a grandmother of 5 who founded Grandmothers Against the War 5 years ago. Among our many activities, we were arrested and jailed when we tried to enlist at the Times Square Army Recruiting Center, in Oct., 2005. We’ve traveled to Europe and to Washington to press our case. We hold vigils, demonstrations, protests, all sorts of actions, and do shows written mostly by me. I am an ASCAP lyricist and composer with a long career as a singer in cabarets, recording studios, movie sound tracks, and on records. I have written at least a thousand jingles, songs, film songs, cabaret acts, and 8 musicals, 5 of which were produced off- and off-off Broadway. My first book was published on April 29 by Citadel Press, entitled “Grandmothers Against the War: How We Got Off Our Fannies and Stood Up for Peace”