Category Archives: Poems & Songs & Stories

On Accepting The Bertolt Brecht Award At Union Theological Seminary

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Friday evening, February 24, 2012

Dear friends, I accept this award with pride but also with humility. It is a special honor to share it with Esther Cooper Jackson, a stalwart freedom fighter who has labored long in the vineyards for justice, dignity, equality  for the human rights of African and diasporan Africans.

Actors equity association gave me their Paul Robeson award almost 20 years ago. Paul Robeson and Bertolt Brecht have played influential roles in my development as an artist and in my journey as a human being working in theatre.  I take great pride in calling myself a cultural worker.

Shiba Russell, the NBC news anchor interviewed me a week ago on camera because she called me an unsung iconic heroine of theatre and black history. I like being called an icon but calling myself a cultural worker does not bring Hollywood contracts or running parts on daytime television or agents and managers, who send me in to read for Broadway roles, featured or starring or understudy or standby. If it’s a union contract, I will gladly work. I hope the NBC black history profile will air before the end of the month. Look for it on either the noon hour or 5 pm news slot.

Let us go back to the child I was going to Public School 10 and Junior High school 81 and Wadleigh, the girls only, high school in central Harlem. That black child had no understanding of the path that she was traveling. The present day octogenarian woman that I am can see the path clearly from the vantage point of time and distance, age and experience.

There is a difference between the path and the journey – the journey is the day to day, year to year, decade to decade experience which for me grew to become a deep abiding sense of identity and solidarity with all suffering peoples of the world and most particularly with women of the world.

Bertolt Brecht said “art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

Paul Robeson said “the artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery”.

Paul made his choice and his courage helped me make mine.
Dear friends, let us stay on the move as we rededicate ourselves to the long, bitter but beautiful struggle for a just world, a peaceful world. Peace is our human right. we must not allow the forces of evil to take our human right for peace away from us.

Fight for peace.
Fight for the unborn children.
Fight for the spirits of our ancestors
Our ancestors from the inquisition,
From the middle passage,
From Hiroshima and Nagasaki
From all the brutalities that human beings through greed and ignorance have inflicted on one another down through the ages.
Peace is our human right
Speak up for peace
Speak out for peace
Stand up for peace
Because if we don’t, the evil, money grubbing profit making forces of imperialism and capitalism will roll all over us.

With that charge I gratefully accept this Bertolt Brecht award and end my remarks with this poem of Walt Whitman “So Long” from “Leaves of Grass.”

– Vinie Burrows

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for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photo: Eva-Lee Baird

A funny thing happened on the 104 bus…

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Jenny, Ahmad and I were among the marchers boarding the bus.

Friday night, October 21, a benefit concert by the environmental organization Clearwater was held Symphony Space on Broadway at  94th Street. Among the notable musicians were the legendary Pete Seeger, composer-musician David Amram, and folk singer Arlo Guthrie.

Following the concert shortly after 10:30, up to 1000 people, (according to the Associated Press) many concertgoers along with others who waited outside marched down Broadway in support of Occupy Wall Street. Thirty blocks later, they entered the plaza at the statue of Christopher Columbus on 59th Street singing “This Little Light of Mine”, but substituting “We’re Gonna Occupy.” The songfest is described in this AP article.

After the gathering, several marchers, including two musicians, boarded an almost empty uptown 104 bus. When told about the protest, the driver muttered “Please don’t come to Staten Island.” As the bus moved on, the musicians, The Universal Truth, began to play and sing, with passengers clapping and singing along until getting off at their stops.

At one stop the driver told a departing passenger that he was enjoying the music.

Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a changing

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pens
And keep your eyes open, the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon, the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who that it’s naming
Oh the loser will be later to win
For the times, they are a changing

Come senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be her that has stalled
The battle outside raging will soon shake your windows
And rattle your hall
For the times, they are a changing

Come mothers and fathers all over this land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old role is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand
For the times they are a changing

The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one will later be fast
And the present now will soon be the past
The order is rapidly fading
The first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a changing

– Bob Dylan

– Ann Shirazi
for the Granny Peace Brigade

“Stop! In the Name of Health, Don’t Cut My Medicare”

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This is a funny video, but the message is deadly serious– the Grannies participated to stress the need to fight the Obama administration, as President Obama has offered cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the debt ceiling negotiations currently gripping Capitol Hill. While I personally didn’t vote for Obama, I think it is important to keep him as the focal point in yet another atrocity being leveled at the citizens of this country- in this case, the low or no-income, the elderly and sick. in addition, in Grand Central Station, the cops tried to stop us and said if we danced, we would be arrested!

– Ann Shirazi
for the Granny Peace Brigade

New York—While swinging their hips to a Motown groove, grannies tell Obama and congressional leaders to keep their hands off Medicare.
Angering many voters who supported him, President Obama has offered cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the debt ceiling negotiations currently gripping Capitol Hill. So on the eve of Medicare’s 46th birthday on July 30th, the grassroots advocacy group Healthcare-NOW! releases a video of grannies performing a choreographed dance based on the Supremes’ hit to deliver an urgent demand: Medicare needs to be expanded, not cut.

Though having a good time doing a group dance, members of the Granny Peace Brigade and the Raging Grannies say this is a life-and-death issue. Advocates for Medicare expansion cite numbers from Harvard Medical School reporting that 45,000 people a year die in the U.S. because they don’t have health insurance; the number jumps to 101,000 when including people who are under-insured: they have insurance, but their insurance companies deny them necessary care when they get sick.[1]

Bev Rice, a retired nurse who danced in the video, says “As a nurse I saw so many people suffer and die prematurely because insurance companies wouldn’t pay for the care they needed. I have Medicare and it works. It should be open to everyone.”

Advocates say that not only would a Medicare-for-All system cover everyone, it would also save the country $400 billion a year in health spending. While Medicare spends only 3% on administrative costs, private health insurance companies spend 17-28%, including profits, marketing, and extravagant CEO salaries.

Another one of the dancing grannies, Joan Pleune, says: “Rehearsing for this choreographed dance is harder than getting arrested during the Freedom Rides of 1961.” The veteran of the Civil Rights Movement adds, “But my health is threatened and I need Washington to pay attention—expand, not cut, Medicare!”
Laurie Wen, Healthcare-NOW! NYC,
Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW! www.healthcare-now.org

FLASH MOB SERENADES HOLIDAY SHOPPERS

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As the winter solstice arrived, nine Grannies and one Buddy sang anti-war-toys lyrics to shoppers on Flatbush Avenue outside the Atlantic Center Mall  and gave peace cards stating “War is Not a Game.”

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We then entered the mall and weaved in and out of the Target toy aisles, serenading shoppers with “Don’t buy war toys, Don’t buy war toys, Girls and Boys” (a la Frere Jacques).

Our signs proclaimed “No War – No War Toys” and we were greeted with smiles and approving nods from the shoppers.

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The serenade resounded through the top floor and lasted about ten minutes until…

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…store security called for help and eventually escorted us down the escalator.  The Flash Mob had had its fun and then melted away.

– Nydia Leaf
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Photos: Eva-Lee Baird

GRAN Central Caroling 2010!

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GRAN Central Station once again was the scene with 15 NYC Metro Raging Grannies: Judith, Mercy, Lillian, Corinne, Rachel, Susan L., Sally, Alice, Nora, Pam, Adele, Maxine and Susan K. and Granny Peace Brigaders: Eva-Lee and Bev, caroling for peace.  We gathered at the information kiosk and sang for over an hour, thanks to Bev and Adele.

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The kids loved our songs and busy commuters would stop and listen and laugh, before continuing on their way.

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We were free entertainment!  We didn’t get one negative comment from the crowd, any frown turned into a smile when they heard the lyrics.  We really had a wonderful time with our great audience.

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A group of four women: granny and daughters, joined us and were laughing with glee over our lyrics, it was a splendid evening.

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Yer Raging Reporter,
– Mercy VanVlack
Photos: Eva-Lee Baird

FEAR – AMERICA CAN SLEEP EASY NOW

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We filed into court, quiet, respectful,  hoping against hope that the prisoner would be given the full  extent of the powers of the court. That she would receive a mild admonishment for her slight alleged infraction of the law, an error in judgement that anyone, even the most learned judge might make.

According to John Eligon of The New York Times, Thurs. July ,16th, Judge John Koeltl presided over the resentencing of Lynne Stewart after it was deemed that her first sentence of twenty-eight months was too light.  Lynne Stewart – the Terrorists’ Handmaid – will be tucked away for the next ten years.  Maybe she’ll make it in jail until she’s 90 though she’s got breast cancer.

You better watch out, America.  Didn’t she say,  “I’d do it again” ?  And that’s why they have to lock her up for a good, long time.  She’s “potentially lethal” said the prosecuting attorney, Mr Andrew Dember to the grey-haired, school-marm lawyer sitting in  front of him.

He should be feeling good now, Judge Koeltl, he’s done his duty.  Even though he received hundreds of letters attesting to Lynne’s honesty, virtue and loyalty; even though he heard her daughter burst into tears on hearing  the cruel verdict, he can rest easy.  He was so careful about all the necessary legal enhancements that will keep America safe, especailly since 9/11. They – the powers that prevail in this country today – are not stupid. They know a good opportunity when it happens.  9/11 was a gift from heaven – although devastating and horrible as it was – it gave them a chance to “enhance” our laws.   Enhance was once a pretty word – it usually meant to make nicer or better.  Not in this case!  Their aim is to destroy the liberties that the founders of our country fought so hard to create – now with new laws they can  sanction government interference between client and attorney,  wire-tapping and above all, intimidation of the legal profession into fear and ultimately, impotence.  Woe to a hapless victim who appears before the bench.  Between the lawyers’ fear and the enhanced laws, justice doesn’t stand a chance.

Why were we lulled into thinking she might given a mild, fitting sentence?  This isn’t medieval times when men were sentenced to life imprisonment or death for stealing a loaf of bread. We are reasonable people nowadays with reasonable laws – aren’t we?  Or is there now a deliberate choice to destroy all the civil liberties that followed those times? We listened so patiently as Koeltl struggled to justify the numbers of the various enhancements, wondering how he could have forgotten what was crucial to the sad woman sitting in front of him; enhancing prison numbers can do that to you. She was asked by Judge Koeltl why she doesn’t exhibit remorse – a strange question.  She is an innocent woman.  She has nothing to show remorse for.

No, Lynne, you didn’t  fail us.  We failed you.  We failed because we weren’t ready – too sanguine – perhaps stupid – but we should have known and been prepared for that verdict.  We should have proclaimed, exhorted, shouted – Lynne Stewart is innocent – she is guilty of nothing but being human.  She has never aided or abetted terrorists – she is just a good human being – the best among us.  It is the legal system that is now being perverted, destroyed and dishonoring America.  But it is more than that – it is the governing body – the Congress and the President that are guilty as well, playing their parts and letting it happen.

We must have courage.

– Lillian Pollak
reading the U. S. Constitution
July 4, 2010
for the Granny Peace Brigade

Lynne Stewart

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On Foley Square a songbird sings

The Square – slabs of concrete
Cobbled streets, medieval arches, forlorn dusty parks
Bleak citadels of justice

In these great halls
knowing righteous laws
fear destroys reason
Harsh sentence are pronounced
Innocent actions become
Punishable crimes

Here a bird sings

Legendary – like the Kuninglin-
Who hid in the plumage of an eagle
And soared above him to heaven.
A wren
Known for strong songs
That floods the skies

This a warm-blooded, two legged,
Feathered vertebrate
Plump – gray, sandy-haired
With a fearless grin
Is shut away
A bird who sings only in daylight
Her notes loud and clear
Round crystal globules of sweet sound
Pour through the black bars
Singing of innocence of wrong-doing
Pure of any intent
Only desire to do good
And kindness

We must hear her
She must not be ignored
Her song of sympathy
for all those oppressed,
misjudged, falsely accused
Wafts through the air
Telling us of the meaning of our existence
Empathy for all that lives
Gentleness…

We must hear her message
Above the crushing litany of law
That stifles her voice

If justice ignores her song
We cannot survive
If we forget humanity
we will not survive

…….Listen

– Lillian Pollak
for the Granny Peace Brigade

Raging Grannies And Friends Sing Carols Of Peace

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December 21 in Grand Central Station New York City

It is possible to live a full, rich life even if you have never gone caroling with the Raging Grannies, however hanging out with the Ragings is one way to live intensely. If you missed this year, all is not lost. Pencil or tap  a note into your December 2010 calendar reminding you to ask the Granny Peace Brigade what the Ragings are planning for the end of the month. They might even have an extra Santa hat for you.

Here is what this year looked like:

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We are in full voice now.

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Eventually the police did throw us out of the station. One officer looked me right in the eye and said “I agree with you absolutely, but I still have to ask you to leave.” Another told us he was evicting us “because I really need this job.”

Songs for listening on the Granny Jukebox YouTube channel.

See you in the street,
Eva-Lee Baird
Photos by Fran Sears
for the Granny Peace Brigade

Joan And Nydia’s Subway Encounter

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Nydia and I had an interesting encounter last night on the No. 1 subway.  We were returning from Staten Island where we attended the Staten Island Peace Action dinner honoring our own Barbara Walker  It was around 9:45 p.m.  A group of strapping young men sat across from us.  One spotted Nydia’s pins — the Granny Peace Brigade pin and the “Afghan War End Now” one.  in a polite way, they asked us why we wore those pins. There then ensued a spirited but completely civilized debate between them and us.  Although they were wearing civilian clothes, they informed us they were in the Coast Guard and were in a special unit which would be sent to battle.  One said he had already been on duty in Iraq.  They espoused the military line — if we didn’t fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, the terrorists would attack us again.  If they didn’t crush the Al Quaida, we wouldn’t be able to protest and wear our anti-war buttons.  And, so on.  Despite our best efforts, Nydia, in particular, who is a much better debater than I am, we of course were unable to convince them.  They shook our hands as they got off the train before us.

This is the mind set we are up against.  As an older man witnessing our argument said after the boys got off, “You’ll never persuade them.  They haven’t the knowledge.”  Inasmuch as they are going to probably go off to fight in the deadly wars, they most likely are better off believing that the cause is just. It’s kind of a conundrum — we want them to see the futility of the wars, but don’t want them to feel their service is worthless. If they could be persuaded to rebel and refuse to go, that would be one thing.  But, of course, that wouldn’t happen.

Despite our sadness that the young men are so misinformed and are so convinced they are saving the country, undoubtedly to their eventual peril, we were impressed with their interest in hearing our views and their ability to disagree politely and respectfully.

As for the honors event, we had a most cheerful and happy evening.  The S.I. Peace people are a remarkably warm bunch, and the evening was planned to perfection.  They had a good musician-singer, a raffle and a silent auction, and food like you wouldn’t believe.  There were approximately four long, long tables filled, and I mean, FILLED, with delicious goodies.  Plus, the piece de resistance — tada:  the awards presentations.  Our Barbara looked lovely in an emerald green silk top, and made a strong speech urging counter-recruitment action in the schools. Nydia and I felt a big swarm of pride in her,

But as our subway encounter showed us, the road to our goal of bringing the troops home is a long and difficult one.  We have to keep on keeping on!

-Joan Wile
for the Granny Peace Brigade

The Possible, Desirable, and Necessary in Gaza

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My comment regarding the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict sent to President-elect Obama’s website.

I grew up during the Second World War and I remember the warm feeling I had when Israel was formed in 1948, and how at Hunter College I empathized with Jewish students celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the founding of Israel. I believe many have not had reason/opportunity to do so, but for some reason I did later come to know what the founding of the State of Israel caused the Arab Palestinians: The Holocaust was carried out in Europe; subsequently Arab Palestinians lost a significant part of their homeland, where they and Mizrahi and other Jews had lived — lived not without conflict but without widespread displacements.

Never have I heard of any acknowledgement to the Palestinians of their justifiable distress and anger for their having had to move to make possible the establishment of Israel; nor have I ever heard an apology — obviously not that these would resolve the issue but the missing acknowledgement and apology are indicative of lack of understanding or lack of awareness of cause and effect. A result is that Palestinians have been viewed by many as spoilers, not as people with a grievance that required redress In effect, they were required to make compensation for criminal acts (The Holocaust) in which they had no part.

What has happened and is happening to the Palestinians in occupied Gaza is so horrid — for me beyond words to express. And, as is known, we, the United States, provide the wherewithal for the carrying on of this campaign against Gaza.

There have been blockades – land, sea, and air – imposed by Israel. Isn’t this an act of war? Some of the results of the blockades have been life threatening. And so Gaza sends rockets; Israel responds with sophisticated ‘state of the art’ power/technology. The residents of Gaza are told to remove themselves from areas of hostilities — where are they to go? They do not have bomb shelters. They are totally vulnerable. And we, the U.S., have rationalized our non-support for a cease-fire!

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 virtually has been ignored. Settlements are developed and expanded in the occupied West Bank with U.S. approval — implicit and explicit (President Bush’s allowing, in a televised talk with the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that some settlements were ‘facts on the ground’). The Palestinians were expected to accept, as part of a plan for a Palestinian state, a system of West Bank ‘Bantustans’ proposed by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and rejected by the then President of the Palestine National Authority Yasser Arafat, toward the end of President Clinton’s second term. Many were incredulous that the plan was rejected.

President-elect Obama, many do not know the post-Second World War history of this part of the Middle East. You do. Please, your incoming Administration, your Office as honest broker, should acknowledge publicly that the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, have justifiable claims, and should insist that inhumane action against the Palestinians by the occupying power end, that Israeli/Palestinian cease-fires become effective forthwith, and that concrete steps be taken for the creation and necessary support of a viable sovereign Palestinian state.

President-elect Obama, our taxes must not support unacceptable policies and action. This does not lessen the view of Israel as a U.S. ally. In addition, the Palestinians should receive acknowledgement of the loss of part of their pre-1948 homeland. These will not be unreasonable actions to undertake but to do so will require the will of your Administration to promote these actions as (and here I borrow, out of context, from a statement of Archbishop Tutu) possible, desirable, and necessary.

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These days this matter has, I know, been of great concern to all of us, and I know we have various views. I think it is generally believed that the lack of a fair resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict is not the only factor but is a significant one in U.S./Middle East antagonisms.

– Barbara Walker
Granny Peace Brigade