Barbara Walker and I learned in a thorough way the meaning of the term “whirlwind tour” during our non-stop visit to Albany NY on Monday and Tuesday (April 27-28).  We were invited by Maud Easter, one of the leaders of the Capital Cities area group, Grannies for Peace, who organized a number of speeches, interviews and classroom discussions for us, all of which we utilized as a means for describing the Granny Peace Brigade and our many actions.

We originally made contact with Maud when we organized the national Valentine’s Day action in 2006, in which granny groups from 15 cities participated.  The Albany group went to a recruiting station at a mall and tried to enlist, as we had, but were denied entrance.  The story got good local media coverage.

Barbara and I each got up at 4 a.m. Monday morning in order to make our 7:15 a.m. train to Albany.  This was somewhat unprecedented (and difficult) inasmuch as both of us are confirmed night owls who usually don’t get up for the day until at least 9 a.m.

Once in Albany, somewhat bleary-eyed, we were whisked by Maud to our first event, speaking to a class in Social Policy at Siena College.  After Barbara and I gave our talks, we had a Q & A period, during which we got a very favorable impression of the young people.  We were particularly struck by two young women who were organizers for Americorps and Vista.  Their social consciences and commitment really heartened Barbara and me about the current generation.  We also learned from them the fact that there is no age limit to working with Americorps, and there can be a stipend for one’s education which can be transferred to one’s grandchildren’s schooling. I am definitely going to look into that — find out what sorts of work are available for us grandmothers and what the requirements and commitments are. I’ll pass it on, of course. We were also very impressed with the teacher, Donna McCintosh, a young woman very intent on inspiring her students to work for peace. One extremely provocative question was posed by a girl, which Barbara and I had a tough time answering. “What would you do if your child determined to go into the military despite all your warnings against it? Would you support him or her?” Food for thought for all of us.

Our next destination was lunch at Frank Barbaro’s beautiful new house, where we were given the royal treatment — a delicious meal of quiche, salad, fruit, cheesecakes and wine prepared by his wife, Patty.

By this time, Barbara and I were rather wilted, but after a sound check had a chance to rest for a while at the Unitarian Church where we were to give our main presentation at 7 p.m.

An enthusiastic crowd of peace activists, many from Grannies for Peace, assembled for our program. I spoke mainly about the history of the GPB — our arrests, events, committees, and so on (interspersed with a few of my songs), and Barbara gave a learned lecture about Afghanistan and our reasons for opposing the war there.

We met a number of interesting people, but one of the most memorable encounters was with a Granny for Peace, Mary Bryan, who told us about a terrible physical assault and carjacking she endured a few years ago. The young (16) culprit was arrested and sentenced to 8 years in jail. She was inspired, however, to join a reconciliation group wherein she will at some point meet with the young man, forgive him in the hope that he will begin his life anew in a lawful and productive way when he is released at the age of 24. I gave her my email and made her promise to let me know about the outcome.

Then to Maud’s house for an overnight, with a tasty light supper prepared by her husband, David. Maud and David are a very unusual and inspiring couple. They have worked continuously throughout their long marriage on projects to better their communities and beyond. Both Quakers, they quietly and effectively live their faith. Maud is a whiz at organization, public relations and publicity outreach, as demonstrated so effectively by the way she tightly scheduled our various talks and interviews. She arranged for me to have an OpEd published in the local daily newspaper, scheduled three radio interviews for Barbara and me (one televised on public access TV) and another long interview with a reporter for a weekly, The Spotlight. Not bad for only a day and a half availability, wouldn’t you agree?

Photo: Mabel S. Leon

On Tuesday, another early rising and off to a class at SUNY Albany for a talk with students of Lani Jones in her class, Social Work Practice.  These students were mostly older, some already practicing and all going on for graduate work. Again, we were tremendously impressed with the caliber of such people. We had a good discussion after our presentation as to why today’s young people aren’t protesting the war, which we found illuminating and helpful. In both classes, we had an opportunity to discuss counter recruitment issues at length, in the course of which we heard from two mothers in the classes who were very adamant about not allowing their kids to go into the military.

Then, bing, bang, boom. Four interviews all in a row, with just one break — for lunch. I thought we were able to present our case fairly well against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and enlighten listeners as to the Granny Peace Brigade’s work. It also gave Maud a chance to feature her granny peace group and to invite local grandmothers to join.  However, the last interview, the only one done by phone, I felt did not go well. Only one of us was permitted to be interviewed, and I drew the short stick. Also, the man interviewing me was a right winger. I am a lousy debater and he tossed me some hard questions concerning our position about the 50,000 troops planned to remain in Iraq after the official withdrawal and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. I think I may have fumbled it. Barbara would have handled it much better. Vinie and Hugh, where were you when we needed you????

But, except for that one rather unfortunate mishap, we feel good about our exhausting visit and would go back again on a moment’s notice.

Practically crawling onto the train at 4:45 p.m. late Tuesday afternoon, we collapsed into our seats for the 3-hour trip back to NYC, content that we had done our best for the GPB and country.

I will forward the Spotlight article when it is published next Wednesday, and in the meantime will reprint the first of several letters with good feedback which Maud just forwarded:

“Hi Maud,

I was sorry I couldn’t make it to hear Joan Wile and her co-activist from the Grannies Peace Brigade last night, but I heard their wonderful interview with Joe Donahue on WAMC this morning. Great coverage for them and for Women Against War. And who knew Joe’s mother was really a peace grannie too?

Kudos to you for bringing them to the Capital District!”

– Joan Wile for the Granny Peace Brigade

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