[Marxism] Grannies on trial

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 27 10:38:32 MDT 2006

NY Times, April 27, 2006
With 'Grannies' in Dock, a Sitting Judge Is Bound to Squirm

Imagine having grandmotherhood on trial in your courtroom. This is the 
awkward situation in which Judge Neil Ross finds himself in Manhattan 
Criminal Court.

The defendants are 18 women who call themselves grannies — somewhat 
loosely, since although all of them are old enough, a few of them do not 
actually have grandchildren. They are on trial for, as Judge Ross put it in 
a casual aside, "protesting," and more specifically, protesting the war in 
Iraq, by sitting outside the Times Square military recruiting center last 

But the defense is trying to portray the trial as a referendum on 
grandmotherhood itself, and they are milking that all-American concept to 
the hilt, almost as deftly as the defense in "Miracle on 34th Street," the 
1947 feel-good chestnut, milked the American belief in Santa Claus.

The prosecution's case consisted of testimony from police officers about 
how the women blocked the door of the recruiting center, impeding entry for 
anyone who wanted to sign up, although the evidence suggests that the only 
people who wanted to enlist on the afternoon of Oct. 17, 2005, were the 
women themselves, who said they wanted to give their lives for those of 
younger soldiers. But they were not allowed in.

The defense, which began on Monday, has consisted of putting the 18 women 
on the witness stand, one after the other, to explain just what they 
thought they were doing that day in Times Square. Their lawyers, Earl Ward 
and Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, 
have carefully asked a series of questions intended to elicit what Mr. Ward 
called the credentials of each defendant.

Mainly, these credentials consist of the women's ages and the number of 
children and grandchildren they have. Only one, Vinie Burrows Harrison, an 
actress, took the Fifth on the question of her age.

Carol Husten's reply was, "Seventy-four. Two kids."

Judy Lear's was 62, with "three adult children and two granddaughters."

Diane Dreyfus answered "Fifty-nine and three-quarters," with "one 
stepchild, no grandchildren."

And so forth, up to Marie Runyon, who is 91, with one daughter, two 

But even without the cold hard numbers, the granny-ness of these defendants 
is hard to miss. These are not resort grannies, with dyed hair and 
manicures. For the most part, they have let their hair go gracefully, 
defiantly gray. Some carry canes; others use walkers. Ms. Runyon, whom the 
judge allows to sit next to the witness box so she can hear, wields the 
white cane of the blind.

They are also women of accomplishment. Ms. Husten testified that she had a 
master's degree in guidance, plus 60 credits, from Hofstra, and had worked 
as a guidance counselor "for truant and dropout children" at James Madison 
High School in Brooklyn.

"I was very, very rarely a truant, Ms. Husten," Judge Ross interjected. 
Then he added sheepishly, his face reddening: "For the record, I was not a 
student at James Madison High School."

Lillian Rydell, 86, testified that she graduated from high school in 1936, 
and that instead of college, "went to the school of hard knocks," to which 
Judge Ross observed: "I see that your education in that school is ongoing?"

Judge Ross has frequently looked mortified, squirming in his seat as if 
wondering how in the world he, of all judges, had the bad luck to be chosen 
to rule on the grannies' fate.

Like the unfortunate Judge Harper in "Miracle on 34th Street," Judge Ross 
clearly recognizes that ruling against grandmothers — like ruling against 
Kris Kringle — could be political suicide, or at the very least make him a 
villain to grandchildren everywhere.

The prosecution is represented by two fresh-faced assistant district 
attorneys, Amy Miller and Artie McConnell, who, unlike the grannies, 
declined to give their ages. They have been taking cues from a supervisor 
in the front row.

To the prosecution, this is a case of disorderly conduct. To the 
defendants, it is a test of the constitutional right to free speech, and 
the morality of war. One of them, Joan Wile, testified yesterday that her 
group had even had a demonstration permit, although she had not noticed, 
until Mr. McConnell pointed it out, that the permit was for Duffy Square, 
two blocks north.

In the end, it may come down to more prosaic questions, like whether the 
grannies were inches or feet from the recruitment center door.

Isn't it true they were blocking traffic? Ms. Miller asked, cross-examining 
Ms. Lear. Ms. Lear replied that if someone had wanted to go through, she 
would have moved over. "I'm a very polite person," she said.

"I'm sure you are," Ms. Miller agreed.

Wasn't their real objective to get publicity by being arrested? "Did you 
personally believe you were going to be allowed to enlist?" Mr. McConnell 
asked Ms. Dreyfus.

"I wasn't sure," she replied. "I do have a skill set." She is a facilities 
manager and "could be used to deploy equipment," she said.

But, the prosecutor insisted, was she prepared to go to war?

"Yes," Ms. Dreyfus replied. "I was totally prepared. I had just recently 
gotten divorced. I was ready."

The grannies burst out laughing, and a red blush spread, once more, over 
Judge Ross's face.

"The defense rests," Mr. Siegel said yesterday after the last defendant 
testified, and the grannies seemed to collectively sigh. The judge has 
promised to rule today.



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