[Marxism] Joan Wile, a Grandmother Against the War in Iraq, Dies at 86
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Thu May 24 12:17:18 MDT 2018
NY Times, May 23, 2018
Joan Wile, a Grandmother Against the War in Iraq, Dies at 86
By Sam Roberts
Joan Wile, a former songwriter and actress who in her 70s weaponized the
power of grandmotherhood by organizing a nine-year-long weekly vigil by
fellow venerable protesters against the war in Iraq, died on May 4 in
Nanuet, N.Y. She was 86.
The cause was complications of diabetes, her son, Ron Wasserman, said.
Ms. Wile had written letters and marched against the war, but it was a
horrific photograph in Time magazine — of a 12-year-old Iraqi boy who
had been burned and lost both arms and whose family had been killed by
American bombs — that galvanized her to do even more.
“I’ve got to do something,” Ms. Wile later recalled saying to herself.
“Suddenly the word ‘grandmother’ popped into my head. ‘Wow,’ I thought,
‘that’s a magic word. It connotes wisdom, love, nurturing, maturity,
good common sense. People will take us seriously.’ ”
And so Grandmothers Against the War was born. Ms. Wile and a largely
gray-haired group parked themselves for an hour of street theater every
Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller
Center from Jan. 14, 2004, until mid-November 2012 to protest
Washington’s continuing military entanglement.
The protesters, sometimes joined by grandfathers and antiwar veterans,
never reached platoon size. Their ranks waxed and waned with the
weather, and were eventually diminished by time and by other policy
But they logged some 460 Wednesdays in all and missed only two: in 2009,
when they were barred from occupying their customary ground because the
area was off-limits for the annual Christmas tree lighting that
particular Wednesday evening; and in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy made
travel virtually impossible.
Their perseverance in the face of infirmities (some depended on walkers
and canes) endowed their demonstrations with disproportionate publicity.
And, when they figured that the spotlight was dimming, they borrowed the
playbook of other groups like the Raging Grannies, an international
network of protest groups, and resorted to more militant tactics. Twice
they got themselves arrested when they decided not just to stand there
but to do something more emphatic, in those cases staging sit-downs.
By late 2012, though, the weekly gathering had dwindled to fewer than a
dozen. By then, past 80 and with Barack Obama, a more sympathetic
president, in the White House, Ms. Wile decided to call it quits.
“It’s a relief not to have to stand there for an hour any longer,” she
told The New York Times. “Old bones do not take too well to such activity.”
Born Joan Meltzer on July 17, 1931, in Rochester, she was the daughter
of Louis and Janet Louise Meltzer. Her mother was an advertising
executive; her father was a cellist who became a television writer.
A grandmother had been a suffragist, and an uncle had been an economic
adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
At 16, Joan enrolled in the University of Chicago, which she attended
for three years. She married Herb Wasserman, a drummer. Their marriage
ended in divorce.
In addition to their son, she is survived by a daughter, Diana Wasserman
Dianuzzo; two half sisters, Bonnie Richter and Paula Wolfe; and, yes,
five grandchildren. Just after she died, a great-granddaughter was born.
Adopting her mother’s original surname for professional reasons, Ms.
Wile worked as a singer, composer and lyricist. (With Don Elliott, she
wrote the music and lyrics to several songs in the 1975 film “The Happy
Hooker.”) She also acted in Off Broadway and regional theater and later
supported herself by proofreading legal documents.
As a divorced single mother pursuing a career, Ms. Wile acknowledged in
her book “Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies &
Standing Up for Peace” (2008) that she had been relatively unconcerned
about the Vietnam War.
“I was then what I find so reprehensible about people now,” she wrote.
She first took action against the war in Iraq in November 2003, about
eight months after it started, when she organized a rally protesting
what she saw as the United States’ open-ended military involvement
there. Soon she began the weekly protests, which included songs,
speeches and signs. When the grandmothers needed a stimulus, they got
In 2006, armed with a bucket of cookies, Ms. Wile was one of 18 women,
aged 59 to 91, who tried to enlist at the Times Square armed forces
recruiting station. When they were rebuffed, they staged a sit-in
outside. They were gingerly handcuffed, jailed for more than four hours
and charged with disorderly conduct, which carried a 15-day sentence.
A six-day nonjury trial ensued in Manhattan Criminal Court, during which
Norman Siegel, the civil liberties lawyer, pointed out that no one had
been blocked from entering the recruiting station because the only
people who had wanted to enlist that afternoon were the protesters
themselves, and they were barred.
At the trial, some defendants recited their résumés of participation in
previous protests dating to the spy trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
in the early 1950s. When queried about her age, one defendant took the
Fifth Amendment. Another was asked if, in trying to enlist, she was
actually prepared to go to war.
“Yes,” the woman replied. “I was totally prepared. I had just recently
Ms. Wile was responsible for what seemed to a “Perry Mason”-like moment,
when she suddenly produced a police permit for a demonstration. A
prosecutor pointed out, however, that the permit was for a protest in
Duffy Square, several blocks north of the recruiting station.
Still, on the grounds that the grandmothers were obstructing neither the
door to the enlistment site nor justice, Judge Neil E. Ross found the
defendants not guilty.
In 2009, some of the same women were arrested again in Times Square
protesting the Obama administration’s decision to keep American troops
in Iraq and to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Prosecutors dropped the
The weekly protests ended in 2012.
“But I think we helped jump start the anti-Iraq war movement here in the
city,” Ms. Wile said. “We threw some seeds in the air, and maybe they
landed somewhere and sprouted.”
A version of this article appears in print on May 24, 2018, on Page B13
of the New York edition
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