By William Fisher
The five elderly women stood in front of an Army recruiting office in Tucson, Arizona, and began to sing. To the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, they belted out the lyrics they wrote:
There’s no business like war business
The worst business we know
Never mind the homeless and the hungry,
Never mind the people without jobs
Nowhere can you get that special feeling
Than when you’re – piling up the bombs.
There’s no business like war business
The best business we know
Multinational profits going through the sky
They multiply while children die
The same amount buys food and clothes
For everyone all over the world.
The group, known as the Raging Grannies of Tucson (RGT), have been performing their ‘act’ outside the recruiting office every Wednesday for the past three years as a protest to the war in Iraq.
But this Wednesday was different. They decided to go inside the office – to enlist in the Army.
“We would rather offer ourselves up and have our grandchildren brought home out of harm’s way, ” said RGT spokesperson Pat Birnie.
“We were told protesters weren’t allowed on the premises but we said we were there to enlist,” she said.
"We went in saying we were here to enlist, but they didn't believe us. We read a statement, sang songs, and then we left."
Ms. Birnie, 75, said the protesters were well outside the recruiting office when police arrived and said they were trespassing, a criminal offence.
The group -- five ‘grannies’ and two journalists – were charged with trespass and appeared in court earlier this week. They entered not guilty pleas and told to appear an Aug. 19 pretrial hearing.
The women, who range from 55 to 81 years old, are decades older than the maximum allowable age for recruits.
Ms. Birney said the charge was an "overreaction", and that the grannies had been serious about joining the army.
Nancy Hutchinson, an Army spokeswoman in Arizona, told the Associated Press that those opposed to the Iraq war should contact their legislators rather than bother recruiters. "They need to direct their frustrations at people who have the power to change things," she said.
She added that the protesters were not serious about enlisting and were harassing recruiters.
Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at the University of California, warned that “Anti-war grannies could become a new target for FBI surveillance” He told IPS, “We can expect the authorities to deal more harshly in the legal system with the Grannies than the Pentagon has with soldiers in Iraq accused of murder who have gotten off scott free.”
The RGT are associated with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
The women are "pretty thoroughly anti-war; we're concerned about the environment and what's happening to civil liberties," said Ms. Birnie, who was with the women when they entered the recruiting center on July 13, but was not charged.
She said two recruiters told the group not to enter, but the women said they had come to enlist, read a statement and sang two protest songs. By the time they returned to the sidewalk outside, police had arrived.
The RGT members contend that recruits have been lied to, said Ms. Birnie. "We feel that our lives are pretty well used up and that the young people so many times are killed in battle or come home traumatized," she said.
The Raging Grannies was first initiated by Canadian activists 19 years ago. The idea has spread throughout the world, and can be traced on the Internet.
The mission of the Tucson Raging Grannies, according to its website, is to promote global peace, justice, and social and economic equality by raising public awareness through the medium of song and humor.
“Our goal is to challenge our audiences to work to bring about the social changes that are required in order to end economic oppression, particularly of women and children, and to end racial inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, and arms proliferation.”
An ‘indy-journalist’ (independent) who was with the Grannies when they entered the recruiting center wrote that they “were hoping the recruiters would have shown more humor with the activists. Instead, (the sergeant in charge) called Tucson police and had everyone cited.”
“The mood before the action was light and joyous. Protestors have been showing up in front of the military recruiting offices on Speedway each Wednesday morning since the pledge of resistance began over 3 years ago.
“Nearly 20 people lined the sidewalk this morning with signs and American flags with peace symbols. Most motorists honked and waived at the rally, which delights Granny Pat Birnie.
“They can hear the honks inside,” she said.
“At 9:00 am, the Grannies split off from the rally and made a plan of action.
The Grannies stood in front of the office and sang more songs, prompting (the sergeant) to close the door to his office.
“After a few minutes, they began to enter the office, stating that they wished to enlist. The recruiters tried to turn them away, saying that protestors are not allowed on their property, but the willful Grannies made their way in.
“After spending a few minutes reading a statement and singing a few more songs, the Sergeant told them that they must leave, and that charges were going to be pressed. Both recruiters seemed uncomfortable and were unwilling to confront the elderly choir, keeping their backs turned and pretending to do office work.”
According to an Army Battalion Commander from Phoenix, the charges were pressed by the landlord of the building, not the Army itself. He declined to give any other information about the incident.
“My sense is that it’s such an absurd charge that the judge will excuse it,”
Ms. Birney said.