Grannies Get Off!

I’m still very busy and my hands hurt from typing too much earlier in the week so today’s Blind Confidential will be another republishing of an article I got from Blind News.  Sunday is also the last day of snook season so I’ll be on the water a lot in the next 48 hours (weather permitting).  Although they have a legal season, I rarely take a snook home for dinner because, this far north, they are pressured and their habitat is threatened by million dollar condominiums with a lovely view of a mud flat.  I wonder if the realtors only show these places at high tide as on a full moon, very low tide, and these mud flats have a certain primordial aroma which one needs to learn to appreciate to avoid feeling disgusted.

Those very low tides present some of the most productive times to fish.  The large predator species that we outdoors types target cannot move very far and tend to bunch up in deep holes during low tides.  If you know where the holes lie, which is pretty important if you are walking across a mud flat at low tide so as to avoid falling in, you can toss your lure to the far edge of the hole, reel up your slack, “pop” your lure so it jumps like a real shrimp or acts like the phony rubber creature you have on the end of your line, let it fall into the hole only using your reel to keep the line tight, when you feel it hit bottom, twitch it a little so it looks alive, reel in a little, twitch and so on.  When you feel the tell tale strike of a game fish, reel hard to set the hook, let the fish run a bit and enjoy the fight.

So many people who come to Florida and claim to have an interest in fishing freak out at the mucky bottom you need to walk across and the smells at low tide and have no idea what they miss.  Typically, birds of prey do their fishing on low tide, pretty much for the same reasons many humans do; the fish have less water into which they can escape.  Thus, humans enjoy a much higher probability of seeing a bald eagle at work on a low tide.  Also, the filter feeding birds, including the beautiful pink spoonbill, come wading out at low tide.  Scientists say that the spoonbill gets its bright pink coloring from the billions of microscopic shrimp it sucks in from puddles on tidal flats.  Even the most optimistic environmentalists gave the spoonbill, still on the endangered list, little chance of surviving when they surveyed the population back in 1970.  Although people had stopped hunting them for their feathers (they were quite a fashionable accessory to a lady’s hat at one point) the DDT that ran off into their eateries killed the species slowly.  Today, while they haven’t fully recovered, one can enjoy their company fairly frequently.  For us blinks, they make distinct sounds and our sighted friends enjoy their pretty colors.

As you could probably tell from the headline, our favorite grannies were acquitted.  The following is the story from the New York Times about the event:

‘Grannies’ Charged in Peace Protest Are Acquitted


They came, they hobbled, and they conquered.

Eighteen “grannies” who were swept up by New York City police, handcuffed and jailed for four and a half hours were acquitted today of charges that they blocked the entrance to the military recruitment center in Times Square when they tried to enlist.

After six days of a non-jury trial, the grannies – who said they wanted to offer their lives for those of younger soldiers in Iraq – and dozens of supporters filled a cramped courtroom today in Manhattan Criminal Court to hear whether they would be found guilty of two counts of disorderly conduct for refusing to move, which could have put them in jail for 15 days.

The 18 women – gray haired, some carrying canes, one legally blind, one with a walker – listened gravely and in obvious suspense as Judge Neil Ross delivered a carefully worded 15-minute speech in which he said that his verdict was not a referendum on the Police Department, the anti-war message of the grannies, or, indeed, their very grandmotherhood.

But, he said, there was credible evidence that the grandmothers had left room for people to enter the recruitment center, had they wanted to, and that therefore, they had been wrongly arrested. He then pronounced them not guilty, concluding: “The defendants are discharged.”

The women, sitting in the jury box at the invitation of the judge, to make it easier for them to see and hear, let out a collective “Oh!” and burst into applause, rushing forward, as quickly as elderly women could rush, to hug and kiss their lawyers, Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Earl Ward.

“Listen to your granny, she knows best!” crowed Joan Wile, a retired cabaret singer and jingle writer who was one of the defendants.

Outside the courthouse minutes later, the women burst into their unofficial anthem, “God Help America,” composed by Kay Sather, a member of a sister group, the Raging Grannies of Tucson, Ariz., which goes, “God help America, We need you bad. Cause our leaders, are cheaters, and they’re making the world really mad.”

The trial was extraordinary, if only because it gave 18 impassioned women – some of whom dated their political activism to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – a chance to testify at some length about their anti-war sentiments and their commitment to free speech and dissent in a courtroom that attracted reporters from as far away as France and Germany.

Despite the judge’s protestations to the contrary, the verdict was a rare victory for protesters at a time when they have faced uphill battles in other forums. Hundreds of people who were arrested and detained for demonstrating at the 2004 Republican Convention are still embroiled in federal litigation charging the police with false arrest and violating their civil liberties. And the police continue to arrest bicycle riders on charges of disorderly conduct when they participate in monthly group rides called Critical Mass.

“I was sure we were sunk,” said Lillian Rydell, an 86-year-old defendant. “I love everybody!”

Essentially, Judge Ross had found himself with grandmotherhood on trial for seven days in his courtroom.

The defendants were 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 October.

But the defense tried to portray the trial as a referendum on grandmotherhood itself, and milked 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 suggested 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 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, carefully asked a series of questions intended to elicit what Mr. Ward called the credentials of each defendant.

Mainly, these credentials consisted 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 grandchildren.

But even without the cold hard numbers, the granny-ness of the defendants was hard to miss. They were not resort grannies, with dyed hair and manicures. For the most part, they had let their hair go gracefully, defiantly gray. Some carried canes; others used walkers. Ms. Runyon, whom the judge allowed to sit next to the witness box so she could hear, wielded the white cane of the blind.

They were 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.”

Ms. Rydell 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 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 recognized 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 was 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 was a case of disorderly conduct. To the defendants, it was a test of the constitutional right to free speech, and the morality of war. One of them, Ms. Wile, testified on Wednesday 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 came down to more prosaic questions, like whether the grannies had been 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 Wednesday after the last defendant testified, and the grannies seemed to collectively sigh.

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

3 thoughts on “Grannies Get Off!”

  1. Howdy Comrades! Right on Grannies! You rock, and I don’t mean you are wiling away your golden years in a chair. Us peeps who are sitting comfortably on our fundaments and chilling should be ashamed. It’s about time we snapped to what’s going down: The sighted mo’ fo’s running the Military Industrial Complex are ruining the scene for the peeps. Keep it coming Blind Christian! Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

  2. Howdy Comrades! Right on Grannies! You rock, and I don’t mean you are wiling away your golden years in a chair. Us peeps who are sitting comfortably on our fundaments and chilling should be ashamed. It’s about time we snapped to what’s going down: The sighted mo’ fo’s running the Military Industrial Complex are ruining the scene for the peeps. Keep it coming Blind Christian! Regards, Chairman Mal: Power to the Peeps!

  3. It would be nice if you were going to name yourself after someone you’d at least spell their name correctly. Oh, and try to pick someone who hasn’t murdered millions of people next time. Oh, and your blog is giving me a page not found error when I click on it in your profile. Guess as long as you’re that careless we won’t have to worry about you.

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