"The Surge Protection Brigade" sounds an awful lot like it could be a team of Saturday-morning superheroes fighting evil in spandex.
Instead, the Brigade is a group of about a dozen self-described "seriously pissed-off grannies" who for the past six weeks have protested the Iraq war at high-profile locations in Portland...from rocking chairs. The next step in their protest is weapons of mass consumption: home-baked chocolate-chip cookies decorated with peace doves.
The group officially formed right after President Bush's announcement on Jan. 10 to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, first catching attention when five members chained themselves on Jan. 11 to the federal building at Southwest 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street.
While Congress has been debating which anti-war resolution is less toothless, the Brigade has organized several more nonviolent protests, with a now-regular appearance Friday mornings at the Army Recruitment Center at Northeast 13th Avenue and Broadway.
The protests mark the latest chapter in politically active lives for most members that include decades of demonstrations. They've tied themselves to railroad tracks to protest nuclear escalation and marched against the Vietnam War. WW sat down with five Brigadiers (Pat Schweibert, 62; Ann Huntwork, 75; Martha Odom, 64; DeEtte Beghtol, 64; and Linda Wiener, 49) to discuss their long history in activism, endless beefs with the Bush administration and what it's like for opponents to call them Islamo-fascist grandmas.
WW: How many times have you been arrested in your life?
Martha Odom: I've lost count.
I've got to ask the obvious question: What's changed when grandmothers chain themselves to a building?
Ann Huntwork: Margaret Mead said something like, "Don't forget a small group of people can change the world." It's not that we're specifically going to stop the war. But when people all over the country send this message over and over—maybe there will be some light somewhere. We have to be faithful; we can't worry about being successful. We have to do what we know is the right thing to do.
DeEtte Beghtol: And the other part of the quote is, "It's the only thing that ever has changed the world."
Linda Wiener: I think the critical thing for us—besides feeling like if we don't do something then we're complicit—is that we feel the need to stand up and say, "No, we are not accepting this." Our government is failing us. You can just look at Congress and see that unless we impose some sort of a pressure to say, "You guys are acting so stupidly, you need to listen, you need to wake up, you need to hear what the people are saying," it's not going to change.
Huntwork: I'm thinking about those Iraqi kids. Not just our children.
Beghtol: And the children in Somalia who are being bombed by our government.
Wiener: And Afghanistan.
Beghtol: All the people that we are raping and pillaging around the world.
Wiener: They did nothing. Nothing. They're innocent.
Why aren't more young people here now doing what you're doing?
Wiener: Some of them are. [But] our children do not feel as threatened as the kids during Vietnam did, because they were going to go. There was a draft. There will never be another draft. [Pentagon officials] learned that lesson. So they have this back-door draft, where people can go two or three times, and they're stuck there and can't get out. [Our kids] don't feel the immediacy. After all, we are very much an instant-gratification society. Our kids are suffering from that, from the perspective of not being able to see what's coming down the road. As far as the kids go, you—the media—do not give them what they need to see. Nobody shows the graphics. Nobody shows the faces. Even the soldiers. You don't see the soldiers who are coming back. You have to dig deep on the Internet to find the pictures of the wounded. We need our whole country to see what we're doing.
What's been your contact with returning soldiers?
Pat Schweibert: Lots. It's been humbling, and heartbreaking, what we have asked them to experience and to participate in. Many of their lives have been wasted. Some of them, luckily, didn't die—but they may as well have.
How do you respond to someone saying that you're acting as a traitor to our soldiers who are over there now?
Odom: We get that all the time. We like to think of it as half a
What do hecklers say to you?
Wiener: There have been regular, everyday people who have had some of the most disgusting signs we've ever seen at some of our events. I don't want to try to get into their heads, but they're still with the "might is right, beat 'em down, these people are bad and you're chickenhawks...."
Odom: We think of them as the "Bush Davidians." They'd rather go down in flames than admit that the guy at the helm is a raving lunatic.
Wiener: We've been called leftist Islamo-fascists. But so what? They have the right to say whatever the heck they want.
Beghtol: One interesting comment that we had was one woman who said, "They're interfering with my shopping." And we say, "Yes, that's what we would like to do. We would like to interfere with everybody's shopping." Because shopping supports the system that is. That's what Bush wanted us to do after Sept. 11. He said, "Go out and shop." That's his answer for how to make the country better—and we want to interfere with that.
Wiener: You do what you have to do to get your point across. In today's day and age, it takes a lot.
Schweibert: We're seriously pissed-off grannies.
Odom: When you get the grannies pissed, you better watch out.
Next on the brigade's agenda: a protest Thursday, Feb. 22, at the office of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) in the World Trade Center downtown.
Three rocking chairs seized in a previous arrest at the recruitment center are still being held in the Multnomah County property room as "evidence."