Whoever coined the phrase "youth is wasted on the young" never met the members of Philadelphia’s Granny Peace Brigade. A group of spry seniors ranging in age from their mid-sixties to their mid- nineties, the women who comprise the Granny Peace Brigade engage in social activism with the kind of idealism typically reserved for the very young.
But that blend of idealism proves fitting when taking into consideration the Granny Peace Brigade’s main objection: protecting this country’s youth from becoming subscripted into the U.S. military and its involvement in Iraq and Afganahastan. "So many kids lose their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan for no reason," explained Granny Jean Haskell. That’s why the Grannies have successfully launched an Opt Out Program in the city’s public schools. Before the program took-off a few years ago, the Granny’s took issue with the fact that public schools gave the military its students contact information for recruitment purposes. Students do however have the option of telling school officials that they do not want their information passed along to the military through the Opt Out Program. But when the Granny’s approached Philadelphia School System Officials about participating in the Opt Out Program, they realized that the program might not be enough to protect kids from military enrollment.
When students not going to college after high school would express interest in the military to their guidance counselors, the counselors "would simply tell them to talk to the school’s military recruiters, who used soda and movies as away to lure them into joining," said Haskell, citing an example of reasons why the Granny Peace Brigade needed to expand its involvement in the Opt Out program.
The Granny’s based this decision on the fact that many high school guidance counselors do not inform non-college bound high school students that they had other options besides the military, said Haskell. In order to correct this problem, the Grannies attended a citywide convention for public school guidance counselors, explained Granny Joan Kosloff. Retired Philadelphia School District teacher Paula Paul delivered a compelling presentation at that convention regarding the need to present students with more career information, said Kosloff, explaining that it led to cooperation between the Granny Peace Brigade and Philadelphia School District.
Today, information about the Opt Out Program can be found on the Philadelphia School District’s website in eighteen different languages, said Haskell. Moreover, the Grannies have assembled packets to give to guidance counselors covering all of the other training programs non-college bound students can enter after graduation. "Many of these programs are free or are offered at a very small cost," explained Haskell, adding that a lot of students simply don’t realize that they can receive training to secure jobs as "cooks, nurses’ aides or tradesmen."
Despite the Grannies’ many accomplishments since its founding on June 28th, 2006—that’s when a group of Grannies were arrested for protesting at a military recruitment center—the organization needs more community involvement to get its message across.
There was a recent op-ed article in the Inquirer asking what happened to the country’s anti-war activism, said Haskell, explaining that the Grannies responded with a letter highlighting their level of commitment to the anti-war movement. According Haskell, it’s not that the Grannies don’t lead marches and demonstrations, "it’s that the mainstream media basically ignores us."
For that reason, the Grannies plan to celebrate the organization’s 5th anniversary as a way to both celebrate the groups achievements as well as to draw more attention to its cause. And for Haskell, people should become involved in the anti-war movement, particularly given the fact that more and more people "are talking about how to bring war dollars home."
And according to Kosloff, the website National Priorities calculates how the money spent on the military could really benefit other agencies, such as the Department of Education.
The Granny Peace Brigade’s 5th year anniversary will be celebrated on Thursday, June 30th, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Rittenhouse Square, 18th and Walnut Streets. The anniversary celebration will include: music puppets, fortune cookies, photos of the Brigade’s activist history, knitting stump socks, petitions urging legislators to "Bring the War Dollars Home," and information about the Opt Out Program, which enables high school students to choose not to have their contact information sent to military recruiters. For more information on the Granny Peace Brigade, go to: www.grannypeacebrigade.org. For more information on National Priorities: http://nationalpriorities.org.