Marching on for peaceAfter three decades with the Northland Chapter of Grandmothers for Peace, the moment Jan Provost remembers most vividly is the 1983 Fourth of July parade.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
After three decades with the Northland Chapter of Grandmothers for Peace, the moment Jan Provost remembers most vividly is the 1983 Fourth of July parade.
Holding a sign designed by her daughter that read “Arms are for Hugging,” she marched down Belknap Street for the first time as a Grandmother for Peace. As she passed Cathedral of Christ the King Church, Provost heard the patter of people clapping.
“So I raised the sign,” she said.
Of the four local peace groups that marched in that parade, the grandmothers are the only ones still going strong.
“The old grannies have hung in,” said Karen Barschdorf, who joined the group in 2002. Maybe it’s because of the eye-catching buttons or the non-threatening name. Maybe it’s because of the group’s cookies, often requested by other peace groups for gatherings.
“It endears people,” said member Coral McDonnell.
For 30 years, grannies have engaged in protests, parades, rallies and other actions against war and nuclear weapons, including Mother’s Day trips to the ELF project site in Cable before it shut down in 2004. They have also supported students through scholarships and promoted peace with annual Christmas toy drives.
“My philosophy has always been peace begins at home so we’ve done the toy drive in town, we’ve supported kids ... we’ve done all kinds of things,” Provost said.
With one annual meeting a year and dozens of events to take part in, the group allows members to put family first and work within their comfort zone. For some, that’s on the front lines at local or national events.
“I think being yourself, standing for what you believe in can be difficult sometimes,” said Diane Rookey, who’s been a member for 20 years. “You just have to be who you are.”
Others find different venues to support the effort.
“Write letters, bake cookies, everybody has some talent they could share, whether they realize it or not,” Provost said. “I never knew I could do this ... until I heard that (clap). Up that sign went and that was it.”
Not all their efforts get applause. Drivers who pass by their monthly war protests in Superior offer a mixed bag of thumbs up and rude gestures.
“You can get anything on a given day,” Barshdorf said, including people hollering “Get a job.”
But with quiet dedication, the grannies make their voice heard.
“We’re not against the military,” Provost said. “Heck, we’re married to the soldiers. Our grandsons are in and now it’s granddaughters. We’re against war.”
“We’re always in a war now. It’s endless war. We’re always invading somebody or occupying somebody or whatever,” said Jan Conley, who has been a member nearly 30 years.
Members take a stand against nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, drones, remote killing methods and endless war.
“And I think through an organization you have a bigger voice,” Barschdorf said.
For some, activisim started long before they were grandmothers.
“I had kids,” Conley said. “I feel like if you have kids part of your parenting is making sure there’s a world for them when they grow up. My big impetus would have been my children.”
You don’t have to be a grandmother to join the group.
“You have to support grandmothers or you have to have had a grandmother,” Conley said.
Annual dues are $5, the same as they were 30 years ago. There are currently more than 100 members of the Northland Chapter.
Provost’s sister, Barbara Wiedner, launched the first Grandmothers for Peace organization in California and encouraged her start the local chapter.
“I’ve been spit on, I’ve had my hair pulled,” Provost said, and she even had FBI agents parked outside her home, but she never went to jail.
Today, the grannies are an international organization with 37 national chapters, three international chapters and name recognition.
“It really tickles me sometimes, when I’ll say ‘I’m with Grandmothers for Peace’ and people say they’ve heard of it,” Provost said. “It makes me feel really good.”
Although Wiedner passed away in 2001, her work lives on locally and throughout the world, ready to address war on all its fronts. During this month’s protest, the grannies will address the Syria dilemma.
“Diplomatic solution, that’s it,” Provost said. “That’s what the sign’s going to say.”
With 30 years under their belts, the grannies were asked how many more years they would like the group to continue.
“Until war is ended,” Rookey said.
The chapter will be celebrating its 30-year anniversary during an annual meeting potluck beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Superior Public Library. Anyone interested in learning more about the group is invited to attend or email firstname.lastname@example.org.