Members of Portland's Surge Protection Brigade—a group of politically active senior citizens, who have become known as the "Raging" or "Pissed-Off Grannies"—are taking their campaign against the war in Iraq to the district attorney's office, arguing that protesting is not a crime.
Sara Graham, 67, and four other women over 60—along with a 56-year-old raging grandpa—were arrested on Friday, April 6, outside the military recruitment center on NE Broadway, after daubing the walls and floor of the center with water-soluble fake blood, made from corn syrup and food coloring. The blood symbolized both Good Friday, and the blood of the soldiers in Iraq.
The protesters were initially charged with offensive littering (later altered by the district attorney to unlawfully applying graffiti) and criminal mischief in the third degree, a misdemeanor carrying a possible 30 days in jail.
In September, the district attorney's office offered to downgrade those charges to "violations" and have them processed in community court—removing the threat of jail, but also the protesters' right to a jury trial—if the six agreed to pay $100 in restitution to the recruiting center to repair the damage.
"But we're not sorry," says Graham, who along with the other protesters continues to plead not guilty to the more serious charges, and looks forward to a jury trial in December. She adds: "We don't want to give any money to them. The way the military recruiters responded to the protest, it was as if they'd never seen blood before."
Graham and another protester, Bonnie Tinker, were arrested again on June 9 after lying down in front of a tank during the Rose Festival.
"It's not right, at a time of war, to have a tank on the streets of this city," says Tinker.
The pair were arrested initially for disorderly conduct and "interfering with a parade," a law which does not actually exist. Graham, whose charge was later changed to interference with a peace officer, says she simply offered passive resistance to her arrest by crumpling to the ground. Both women are pleading not guilty.
"It's extraordinary to me that the district attorney's office should arrest an old lady for protesting a war that began very illegally," says Thaddeus Betz, Graham's attorney. "Why not arrest Dick Cheney when he walks into town?"
"We fight just as hard as anyone else to protect free speech," says District Attorney Mike Schrunk. "But sometimes people go beyond the bounds of what is reasonable and most of the time people are willing to accept the consequences of what they have done. We try to resolve these issues at the lowest possible level in community court—but of course people have the right to go to trial, and I understand what they are doing."