Sunday, November 24, 2019

Celebrating Polly Mann's 100th Birthday

Yesterday I attended Polly Mann's 100th birthday celebration in Minneapolis.

Polly is a longtime justice and peace activist and co-founder of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) – a non-profit organization dedicated to dismantling systems of militarism and global oppression, and one of the most active and influential justice and peace groups in the Midwest. She’s been described as a “relentless speaker of truth to power.”

Polly’s also a very dear friend of mine and a great inspiration in my own efforts in making a positive difference in the world. Thank you, Polly . . . and Happy 100th Birthday!

Following is Polly's short autobiography from the website of Southside Pride, a free monthly newspaper locally owned and operated in South Minneapolis, and to which she still contributes the occasional column under the title, “Notes from the Desk of Peace Activist Polly Mann.”

I was born November 19, 1919, in the little town of Lonoke, Arkansas., and spent my growing-up years in Hot Springs, Ark. After high school I got a job in the Transportation Section of the Quartermaster’s Office (U.S. Army) in Little Rock. During my couple of years there I watched bayonet practice and troop trains depart for the war in Germany (very sobering experiences). As a result I became a pacifist, and that belief guided the rest of my life. I married a military draftee, a young lawyer from Minnesota, who shortly was sent by the military to a base in New Guinea. I then got a job with the U.S. government and went to Ecuador and Peru for a couple of years. When the war was over, my husband, Walter, and I lived in Minnesota where he practiced law and eventually was appointed judge. We (Walter and I and our four children) lived in Windom and Marshall. Upon his retirement we moved to the Twin Cities. He died in 2004. When we came to Minneapolis, a friend and I started an organization, Women Against Military Madness, which has 1,000 members, one staff person and a newsletter editor and is going strong. Today I write occasional articles for the newsletter, see my friends, and enjoy retirement.


The following images and commentary are excerpted from my website Faces of Resistance: Images and Stories of Progressive Activism at the Turn of the Millennium (1997-2006).

Left: Marianne Hamilton, Polly Mann, and Lu Cossins on the occasion of their joint 80th birthday celebration - February 27, 2000. All three women have played significant roles in Women Against Military Madness (WAMM).

Right: Polly Mann, co-founder of Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) – May 1999.

“For many years I thought militarism itself was responsible for war,” noted Polly in October 1999. “But slowly, very slowly, I have come to realize that militarism is itself not responsible for war. It is the mechanism, the servant, of a larger force - a force that is the dominant religion of American society. This religion is touted in every possible way. Half of Sunday’s newspaper is devoted to it . . . It’s most obvious churches are the shopping malls. This force, this god, goes by many names – the most obvious is money. Another is consumerism . . . Another term often applied is the American lifestyle – a term which implies the ability to buy anything you have the money or the credit card capital for. The doctrines of this religion go by many names: ‘free trade,’ meaning unrestricted trade, ‘the market economy,’ and ‘corporate globalization.’”

In April 1999 I invited Polly to speak to a class I was teaching at the College of St. Catherine-Minneapolis, entitled Spirituality and Social Justice. Following are some of the students’ responses to Polly’s presentation:

• War is something Polly is familiar with. She is originally from Arkansas where she worked in an Army camp [during World War II]. She expressed sadness while telling us about the activities of the camp. She said it was very emotional to see the trains leave with the soldiers. They had to say goodbye to their loved ones. She said the worst [part] was when they returned home. Many [of the soldiers] were dead and the rest wounded. It did not seem to matter that they were heroes. [Polly] also told of the fighting techniques the men were taught. Bayonet practice was hard for her to watch because of its brutality. During this time she decided that she would speak out against war, but living in a small town [made it] difficult.

• [In questioning and challenging militarism] Polly has had some negative experiences. She has been arrested because of protesting and [has been] put into jail. The WAMM office has received hate mail and threats. The positive side is how [her activism] effects the people around her. Personally, I think seeing her stand up makes me think I can do something like that with an issue I strongly believe in.

• Polly was a wonderful speaker and I really admire her . . . I left class feeling very uplifted and charged. She has inspired me to speak out against topics like war and to fight for what is right. I have always wondered what difference will it make if I argue for this or that? I am only one person and nobody will listen to me. Polly proved to me that I am not the only one out there. All it takes is for one person to start the ball rolling.

Left: “I feel bad, but I’m not angry,” says Polly of the events of 9/11. “I’m saddened, but I’m not angry because I understand that there’s a background to all of this. And also, I think of the 5,000 children who die every month in Iraq and I don’t see two inches in the newspaper about that. So, until every death is the same as a death of ours, we’re going to have trouble. Until we feel the equal pain for their loved ones that we do for the loved ones of Americans, we’re in trouble and we’re going to stay in trouble.”

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s war rhetoric and the strong support it seemingly has from the American public, Polly notes, “America is not a peace-loving country. It is a country filled with people who love their things more than they love their children. Our wealth has done us in.”

Related Off-site Links:
Polly Mann Is Still Taking on War and Racism at Age 96 – Randy Furst (Star Tribune, February 25, 2016).
Peacemaker Parishioners Stay Faithful to Their Mission in Minneapolis – Nadia Barnett (National Catholic Reporter, July 18, 2019).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Inspirational Polly Mann Turns 90
Marv Davidov, 1931-2012

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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