You can’t stop the ‘raging granny’

By CRISTINA RAMIREZ
Scripps Howard News Service

Roll over, Cindy Sheehan. There’s a new protester camped out at the White House these days.

Despite her disability, budget or age, "raging granny" Patricia Lay-Dorsey advocates peace, rain or shine, from her electric wheelchair.

This 64-year-old Washington, D.C., native has traveled long distances for the past 17 years in the name of peace. Dorsey currently lives in Detroit, Mich., where she became a "raging granny."

Even though she does not have any children or grandchildren, Dorsey co-founded the Raging Grandmothers Without Borders of Detroit and Windsor (Ontario), a human rights organization of older women who wear "big, silly and flamboyant" hats and sing at protests.

Dorsey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988, and before long, the loss of balance and muscle weakness that the disease can cause led her to depend on a walker. As her condition worsened, she started using a motorized scooter.

Dorsey drove more than 500 miles from Detroit to Washington, D.C., on July 19 to protest the U.S. support of Israel as it bombed Lebanon. From then on, she sits alone for four to five hours a day in a heat wave either in front of the White House or on Capitol Hill and holds a sign that reads "Israel out of Lebanon!!!" on one side and "Who Suffers in War?" with a picture of a Lebanese family on the other.


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Dorsey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1988, and before long, the loss of balance and muscle weakness that the disease can cause led her to depend on a walker. As her condition worsened, she started using a motorized scooter.

Dorsey drove more than 500 miles from Detroit to Washington, D.C., on July 19 to protest the U.S. support of Israel as it bombed Lebanon. From then on, she sits alone for four to five hours a day in a heat wave either in front of the White House or on Capitol Hill and holds a sign that reads "Israel out of Lebanon!!!" on one side and "Who Suffers in War?" with a picture of a Lebanese family on the other.

Dorsey’s 19-day protest concludes on Aug. 7. Her favorite spot is outside the White House fence because she meets people of different ethnicities and origins.

"It truly is a global corner," Dorsey said.

It was her instant connection with a Lebanese family who used to live in southeast Michigan that made her leave Detroit and start this vigil.

"I want to be part of awakening my fellow countrymen and -women," Dorsey said on Day 13 of her protest. "I want to give voice to the Lebanese, who I think are voiceless people."

It was earlier in her activism Dorsey met the Haddads, whom she calls her "family of the heart."

In December 2002, Dorsey received an e-mail from one of her activist groups that informed her that Immigration and Naturalization Service had detained Rabih Haddad, a Muslim advocate. In Michigan, Haddad had co-founded the Global Relief Foundation, which defines itself as an Islamic charity. Federal agents raided the charity’s offices, froze its assets and claimed it was funding terrorists. However, Haddad was not charged with supporting terrorism. He and his family had overstayed their visas and did not have legal immigration status.

Dorsey e-mailed Michigan senators and her friends to ask that they be Haddad’s advocates.

Later that week, she sat in the U.S. Immigration Court waiting room in Brewery Park in Detroit to hear the results of Haddad’s bond hearing; and thanks to her scooter, she was able to stay for the hearing and left that room with a new family.

Dorsey recalls the day in that "tiny immigration room."

"During the immigration hearings, family members, witnesses and legal advisers were the ones privileged to stay in the room. The rest had to give up their chairs for relatives. But since I brought my own ‘chair,’ I was able to stay."

Haddad’s wife Sulaima and four children were all in the small room.

(Since then, they’ve had one more son, now 2 years old.)

Dorsey scooted over to the Haddads and started talking and offered the children some grapefruit juice. She recalls the children’s being very grateful, although she later found out that they hate grapefruit juice.

"As soon as Sulaima’s eyes met with mine, I knew she was family," Dorsey said.

After that, Dorsey wrote letters to Haddad while he was held in detention for 19 months. Later he and his family were deported back to Lebanon. They kept in touch with Dorsey through e-mail and phone.

"Rabih would call me ‘sister’ in his letters and now I’m Auntie Pat to the children," Dorsey said.

On July 12, Dorsey read about the attack on Lebanon and immediately called Sulaima in Beirut. Haddad was in Istanbul on business. Sulaima and the children took a bus to Syria to escape the bombings.

"It was a hellish week. I could only think about them," said Dorsey. "I knew I had to do something so I got into my van and decided to come to D.C."

Her need for a wheelchair-accessible room and shower prevents her from staying at a private home, so her hotel bills will tally more than $2,000 for this vigil. Dorsey began to ask for donations from friends and acquaintances on Day 10 of her protest.

However, being a peace activist 24/7 creates friction with family and friends. So Dorsey posted an announcement on her online journal.

"The more you are true to yourself, the more people stop liking you," Dorsey said.

But one person stands by her side at all times. Dorsey says her husband of 40 years, Edward, doesn’t judge her beliefs.

"The only thing my husband has asked me is: ‘Please, do not get arrested,’ " Dorsey said.

She never has because she doesn’t believe in attracting attention through violence. Dorsey feels protesting alone is more effective than mass rallies.

"Dialogue is everything. That is how a person can make a change _ a difference," Dorsey said.

In order to make a change, Dorsey believes she needs to be a strong "presence of peace" by being "authentic" and nonjudgmental as she talks with people who disagree with her.

She said some people have threatened her during her D.C. protest. However, she said that White House security is around, making sure she is safe.

"Since I’m old and disabled, they (security guards) take care of me. I feel very safe," Dorsey says.

On Day 6, an onlooker suggested that Dorsey should have a sign reading "Hezbollah out of Lebanon" in all fairness. Dorsey sparked a conversation by asking the onlooker if he knew the history of Israel and Lebanon and if he ever saw peace result from war. The onlooker replied that there is a need to end terrorism and Lebanon needs to stop aiding terrorists. She asked the onlooker to join her with his own sign. He walked away.

It’s not all criticism. Some take her picture and give her two thumbs up. She also gets support from those nearby protesting the Iraq War. Tyler Westbrook, 37, from Vermont is part of the Code Pink/Hunger Strikers in Lafayette Park and says he is impressed with Dorsey.

"I respect her greatly," Westbrook said. "I think she is an absolutely wonderful and strong lady _ a person of conscience."

Dorsey did not allow her disability to stop her from being active. But instead, she says she is grateful for her disability. She began her activism a year after her diagnosis and if it weren’t for her scooter, she would not have the mobility needed to stage protests.

There are times she still uses her walker, but with style. She decided to paint it and put wind chimes on it. The name windchimewalker later became her Web site address.

Despite her disability, Dorsey has managed not to rely on medication for her pain. Instead, she swims twice a week and spends time with a trainer in the gym twice as week as well. She celebrated her 64th birthday by getting a tattoo of the world on her left bicep, symbolizing her belief that everyone is a "global family." She says she picked her bicep as a canvas because she is proud she doesn’t have "the typical old-lady arms."

For things she cannot do herself, she depends on people wherever she goes.

"I am not afraid of people," Dorsey says. "People are so kind to me and it’s easy for me because I have a visible disability. People open doors for me. If I need help, I ask for it."

On the net: www.windchimewalker.blogspot.com