Guest Opinion

Remembering Betty Schroeder, 1931-2009

Betty Schroeder was a person I loved very much, yet I would take in a deep breath, look skyward and shake my head at the mention of her name. She was a full-throttle peace activist, obsessed with our collective situation, who could be a profound pain in the neck, even among friends.

Betty felt entirely justified in demanding that we stop whatever we were doing and help her to address with immediate action a particular offense, committed by a particular person or institution, against humankind, the planet, animals and/or anything in between. She hated injustice.

Betty, born in Cincinnati as one of 13 siblings, worked on the family farm during her childhood. In high school, she worked at the local movie-theater box office, and later got a job as a nursing aide; she worked during and after her marriage. Considering her background, it was ludicrous when pro-war folks would speed past her in a line of demonstrators and yell, "Get a job!" She would mutter, "Get a brain."

She never had time to talk much about herself; I only recently learned that her late husband, an electrical engineer, worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. He was diagnosed with cancer, probably from radiation, but continued to work in military industries until his death in the early 1980s. She returned to nursing.

Betty cared for mothers who had given birth to deformed infants at Howard County General Hospital in Maryland. When she discovered the fathers had spent time in Vietnam, and that Agent Orange was probably the cause, she advised the mothers to ask for help from veterans' organizations. She became an advocate for peace.

She was arrested in 1987 at Johns Hopkins University when she, with 3 or 4 others, climbed a ladder to the top of a building in the Applied Physics Laboratory complex. They unfurled an anti-war banner; a truck took off with the ladder, and police had to remove them from their perch with a cherry picker. She spent four days in jail.

Betty moved to Tucson in 1994. After requests for a meeting with the director at Raytheon led only to frustration, she and two others drove past the guards and walked into the director's office with the same request. They were arrested and released; friends drove them to find their impounded car. She was now a Tucson nonviolent activist.

Betty was one of the five Tucson Raging Grannies who, on July 15, 2005, tried to enlist in the U.S. Army at the recruiting office on Speedway Boulevard and Wilson Avenue; rejected, they were cited for criminal trespass. Although the local media barely mentioned the incident, their action captured the attention of national media, including Ms. magazine. In an interview on the Today show, she declared, "Don't think we're stupid because we dress silly to get attention; we're utterly serious in our effort for peace." She read three or four books a week.

She advised us, on one cloudy morning on the edge of our town, to "just keep walking, no matter what they say." She and friend Pat Birnie helped us into white jackets with U.N. armbands and hard hats adjusted to fit our heads. On Feb. 13, 2003, we were protesting the pending illegal invasion of Iraq. The "United Neighbors" inspectors for weapons of mass destruction were hauled off in a paddy wagon and later tried for criminal trespassing as the "Raytheon Eight." She said, "Good show!"

Betty led, joined or supported all of us in every effort—sign-making, writing, singing, painting, any nonviolent action that we would attempt as a group or individuals.

If she was not on trial herself, she'd be there in the courtroom to witness and perhaps scold the prosecutor after sentencing; when she became too ill from cancer to attend the hearings, she'd send snacks and best wishes. I'll miss her outspoken conviction, drive and genuine loving kindness, as well as her strident voice. She was truly one with her cause.

Betty Schroeder could not prevent the invasion of Iraq, and like her favorite peace activist 2,000 years ago, she died before she had time to change our system of endless wars.

She has left that unfinished task for our immediate nonviolent action.

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