When we think of protestors these days, many of us conjure up images of twenty-year-olds with bandanas, long hair, and multiple piercings. But there’s another group attracting attention at protests. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, they call themselves the Raging Grannies:
When we think of protestors these days, many of us conjure up images of twenty-year-olds with
bandanas, long hair, and multiple piercings. But there’s another group attracting attention at
protests. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports, they call themselves the
People chat and drink coffee as they mingle between display tables at the Dandelion Festival in
Kingston, Ontario. But the friendly chatter is soon interrupted by the sound of drums in the
Before long, a conga line of elderly-looking women comes into sight. Their outfits cause jaws to
drop. Shawls are layered on aprons, on top of housecoats and striped leggings – all topped off by
hats piled high with flowers, birds, and fruit. The ‘Raging Grannies’ know how to make an
(dandelion lawns now…)
With their own take on familiar songs, the grannies captivate the audience. People stop
everything to stare at eighty crazily dressed women playing the washboard and singing at the
top of their lungs.
And that’s when the grannies deliver their message – about things like pollution, poverty, or health
63-year-old Margaret Slavin-Diamond says the grannies are true subversives.
“We deliberately look older than we are, and we deliberately play on the idea that people expect
less of older women. And then say things with these tunes that people think of as old-fashioned
and safe, and then we say things that have a real edge to them.”
The first group of Raging Grannies was founded in British Columbia in the mid-80s.
There are now about 60 groups, including chapters in Minnesota, New York and California.
The grannies like to make surprise appearances – at events like political functions and chemical
industry meetings. There’s no real hierarchy among the grannies. But there is one rule – you
must be a woman and over 55.
60-year-old Rose Deshaw sits on a couch, bouncing as she sings. Even in this crowd of bizarre
outfits, Rose stands out. She wears a neon striped dress and bright yellow feathers in her hair.
She resembles an exotic bird. And like many of the women here, Rose comes primarily
as a grandmother.
(finish song, then fade)
“A lot of times in a protest, I just carry a picture of my grandbaby. That’s all I need to carry
cause they know what that’s about.”
Rose is one of the creative forces behind the raging grannies. She writes many of the songs and
she’s author of a ‘Raging Granny’ comic strip in a local newspaper. She’s also been known to lead
the group with help of a rubber chicken.
“It makes people sort of relax. You’re not going to get too uptight with an old lady who’s leading
the singing with a rubber chicken. You don’t know what she’s going to do so you might stay
awake and watch it.”
It’s all part of the group’s mission to soften people’s skepticism with humor. John Bennett of the
Sierra Club says the grannies’ style is effective.
“They often can take a political point and make it very clear in a very quick little song. That’s
much easier to do than the long speech to deliver the message.”
But its not all grandmotherhood and apple pie. At one demonstration, a group of raging grannies
shielded a protestor, preventing his arrest. Others were tear-gassed.
Margaret Slavin-Diamond says she’s seen grannies challenge an officer in riot gear.
“They see that man as their son, a man that they are about and they try to talk to him in those
terms, of what do you think you’re doing? I think that’s something older women in particular are
able to do from our hearts.
(zip pe dee do dah…)
As charming as these women seem to be, law enforcement officials do take them seriously.
The Raging Grannies recently discovered that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency
listed them as a subversive group. It’s a label they wear proudly.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.