The Raging Grannies (RG) organization was established in Victoria, British Columbia in 1987 by a group of peace activists whose goals were: “to court the press; to shock with their unladylike antics to get attention for their issues; to be independent of any other organization; [and] to use street theater, humor, satire and props to get their message across.” According to RG, the specifics of that message are as follows: “We are totally non-violent, believe in only peaceful protest (with lots of laughter), work for the ‘many not the few’ (motto of the old Mechanics’ Institute [which had deep socialist ties]) and see our work as the spreading green branches of a great tree …” There are currently more than 60 local chapters of the Raging Grannies in the United States and Canada, as well as a handful of others in Japan and Israel.
A collective of elderly women festooned in eccentric outfits and hats, RG makes political statements through the use of songs whose lyrics are set to classic, widely recognized melodies. Its members portray themselves as a friendly, casual assemblage of “average,” nonpartisan senior citizens whose activism is tempered by a playful spirit and is motivated by love of country rather than by any unspoken agendas. “The delights of grannying,” says RG, “include: dressing like innocent little old ladies so we can get close to our ‘target,’ [and] writing songs from old favorites that skewer modern wrongs …” “What do you need to be a granny?” asks Rose DeShaw of the organization’s Kingston chapter. “A sense of humor and an ability both [to] be objective and to compromise when working with others,” she answers. “Willingness to make noise. An open heart to learn something new. No singing ability. Passion. Joy. Delight. No color sense, obviously. A friendly disposition. Kindness. Scientific curiosity can’t hurt.”
The Pentagon began to surveil the Raging Grannies in late 2004, starting a file on the organization after its participation in a November anti-recruitment protest at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station. Said RG member Ruth Robertson, “I guess they [the government] still don’t get it that grannies in flowery hats are peaceable.” “Aside from the disturbing civil liberties aspects of the Pentagon spying on local peace groups,” added fellow member Gail Sredanovic, “it makes me scared to think that the folks in charge of protecting us from possible terrorist attacks can’t tell the difference between a terrorist threat and a peaceful citizen gathering. Are they really that stupid?”
RG is closely affiliated with the pro-Castro organization Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The Tucson, Arizona branch of the Raging Grannies is actually a splinter group of WILPF’s local chapter in that city. RG has also worked on projects with the pro-Marxist Sandinista, pro-Castro group Veterans For Peace.
Vowing to “rage for peace, social and political justice, and environmental preservation,” RG lists the following among its major projects:
(a) activism against American military recruitment at home and military involvement overseas;
(b) participation in radical environmentalist campaigns with the support of Greenpeace;
(c) opposition to “toxic waste sites that no-one seems prepared to tackle,” “asbestos sites employing young people desperate for work,” and “nuclear waste products being dumped outside an uninformed small town”;
(d) opposition to the sale of “war toys” (such as toy guns) for children;
(e) condemnation of Wal-Mart’s alleged “exploitation” of its employees;
(f) support for women’s unrestricted right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand (In 2005, RG members marched with a Planned Parenthood contingent in a rally titled “We Will Never Go Back! Celebrate Roe v. Wade!);
(g) support for the May 1, 2006 Immigrants’ Rights Rally of 130,000 marchers in San Jose, California, a pro-amnesty/pro-open borders event that RG described as a “moving” call for “the nation to embrace its immigrant workers instead of targeting them for criminalization”;
(h) opposition to “weapons in space”; and
(i) opposition to the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, legislation that was designed to cut U.S. funding for the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government unless Hamas agreed to renounce the use of terrorism and to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
In their book Out of Our Rockers and into Trouble, the Raging Grannies describe some of their most notable direct actions, which include:
(a) rowing a kayak out to a nuclear submarine to protest its presence in a Canadian port;
(b) going to a military recruitment office to enlist immediately after the start of the 1991 Gulf War; and
(c) singing outside the Stanford University Stadium in protest of that school’s choice of Condoleezza Rice as its commencement speaker in June 2002.
On February 26, 2006, the Raging Grannies performed at the Socialist Party of Massachusetts’ annual rally and speak-out, entitled “Stop the War in Iraq! Stop the War on Women!” Also participating in the festivities were members of the pro-Castro anti-war organization Code Pink.
In December 2006, RG members appeared at a Riverside Church rally in New York City to stand in solidarity with the disbarred criminal-defense attorney Lynne Stewart, who was awaiting sentencing on her conviction for the material support of Islamic terrorism.
On January 27, 2007, RG members were featured performers at a massive Washington, DC anti-war rally that drew 30,000 protesters. The Raging Grannies treated the audience to a song depicting President Bush as an incompetent simpleton who had ordered the invasion of Iraq largely out of vengeance (“They tried to kill my daddy so I had to hit them back”), and portraying him as someone who is crudely dismissive of his critics (“Anyone who questions him, he just flips them the bird”).
Another RG song, titled “Yankee Doodle Georgie” and sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” reads as follows:
Georgie Porgie is the prez
‘Tho he was not elected
Said he’d finish Daddy’s war
And thought he’d be respected.
Georgie Porgie, you’re all wrong,
Bombs are not the answer!
You can take your stupid war
And stick it in your pants, sir!
Georgie Porgie’s cutting taxes
For the country’s richest.
The poor will pay to fight his war
While George saves his own britches.
Georgie Porgie’s sending troops
To fight and to be killed,
And when it’s over and they’re dead
The poor will pay the bill.
The Peninsula, California chapter of the Raging Grannies is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, which is led by Leslie Cagan, a longtime committed socialist who aligns her politics with those of Fidel Castro‘s Communist Cuba.