Raging Grannies bring their own brand of protest
By Molly Hanson | Tue, 03/17/2015 - 3:02pm
Armed with feather dusters, flowered hats, knitted shawls and gaudy beaded necklaces they may not look like your typical radical rabble rousers. Far from choosing to spend their time knitting by the fireplace, these quick-witted women are crackling with spunk, sass and liberal ideals that they are spending their golden years singing out to the streets of Madison.
The Raging Grannies of Madison have been cooking up hot batches of political controversy since their beginning during the fall of 2003 when they first rallied around Madison’s capitol square to protest the war in Iraq.
Since then, the Grannies have been showing up where they are invited, such as Wisconsin’s Grassroots Network and Fighting Bob Fest, and also where they are not, like at the farmer’s market on the square, or in the Capitol rotunda where they once got arrested for bellowing out their politically charged songs during the protests against Governor Walker’s Act 10 bill in early 2011.
While some may view the Grannies as another one of Madison’s artsy, liberal quirks, these women are part of a larger international movement which began in Canada during the mid-1980’s and evolved into an effort to protest a variety of issues through performance, as well as bust the stereotype that aging means retiring to the rocking chair.
The Raging Grannies have groups, or “gaggles” as they are called by members, spanning the globe and in at least 25 states. Believing strongly in democracy, the Grannies reject any sort of hierarchal structure. They refer to themselves as a “disorganization” and gather for semiannual get-togethers they call “un-conventions” with 2016’s event potentially taking place in Madison.
Marjorie Matthews, who has been a member of Madison’s gaggle since 2011, feels that the Raging Grannies have given her the opportunity to get involved in an activist cause and enhance her political voice.
“This has really given me a means to speak up,” said Matthews, who took part in individual political efforts prior to the Grannies, but has found being part of a group more empowering. “The Grannies have a real platform and I think being able to be there and speak up as a group gives you more visibility and more of a voice.”
The Raging Grannies vocalize their political voice by singing their protest songs loudly around Madison on issues including environmental concerns, gun-control, LGBTQ rights and women’s issues. These songs, which are sung to the tune of familiar folk-songs, force into the public sphere very serious issues in an entertaining way.
Christine Garlough, a University of Wisconsin professor in the gender and women’s studies department, believes that the Grannies are valuable in providing a unique perspective to the public arena.
“They can have really strong opinions and be very vocal in ways that other groups can’t because of who they are,” Garlough said. “Also, you’re seeing women being politically active. How often do you see women on the corner being really politically active? It’s really bizarre, and it’s really visible. It’s in your face, you can’t avoid it.”
“I’m the one who likes to sing ‘Take your freaking fracking drills and keep them from our town,’ that one always gets a fun reaction.” said Miner, who has taken up the environmental preservation causes within the gaggle. “There’s these sweet little ladies singing about [controversial issues]. It’s raising real issues and it’s doing it in a humorous way.”
Miner, like other Grannies, grew up during a politically explosive era and has found the group to be a chance to return to her activist roots now that she’s freed from a day job.
“There was this swirling political stuff in the late 1960s,” said Miner. “That’s when we became politically aware and socially aware.”
Miner, who was looking for focus and something important to do with her life after losing a job at the UW Arboretum, joined Madison’s gaggle just before the Act 10 bill protests of 2011 that sent the opinionated city of Madison into political explosion. Not to mention sparking the rage of the Grannies.
“I turned 60 right in the midst of [the Act 10 protests]. I literally spent my sixtieth birthday on the square,” said Miner. “There was no place I would have rather have been.”
These days the Grannies are casting a stern eye towards the capitol and giving a firm wagging of the finger to the state’s conservative political leaders. Most recently the Grannies are energized over the budget proposal by Governor Scott Walker which would include massive cuts in funding to public education, the University of Wisconsin System, the Department of Natural Resources and environmental programs in the state.
Matthews feels that the modern political climate in Wisconsin is running counter to the state’s rich historical roots with progressivism and environmental activism.
“It feels like we’re getting hit with something new every day,” agreed Miner.
The Grannies, though, are embracing the struggles. Miner said it was helpful for her to channel her despair about the political climate into a creative medium.
“Sometimes it helps to be able to take an issue that’s just breaking your heart and make it into a song. It’s actually kind of therapeutic,” said Miner. “We’re not going to stop saying that we don’t like what’s going on in Wisconsin, we don’t like what Governor Walker is doing.”
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