The Raging Grannies

4 mins read

Photos courtesy of The Raging Grannies

Outside Town & Country Village on the corner of Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real, you might spot a group of protesters wearing bright costumes, waving signs, and encouraging cars to honk in support. But if you look closer, you’ll notice the protesters aren’t your typical group of college students or young adults, but instead mostly older women who belong to a decades-old movement known as the Raging Grannies. 

The Raging Grannies host protests where they sing songs to support causes from protecting women’s reproductive rights to ending wars all over the world. The group was founded in Victoria, British Columbia in 1987 by educated, middle-class white women in their ‘50s and ‘60s, according to The Raging Grannies International website. The Raging Grannies led their first protest on Valentine’s Day in 1987, sending an “un-valentine” of a broken heart to Pat Crofton, then Chairman of the Defence Committee.

Nine years later, the American Raging Grannies appeared in Seattle. Inspired by them, the Bay Area “Gaggle” of Raging Grannies was born in 2000, and after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, they subsequently began to protest the Iraq War.

“We got started right before the World Trade Center was bombed. People point to that as the key moment when we started because it gave us a lot to go out and protest about,” said Granny Ruth, one of the first members of the Bay Area Raging Grannies. 

At one point, the Raging Grannies were even spied on by the California National Guard. Back in 2005, the Grannies teamed up with CodePink and Gold Star Families for Peace to protest at the state capitol and urge an end to the Iraq War. The Guard had been alerted to the event by an aide in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s press office as a courtesy to the military. 

The San Jose Mercury exposed the National Guard, finding emails from National Guard Chief of Staff Colonel John Moorman to head of the Guard Major General Thomas Eres reading, “Sir, information you wanted on Sunday’s demonstration at the Capitol.” The email was forwarded to other top commanders, including Colonel Jeff Davis, who oversaw a new intelligence-gathering operation run by the California National Guard.

After two decades of activism, the Bay Area Raging Grannies still attract new members. “What motivated me was when Roe v. Wade fell,” said Granny Lisa, who joined in 2022. “I saw the Raging Grannies at a protest and thought, ‘This is right up my alley.’” 

The Raging Grannies allow older women to fight ageist and sexist stigma. Granny Ruth said, “We all felt like our voices had long been ignored because we’re older women. But being a Raging Granny, people will listen instead of thinking that because we’re old women, we don’t have a lot to say.”

Granny Lisa said, “We get attention, and we get respect. I mean, who’s going to arrest a grandma? People think, ‘If these old ladies believe so strongly in something, maybe it’s worth looking into.’” 

At protests, the Grannies perform songs and street theater. They typically wear bright clothing, shawls, and aprons reminiscent of a stereotypical grandma. “The idea is to look like someone approachable, like this could be your grandmother protesting,” Granny Ruth said. “It gets people’s attention, and I think it’s a respect thing. If your grandma tells you something, you listen.”

The Grannies also customize their outfits to the topics of their protests. “Before Obamacare was passed, we were protesting outside Blue Cross/Blue Shield HQ in San Francisco,” Granny Ruth said. “It wasn’t our original idea, but we were ‘Billionaires for Wealthcare,’ trying to look like wealthy Republicans. It wasn’t easy, but we used vintage hats found at thrift stores and put on gloves and fake jewels to try to look the part.” 

To protest for universal healthcare in the U.S. the Grannies donned hospital gowns and one even wore a dramatic false rear. They held up signs asking, “Are you undercovered?” 

Granny Ruth explained, “We were at a bus stop in downtown Palo Alto. Most of the people there were Grannies, but to add to the fun of this event, two Los Altos High School students joined us to help hold signs.”

Granny Ruth advised younger feminists, “Find your voice. You don’t need to parrot what everyone else is saying, but it’s perfectly okay to agree with people and carry on their ideas.” 

Granny Lisa advised, “Don’t take things for granted. We never thought Roe would fall. We didn’t think we’d have to fight this fight again.”

She shared, “When I was first working for Hewlett Packard, people thought I was twelve, even though I was 24. I would show up at a business meeting and people would laugh and say, ‘Oh, she’s not the project manager, come on.’ So I learned you’ve got to stand up for yourself, you can’t let people mistreat you.”

Granny Ruth added, “Find camaraderie, find strength in numbers. We write to our congressmen, but that’s behind a computer. You have to believe in the street.”

She continued, “The more visual something is, the more impactful it is. You could write a million letters to the editor, but a photo of a protest will do so much more. If somebody looks at the news and sees the photo, they’ll ask, ‘What are those people doing?’ That’s a bigger message.” 

As for joining the Raging Grannies, many people might be surprised that grandmotherhood is not a requirement. “I don’t have grandchildren, but I am 65. So that makes me Granny-eligible,” Granny Lisa explained. “Come sing with us! You don’t have to be a grandmother––we’ve had men sing with us, trans people sing with us—it doesn’t matter!”

The Bay Area Gaggle’s website echoes a similar sentiment: “Make friends, feel powerful! You don’t need to be a biological grandmother or even a mother. You DO need to hold true to the ‘Granny’ values.”

Logan is a senior at M-A. This is their first year in journalism, and he hopes to write about art and music, as well as a variety of other topics, in the school and surrounding community. In his free time, they enjoy playing drums, art, and reading.

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