Raging Grannies are fearless activists
By Meghan Cooke
Sitting at a picnic table in front of Weaver Street Market, Lori Hoyt sipped on ice water and chatted about her grandchildren, church and friends.
But this 73-year-old from Carrboro is not the average grandmother. She’s a Raging Granny.
Hoyt, a retired social worker, is a member of the group of Carrboro and Chapel Hill women who sing politically charged songs at rallies and protests in support of their progressive ideology.“This is a wonderful empowering model for older women,” Hoyt said.
The Raging Grannies began in Canada in 1987 as a group of women who wore bright clothing and sang satirical songs to protest various issues. The group’s popularity drifted south, and new chapters, known as “gaggles,” formed throughout the United States.
The Carrboro gaggle began about 10 years ago when Granny Betsey Granda received a songbook printed by the Canadian grannies. She began recruiting women in the Arcadia co-housing community in Carrboro by passing out fliers that read: “Are you a closet Raging Granny?”
Several women answered the call. After a meeting with tea and muffins, the Carrboro gaggle of Raging Grannies was officially created.
The group now has about 12 active members, aged from their mid-50s to early 80s. The women meet only when planning their next events in order to coordinate each performance.
From the environment to social justice and the war in Iraq, the Raging Grannies take an active stand on many political hot topics.
They write their own lyrics to the tune of familiar songs to protest current issues, including the construction of waste dumps in poor neighborhoods and the USA Patriot Act, a federal anti-terrorism law passed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Being older, we can sing very pointed lyrics with strong messages,” she said.
One of their songs, “Yankee Doodle Georgie,” is sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The first verse is:
“Georgie Porgie is the prez, Though he was not elected, Said he’d finish Daddy’s war, And thought he’d be respected.”
The grannies also dress for the occasion. Floral print dresses and straw hats embellished with plastic flowers are the usual garb. Jane Hare, a 72-year-old Chapel Hill resident, said the gaudy get-up is part of the act.
“It’s an exaggerated granny look,” Hare said. “That’s part of the statement. We’re grannies, and we don’t need to worry about fashion and how we look.”
All jokes and songs aside, Hare said, the Grannies are on a mission.
“It has some irony and comedy, but it’s very serious,” she said. “We believe this war is wrong. We believe that injustices need to be righted.
“I think if people don’t stand up and say this is wrong and this has got to stop, the folks in charge will continue to do what they do.”
The Grannies perform only four or fives times per year, Hoyt said. In October they performed at Camp New Hope in Chapel Hill, where they sought to inform the public of destructive U.S. policies in Latin America.
“We’re essentially making war on peasants,” she said of U.S. policy in Colombia. “Social aid would be more effective.”
Despite their strong opinions, Hoyt said the Grannies have not run into much legal trouble so far.
“We’ve had a couple of nasty letters to the editor, disagreeing with our points of view,” she said, laughing.
Only one of the group’s members, Nancy Woods, has been arrested. She was charged with second-degree trespassing at Carolina Power & Light in Raleigh as she protested the company’s storage of used nuclear fuel at the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in New Hill.
But after a recent illness, Woods scaled back on her involvement with the Raging Grannies.
Hoyt said the group is usually appreciated because it merely supports others at rallies or protests.
In 2004, the Grannies donned Lady Liberty costumes and sang songs critical of The Patriot Act in front of the downtown post office in Chapel Hill. They participated in the demonstration outside the Army recruiting station on East Franklin Street in 2006 when three people were charged with second-degree trespassing.
Being an activist isn’t easy, Hoyt said. The Grannies must go against the American tide of militarism, consumerism and materialism, she said.
“It’s a struggle to be an activist and get out there,” she said. “But being older women, our motivation is not just to be a concerned citizen, but most of us have children and grandchildren, and we’re deeply concerned about the future of this country.”
Now it’s time for the younger generations to step up to the plate, Hoyt said.
“We’re all getting old,” she said, laughing. “We need young people to take our place.”