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Raging Grannies Protest War, Promote Justice and Peace

By Todd Eric Lovato
Journal Staff Writer
    SANTA FE— Dolled up in colorful prairie skirts, straw sun hats and protest pins, the members of the Albuquerque Raging Grannies were belting out an unabashed set of protest tunes during Santa Fe's recent Peace Day.
    To the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," the grannies engage their Santa Fe audience in an impassioned sing-along. It's protest activism at its catchiest.
    "Glory, glory hallelujah. Greedy men'll no longer rule ya'. Lying media won't fool ya' and the truth will make us free!"
    The seniors are members of the Raging Grannies, a loose-knit network of senior activists who have formed clubs— or gaggles, as they call them— in the United States, Canada and Europe.
    Equipped with a canon of protest songs, vibrant wardrobes and a predisposition for irreverence, Albuquerque's Raging Grannies are breathing life into the local peace, justice and anti-war movement.
    "Change takes strong, serious devotion," says 70-year-old founding member Ellen Robinson, "but at the same time, giving it a touch of humor from some old grandmothers can help lighten the load a little bit."
    With more than a dozen members, Albuquerque's gaggle takes pride in its light-spirited protest methods. Robinson says the effects can be inspiring.
    "We just have a way of speaking out that brings that humor in there," says the lifelong activist. "People tend to see older women and have a certain respect— they think we're going to be sitting in a rocking chair and stuff like that, but there's things that older women can get away with that other people can't."
    Albuquerque's gaggle made national headlines in July 2005 when then-82-year-old Sally-Alice Thompson received a personalized recruitment letter from the U.S. Marine Corps. A portion of the letter read: "The U.S. Military is in need of your service ... Seize this important opportunity to defend our nation and spread the message of freedom to others as a United States Marine."
    "The absurdity of it," says Thompson, who is an active member of the local Veterans for Peace. "All I could do was laugh."
    Thompson worked as a postal clerk for the U.S. Navy during World War II and says, back then, she carried a great sense of pride in her job. "I was not always anti-war," Thompson says. "I felt that our country would never do anything that I would object to. But my eyes have been opened since then."
    In response to Thompson's letter, Marine Corp recruiters told Thompson the letter was a mistake. The publicity minded grannies say, "We saw the letter more like an opportunity."
    In full-blown granny regalia, the women arranged a visit to the local recruiting center, where television stations captured the gaggle performing songs, protesting and dishing out anti-war-themed cookies courtesy of Enid Williams, 83. "I made some really good oatmeal cookies. The best I could make," says the retired nurse and clinical psychologist.
    The cookies were a gesture of solidarity, Williams says. "I baked them because I feel our government is more to blame than the soldiers and the recruiters, who are just doing their job. So I wanted to let them know that we appreciate them, but we want the government to bring our soldiers home," she says.
    "You have to understand that we women aren't out to make enemies. We're out to make a point."
Civil disobedience
    None of the local members has been arrested as a Raging Granny, but around the country similar groups have made their presence felt through acts of civil disobedience.
    In Tucson last summer, five members of the Raging Grannies were arrested and booked on charges of trespassing during a protest at a military recruiting station. In April, 18 members of the Raging Grannies were arrested, accused of blocking the entrance of a recruiting center in New York's Times Square. The charges in both cases were dropped.
    "Our group has decided not to blockade doors or do things to give ourselves a good excuse to be arrested," Thompson says. "But that's what we've decided so far. We never can tell when our policies are going to change."
    Albuquerque's Raging Grannies meet occasionally, mostly to rehearse songs, at the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center on Harvard NE. The group can be reached at 323-2386.
    Formed in 2001, the group has about a dozen steady members, including a couple "honorary grannies," and an honored sub-group of members known as the octogenarians. Older than age 80, they are Ruth Imber, 81, Floy Barrett, 82, Caroline Hilton, 81, Thompson, 83, Dorie Bunting, 84, and Williams, 83.
    "Now you understand the dangerous element in this crowd," Robinson says. "Some of these women are octogenarians— that means they have a lot of life and history behind them."
    It's hard to measure how much impact their time-tested activism is having, the grannies say. But they are sure about one thing: Justice is worth fighting for.
    Imber relates the group's passion for peace to an ancient Hebrew saying. "It is not up to you to complete the task," Imber says. "But neither are you free to desist from it."
    To the melody of "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," the women burst into their rehearsal and fill the air with music and energy.
    "Raging Grannies are conspiring to make folks laugh a lot.
    Satire is so very frightening, must be a terrorist plot.
    Listen to their conversation— they rage for peace not war,
    For dignity and for democracy. Hear their voices soar!"