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That’s me, wearing a green bra, a tutu, virulent green tights and a pink hat that resembles an overblown peony. Beside me, in front of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, is Ruth, in a Viking helmet, silk knickers and not much else.
We’re Raging Grannies, rebels with a cause, and we’re serious even if we look silly. Yet still, a little voice inside wonders what my dear, conventional mother would say if she could see me now.
Perhaps, at 83, I’m making up for lost time because my generation never had a chance to be silly back in the days before teenagers were invented.
In the 1940s in England, I was a serious girl in gloves. My heroine, Florence Nightingale, would never have worn a tutu. The closest I ever came to dress-up was when, at 14, I became a junior air raid warden and was awarded a tin hat and an army gas mask to put out fire bombs with a bucket of sand.
My mother was a lady. In fact, she subscribed to a magazine titled The Lady. Respectability was her god, and her main concern was what to do when the lace curtains wore out. In my youthful arrogance, I felt sorry for her and vowed to be different.
Outwardly a good girl, on a scholarship to a good girls’ boarding school, I was inwardly restless. I blame that on Dickens. I persuaded a history teacher to guide me through Karl Marx and communism, and by the time I went to university at 16 I was sure I knew everything. I was going to change the world.
I took part in my first political action by painting the statue of the university founder with red lead paint and that was the end of my university career. No regrets. I was flung into the real world as a copy typist for the Semo Soap Factory. I was a worker and finished my degree at night school.
In Canada, I juggled writing and teaching careers. Widowed at 34, with debts and a family, I had little time left for changing the world, but inside I was still a rebel and soon began to go regularly to protests. When the dean of arts at Ryerson University in Toronto accused me, later, of having “an unprofessional attitude to authority,” I took it as a compliment. Along the way, I acquired two convictions for mischief.
When I retired in 1989 and moved to Victoria, I discovered the Victoria Raging Grannies and found my place and my sisters. Many of them had similarly checkered careers, marriages and family, and had fought in the resistance in Europe during the Second World War, struggled free from military marriages, defied the societies they grew up in. One was even a member of the Black Panthers.
None of us was about to dwindle into serene old age in some geriatric playpen.
Our oldest Granny, Anita, aged 92, still loves a rally and makes a commitment to write, sympathetically, to the wives of the political leaders we despise. And the wives write back.
Victoria was birthplace of the Grannies, who decided in l997 to start dressing up and singing to get attention rather than preaching.
Our first target was the U.S. warships in B.C. waters, so we formed a “navy,” launched it in the fountain of the House of Commons, then paddled out in kayaks and canoes to defy battleships whose brave sailors threatened to sink us and soaked our feather boas.
Such antics caught the attention of women in other cities and the Granny movement spread all over North America and as far away as Israel. It has probably endured because it is so open. We have no mission statement, no rules, no agreements except a commitment to non-violence and a promise never to preach.
We have no organization beyond e-mail lists and a website. Every “gaggle” has its own flavour and its own targets. Our Victoria gaggle is a legal society, but we have no officers. We meet once a week and anyone can chair.
The meeting usually starts with a “go round,” but eyes roll if any Granny moans too long about her health. Decisions are usually reached by consensus, but we are a very noisy lot. Our actions are financed by a weekly contribution of a loonie to our piggy bank and we never sing for money. Somebody writes up minutes in a book that we keep losing. So much for order.
Because most “gaggles” are just as loosey-goosey, we come together every two years at an Unconvention to share common goals. This year we are making a new commitment to a greener world, going beyond recycling to challenge oil barons and their government friends.
As I shake out my green tutu for our final performance at the Unconvention, I suddenly remember my mother adjusting her corsets for another venture into an unfriendly society. Each of us, in our way, taking courage by playing dress-up.
Alison Acker lives in Victoria.