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Off Our Rockers and into Trouble: The Raging Grannies

by Alison Acker and Betty Brightwell

The Raging Grannies: Wild Hats, Cheeky Songs, and Witty Actions for a Better World

by Carole Roy

Anyone who has attended a Canadian political demonstration over the past 15 years should be familiar with the outrageously attired, umbrella-wielding songsters known as the Raging Grannies. This international phenomenon – many of whose members are proud to have been designated a security threat by no less than the RCMP – has finally gotten some much deserved book treatment from two very different quarters.

Off Our Rockers and into Trouble is a first-hand romp through the founding and subsequent adventures of the first Granny group, born in Victoria, B.C. This tireless group has taken to rubber rafts to combat American nuclear warships, been banned from the provincial legislature after protesting welfare cuts, and found its members hauled off to jail for protesting clearcuts in Clayoquot Sound.

Written by Betty Brightwell and Alison Acker, the book details over a decade’s worth of creative, confrontational protests that have turned the stereotype of quiet and politically indifferent grannies on its ear. Even for people unfamiliar with politics, this is a good introduction to how a seemingly disenfranchised group of people can throw themselves into public life and made a difference by raising issues, confronting injustice, and taking some risks, all while having a heck of a good time.

Witty and poignant at turns, the book remains an accessible story of the Grannies’ political struggles while also detailing their questions of identity (are they entertainers, activists, or both?) and the often challenging group dynamics as they hustle off in their vans to the next protest.

In contrast, Carole Roy’s book is less focused, a combination MA thesis and Grannies scrapbook that attempts to analyze the national movement by presenting songs, pictures, and personal profiles of the Raging Grannies. It places the Grannies in the larger context of an often unwritten, certainly unacknowledged history of women’s resistance. Roy also examines the world of older women, socially scorned by society at large and often forgotten by the women’s movement.

Roy is strongest when she presents the oral history of the Grannies themselves, but sometimes goes off track by engaging in the kind of heavy political analysis that the activists themselves might pillory in one of their witty ditties. Roy doesn’t quite take the fun out of it, but her occasional forays into academese make for an uneven text.

Taken together, both books represent an important contribution to our understanding of a political force whose members refuse to fade silently into the night.