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Gaggles of Grannies Get Off Their Fannies
Published on Monday, June 7, 2004 by the Toronto Star
Gaggles of Grannies Get Off Their Fannies
by Sarah Jane Growe

"On this planet, Grandmother Earth, there is no higher authority than a grandmother. That is why the planet will be steered to safety by Grandmother/Grandmothers or it will not be steered to safety at all."
-- Alice Walker, Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart

Now is the time all right if Betty Brightwell and Alison Acker have anything to do with it.

At 78 and 75 respectively, Brightwell and Acker are both Raging Grannies, now a worldwide movement of senior women 70 "gaggles" at last count committed to steer the planet to safety through protest.

In 1987, the Raging Grannies were only one "gaggle" Brightwell and seven other peace activists, furious that their efforts to dispute the presence of an American nuclear submarine in their Victoria, B.C., harbour were being dismissed as the rantings of little old ladies.

Activists Betty Brightwell, left, and Alison Acker at Trinity United Church for the launch of their book, Off Our Rockers And Into Trouble: The Raging Grannies. Grannies not shy and retiring (RICK EGLINTON / TORONTO STAR)
"Many of us had a lot of anger still bottled up inside, even though we had, indeed, found satisfying careers," Brightwell and Acker write in their new book Off Our Rockers And Into Trouble: The Raging Grannies, dedicated to the grandchildren of the world.

"We had reasonably good marriages, many kids and grandchildren, but we wanted more from our lives. We wanted to make a difference. Getting older reminded us that we hadn't a lot of time, so we'd better get busy.

``And if we wanted to change society, we'd have to change our methods, because they weren't working."

No more passivity, no more being patsies, is how Acker puts it in an interview during the recent Toronto book launch at the Church of the Holy Trinity, birthplace in 1989 of the Toronto "gaggle" of Raging Grannies.

Acker's never been one to sit back.

At the age of 17, she was thrown out of university in Nottingham, England; (she painted the founder's statue red because of a strike at his drugstore). She went on to earn her degree at night, working in a soap factory during the day.

In the 1980s in Toronto and Ottawa, she was convicted twice for mischief during civil disobedience protests against war and oppression in Central America. As a journalist and a teacher in Toronto, she worked in solidarity with the people of Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador for 15 years.

Retiring in 1989, she moved to Victoria specifically to join the Raging Granny gaggle there, which was by then earning a reputation as anything-but-passive rabble rousers, fighting what they call "survival issues" globalization, nuclear proliferation, poverty, pesticides, pollution, Third World development, clear-cut logging wearing their outrageous trademark bonnets and singing their acerbically satiric songs.

It's more than attitude. This Raging Granny brand of street theatre is guerrilla warfare.

Widowed twice, Acker served 15 days in jail after participating in the now infamous illegal sit-down-in-the-logging-road protest in Clayoquot Sound, B.C., in 1993. MacMillan Bloedel's clear-cut logging of the centuries-old rainforest had been sanctioned by the NDP provincial government.

"Jail is a really interesting experience and not nearly so frightening as people think," she says. "Once you get to jail, you realize there is nothing else they can really do to you."

Yes, she was strip-searched.

"It wasn't so bad. I don't recommend it as a career but if it's necessary, you know you can do it. And if I had to do it again, I would."

Brightwell, still remembered for attending meetings in white gloves and pearls, is the "nice girl," Acker says.

Indeed, before her reincarnation, Brightwell identified herself as a career military officer's wife who thought anybody of this Raging-Granny-type ilk was a Communist.

"In those days, they could keep their distance from me," she says.

"Yes, I'm still married. My husband had retired by the time I became red.

"I'm not red, dammit, I'm pink."

Brightwell has opted out of some Raging Granny forays, such as the now-famous Battle in Seattle protesting the World Trade Organization in November, 1999, where Acker was tear-gassed.

The foremost aim of the Victoria gaggle is to inspire all older women to be activists, each in her own way, according to the book. Their motto: "As we grow older, we should not become less radical, but more so," in the words of Canadian author Margaret Laurence.

Everybody should be activists, Brightwell and Acker say. But many senior women are privileged. Not only do they have the time, but if they are not poverty-stricken and enjoy good health, they are also not going to be fired.

In the words of one of their songs, many of which Acker writes: "Get off your fannies, grannies."

© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited


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