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South Florida Raging Grannies Fight for Progressive Political Causes

by Laura Figueroa

These grannies aren't here for the sun and shuffleboard.

From left sitting, Alice Brown, Vicki Ryder and Evelyn Shobin, and standing, Margorie Sexton and Ann Fonfa sing during rehearsal at Ryder's Delray Beach home. "These oldies but goodies still have some fight left in them,'' Shobin said. (Photo: TOM ERVIN) "We should definitely include a song about gay adoption,'' said Evelyn Shobin, 66, addressing a group of crochet-clad ladies gathered for the monthly meeting of the South Florida Raging Grannies.

They don their ``granny garb'' -- bonnets, flowery hats, aprons and orthopedic shoes -- and rally on street corners, parks and municipal meetings on issues ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to overdevelopment.

"I could be sitting on the beach, eating cookies or something,'' Shobin said. ``But I want to fight to ensure a better future . . . I'm still out there, because sadly the kids now aren't.''

The ladies are hoping their voices will be amplified this weekend as more than 70 other Raging Grannies from throughout the United States and Canada convene upon Delray Beach for the Raging Grannies ``UnConvention.''

"These oldies but goodies still have some fight left in them,'' Shobin said.

South Florida's Raging Grannies ``gaggle'' -- as the different chapters like to call themselves -- was formed in January 2006 by Vicki Ryder, a 67-year-old grandmother of three who lives in Delray Beach.

LONGTIME PROTESTER

The Rochester, N.Y. transplant said she couldn't imagine not being involved in political issues during the winter lull: After all, she's been participating in protests ever since her parents pushed her along in a stroller during union protests in the 1950s.

After placing advertisements in local publications and sending out e-mails to other South Florida activist groups, several likeminded retirees e-mailed Ryder expressing interest.

"At our first meeting I pretty much asked the ladies, `what's got your undergarments in a bunch? Let's tackle those issues first,' '' Ryder recalled.

Since that initial meeting with a handful of grannies, the group has grown to include more than 40 members from Northern Broward and South Palm Beach counties. Despite the name of the group, being a grandmother is not a prerequisite, and the grannies range in ages from 47 to 80.

"Age is not important,'' Ryder said. ``What we ask of women is to come with a sense of humor, a sense of outrage and a commitment to nonviolence.''

Ryder says the group is hoping to open another gaggle in Miami soon.

The South Florida gaggle's first show of activism was at a Delray Beach City Commission meeting where they spoke against development plans. Ryder took to the lecturn and instead of speaking, sang a song to the tune of the ``Battle Hymn of the Republic.''

"We're the Raging Grannies and we're singing rights out loud

To say six-story buildings in Delray can't be allowed.

Let's slow the growth and keep our town as sweet as it is now,

our village by the sea.''

Large-scale plans for condo towers have since stalled because of the economy, but the ladies say they will continue fighting to preserve the area's small-town feel.

SPEAKING OUT

Since that first show of activism, the grannies have spoken out about farmworkers rights, in favor of gay adoption, and have paraded in front of toy stores urging parents not to purchase toy weapons as holiday gifts.

Monthly the gaggle gathers to decide which issues to tackle next, and to draft songs to get their message across in verse.

Between sips of hot tea and warm apple cobbler, the South Florida Raging Grannies gathered one recent Sunday to discuss what issues they would rage about at the upcoming "UnConvention.''

Ryder whipped out her Kazoo as the group rehearsed a song about gay adoption to the tune of ``Camptown Races.''

"Two moms? Two dads? Okay! So toss those laws away. Love is love and we approve, that's what the Grannies say!''

Despite their sweet grandmotherly looks, nationally members of the Raging Grannies have run up against the law.

GRANNY ARRESTS

In New York City and Tucson grannies were arrested after staging sit-ins at local military recruiting stations.

Ryder said many times they are criticized for being ``un-American'' when they protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Some people will yell at us `get a job,' '' Ryder said.

"Well, we've all had jobs, that's not the issue. We've worked and paid our dues, and now this is what we're choosing to do with our free time.''

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