Protesting for the Young at Heart

Some might say Granny Kate Chung is off her rocker. She might not entirely disagree.

With less than two weeks until the Toronto G20 Summit, the 68-year-old is nearly prepared for the protests. Her demonstration essentials -- a shawl, wire-rimmed glasses, ankle-length skirt and flowered hat -- will undoubtedly stand out.

So will her lyrics. To the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," she and her "gaggle" of Raging Grannies plan to sing:

Without the right to protest,
Where would we be?
There'd be no votes for women yet,
And no democracy.

"We pride ourselves on our unprofessionalism," Chung says with a laugh. "We sing for the future of our grandchildren."

There's a lot to learn from our elders -- the art of protest is no exception. Since 1987, the Raging Grannies have been showing protesters worldwide how to peacefully fight for justice and equality.

With gaggles across North America, the Grannies play up the stereotypical dress of a little, old lady. But, that shouldn't fool anyone. As Chung says, they are "women with attitude" -- few would say that attitude is nothing short of inspirational.

We've had the pleasure of meeting women like Chung before. We'll never forget protesting in Quebec City in 2001. A group of young demonstrators sat arm-in-arm on the cobblestone as policemen in riot gear banged their shields signalling they were about to clear the road.

Out of nowhere, a woman with white hair walked in front of the line and shouted, "Stop! These young protesters aren't harming anyone. They should just be left alone."

Batons and shields still in hand, the masked officers stepped back. After a brief discussion, they left us seated.

We didn't get the name of this less-than-typical protester. But, we'll never forget her bravery, her spirit or her affiliation. When we asked her which organization she represented, she proudly said, LOLA: Little Old Lady Activists. With that, she taught us a lesson in standing up for rights.

Chung hopes the younger generation will also be free to raise their voice.

"But we have seen the criminalization of dissent," she says. "I'm very concerned about this sound cannon. It's going to deafen people. Using it on protesters really represents a criminal assault."

It was abuses of power that first got Chung interested in the Grannies. She says the pepper spraying of peaceful demonstrators at the 1997 APEC protest in Vancouver and then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien's infamous remarks ("For me, pepper, I put it on my plate"), made her prick up her ears.

Since officially joining the Raging Grannies 2001, she's become accustomed to a retirement of dissent.

"A few of us went and sang anti-war songs at the Conservative Party Convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre," she recounts. "We were singing 'A Child Lies Under the Rubble' as six, big security guards ejected us from the building."

There is a recognition by the Grannies that they are getting older and still have a lot of work to do. So, Chung offers practical advice to the next generation. Like any good grandmother, she says to never head to demonstrations alone and to always make sure to do your research.

That's something the Grannies practice themselves. They distance themselves from more aggressive groups, ensure they are always well-informed of the issues and use their biting wit to get their opinions across. In that way, they hope to teach by examples that non-violence is the most effective form of dissent and that satire can garner the right kind of attention.

Most importantly, as a constant presence at protests, Chung and the Raging Grannies want to prove you're never too young or too old to protest -- you just have to be willing to get off your rocker.