Off Our Rockers and Into the Streets

By Bette McDevitt

You may have seen us over the years. Raging Grannies, wearing hats salvaged from attics, shiny beads reminiscent of Mardi Gras, and buttons with slogans that catalog past causes and campaigns. We’ve been singing at rallies, on street corners, in parades, places where we are invited and many where we were not invited.

We’ve been doing this since 2003. When some of us saw what was coming with the invasion of Iraq, we put out a call for elderly women to gather to sing. A couple of us had seen Raging Grannies in other cities. My own first sighting was at the Nevada Test Site, where the Vancouver Raging Grannies sang to us and kept our collective spirits up. Edith Bell had seen another Gaggle in Washington, D.C. There are Gaggles in many U.S. and Canadian towns and cities, and some in other countries.

Because Pittsburgh has a large peace and justice community, we got a rapid response to our call for women to sing. Also, the timing was right; people wanted to gather to protest the war we saw coming. Our first public appearance was at the huge rally in Oakland on a Sunday in January where the snow fell without stopping. The entire event, bringing us together, remains clear in my mind.

We say, in our opening song, that we are a “gaggle of grannies” but that’s not altogether the case; some of us are not grannies. We’re simply of a certain age, and been around long enough to have seen things that need fixing. Many of us didn’t know each other before joining the group, but newcomers soon learn that we are of one mind regarding issues of peace and justice, and not at all afraid to speak out or sing out. If there are any disagreements, it’s usually about when to take a breath.

In these chaotic days, there is no shortage of issues, and at our twice monthly meetings, we sometimes write new words to old tunes or borrow songs from other Granny Gaggles, on a shared website.

If you are interested in joining the Grannies or finding out more about us, look at our website, or contact us at 412-661-7149, a “singing” voice isn’t the issue; but having a voice to express your hopes for a better world, and sometimes your outrage, that’s what counts.

The song below was written by Mel Packer, a member of Pittsburgh’s peace and justice community. We’re honored to sing it, and take it very seriously.

“REFUGEE” song to tune of Johnny We Hardly Knew Ya aka When Johnny Comes Marching Home

(New lyrics by Mel Packer 12/18/15)

They once had a home that made them proud

Haroo, Haroo

But came the bombs, the sound so loud

Haroo, Haroo

Walls caved in, the roof came down

Buried too many under the ground

No place to go where the wind doesn’t blow

Disaster all around.


With guns and bombs and bombs and guns

Haroo, Haroo

With guns and bombs and bombs and guns

Haroo, Haroo,

Blew up their homes, stole their land

Smashed it all into rubble and sand

Left no choice, they died in the sea

As nameless refugees

They gathered the value of all they had

Haroo, Haroo

Fled from war, a land gone mad

Haroo, Haroo

A desperate flight they had to make

Not a real choice when your life is at stake

For the home they loved is reduced to dust

From wars that others wage.


Water comes in, the boat goes down

Haroo, Haroo

Headlines read “Ten Washed Ashore”

Haroo, Haroo

Who really knows, how many more

Bodies never made it to shore

Nameless people we’ll never know

Just call them “refugees”

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