When retired Milwaukee Public School teacher Sheila Plotkin joined the Madison chapter of Raging Grannies, where she dressed in crazy hats, aprons and political buttons to sing humorous songs on social issues, she said it was one of her smartest decisions.
As someone who always loved to write, she wrote many of the songs the Raging Grannies sang at invited and uninvited events, libraries and the Dane County Farmers’ Market.
“I love it,” said Plotkin, a McFarland resident who joined the group in 2013. “It is a group of amazing, remarkable women who have lived in the service of their families.”
She said one of the more exciting experiences is when outsiders gather closer and closer to the women to hear their humorous and thought-provoking lyrics.
The Raging Grannies in Madison is a nonprofit organization and a chapter of the national and international Raging Grannies. The Raging Grannies began in Madison with a 2003 rally protesting the war in Iraq. They are dedicated in promoting social equality, peace and justice.
During the Act 10 protests at the Capitol in 2011, the Raging Grannies helped empower people with their original songs and chants.
Since then, this group of more than 20 ladies meets twice a month for rehearsals to practice and fine-tune their lyrics. They charm others with their colorful and creative lyrics, while wearing aprons and huge, colorful hats. And yes, of course, they have political buttons they collect.
“This has given me a chance to write,” Plotkin said of her crafting of some of the group’s songs.
Did she write “If My Uterus Were a Gun?”
“I wish,” she said with a laugh.
Even though she did not write that particular song that advocated for gun control, she wrote other favorites, such as “My County has been Sold,” to the theme of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” and “To Be Sheltered” which is about the homeless. Plotkin said the trick is to come up with a phrase that fits a tune she can recall and then create a song.
“My songs are more serious,” she said.
The songs the Raging Grannies sing fit the tunes of many popular songs such as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The crowd recalls the tune, and then they listen to their lyrics.
“Any Granny who gets inspired writes a song,” she said.
The Raging Grannies focus most of their songs on health care, environmental protection and education.
Will the development of Foxconn in Wisconsin be an inspiration for her next song?
“It might,” Plotkin said. “We are certainly a little worried about it. Some of it is a mystery, and there are no guarantee those jobs will be for people in Wisconsin.”
There are some environmental concerns with Foxconn that may prompt a song, Plotkin said.
Foxconn is the Taiwanese electronics supplier that announced plans to invest as much as $10 billion to build a factory for flat-planel display screens in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker said Foxconn will build a 20 million square-foot manufacturing campus that will create 13,000 new jobs and even more construction jobs. He also said it will generate business for other companies in Wisconsin. There have been concerns regarding whether the company will employ just people in Wisconsin, the environmental effects of this project and the best use of tax dollars.
“Who knows how long that will be in the headlines,” Plotkin said. “I may write a song based on some of the principals (of Foxconn).”
An eight-year member of the Raging Grannies, Marie Martini, said there is some concern with environmental issues with Foxconn.
“Having jobs would be wonderful, but we have to have regulation,” she said. “Wisconsin is a proud state.”
Martini also compiled a book on the local Raging Grannies, “Listen to Your Grandmothers: Madison, Wisconsin Raging Grannies Sing for Peace, Social Justice, Public Education and Environmental Protection.”
This book, published by Little Creek Press in Mineral Point, tells the stories of 22 women who sing together to have fun and raise awareness of causes in the community. It includes a CD and the lyrics of their original songs.
Each “granny” has four photos – a current picture, a “Granny Glamour Shot,” one that shows her being politically active and one as a younger woman.
The Raging Grannies began in 1987 in Victoria, British Columbia, and spread around Canada and the United States. In Victoria, the Grannies were responding to the health and environment threats in the waters surrounding Victoria that had vessels that could be powered by nuclear reactors and nuclear arms. There are nearly 50 groups in the United States and in Australia, Scotland, New Zealand and England.
The Madison Raging Grannies have marched and sang at national conventions and traveled to New York and Washington, D.C., to sing and be with other like-minded citizens.
Plotkin is glad she joined the Raging Grannies.
“People love the Grannies,” she said. “They think we are funny and fun.”
There are no singing auditions to join the group.
For more information, visit The Raging Grannies of Madison on Facebook or http://raginggrannies.madisonwi.us.