Bonnie Block knows how hard it can be.
"A lot of times, when you talk about issues, people get angry," says the longtime Madison peace activist. "But when you do it in song, it gets behind people's defenses and they smile."
Block, 68, has been doing it in song for the last several years with the Madison Raging Grannies, a local volunteer musical troupe. Formed in 2003, the group - Block dubs it a "disorganization" - consists of about 30 older women who dress like little old ladies and perform humorous songs with leftist political messages.
The group's website lists nearly 100 public performances since 2005, including 30 last year and 23 so far in 2010, most for peace-and-justice-related events like last weekend's Fighting Bob Fest. The Grannies are also regulars at the Dane County Farmers' Market.
Madison's Grannies are part of an international movement begun in Canada in the mid-1980s. There are now dozens of chapters, including one in Milwaukee, and a shared songbook of clever ditties, like "Take Me Out of the War Game," to the tune of the seventh-inning classic.
The Madison group has also written about a dozen original songs. Each performance involves about 10 to 15 members ("We call it a gaggle of grannies," says Block). Members don't have to be older than a certain age or actual grandmas, but they must attend at least one practice before a public event. Madison members include Phyllis Noble, Mary Sanderson, Nancy Graham, Susan Bickley, Barbara Arnold and Betty Garvey.
"I think the Grannies are great," says Block, a former attorney who has made peace activism her life's work since 1990. "It's fun. I like the songs. I like speaking out." She thinks that "older women are sometimes dismissed" but that the Raging Grannies' satirical approach actually makes it easier to be taken seriously.
Besides, she says, it's the right tool for the job: "For many of us, what is happening in terms of war and injustice and the environment is so outrageous that the most logical response is satire."
On Oct. 2, in a ceremony in Prairie du Sac, Madison's Raging Grannies will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group of more than 170 organizations, the Grannies included. Past recipients include Sam Day, Clarence Kailin, Joe Elder, Midge Miller, Nan Cheney and Sr. Esther Heffernan.
"It's the first time we've given the award to a group," says Judy Miner of WNPJ, who calls the Grannies an obvious choice. "They are at all our events. They will go to immigration rallies, to gay and lesbian rallies, they will go everywhere. All these women have been mainstays in our community."
Besides, their performances are a hoot. "They always do something different," says Miner. "They are really cutting edge; they don't mince words with their songs."
No, they don't. Here's a snippet from one performance, captured on YouTube, sung to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at an event this June:
"You suck the oil from the sea and poison all the soil / You suck the profits from the work while others sweat and toil / You suck the lifeblood from us while you plunder and destroy / Halliburton and BP: 'YOU SUCK!'"
MadCity Cocktails does it again
Greg Melzer is clear about his goal in life: "I want to have a hobby that pays the bills." Amazingly, he's on the verge of living the dream.
Greg and wife Kim are about to launch the second edition of MadCity Cocktails, which Isthmus memorably anointed "a Bucky Book for barflies" when it was unveiled last year (Watchdog, 9/10/09). The new edition, which goes on sale Sept. 30, features two-for-one drink specials at 150 area bars. It can be preordered at madcitycocktails.com and will be sold at all participating bars as well as Cub Foods, Steve's Liquor and Rosatti's Pizza.
The book differs from the Bucky Book in that coupons are not torn out; rather, bartenders sign and date the books when used. Melzer says most of the 100 establishments in the first edition are included again. Moreover, "I've had people in other counties steal my idea" - the sincerest form of flattery.
MadCity Cocktails sold about 10,000 editions last year and hopes to sell 15,000 this year. "Am I getting rich off this?" asks Melzer, a former advertising salesman. "No. But do I love what I'm doing? Absolutely."
But Melzer is a bit surprised by the book's audience. "Students aren't the ones buying this," he says. "The ones who buy it are people affected the most by the economy" - folks trying to save a few bucks whenever they can.
With 300 two-for-one drink deals, each for up to $7.50, MadCity Cocktails offers potential savings of $2,250. The new edition sells for $15, up from $10 last year. Melzer says he wants his fam's three kids "to eat more than macaroni and cheese and ramen noodles."
We'll drink to that.
Rail referendum refuseniks
Dane County Supv. Dave Wiganowsky is just thrilled with the success of efforts in municipalities throughout the county to put an advisory referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot asking whether citizens want to pay an extra half-cent in sales tax to fund commuter rail.
"People are saying, 'Hey, it's about time we expressed our thoughts about what is going on," says Wiganowsky. Many of them feel commuter rail (actually just one component of the proposed tax) would mainly benefit one community. "They're telling us, 'It's all about Madison.'"
As of mid-week, 36 Dane County communities have passed resolutions calling for this referendum. These include four of the county's seven cities (Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona and Middleton), 10 villages (Cambridge, Cottage Grove, Cross Plains, DeForest, Waunakee, Marshall, Mount Horeb, Dane, Deerfield, McFarland) and 22 towns. Wiganowsky says these communities include 172,000 residents, nearly half the county total.
But the referendum has drawn fire from some, who call it misleading and premature (see Marc Eisen's opinion column, "Give Trains a Chance," 9/10/10). And at least 10 municipalities, including the cities of Madison and Fitchburg, have said no.
"There hasn't been enough discussion about this," says Ed Minihan, longtime chairman of the town of Dunn's board, which voted unanimously against the referendum. "A lot of people are just reacting.
"Before there is a referendum, which I think should be countywide, there should be a thorough airing of the facts. That hasn't happened yet."
Pat Troge, president of the Black Earth village board, agrees: "Why waste taxpayers' money voting on a nonbonding referendum when there's no proposal?"
Fight the real enemy!
As primaries go, the battle between Scott Walker and Mark Neumann for the Republican nomination for governor was not off the charts in its level of vitriol. Still, it was pretty clearly between two people who do not and probably never will like each other. But in his victory speech Tuesday night, Walker, after proclaiming "I gotta thank God for an outstanding family," congratulated Neumann and his supporters "on running an outstanding campaign."
Indeed, he said, "Because of this primary, we are tested and we are ready to take on the liberals in Madison." Outstanding.