If you happen by the Palo Alto Apple Store Monday afternoon, that group of elderly women dressed in white dancing the robot to techno music on the sidewalk aren’t some funky flashmob.
They’re Raging Grannies, and they’re are mad as hell about worker conditions in China where Apple products are made.
Galvanized by a recent Mike Daisey story on NPR about Foxconn, they’re staging monthly protests outside the Palo Alto Apple store. They’ll be on the sidewalk grooving to bring more attention to Apple’s labor policies in China at 3 p.m. on March 12.
Cult of Mac talked to Raging Grannie Ruth Robertson, 59, about why the mad matriarchs will continue to rile things up. The dozen or so “grannies” (members aren’t necessarily mothers or grandmothers, they just need to embrace the combative spirit) range in age from 59 to 94. This isn’t the first tech-related protest of the San Francisco Bay Area Action League of the international activist group; they also brought some old-school chants to a protest on war-mongering video games.
Cult of Mac: Why target the Palo Alto store?
Ruth Robertson: It’s our local store, our members live from San Francisco to San Jose, and we felt it was the right place to make a point about the Mac worship and the Steve Jobs worship in this area.
When Jobs died, bless his heart, they would’ve flown every flag at half mast if they could have. Storefronts had his picture draped in black, you’d have thought this guy was a god…
I won’t deny that he was a genius, but for all his genius, he was not necessarily a good person. And people who live around here kind of know that. His daughter, the one he didn’t want to recognize, went to school with our kids…We know he shouldn’t be praised like Gandhi and yet he was…
We also knew there were bad things behind how these products are made, but Daisey’s piece really brought home the facts…We knew it was bad, we just didn’t have the details – like former workers not being able to use their hands from repetitive motion injuries – until that story.
CoM: In the video of the February protest (see above), a guy walks right past the Raging Grannies – does that happen often?
RR: That’s not surprising at all, most people just don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to think about it. Those same people often go across street and watch because they want to know what’s going on. If they do pass by, we try to give them a handout to take with them and read later. It’s not unusual that people ignore us…At an Apple store, they’re playing with the toys, they don’t want to hear about it…
CoM: So why do you keep doing it?
RR: We do get the attention of some people…We also get on TV and reach more people that way. The last time the story of the day was about Apple stock hitting $500 a share, but a small part of that was “here’s the negative side.” [Our protest] was maybe 20 seconds in a two-minute news report, but we try to bring some balance to a story, so it’s not this rah-rah Apple fest.
CoM: Protest groups like SumOfUs have said they own Apple products and aren’t planning to boycott the company, do you feel the same? Or is a consumer boycott in the works?
RR: A dozen grannies calling for a boycott would be ineffective. Those of us who have Apple products, including myself, like them except we do feel there’s a great deal of planned obsolescence…
Personally, I think the products Apple makes are very exciting. I don’t wait in line or jump up and down with excitement to get them or anything, but when everyone is using them, you have to keep up. I had a job where I needed to use apps, so in order to work you need to have these things. That’s when I upgrade.
A boycott wouldn’t be possible because we live in the modern world.
CoM: What outcome do you hope for?
RR: There won’t be a single outcome, we want to keep visibility on the issue. Here’s the thing: Apple is pretty arrogant, they know if we have a little protest and get some press they’ll have more press too. We’re happy to be the other side of the Apple story. We’re going to be around on this issue on a regular day when people are thinking about buying another Apple product…We want to keep the issue visible and, you know, in a way we like being a thorn in Apple’s side…
CoM: Has Apple responded?
RR: They’re keeping an eye on us. We gave a head’s up to the press the day before a protest, so Apple sent a young spokeswoman to manage the scene. When we arrived, there were two TV stations and she was already talking to the cameramen, trying to do damage control…
If they have to spend a little time and a little money getting a spokesperson on the scene, that’s good. They’re a huge company and we’re a dozen older women. We’re not going to go inside or scream and yell, we’re being legal, staying on the sidewalk. We want to keep forcing them to address the issue…
Apple is one of the world’s most valuable companies, if they can’t do the right thing, who can?