How to grow a Grannies Group by Barbara Schlachter
100 Grannies for a Livable Future began in the mind of a woman who was sitting in the living room of the home in which she grew up. It was Christmas time and the family had gathered. A fire was burning, and people were talking and reading. Her daughter had just put her 1 and ½ year old son to bed; earlier in the day she and her husband announced that they were expecting child no. 2 and there was great rejoicing. In addition to the daughter and son-in-law the woman’s son and the young woman who would become his fiancée were also there, along with the woman’s husband and sister. The woman was reading a book: James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren. This book, written by NASA’s chief climatologist, laid out in no uncertain terms how the weather of his grandchildren’s world would become less predictable and more volatile. He pointed to the burning of coal as the deadliest of fossil fuels contributing to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He also was quite clear that tar sands bitumen and natural gas procured by fracking needed to stay in the ground. If they were to be mined and burned, it would be game over for the human race and most of the other species on earth.
This was not light reading; it was disturbing reading. I was the grandmother in the room and my heart was wide-open with love for this family and for the young children we were adding to the family. My first response was: we have to stop those coal trains! As a good child of the 60’s, I had participated in some direct action and thought it was time to bring such practices to bear on climate change. I could picture 100 grandmothers on a railroad track—a 10 by 10 legion—waiting for the coal train. There would be a group of reporters and other witnesses. If it appeared that the train would not stop, we would get off the tracks in orderly fashion, five on each side. 100 Grannies was a force to be reckoned with. Who could say no to 100 Grannies?
I shared this idea with my friend Ann and we incubated this idea for awhile. Then came the opportunity to join others concerned about the building of a pipeline from the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico at Port Arthur, Texas, that would carry the deadly tar sands bitumen. She and another friend and I donned hats that said “Granny for a Livable Future” and went to Washington where we were arrested in front of the White House for not obeying the command of the police to keep moving. Interestingly, the day I was to be arrested was the day my second grandson was born, and so I had to stay home with the 2 year old. But thanks to Hurricane Irene our son and almost fiancée were waiting out the storm in DC, having been advised to evacuate Princeton if they could. She and I were arrested together—talk about a bonding experience for a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, for that is how we described each other when we ended up in separate police wagons.
Ann and I were part of other climate groups and we began to note that there were some other women of a vintage age who were concerned about this issue. In April of 2012 we gathered 10 of us around my dining room table for supper. We were not all biological grandmothers; we were just of the age. I read part of a poem by Drew Dellinger’s and The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering by Sharon Mehdi. We invited them to become the founding mothers of Grannies for a Livable Future. Our primary purpose would be to stop the use of fossil fuels and meet our energy needs with renewable sources, like wind, solar, and geothermal, the technologies of which improve all the time and are already adequate for most of what we require. We also agreed that we needed to set examples in our own personal lives by working to reduce our own carbon footprint and to educate others, including the next generations, about the reality of climate change. Our mission has become one of advocacy and education. Our byline is “Fossils for a Fossil Fuel Free Future. “
Our very first action was to do an educational booth for the annual arts festival in June. One of our members was a retired elementary education teacher, and her genius was evident. We chose the theme of the Arctic, and she went to work with creating an igloo out of a tent and sheet, individual art projects for children, posters of information about polar bears and global warming and a block of ice for which people guessed the melting time. It was a great endeavor and we began to become a group and a presence in the community.
We started to meet monthly to strategize and to bring other grannies into the fold. We wrote for the newspaper, we had more hats made, we developed a brochure and a website. Our goals were clear; how to achieve them became the issue. We realized in addition to letter writing to officials that we needed a local hands on project. It became “Ban the Bag.” Single use plastic bags not only use oil to produce but often end up in landfills or worse—in our rivers and oceans, where they kill wildlife.
On Grandparents Day in Sept. we had a rally on the pedestrian mall in Iowa City where we exchanged people’s plastic bags for canvas ones donated by local merchants. We made a chain of bags that looked like laundry on the line when we draped them around the trees and benches. Many people took the pledge to use canvas bags when they shopped and we ended up recycling a thousand bags. The next action was to go to the City Council and begin advocacy for the banning of single use bags in Iowa City. While that has not happened yet, we have gained a great deal of support and consumer awareness for the issue and also found interest in the college student community. We became the subject of interviews and articles. And more women found their way to becoming a Granny.
We realized we needed a steering committee, and five of us came to the forefront to serve in this capacity. We each brought different gifts, and we discovered that we enjoyed working together as leaders in this effort. We appointed a web master, a treasurer, a membership secretary, a gifts and talents bank coordinator, and a Citizens Climate Lobby liaison. We began to charge $10 dues, with additional donations greatly appreciated, to cover costs of the website and brochures and other expenses involved with some of our projects.
Over the months our group has become involved in the following:
Continuing to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline through personal witness at protest events, through an open letter to the President, and letters to our Senators.
Supporting and participating in the work of Citizens Climate Lobby, an international group working to pass fee and dividend legislation through Congress, which would put a tax on carbon at its source and return revenue to the public. We have written letters to our elected representatives and visited with them in Iowa and in Washington, DC to pursue this goal.
Continuing to work to ban single use plastic bags. We are now considering legislation on a state level since it seems no one wants their community put at a disadvantage, as if contributing to a healthier world puts a business at a disadvantage.
Supporting the efforts to have local building done in a sustainable fashion. When a 20 story building project that was not using green energy in its heating and cooling plans was proposed near the site in which we meet monthly, we joined others in the community in protest.
We continue to table and educate young and older, every chance we get. We have a tri-paneled display and other items that are fairly portable, and we show up. When we show up, we always wear our hats and our large buttons identifying ourselves. And we always get a few more Grannies to join us.
We have partnered with our Iowa City recycling coordinator and others, making friends and developing alliances. We have sponsored the movie “Bag It” at the local public library and are soon to have a film series on climate change at the Senior Center open to all in the community.
We write letters to the editor and op-ed articles for the local papers ,do radio interviews, have guest speakers on occasion and become guest speakers at other gatherings. Not all of our members can be as active as they would like to be, but they do what they can.
We have just celebrated our First Anniversary with a carry-in supper at the “green house” of one of our Grannies. We shared poetry, some of which we had written ourselves, a litany for the earth—our founding month is Earth Month—and did some Dances of Universal Peace. It was a great celebration for what we have done and a great energy boost as we go into the future.
What we are doing is done because it is worthwhile, we do it out of love for the coming generations, and we are having a good time doing it. It is serious work, but it doesn’t have to be solemn work. It can’t be, or we won’t be able to sustain our momentum. We go out to supper together after our meetings so that we can have fellowship time; sometimes our best ideas come from around the supper tables. We are in this for the long haul because we know this is going to be a struggle for awhile. When one of us becomes discouraged, someone else is there to encourage. If we were working on our own, we might not be working at all. We might be dismayed, fearful and depressed about the future. But we are empowered, and although we have yet to stop a coal train, we are growing in numbers—nearly 70 by the end of the first year. When we get to 100, we’ll have another party.
In the meantime, we encourage other communities to start a Grannies Chapter. Just find a few friends who are concerned and get started. We are available through our website to help you. It is going to take a lot of us to transform the fossil fuel economy and mindset into one that embraces and relies on renewable energy. There is plenty of work to do. And our grandchildren are coming along, wanting to have a future where they can enjoy being part of the earth community.
Here is the excerpt from Drew Dellinger’s “hieroglyphic stairway” published in Love Letter to the Milky Way.
It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?
surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
We are doing important work. We are standing up to a fossil fuel industry that will not admit its days should be over for the good of this planet. In the meantime we are also taking back our democracy. Our voices are being heard. Our action is being felt. And we invite everyone, not only grandparents, to get in on a piece of the action so that we can turn this ship around in time.
Go Grannies! Educate, Advocate, Agitate.