Calling all fearless grannies — to the front lines.
A new group of courageous grandmothers is committed to keeping the younger generations safe during activities and unsanctioned events requiring street closures so that activists engaging in nonviolent direct actions can raise awareness about the looming climate emergency.
Members of the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara are peaceful, calm, strong and loving.
“We are not protesters,” 71-year-old Irene Cooke said. “We are protectors.”
At a time when global warming moves more into life, the grandmothers demand immediate action so that current and future generations have a livable planet.
The group is made up of grandmother-age women who feel an obligation to the safety of humanity.
“The world seems to be going on business-as-usual,” Cooke said. “That can’t continue for the next 10 years if our grandchildren are going to have any kind of hope for a decent future.”
The grandmothers understand the risks of being on the front lines between law enforcement and the people behind them. The volunteers are willing to be arrested to safeguard those nonviolently standing between them, and if necessary, they understand the risks of being harmed.
The women are dedicated to being on the front lines to de-escalate tensions and plan to speak calmly to authorities.
“The point is to have a line of older women who will keep a street safe as it is closed for a nonviolent direct action,” Cooke said. “We feel that by having a group of older women with a lot of experience, love and dedication to nonviolence — that sets the tone that this isn’t so much of a protest, but it is done for protection.”
The original Society of Fearless Grandmothers was created in the Bay Area, with members of other elder women activists and front line communities working to address climate issues.
It stemmed from members of Idle No More SF Bay — Native Americans and allies working to create positive change concerning indigenous rights and the environment — and 1,000 Grandmothers, a group of elder women activists working to address the climate crisis and supporting rights of Native Americans.
Men aren’t participating in the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara, but several are supportive. Men have been affiliated with the group and have joined the grandmothers at local marches and public meetings.
The grandmothers have passionately spoken during public comment periods at a recent Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisor meeting and other local meetings.
Some people argue that older women have a certain type of compassion, authority, strength and love based on their life experiences.
“At this point, we feel that having a line of gray-haired women sets a message that maybe having men in the mix might not accomplish the same thing,” Cooke said. “The image of the elder women closing the street is the main point.”
Several people aren’t grandmothers, Cooke said. For many indigenous cultures, she explained, a woman who is grandmother age and cares about the next seven generations can technically be considered as a grandmother.
Members of the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara trained, practiced in the streets, and now they are ready.
The grandmothers participated in a daylong training for nonviolent direct action situations. The training focused on how to organize and how to become a police liaison, as well as how to nonviolently stand between authorities and those behind them conducting nonviolent direct actions.
Two founding grandmothers from the Bay Area organized the training. The women have a history of safe and successful street closures, as well as other experiences.
At the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara in October, participants gathered for training to better prepare for engagement in peaceful civil disobedience. Twenty women attended the training. Volunteer training teachers can accommodate a maximum of 20 people at a time, Cooke said.
Lynne Coie, a member of the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara, is motivated.
“We have got to do something about our planet,” Coie said.
Passersby, driving past and watching the grandmothers block Santa Barbara Street for a brief time at the training, reacted with amazement. Onlookers gave a welcoming thumbs-up to the grandmothers, and people were arm-waving, Coie said.
The grandmothers stood shoulder-to-shoulder. They held a red and yellow sign that read, “Sorry for the inconvenience. We are trying to protect our planet.” They also wore purple reflective vests.
“The reaction from drivers was positive,” Coie said. “It was a powerful and fabulous feeling.”
The group’s unique name captured the attention of Coie, a grandmother of two children ages 10 and 12. She said she wanted to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts after reading educational information and getting up to speed on the facts.
As a grandmother, she said she felt a personal responsibility to do something.
“Things are going to get dramatically worse,” Coie said of the climate crisis.
In addition to joining the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara, Coie has committed to get off oil- and gas-related sources. She is looking into fuel-efficient vehicles.
“Everybody on this planet, we have to do something,” the 81-year-old Coie said. “I don’t know if we can stop it, but we can probably slow it down.
“I thought, I’m a fearless grandmother. The more I read about the climate emergency, the more I thought we have to do everything we can do.”
Studies show that global warming threats are increasingly common. Economic and environmental effects, including longer lengths of drought in some regions, more frequent wildfires and an increase in the amount, duration and intensity of tropical storms are some of the potential future effects of global climate change, according to NASA.
Urgent change is needed to combat global warming, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel’s 2018 special report warns that humankind has less than 12 years to avoid potentially irreversible climate disruption.
There’s a high likelihood that in 2020 — as people become better aware and worry about the effects of climate change — climate activist groups will organize nonviolent direct action events in Santa Barbara County.
The Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara is prepared to support those actions, with trained grandmothers to provide an affectionate and peaceful influence on the front lines.
“We can support younger activists by helping shut down the street and make the street safe for them to engage in their activity,” Cooke said. “We are going to inconvenience people for a little bit to get their attention and raise public awareness of this issue.”
She said that the Society of Fearless Grandmothers Santa Barbara receives assistance, including meeting spaces and financial support, from the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara.