Meet Santa Barbara’s Society of Fearless Grandmothers

Seniors Are Banding Together to Fight Against Earth’s Destruction

Irene Cook of Santa Barbara's Society of Fearless Grandmothers. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

The planet is in grave danger, and a vibrant group of grandmother activists has banded together to battle against the potential destruction of the earth.

This may sound like the tagline for a bring-the-whole-family blockbuster movie, but these superheroes aren’t fictional — they’re working in our midst right here in Santa Barbara.

Committed to nonviolent action and demanding urgent measures to address the Earth’s climate emergency, Santa Barbara’s Society of Fearless Grandmothers was formed last October. After their first training session — led by two of the founding grandmothers of the indigenous group Idle No More S.F. Bay, and the Bay Area Society of Fearless Grandmothers — the group quickly built momentum. They rallied in front of the County Administration Building on Valentine’s Day, demanding the denial of new fossil-fuel project permits; they hosted a virtual Earth Day art project collaboration with their grandchildren; and they wrote postcards as part of an NAACP effort to reach people in states where voting rights are under attack, urging them to make sure that they are registered and to pledge to vote in November.

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“Our hope is that people will really start to talk about the climate crisis issue and demand that we take some action, because otherwise our grandchildren are going to be in a world of hurt,” said Irene Cooke, one of Santa Barbara’s Founding Grandmothers. She’s a longtime climate activist who moved from Colorado to Santa Barbara in 2018, primarily to be near her daughter and young grandson.

“I replaced my mountain hikes with beach walks, and it makes me so sad to walk these beaches and know that, when my grandson is my age, those beaches won’t be here,” said Cooke. “They’ll be underwater. There won’t be any beaches, not to mention the issues with food production and migration and disease. The climate crisis will impact every aspect of life on earth.”

Frustrated with the restrictions mandated by the pandemic, the Society of Fearless Grandmothers — which has about 40 members ranging in age from their late fifties to 85 — is currently using technology and other physically distanced tools to demand that COVID-19 responses focus on a transition away from the fossil-fuel economy to a system that addresses climate justice and protects people, not profit.

They are also adamantly opposed to racial violence, and one of their official statements connects that movement to climate activism: “We recognize that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect people of color. We can no longer tolerate a planet where anyone’s right to breathe is compromised — whether by police brutality or by pollution.”

The Fearless Grandmothers fear that time is running out. “At a certain point, if enough action hasn’t been taken, it will be too late,” said Cooke. “And we’re not there yet. A lot of people have just said, ‘It’s too late, we can’t do anything,’ but that’s not true. The technology is there. It’s just a matter of the political will and people rising up to demand that we do something about this. That’s the main thing that we want to communicate.”

The Society of Fearless Grandmothers:

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