Staff Columnist

Lessons from 100 dissident grandmas: Never stop trying

100 Grannies protested construction of the underground Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses 18 counties in Iowa. Here,
100 Grannies protested construction of the underground Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses 18 counties in Iowa. Here, Linda Quinn of Iowa City hangs a banner Feb. 22, 2017, from a pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive in Iowa City. Protesters, including Quinn and members of 100 Grannies, visited U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s office, US Bank and Wells Fargo to protest the pipeline end encourage passers-by to divest from the banks, which made loans to enable its construction. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Ann Christenson is 83 and knows the world is in trouble, but she’s not waiting around for Jesus or God or anyone else to solve the problem. “The world is on fire,” she told me, “and you better start putting it out.”

Christenson is one of the co-founders of 100 Grannies, a nonprofit formed by self-identified grandmothers who are fighting climate change.

The group was founded in Iowa City by the Rev. Barbara Schlachter, an Episcopalian priest, who died in 20016. Schlachter was one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church and after she retired, she committed her life to protecting God’s creation through non-violent activism.

Writing in a self-published paper titled “How to grow a Grannies group,” Schlachter explained her vision for 100 Grannies. “I could picture 100 grandmothers on a railroad track — a 10 by 10 legion — waiting for the coal train. … 100 Grannies was a force to be reckoned with. Who could say ‘no’ to 100 Grannies?”

In their nine years of existence, the grannies have protested climate actions all over the United States. Members of the group have been arrested protesting the Keystone Pipeline at the White House and the Dakota Access Pipeline in Keokuk.

And they plan on getting arrested a few more times before their time on earth is up. There is too much at stake. The group also partners with local student groups, joining them on their protests and activism.

It’s easy to quit when the world feels engulfed in flames. This summer Notre Dame burned. The Amazon burned. The middle of America flooded, while the West Coast simmered in drought. Global warming saw bodies thaw out of the snow on top of Mount Everest. Starving polar bears journeyed out of the Arctic and into towns in Russia to find food.


Our collective rage over politics, both liberal and conservative, seemed to boil over. There was a mass shooting in an Indiana bar, and at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. Twenty-four hours in August saw two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. We saw children in cages on the border and yet another woman credibly accused our sitting president of rape.

If 2018 was a year of protest, 2019 has been a year of hopelessness and exhaustion. A recent Pew poll found that 68 percent of Americans were “worn out by the amount of news.” Forty-six percent said they were tired of the political discussions they saw. Even supporters of the president are worn down. Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, said he’s exhausted with the president’s Twitter tantrums. In an increasingly divided America, it feels like the only thing we can agree on is that we are dying — our days are numbered and we are resigned to that fate in varying degrees of hope and defeatism.

Jonathan Franzen wrote in the New Yorker that we should quit fighting climate change and accept our fate. Franzen is only 60. Christenson is 83 and she’s just one of over 100 women who are tired, whose feet hurt, whose backs are bad, who have been protesting and protesting injustice their whole lives.

If anyone should feel defeated it is them, these 100 Grannies. After all, these women have more reasons to complain than almost any one of us. But Christenson laughed when she told me how she was arrested in Keokuk protesting the oil pipeline that was slated to run beneath the Mississippi River. “I had knee replacement surgery right before the protest and I had to climb up and down this steep embankment,” she said. “My surgeon was very happy with his work.”

Not only is she still protesting, but she’s doing it with new knees and an infectious laugh.

While I was at Christenson’s home, an Iowa City high school student stood on the porch of her yellow house, which is edged by the colorful, spiraling overgrowth of late summer. He was coloring in a protest sign and he said the main thing the Grannies have taught him to never stop resisting.

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