Asheville’s Green Grannies draw attention to environmental issues

photo courtesy of the Green Grannies
photo courtesy of the Green Grannies

If you were in downtown Asheville last month, dodging rain showers on a Saturday at about 5 p.m. near the Vance Monument, you might have heard an a cappella chorus from Asheville’s Green Grannies. If not, you can hear them again on Saturday, May 17, rain or shine (and any other third Saturday of the month, at about the same time and place).

You can tell the Green Grannies apart from the usual downtown Asheville buskers — they wear Green Granny T-shirts and green hats. According to their post on actionnetwork.org, the theme this weekend is “Say NO to dirty fuels and YES to clean energy!”

Their songs are mostly original lyrics pasted onto traditional melodies. During the holidays, for example, they used a Santa Claus tune to sing “Climate change is coming to town.” The lyrics can pack a wallop, because the Green Grannies aim to save the world. Whatever your opinions about the environment and how to protect it, these activist elders ask, “What can we do about it?” The Grannies formed in 2012 as an offshoot to an Asheville-area 350.org, according to their Facebook page.

Sheila Maphet, of Candler, is a spokeswoman for the Grannies. (They don’t have a group president: “We are all presidents,” she says.) As as a group, they number about 20, and nearly a dozen sang on the Saturday I met them. A few of them met with me afterwards, to make sure I understood “where they were coming from.”

Maphet and crew explained that the federal government just dodged the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline by postponing a decision until after the fall midterm election. The Grannies are joining communities around the country for May 17 demonstrations with thousands of others opposed to the pipeline. Their reasons are contained in the songs, which they compose and sing for the entertainment and enlightenment of their listeners.

Members like Sherry Vaughan, Debby Genz, Cathy Holt, Pat Johnson and Gretchen Lewis hewed to the same theme as they spoke to me: We had better pay attention to what we’re doing. From the weather to war, excess to starvation — it is now quite possible for us to destroy our species in several ways, and we don’t even know who has their fingers on the button.

In the Grannies’ view, everyone needs to recognize this responsibility, take a position and do something about it. We can’t leave it up to our leaders anymore, they say. As the event invite says, “Join communities around the country to ask the president and local officials to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling and other dirty fuel projects that threaten our communities and destabilize our climate.”

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