Grilled: Jo Billups and Karen Harvill | Sierra Votes!
Invading the Privacy of the People Who Make the Club Tick
Sassafrass Jo Billups (left) and Karen Harvill | Photo by Todd Douglas
Name: Jo Billups and Karen Harvil
Location: Lillian, Alabama, and Waveland, Mississippi
Contribution: Musical activist duo Sassafrass
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING A LITTLE INTENSE. ARE PEOPLE LESS INTIMIDATED BY YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE MUSICIANS?
Jo Billups: We're holding guitars, you know? Holding banners is wonderful, we've done that, but guitars are instantly a different thing for people. Our goal is a healthy planet, so the hope is that the music will bring that forward, that through the music and the message more people will get involved.
Karen Harvill: We were raised by mothers who said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Our joke is "Okay, we'll just sing it."
SHOULD SOME OF US STICK TO HOLDING BANNERS?
Harvill: Whatever your natural talents are, there's a use for them in the environmental movement.
Billups: We feel there are enough people singing love songs that our skills can be better used with an environmental theme.
WHAT'S THE BEST PROTEST LYRIC YOU'VE WRITTEN?
Harvill: I think our song "The Trees Are Dreaming" sums things up. The chorus goes, "How do we fix our polluted waters / Our shrinking forests or the madness in the air? / Until we mend the madness of our minds / There will be no solution there, there will be no solutions there."
HOW DID YOU GET INTO ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM?
Billups: Well, I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, so I started with protest music as a teenager. And I grew up fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, so protecting the gulf was a natural thing that developed, and that spread out to a more global attitude and philosophy. The activism just kind of followed as I became more aware.
Harvill: Even though I'm older, I also was taken by political music in high school. And then I had children. And I began to look at things going on around me, watching things be degraded. It's heartbreaking.
SO WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE SPELLING OF YOUR BAND'S NAME?
Harvill: We added an extra s. We figured there's two of us, so ...
Billups: There were already five groups called Sassafras, so we added the extra s.
—interview by Julie Eng
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Sierra Club Members,
Do you have strong opinions about the Sierra Club's goals and policies? Help chart the Club's course by voting in this year's Sierra Club Board of Directors election. And after you've cast your ballot, remind your fellow Clubbers to do the same. "As we have grown, voter participation has steadily declined as a percentage of our membership. This is a trend we can, and must, reverse to continue strong grassroots representation," says Sierra Club Secretary Lane Boldman, who oversees elections. "We must have the full support and engagement of all eligible voting members."
Elected directors serve a three-year term and approve the annual budget, oversee all Club programs and activities, and, most important, set the Club's national conservation priorities, goals, and policies. Check out the candidates' forum at sierraclub.org/bod/2014election/candidateforum to learn more about where each candidate stands on the issues you care about.
Boldman reminds members that "it is your voice that makes us stronger. It inspires this organization with the best ideas. It gives us all the strength to be courageous in our actions. Your voice is what makes the Sierra Club what we are."
Eligible voters should receive ballots in early March. Marked ballots must be returned and received by April 16. Questions? Didn't receive a ballot? Contact Membership Services at (415) 977-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org. —James Rogers