Creating Change: Lessons, Skills and Advice


Finding internal guidance

Betty has a clear moral anchor and a process for guarding her integrity and inner strength: “I search for words – roots, groundings – these are metaphors for seeking spiritual connections within and beyond one’s self. Sometimes, an activist’s life is so intense and exhilarating, or perhaps the opposite, frustrating and discouraging, that one must stop and settle into quiet and let go. In the Quaker way, open up to the experience of the Inner Light or Voice. And wait.”

Then, strength and insight are possible and new ways to view things will be released to create a fresh sense of direction and “some way forward”.

Key lessons and skills needed

Betty has found fulfillment in group activities that embrace the companionship and shared responsibilities of planning, monitoring public response, and post-action analysis associated with a strong collective. She advises a coalition approach to political action that cultivates interconnections between issues rather than a single-issue focus.

Her experience with multi-organizational social activism has taught her that social change must be actively pursued at several levels and using multiple methods. At the grass roots level, public education and public involvement are needed; however, constant pressure and appeals to government and legislators also must be maintained.

Also she would counsel being open to turning protest into positive action to achieve the same ends, and to remaining inclusive, open, and flexible so that a change of method and direction is possible on short notice; to have a Plan B ready in case Plan A will not fly.

When working with oppressed minorities in particular, Betty emphasizes how important it is to listen and consult, to follow their lead, and to do what is possible through suggestions—either yours, or theirs—rather than give direction.

All this requires an ability to work with others, actively seeking ideas and being willing to trust and respect others enough to delegate tasks, if needed.

Choosing tactics should come after an analysis of “the big picture”, mentioning the repertoire of boycotts, non-violent direct action, civil disobedience, or the kind of satiric humour employed by the Raging Grannies.

She reminds us that activism means working towards greater understanding, reconciliation, cooperation, and change. When fatigued or discouraged, it is crucial to step back and take a deep breath, because “who knows what will happen with a new try and a fresh spirit? Try again!”

Advice to emerging activists

Although Betty concedes that the current political climate can be discouraging with its “same old/same old” responses to crises of war, environment, and resources for human betterment, she feels that the breakdown of old forms and structures can also provide a new opportunity for deep authentic social change. Convinced this is coming, she said “it can be peaceful, with the determination of all of us”.

She has these suggestions for the upcoming activist:

  • Determine your most burning concern and then find an ongoing group already involved with the issue; if there isn’t one in your area, form your own with a few like-minded women. If you’re in it for the long haul (and most complex issues require time), begin to research, study, educate yourselves and others; strategize ends and means. For quick action on a current cause, send out a call to find volunteers and ensure you have agreement on objectives, nonviolence, and accountability.
  • For public actions, alert media and the police, make handouts and signs and look for coalitions to co-sponsor the event. Try to involve the community from the beginning (even though very few may actually respond), and keep the work people-centered. Be open to new ideas and maintain a positive attitude.
  • The environmental challenge looms large and only younger people have the smarts and energy to meet it. Results can be discouraging, but if you feel you haven’t made a change, know that you are making a difference, however small. Polish up your sense of humor and have fun – don’t be afraid to be outrageous!
  • Ensure that a point person for the media is briefed with key ideas about the action, someone who can give on-the-spot interviews and answer questions.
  • Keep a visible presence, however small. Work in a group but be willing to stand alone. Remember the power of example.
  • Be prepared for surprises. If approached with ingenuity and creative ideas even the most difficult individuals and groups, including corporations, may eventually respond positively.
  • Never ever give up. Keep on keeping on and remember the saying that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly”!
  • Hang onto your moral anchor for balance in a turbulent world.

Last words

In a postscript to her interview after Betty had reviewed the draft for this profile, she added this note of strength and hope:

Obviously my experiences and recommendations are based on certain kinds of actions that were in effect during my working years, and very exciting they were. But times are changing so drastically and so quickly. In a culture of family breakdowns and the violence that is so pervasive in the streets and war rooms of the world, where will a coming generation turn in the next years of climate change and possibly irreversible consequences? Certainly one could end one’s years on a doomsday treadmill. Still, in my inner soul I remain hopeful, even confident, that new voices and energies, near and far, will rise to the challenges ahead. So be it. I salute you.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
–Arundhati Roy