By late 2007, my network had expanded to include many more women acting as change agents in Atlantic Canada, due in part to my own activism in aging and in built heritage issues. As the idea of capturing the experience of elder activist women germinated, I began to check whether colleagues knew of existing documentation in the region. I was not looking exclusively for women engaged in feminist-specific issues (such as violence against women, pay equity, women in governance, child care, and women in poverty), but as I encountered the diversity of work for social change in Atlantic Canada, I made a decision to focus on the elder women activists rather than categorically on the issues. Sometimes, the women inscribed trajectories of engagement that were clearly feminist, while in other cases, they did not; and then there were those with multiple foci. Certainly, some of the participants would identify as feminist just as others would not.
My decision to focus on women was based on my knowledge of the power differentials that result in disproportionate displays of "modesty" among women that render them silent or self-effacing about their amazing achievements. As we know, women's voices are all too often not represented in public space; and even when their accomplishments are significant, they may not be asked to contribute extensive analysis and reflection.
Why I chose to focus on elders aged 65 and over is a question that can be addressed simply by the nonetheless complex fact of being older that allows a person to hold the long view of social change. Elder women activists bring to bear on their reflections the richness of a longitudinal vantage that has seen governments come and go, and they have participated in public policy and practice changes that reflect the momentum of grassroots efforts occurring within political time frames. Equally important, these elders practiced activism during an era when communications and information loads were nowhere near the speed and volume we must cope with now. Today's social media and the valuing of instant messaging create unprecedented pressures that elide the time needed to process information, create knowledge, and conduct analysis for good decision-making. I wanted to explore the experience of elders who had been relatively free from such pressures and could devote their (always multi-tasked) time to engage in the research, consultation, evaluation, and collaboration that fed into action. You will note reference to such deliberative approaches in the "Creating change" sections of the profiles.
The other more obvious reason for choosing elders relates to the fundamental fragility of life and the unannounced changes of energy that often accompany aging. It was a question of initiating conversations with those who had both the willingness and the stamina to stay with the project.
I have made reference to the fact that in Atlantic Canada at least, elder women activists are all but invisible in the written record; although it goes without saying by now, this dearth formed a compelling motivation for developing this project.