Author Tags: Civil Rights, Environment, Women
A self-described eco-feminist writer and great-grandmother, Betty Krawczyk is dedicating the rest of her life to actively illuminating the Earth's environmental crisis. She says she writes "about civil disobedience and the absolute necessity of it in these times of societal and ecological breakdown."
Betty Shiver Krawczyk was born in 1928 in East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, in swamp land and redneck country. "I certainly wasn't raised to be a protester," she says. "I was raised a poor, country, southern, white woman." Before her father became a preacher, he was a peddler of tonics. His Liberty Tonic was supposed to be good for whatever ailed you. “I think the main ingredients of Liberty Tonic were iron and castor oil and Mississippi River mud,” she wrote in her first volume of memoirs, Clayoquot: The Sound of My Heart (Orca $16.95). She had little freedom at home. “It was the virginity thing that was so damned important. Sometimes I wished I could just take my intact hymen and give it to my parents and say, here, this really doesn't have a lot to do with me and it keeps you in a state of constant anxiety.”
At 16, she married the first man who came courting. Three male children later she was a single mother in the multi-racial poor section of Phoenix, Arizona. After her workers’ union at the cafeteria where she worked went on strike, she picketed for two months, then headed to California. “The west had its advantages. Nobody gave a damn where you lived or with whom you lived or what your background was. The downside was, nobody gave a damn about you, either.” A second marriage lasted a year. It produced a baby girl named Susan to go with Joey, Mike and Andy. “It has always been a source of astonishment to me how my rotten choices in men produced such wonderful children.” Then she met an intellectual, John Camp, a Korean War veteran and atheist who was working on a Master's degree in physics. Married and pregnant again, Krawczyk moved to Baton Rouge where they bought a house on the G.I. Bill. After staying up all night writing, Krawczyk surprised herself and her family by selling a confessional piece to True Story magazine for $400. A happy marriage and a freelance writing career was born, along with another baby girl, Margaret Elizabeth.
When de-segregation came to Louisiana, Krawczyk's principles caused her to split painfully from her church. “I just couldn't believe that the churches in our area and even in the entire state were being so cowardly on the issue... The churches were declining to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our Saviour who was so solidly on the side of the poor and downtrodden.” Another baby, Rose Mary, was barely a month old when John Camp took a job as a junior physicist with NASA in Norfolk, Virginia. They settled in Hampton, Virginia where Krawczyk's stories for “the pulps” began selling and she discovered some camaraderie with the Unitarian Fellowship. Krawczyk had her eyes opened wide by reading George Bernard Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism. Reading Shaw helped her admit that politics in the American South were farcical and that Southerners ate, drank and slept racism on a daily basis. “I edged sideways like a crab into Shaw's book, ready to scurry at the first indication of danger.” Karl Marx left her cold but she cracked Friedrich Engels' The Origins of the Family and was excited by his explanations about the uneven distribution of wealth.
Krawczyk was disturbed by the news that her son Joey, at age 18, had joined the U.S. Air Force. “There was another baby in my belly, but there was a monkey on my back, a suffocating sense of dread. My son. My first born. Sensitive, intelligent with big, soft dark eyes and long, sweeping lashes, a calm child, thoughtful and contemplative, born hating dissension and violence. In the air force. Vietnam.” Krawczyk, at 36, felt herself inexplicably becoming an enemy of the state. More specifically, she recognized she was an enemy of the economic and military systems in the U.S. “It was the rich who declared and conducted wars and who profited from wars. It was the poor who fought and died in these wars, who gave their lives and limbs in the mistaken belief that they were fighting for democracy, for the homeland, for God, instead of dying for the capitalists' lust for more property, more influence, more raw materials and more markets.”
Krawczyk came out of her depression and resolved that while her government had snagged one of her sons while she wasn't looking, they would only get another one over her dead body. Literally. She joined a group of people who were refusing to pay income tax on the grounds that the money was being used to feed the war in Vietnam. Internal Revenue officers came calling, on a regular basis, and she was threatened with arrest. As a mother of seven with a nursing baby, Krawczyk avoided jail but not harassment. Her husband's security clearance might be revoked due to her anti-war activities. She began to hate her beautiful house and property, seeing it as a bribe. “If we would just shut up about the war, we could enjoy all the goodies we had... The only hitch was that I might be asked to pay for it with my son's blood.”
Her son Joey was shipped to Italy, much to her relief. But then her son Mike registered for the draft at age 18. To save “this particular son's wilderness-oriented ass from the American military,” Krawczyk ultimately ended up in Clayoquot Sound in an A-frame built by her son Mike. Located ten miles by water from Tofino, Krawczyk's retreat at Cypress Bay was supposed to be a permanent reprieve from worldly responsibilities. After raising eight children, she felt she deserved some peace. But she was subsequently imprisoned with two other grandmothers when she joined protesters blocking a bridge to prevent logging. “I didn't deliberately set out to become a rebel. It just happened in the natural order of searching for a meaning to my life.”
Publisher Bob Tyrrell sent a copy of Krawczyk’s memoir Clayoquot, The Sound of My Heart, to director Oliver Stone, one of 37 co-signers of a controversial full-page advertisement in the New York Times that accuses B.C.’s NDP government of conducting a 'chainsaw massacre' of B.C.'s forests, but Krawczyk didn’t become a household name in B.C. until several years later when she became the most visible protestor in efforts to halt logging in the Elaho Valley near Whistler. As a 72-year-old great grandmother she served one year in jail in the Burnaby Correctional Institute for Women for peacefully demonstrating against Interfor’s logging of ancient rainforests. She had been arrested three times previously for her environmental activism in the Elaho Valley. Judge Glen Parrett found her and six associates guilty of criminal contempt for violating a court injunction to prohibit them from blocking road building and logging. She fought her case without a lawyer.
These experiences gave rise to her second memoir, Lock Me Up or Let Me Go: The Protests, Arrest and Trial of an Environmental Activist (Raincoast / Press Gang, 2002).
In the wake of serving a year's sentence inside the Burnaby Correctional Center for Women for participating in anti-logging blockades in the Elaho Valley, 80-years-young Betty Krawczyk self-published a prison journal, Open Living Confidential (From Inside the Joint). "Many men at this point don't really know what women want in a man," she writes, at the end of her internment among a prison population with many First Nations women, as well as disgraced juror Gillian Guess. "We as women must know what we want, what we want our male partners to become, what we want our sons and grandsons to become, what we want to become ourselves. Male structures try to convince us that because we are women we must vie for male approval, but in reality it is the other way around. Young women and elder women must stick together here if things are going to change. If we get up the gumption to demand that men stop creating the categories of a super rich few and many super poor, and stop making a dung heap of our beautiful planet in the process, then we need to present a united front."
Lock Me Up or Let Me Go: The Protests, Arrest and Trial of an Environmental Activist and Grandmother (Raincoast / Press Gang 2002 $24.95) 1-55192-465-X
Clayoquot: The Sound of My Heart (Orca 1996 $16.95) 1-55143-076-2
Open Living Confidential (From Inside the Joint) (Self-published, 2007). 978-0-9809170-0-0
Betty, Blue Belle and Bitch: A Creative Non-Fiction (Silver Rhodes 2014) 9781460226285
Clayoquot: The Sound of My Heart (Orca $16.95)
Betty Krawczyk has received the longest prison term ever handed out in B.C. for defying a court order not to disrupt B.C. logging operations. In June she was sentenced to 67 days imprisonment for participating in an environmental protest northwest of Squamish in the Elaho River Valley. It’s the third time the 71-year-old grandmother has gone to the slammer for her principles. The Clayoquot resident has cumulatively spent 212 days in jail to protest road-building and clear-cutting. “I think I have to be in jail at this point,” says Krawczyk. “...I have to bring public attention to the fact that many of us aren’t satisfied with the way things are.”
Environmentalists will use Krawczyk’s detention to fight the anti-logging campaign on the international stage. Meanwhile her publisher Bob Tyrrell of Victoria says Krawczyk’s 1996 memoir, Clayoquot: The Sound of My Heart (Orca $16.95), shortlisted for the VanCity Prize, continues to have steady sales. “She’s a real handsome woman, a charmer,” says Tyrrell, “and she’s not at all a nutter. When she laughs, it’s hard not to laugh along with her. She’s a very determined lady and she is not going to go away.” 1-55143-076-2
[BCBW AUTUMN 2000]
HELL NO, WE WON’T MACBLO
The Clayoquot Sound is crown land… The Clayoquot Sound does not belong to MacMillan-Bloedel to finish raping and pillaging, to continue destroying the land with clear-cutting which pollutes the salmon streams and causes landslides that kill the shellfish and forest animals.
And, if the government of this province has given over our property in some legal hocus-pocus to these environmental monsters, then they shouldn’t have. And they have, in effect, stolen one of the last remaining rainforests in the world from the people of this country and are in the process of shipping it to Japan and the United States and Europe, and a lot of it goes simply for pulp and newsprint and toilet paper, magnificent old trees, hundreds, even thousands of years old, sacrificed for this.
I feel the same refusal to comply that had slowly built up in my heart toward the government of the United States over the wanton brutality of the Vietnam War…
The same hot anger washes over me again, bathing my innards and bitter-spicing my blood because I have witnessed the landslides, more than once now, I have lived with the body of the raped and beaten victim who tries to rise up behind the cove in the dry season but who is beaten back down under the torrents of rain in the winter…
I have seen it, lived with it, and, if this unconscionable destruction of life is legal, then it shouldn’t be… I will break the so-called law, which in this case is simply a court injunction, and I will pay the price.”
– excerpt from Clayoquot: The Sound of My Heart
Open Living Confidential
In the wake of serving a year’s sentence inside the Burnaby Correctional Center for Women for participating in anti-logging blockades in the Elaho Valley, 80-years-young Betty Krawczyk has self-published a prison journal, Open Living Confidential (From Inside the Joint). “Many men at this point don’t really know what women want in a man,” she writes, after her incarceration among many First Nations women, as well as disgraced juror Gillian Guess. “We as women must know what we want, what we want our male partners to become, what we want our sons and grandsons to become, what we want to become ourselves. Male structures try to convince us that because we are women we must vie for male approval, but in reality it is the other way around. Young women and elder women must stick together here if things are going to change. If we get up the gumption to demand that men stop creating the categories of a super rich few and many super poor, and stop making a dung heap of our beautiful planet in the process, then we need to present a united front.”