Widely-known in activist circles as the Raging Granny, 82-year-old Betty Krawczyk shows no signs of slowing down in her later years. She might just outlive her 97-year-old mother who, as she put it, dropped dead while cooking catfish for her son-in-law.
That her halcyon salad days of youth are far behind her doesn't hamper Krawczyk in her efforts to protect the environment to leave a low-carbon legacy for her grandchildren.
“For me the environment became an issue of what I am leaving my children, my grandchildren, the world's grandchildren. The environment rather became a culmination of all of the ills in the world,” she said of her desire to stand behind green causes.
Her secret recipe for stamina and vigour while fighting the good fight is in the sauce: eating lots of habanero and jalapeño peppers – a throwback to her upbringing in Louisiana, a daily 15-to-20-minute tap dancing regime and an optimistic attitude.
Her motto for living is simple: “Do something every day to stay connected to people and the environment.”
Krawczyk was made famous, or infamous depending on who's telling the story, for her civil disobedience arrest and subsequent three-and-a-half year jail term for protesting the destruction of Eaglerigde Bluffs to make way for the expansion of the Sea-to-Sky highway. It was because she didn't apologize in court for her actions that she was sentenced to serve time, she said. But she refused to kowtow to corporations when she was justly trying to protect public land from private development.
“Certainly, the prison system is very tough on anybody. The food is poor, the regime is one of deprivation and you're at the mercy of the administration of the prison,” she said. But Krawczyk was more focused on the degradation of the prison system's rehabilitation program under the Campbell government than she was the loss of her own personal liberty. That women are no longer able to raise their babies when inside is one such example.
Once out of jail, Krawcyzk continued to build on her eco mandate, running for the 2008 Vancouver mayoral candidacy on the Workless Party ticket as well as for the federal election in the same year – a far cry from her plan to retire and live out a peaceful life as a writer.
Krawczyk's early political involvement started with motherhood. Her children came home with questions about why African-American kids were not allowed to go to school with Caucasian kids during the U.S. civil rights movement. She later fought against the Vietnam War and spoke out about women's abortion rights before deciding to invest her boundless energy in tackling environmental issues as a full-fledged career.
“Nature in the end, holds all the cards and we have to work with her and acknowledge her and fight against those who want to conquer nature and not let them take all of us down with them, so if we can all get out there young and old and middle aged, whomever, to be part of the awakening, so much the better,” she said.
What she does isn't special, she claims. She is doing it because it has to be done and because she can, recognizing that the world is a much different place than it used to be. She credits the younger generation for being proactive about the state of the world, a realization she was slow to come to until she started a family.
“I have the utmost admiration because the youth have gone straight to the issue rather than having to have an intermediary which was my children. It took me a long long time to see what a lot of young people are just seeing right off the bat. I find it very hopeful,” she said.
The issues the current generation have to contend with are much more serious and many young people slave away “with heavy hearts” to save a piece of forest or a stream, she said.
“Young people sense that there is a gap between older people's lives and the lives they are going to be living. It's a very sad and frightening thing but elders haven't had to face what the world is facing now ever before. It's not as if elders have some special insight into how to deal with what's on our plates here,” she said.
The important thing, she said is for seniors to show support for the cause.
“When older people come out and join a blockade or commit to peaceful civil disobedience it puts a whole new light on it. Older people are generally voters, they are generally well informed,” she said.
Less concerned about the future of her own life as she gets on in years, Krawczyk seems to take aging in stride, devoting herself instead to the life of the earth.