No place fills 72-year-old Betty Krawczyk with more joy than the
rugged shores of British Columbia's Clayoquot Sound, where her son
built an A-frame house on 10 remote acres. She adores the wilderness
here, though the house has no plumbing and she must gather water
from a nearby brook. So what turned this great-grandmother into
inmate number 03793924 at Burnaby Correctional Center for Women--and
subsequently into a folk hero and Green
Party candidate for British Columbia's legislature?
Simply put, it was the clear-cutting of old-growth trees on public
lands by multinational corporations. Some of the ancient trees harvested
in British Columbia exceed 1,000 years in age--and can fetch a six-figure
price for logging companies. But the public sees almost none of
the profits and is stuck with the bill for cleaning up the leveled
Krawczyk's horror at the logging led her to join a road blockade
organized by Friends
of Clayoquot Sound
in the mid-'90s, resulting in her first arrest. Last year a protest
in the Elaho Valley sent her to jail again. Part of the Stoltmann
Wilderness, a three-hour drive from Vancouver, the Elaho Valley is
teeming with biodiversity and rife with ancient Douglas firs, hemlock,
and red and yellow cedar. In a controversial move--allegedly to prevent
clashes between loggers and environmentalists--a court order was issued
prohibiting future peaceful protests in the valley.
Betty Krawczyk with her daughter
at her Vancouver headquarters.
Krawczyk defied the court order and blocked a logging road. She
was arrested and sentenced in September 2000 to an unheard of year
in prison. On principle, she refused to accept parole or electronic
monitoring, nor would she sign any of the customary paperwork allowing
her to be released on her own recognizance. Krawczyk says any of
these actions would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. "My
legal and moral stance has always been that these forests belong
to the people of British Columbia," Krawczyk says. "I have a right
to be here, and I'm not signing any document that says I don't have
a right to be here."
After a huge public outcry, a Canadian appeals court ordered Krawczyk
to be released last January. In their ruling, Justices Ian Donald
and Kenneth MacKenzie called the sentence "excessive," saying it
seriously damaged public respect for the courts.
While in prison, Krawczyk decided to run for legislature on the
ticket of British Columbia's growing Green Party, eschewing both
of the province's established political parties, the New Democrats
and the Liberals. The NDP, who identify themselves as allies of
working people and the environment, were the ruling party going
into the election--but had alienated a good portion of their traditional
base of support through what many perceived as pro-corporate, anti-environment
The Liberals exploited the loss of public confidence in the NDP.
Despite the name, the Liberals are a party of passionate free- marketeers--more
than one Green refers to them casually as "fascists"--who push tax
cuts, logging and an anti-treaty agenda hostile to the First Nations,
Canada's indigenous population. The New Democrats were harshly swept
out of power in May in a landslide vote that saw the Liberals take
76 of 79 seats in the legislature.
Though they won no seats, the Greens scored more than 12 percent
of the vote--tripling their showing in 1996, the province's last
election. Green leader Adriane Carr credits Krawczyk for assisting
the party in this year's momentum-building election. "People admire
her for her integrity and her commitment," Carr says. "She brought
a lot of energy to the party."
Krawczyk became familiar with NDP leader Ujjal Dosanjh before her
jail term, offering to meet with him and discuss collaborating against
the Liberals. She remembers writing to him, "I'd rather work with
you than against you."
Dosanjh didn't reply to Krawczyk's repeated attempts to make contact,
and continued pushing policies contrary to the Green philosophy.
Convinced that the NDP needed to hear what she had to say about
halting old-growth logging, Krawczyk camped out in front of Dosanjh's
office--until he ordered her removed and arrested.
Being a part of new political movements is nothing new for Krawczyk.
In the United States, she was stirred into activism by the civil
rights and women's movements. But it was the anti-war movement that
most affected the Krawczyk family, forcing a move from their home
in Virginia to Canada so her sons could escape the draft. "It was
very hard," she remembers. "I was leaving everything I knew."
Growing up in the lush forests of the South, Krawczyk was mortified
watching them get logged and seeing the fertile wetlands of Louisiana
drained. "When I came to British Columbia, I was just going to retire,
but I saw the same thing happening here," she says. "It's one of
the most beautiful places on earth, and to see it destroyed is just
Krawczyk's prison term proved that many agreed with her. More than
10,000 people sent letters to the premier of British Columbia demanding
her release; 2,000 people wrote her personal letters, some from
as far away as Europe, many bearing money. Her candidacy was almost
entirely funded by those contributions. "The hardest part about
prison, of course, is being separated from family," Krawczyk notes.
"I have small grandchildren who are used to seeing me regularly."
Family is a recurring theme for the mother of eight. Her daughter
Marian coordinates media and organized jail support for Krawczyk.
"Mom is very much a matriarch," Marian says. "She's a nexus point
for all the kids. I certainly wouldn't be [politically active] without
my mother, and a lot of other people wouldn't be either."
Krawczyk sees her work as an example for the potential political
power of senior citizens. "I'm demonstrating that elder people can
make their presence felt in society in a political way," she says.
"Elders are pushed aside in our culture. But the traditional role
of elders is to be the moderators of society, to be stewards of
the land. And I consider that my right as well as my responsibility."
With a Liberal government now in power, the logging of critical
areas will almost certainly pick up speed. The government also is
expected to challenge reproductive rights and the treaty rights
of First Nations. "It's going to be all-out war," Krawczyk says.
"I'll probably wind up back in prison. People have to do what they
have to do to combat this."