Featured Changemaker: BETTY BALL on Activism, Bio-regionalism, and Love
Betty Ball is a local changemaker and coordinator of The Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center (RMPJC) in Boulder, Colorado. She has dedicated her life to nonviolent activism, building community, and working toward a more just and sustainable world. Alicia Conte, Philanthropiece’s Youth Global Leadership Program Coordinator, recently sat down with Betty, a dear mentor and friend of hers. The last time Alicia interviewed Betty, Betty’s partner and lifetime friend Gary Ball was at her side. Gary was a lifelong peace, justice, and environmental activist who passed away in May 2011. This interview is a story about community, love, and knowledge; the knowledge each of us holds. It’s about acknowledging what has been, where we are, and what will be, and about honoring those who have left us a legacy of inspiration.
How did you get involved with your organization?
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center started as a result of organizing to shut down the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, a now defunct nuclear weapons facility near Denver, Colorado. The RMPJC was born out of community organizing around Rocky Flats, which is still a major issue!
What projects is RMPJC currently involved with?
Stopping the construction of the Jefferson Parkway that is planned to cross Rocky Flats. Preventing Rocky Flats from being opened for public recreation. Continuing to educate people about nuclear weapons and power. Working for just peace in the Middle East. Working to build a statewide coalition to ban fracking in Colorado. And, finally, Rockin’ Betty’s Thrift Store, which we’ve opened to sustain the RMPJC’s work!
How has your own adherence to nonviolent principles shaped your life and work as an activist?
It’s more like a foundation from which all the work I do emanates. Any effort that is not based on love is not going make it.
How is community important to you?
I have an incredibly supportive community. As I started losing physical ability, people just stepped up. It’s very humbling really, seeing support come out in a very tangible way. An example is Rockin’ Betty’s Thrift Store, which is a community-based store. We want people to gather, come hang out, and build community there. As things get worse environmentally and economically, we are going to need more and more community and people support systems!
We all have days where our hearts and shoulders feel a little heavy. Where do you draw your inspiration from in these moments?
I think I don’t really get as frustrated as other people because I get to work with so many wonderful people, and that’s a constant source of inspiration. It always comes back to relationship, to community, and I am in the midst of it. I think the days of people not knowing their neighbors is coming to an end really soon, because we’re going to need each other. I see that happening here [in Boulder] where people are coming together, meeting, and exchanging skills. Some clear examples of this are community-supported agriculture, community cafes, and the work that everyone at Boulder Food Rescue is doing.
What is your relationship with the natural world and how is this relationship connected to your daily life and work?
I bonded with the earth at a very young age. My dad was a YMCA camp director, and my involvement with the camp inspired this connection. When I grew older and started seeing environmental devastation such as the effects of abusive logging, oil and gas drilling, the use of pesticides, and nuclear waste, it was just very natural for me to get involved and fight for the earth, for sustainability, and for all beings.
What key relationships have shaped your life path? Any role models?
Jane Addams, the founder of the Hull House, which was the first settlement house for immigrants in this country. My mom and dad. My mom taught physically handicapped children and she was a great inspiration to me. She established the first classroom in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, that integrated handicapped students into a regular school.
The last time I sat down with you and Gary, I asked him what important lessons he had learned in his struggle for a more just and sustainable world. This is what Gary shared with me:
“Don’t be attached to the outcome. The movement itself is ages old, it’s much bigger than any one individual and it’s going to be continuing on when I’m through – and that’s another reason not to be tied to results. You pull your weight while you can and try and pass it on to others before you’re through.”
How does Gary’s vision live on in our community today?
In the music of the movement. More and more people are catching on and understanding that music is crucial to any successful movement. Also the way he impacted people; everybody was changed by Gary, everybody. His essence and his very being live on through those he impacted. He has such a powerful spirit. He did and still does.
What was a moment in your life when you were particularly proud?
Holding hands with thousands of other activists, encircling Rocky Flats in an act of nonviolent protest. I also feel deeply enriched and humbled to have been a part of the decade of organizing in Mendocino County, California, in efforts with other amazing activists to protect the Redwood Forests.
What is currently missing from people is having a sense of place. We are no longer where our roots are, and there is not that relationship between land and people. If you aren’t rooted, you don’t understand the sanctity of place– how place is put together and what is needed to keep it together. I think by default, we are going to end living bio-regionally.
Can you talk about what it means to live “bio-regionally”?
Bioregionalism means living within the constraints of your surrounding environment, based on and connected by watersheds. We are part of the Platte Valley bioregion. Geographic lines drawn by maps destroy unity, and we need to live within the limits of the natural world. Diverting the Colorado River’s waters to California? Hello! That’s crazy! We need to stay still long enough to get it.
When are you happiest?
When I feel a real connection with people. When I have empathy with others and can really put myself in their shoes. What we need to get at is that where we are is perfect and it’s beautiful. What troubles me is that we’ve really lost our ability to empathize. We can’t just be, feel where a person is at, and listen. Empathy does come naturally to people, but we block it. We’re afraid of it. Nonviolent communication is not about guessing what people are feeling, whether that is a feeling of frustration or hurt, it is about being with other people.
How do you make space for yourself?
I don’t do it enough, but at night I listen to Gary’s music while I’m doing work.
What do you want to tell our community?
No matter what the question, the answer is always love. Everybody needs to take time to connect: with yourself, with each other, and with the earth. And also, have a sense of humor and have FUN.