Community activism on Vashon and Maury Islands was the first social interaction my husband and I encountered when we moved here in 2000. We bought the neighborhood’s “haunted house,” a 1908 Craftsman that had fallen into disrepair from neglect and deterioration. Dockton residents came to welcome us and to help. They were delighted to find that we had restored a historic home in Snohomish and that we planned to do the same here.
They brought plants for a garden where there were none, a cement mixer for sidewalks and foundation work, recommendations for a new roof, landscape equipment and much more. The cause was to improve the neighborhood and restore a historic home that reflected the colorful history in this waterfront community that was once the center of maritime industry in the region.
Last Thursday, I attended a King County Parks program on community partnerships. The Friends of Dockton Park, the Vashon Forest Stewards and the Friends of Maury Island Marine Park were recognized among 20 other community activism groups in King County who saw a problem, organized work parties and with county grants and private donations were able to accomplish more in less time than a slow-moving bureaucracy with limited resources and staff.
Community activism is nothing new. It has an 8,000-year history where tribal healers, philosophers, poets and leaders organized for interdependence and collaborated for the common good. According to Paul Hawken, the author of “Blessed Unrest,” there are over one million groups in the world today working toward ecological sustainability and social justice.
Our level of maturity is measured by how much we give to others in terms of energy, time, skills and talent, and Vashon residents have had plenty of that in creating the Vashon Health Center, Granny’s Attic, the food bank, Vashon Household, Preserve Our Islands and the land trust, to name a few.
Successful activists have some common characteristics. They see the need for change and are driven by a commitment to make a difference. They are visionary, dedicated and persistent. They celebrate the small successes as they move toward their goal and are not daunted by the losses, internal dissent or discrimination. They are not self-serving.
“Activism derives power from the ability to educate, raise awareness and make people passionate about an issue,” says Professor Anthony Western in “How to Re-Imagine the world.” This was evident in the 1970s when Dorothy Johnson and her friends, concerned about the lack of health services on the island, held a rummage sale to pay for the house they rented in Burton for a rotating pair of nurse practitioners and a reception/consultation room for patients in the era of Warren Magnuson.
Successful community activism does not discriminate based on gender, age or race. A 10-year-old in the slums of Calcutta can be just as successful at motivating people to change and embrace new ideas as a group of retired professionals who have taken on the Friends of Mukai project. With a growing membership of 180, this grassroots effort to restore a historical farm and garden has a clear vision of what needs to be done.
The executive committee of Friends of Mukai, is a prime example of effective activism. Glenda Pearson, Yvonne Kuperberg, Helen Meeker, Rayna Holtz and Ellen Kritzman are seasoned professionals who have long been active in community issues. They are respected for their integrity, goodwill, dedication and thoughtful research. They are detail oriented with a passion to make a difference.
Keeping calm in the eye of a brewing storm has served them well as they continue to push the Mukai cause, which is to restore the farm and garden designed by BD, Kuni and Masa Mukai nearly 100 years ago. They have gone beyond volunteering and have pursued legal action to right what they consider a wrong.
The committees they have formed for this effort are made up of like-minded individuals who see what is best for the Mukai project rather than what is best for the individual. This sustained activism leads to progress not only for the farm and garden, but for the benefit of all island residents and beyond.
The fundamental act underlying successful community activism is doing.
As Margaret Mead’s often-quoted comment makes clear: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Anita Halstead is a founding member of the Dockton Historical Trail committee and a Friends of Mukai board member.