ADVOCATES know the ropes. They are attuned to the subtle plays of politics and diplomacy. They can speak the languages of the adversary and the ally and have mastered the tools of coalition building. Many advocates began as ACTIVISTS, who create change by rallying enough people to their side of an issue so that the world finally sways in that direction. To draw a crowd takes noise. To keep one requires drama and passion. Every activist is at heart an AGITATOR, someone willing to put herself on the line for a principle. A person who is willing to stir the pot and defy convention must be someone who doesn’t mind getting herself shaken up for a worthy cause.
Advocates: Setting the Agenda
Lakes Region “Home Maker”
Linda Harvey: A social worker turned landlord and developer, as executive director of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust. Its mission is to provide affordable housing in and around Laconia. When she was hired as the Trust's first paid staffer in 1993, they had a shoestring budget and a single duplex.
Times were tough at first: “We couldn't get funding without a track record, and we couldn't build a track record without funding.” The Trust tackled one building at a time. Now it has added 99 affordable units to Laconia's housing inventory, with 70 more in the pipeline. But the Trust has done more than provide low-cost housing; it has improved the cityscape by restoring derelict buildings and added to the city's tax base. Harvey proudly notes that the Trust recently paid its millionth dollar in property taxes.
Micro Loans Have Mega Impact
Dana Dakin: She believes that life has three phases: In the first third you learn, in the second third you earn and in the final third you return. So when she turned 60, this financial consultant from Wilmot Flat looked for a cause to support. She settled on micro-credit — providing loans of less than $100 to people in the developing world, where a tiny amount of capital can make a critical difference.
After learning the ins and outs of micro-credit, Dakin sold her 2000 Volvo for $5,000 and used the proceeds to launch the Women's Trust of Pokuase. It provides startup funds for women-owned businesses in a village in Ghana. She says she began to see results within six months in the financial and mental well being of the women. It's also given her own life a new sense of purpose.
The Whole World Next Door
Anne Sanderson: She has helped more than 4,000 of New Hampshire's newest residents build new lives in the Granite State. Sanderson is vice president for New Hampshire Programs at the International Institute of New Hampshire, which is part of the International Institute of Boston. The Institute contracts with the State Department to provide settlement assistance to refugees. The goal is self-sufficiency; when you're a stranger in a strange land, the barriers are many — starting with learning the English language.
Sanderson is about as far from a newcomer as you can get — a lifelong Manchester resident and a Mayflower descendant. She became interested in the plight of refugees in the mid-1980s, when her church sponsored a Cambodian refugee family. “I've seen what people have to face when they come from a poor or violent part of the world,” she says. “It's so gratifying to see people arrive with nothing, and become successful.”
Up to Business
Ellen Fineberg: She's not a businesswoman, but she's spent the last five years helping Granite State women discover their inner entrepreneur. Fineberg is executive director of the Women's Business Center, an organization that helps women start and grow their own businesses.
Fineberg's background is in the nonprofit world. She became aware of the Center by attending one of its seminars. It didn't inspire her to start her own enterprise, but it did lead to her current position.
She says New Hampshire lags behind most states in the number of women-owned businesses and in their growth rate. “In a state where half the population is female, but only 25 percent of businesses are women-owned, we have an underutilized resource,” she says. The Center is now embarking on a process involving entrepreneurs, economic experts, business leaders and others to find out what can be done to improve the state's climate for women-owned businesses.
An LCHIP Off the Old Block
Rachel Rouillard: At the age of 32, she has become a central figure in efforts to preserve the state's landscape. She has been executive director of the state's Land and Community Heritage Fund since its creation in 2001. For most of that time, she has struggled to secure funding for LCHIP in a time of very tight state budgets.
Rouillard emphasizes that LCHIP is not necessarily about environmental issues; it's about preserving both natural areas and historic structures. Her love for the uniqueness of the Granite State began in her childhood in Keene, a city with a distinctive character. “Now I live on the Seacoast,” she says, “and people are always telling me how much the area has changed, and not for the better.” She wants to save the natural and human heritage that makes New Hampshire a special place.
The Art of Community
Karen Kelly: She has traveled the world, “breaking down barriers by painting walls.” She is founder of Projects for Global Harmony, which coordinates public mural projects, often in troubled parts of the world. The murals reflect the hopes and aspirations of people who have suffered the effects of violent conflict. Kelly has worked in Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and elsewhere. She's also done murals in several New Hampshire communities.
Kelly is a psychotherapist, not an artist. She says that actually helps, because she doesn't have the artist's vision or ego to get in the way.
In April of 2005, while working in Belfast, Kelly discovered she had a malignant tumor.
Several months of intensive treatments followed. By November, she was back at work in Belfast. “I'm in the clear now,” she says, “but the experience renewed my commitment to make a difference.”
Activists: Keeping the Pace
Beatrice Trum Hunter: For almost 50 years, she's carried the banner of healthy living. She's written more than 20 books on food, nutrition and the effects of chemicals. At first, she was often called a crackpot; now, many of her ideas are in the mainstream.
Hunter is the daughter-in-law of the late photographer Lotte Jacobi. She is helping organize the Jacobi archives at the University of New Hampshire and has become known for her own photography. Her specialty: close-ups of the ice crystals on the porch windows of her home in Deering.
The problem with the American diet, she says, is “too much food and too much of the wrong things.” She avoids processed foods, preferring a diet that's closer to nature. For her, that includes meat, eggs and butter — in moderation. Still active and healthy in her mid-80s, she's a living advertisement for her ideas.
Sister of Mercy
Eileen Brady: She's been a Roman Catholic nun for 37 years and has lived her life in service to the poor and needy. As a member of the Sisters of Mercy, she is inspired by her order's social philosophy: Since its inception nearly 200 years ago, it has been dedicated to caring for the poor.
Brady has held a variety of jobs, some paying, some not; but there is always an element of service to those in need. For the past 13 years, she has worked at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. She counsels the city's homeless, helping them achieve financial independence.
She also serves as an ambassador of sorts, raising public awareness of poverty and homelessness. “Many people are unaware that they live in a state that's a mixed bag,” she says. “They see the pretty pictures, but they don't realize how much poverty there is and how many people live on the edge.”
Seeking Sustainable Population
Linn Harwell: Her lifelong activism for reproductive rights led to her inclusion on the Women's Wall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y. She has been a women's health educator for most of her life; in the 1960s, she provided birth control information to poor women in Connecticut, at a time when birth control was against the law. She is currently on the board of the New England Coalition for Sustainable Population.
Her commitment was inspired by a childhood tragedy — the 1929 death of her mother after an illegal abortion. Harwell was six years old. In the aftermath, her family was split up. “I do not remember crying tears, yet I have wept inside all my life,” she said in a speech at the 2004 March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. She has devoted her life to ensuring that no other family suffers the same experience.
Green Plans and Dreams
Nancy Girard: One of the state's leading environmental advocates. Nine years ago she opened the Conservation Law Foundation's New Hampshire Advocacy Center and has been its director ever since. On her watch, the CLF has challenged the expansion of I-93 and forced changes in the Keene bypass plan. She has also worked to mitigate development of natural areas, protect shorelines on the lakes and Great Bay and advocated for clean energy and awareness of climate change issues.
Girard grew up on an old-fashioned Yankee farm in western Massachusetts, which inspired her love for the natural landscape of New England — a landscape she sees as endangered. “We think our natural resources are so abundant,” she says, “but our growth has been phenomenal, and we haven't really planned.” Through public pressure, lobbying and — when necessary — legal action, she's trying to ensure that New Hampshire does more to plan for the future.
Clearing the Air
Sheila Evans: A familiar face around the Statehouse from her nine years as public policy director for the New Hampshire Women's Lobby. This year, she is back in a new role: chief lobbyist for Clean Air Works for New Hampshire, a coalition supporting a bill to ban smoking in state bars and restaurants. Unlike her steady position with the Women’s Lobby, the new job is for this legislative session with no promise of renewal, but she feels a personal resonance with the issue. She is a breast cancer survivor and former waitress at a restaurant that allowed smoking. She remembers how another former waitress at the restaurant died of lung cancer, even though she never smoked.
Evans served on the Henniker School Board for nine years and strongly believes in civic engagement: “I like to express myself and also hear what others have to say,” even if they disagree. She says getting involved is not only good for society — it also benefits the individual through stronger ties to neighbors and the community.
Committed to Caring
Phyllis Woods: Former state representative from Dover and founder of the Legislature's Pro-Life Caucus. She was the primary sponsor of the 2003 “parental notification” bill requiring abortion providers to give parents of a minor 48 hours notice before the procedure. The bill sparked a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She attributes her 2004 re-election defeat to active opposition by liberal and pro-choice groups.
As a pro-life activist, she is committed to caring for women before and after pregnancy — and as a conservative, she feels the government is not the best source for much of that care. She spent many years working for Seacoast Birthright, a crisis pregnancy center that provides a range of services and supplies. She says, “I lay awake nights worrying that there are women who say 'I will have to get an abortion because I won't be able to get child care and support.’”
At the time of her interview, Woods said she is considering another run for office, either Statehouse or Senate.
Agitators: Shaking Things Up
Free State Fundamentalist
Kat Dillon: She's only lived here for two years, but has quickly become one of the most vocal Libertarians in the state. She moved to Keene as part of the Free State Project, an effort to shift the political balance by moving 20,000 Libertarians to New Hampshire.
Last spring, Dillon received the most notorious manicure in state history: the one given by an unlicensed practitioner in a public protest of state licensing. In February, she and her husband Russell Kanning were arrested outside a Manchester building where President Bush was giving a speech for refusing to move to a designated protest area.
Dillon is even putting her home on the line for her principles: She is refusing to pay the school portion of her property taxes because public schools “teach conformity, and they don't teach much else.” Need we say that her daughter is home schooled?
Shelly Uscinski: This staunch conservative made waves in the mid-1990s as part of a Christian majority on the Merrimack School Board. She and her colleagues tried to steer the district rightward, but were ultimately voted out of office. After her election, she became a speaker and trainer for the Christian Coalition, advising others on running their own political campaigns.
She has stayed politically active ever since. She was a Pat Buchanan delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention; she was Buchanan's national political director in his 2000 run on the Reform Party ticket. These days, she is affiliated with Team America PAC, working with Buchanan's sister Bay to raise money for candidates who advocate tougher immigration laws and border security. “I am a conservative,” she says. “We live in the greatest country in the world, but we have strayed from some of our core principles.”
Walking Her Talk
Doris “Granny D” Haddock: Like Old Man River, she just keeps rollin' along. In 1999, at the age of 89, the Dublin resident set out on a cross-country walk for campaign finance reform. She walked 10 miles a day for 14 months, a total of 3,200 miles. When she arrived in Washington, D.C., she was 90, and had sparked a groundswell of public support for her cause.
But she wasn't done yet. In 2003 and 2004, she went on a 23,000-mile tour to encourage women and poor people to register and vote. In 2004, at age 94, she ran for U.S. Senate, losing to popular incumbent Judd Gregg, but garnering 34 percent of the vote. She has written two books about her experiences and beliefs, and is the subject of two documentary films. Her clarion call: “Don't feel like a straw in the wind; when straws band together, we are mighty brooms!”
Rallying the Right
Karen Testerman: Founder of Cornerstone Policy Research. Her organization touted its support for “the oldest institution known to man and the cornerstone of our families” by promoting the “Marriage Protection Amendment” before the N.H. Legislature. The group focuses on what she calls the “three-legged stool” of conservative politics: pro-life, pro-gun rights and anti-taxes. Gov. Craig Benson nominated her to the state Commission on the Status of Women, but she was voted down by the Executive Council.
Testerman is one of the leaders in the Conservative Political Victory Fund, which is trying to move the state GOP further to the right, to correct what she calls “a drift in the party toward the middle, and a loss of distinction between the parties.” She says the fund will support like-minded candidates for state Legislature, and may target moderate Republicans in the House and Senate.
A member of a tradition-minded breakaway from the Episcopalians, she occasionally sings during services at All Saints Anglican Church in Concord.
Macy Morse: She's been working for peace since the Vietnam War. Now a great-grandmother, she is still stirring the pot as a leader in Seacoast Peace Response.
Her very first agitation was an attempt to visit her son, while he was in the Air Force in Vietnam. She wanted to get a “good look” at his air base and the fighting. Not surprisingly, she didn't get a visa.
Morse has accumulated quite a police record. She was arrested many times for protesting the Seabrook nuclear plant; she was once arrested in Washington after spraying anti-nuclear slogans on the Pentagon. In 2002 she was one of the “Newington Five,” arrested for occupying Senator Judd Gregg's office in a protest of the war in Iraq. She refused to pay a fine and spent 18 days in jail. The Portland Phoenix quotes her as saying that she
didn't mind being confined, but “the food was awful. There was some meat product that stuck to the roof of your mouth, and the vegetables were old.”
Actor on the Barricades
Jane Bernhardt: A multi-faceted talent who expresses her political and spiritual beliefs in her work. She combines her skills in acting and portraiture by creating exhibit/performances on subjects like Japanese A-bomb survivors, clients of an inner-city food program and people who have risked their lives resisting injustice.
Bernhardt's first career was in acting; her All-American good looks led to steady work in national TV ads for toothpaste, shampoo, diapers, fast food and many other products. “I made more money then than I have ever made,” she says, “but I didn't attend drama school to sell products.”
After many years as a portraitist, she began developing the combined works she is known for today. Her next work will be about the Middle East. Ultimately, she hopes to span the globe with pieces that reflect a new paradigm of peace and justice.
This article appears in the May 2006 issue of New Hampshire Magazine