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Committed for the Long Haul

  • Clockwise from upper left: Sue Skaskiw, Howard Shaffer, Katie LaJoie, Craig Stowell, Val Mullen and Nichole Hastings were among the 13 activists profiled in "The Cause." (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Clockwise from upper left: Sue Skaskiw, Howard Shaffer, Katie LaJoie, Craig Stowell, Val Mullen and Nichole Hastings were among the 13 activists profiled in "The Cause." (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Valley News staff photographer Sarah Priestap

    Valley News staff photographer Sarah Priestap

  • Val Mullen, of Vershire, has been an activist for peace and social justice since 1963. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Val Mullen, of Vershire, has been an activist for peace and social justice since 1963. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Colby-Sawyer student body President Nick Ciarlante takes a chair in Alumni Lounge, where student government often meets. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Colby-Sawyer student body President Nick Ciarlante takes a chair in Alumni Lounge, where student government often meets. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Clockwise from upper left: Sue Skaskiw, Howard Shaffer, Katie LaJoie, Craig Stowell, Val Mullen and Nichole Hastings were among the 13 activists profiled in "The Cause." (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Valley News staff photographer Sarah Priestap
  • Val Mullen, of Vershire, has been an activist for peace and social justice since 1963. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Colby-Sawyer student body President Nick Ciarlante takes a chair in Alumni Lounge, where student government often meets. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Like most photojournalists, I fairly often encounter activists of various kinds in my work. Whether they are picketing, petitioning or persuading, they are almost always passionate about their cause and eager to talk about it. So when I was asked to consider producing a biweekly photo feature for the Perspectives section this past year, I thought that focusing on activists, their stories and their causes would be a way to investigate a vibrant part of Upper Valley life. So “The Cause” was born.

When I began in March 2012 searching for subjects to interview and photograph, I thought it would be difficult to find people over age 30 who were activists. Maybe that was because as a relatively recent college graduate, I am surrounded by friends who have plunged into everything from the Peace Corps to Occupy Wall Street to PETA. To me, it seemed as though activism was mainly something for twenty-somethings to pursue before they got down to building a career. How wrong I was. That misconception was shattered as soon as I met Val Mullen, 91, of Vershire, who has devoted more than 50 years — while also pursuing a career and raising children — to the worldwide quest for social justice. In fact, the majority of Upper Valley activists I found to photograph were over the age of 30, many of them running advocacy organizations while also working at full-time jobs. One example is Craig Stowell, who plays a prominent role in running Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, an organization dedicated to fighting for marriage equality, while working full time in the information technology field in Claremont.

The first job, of course, was defining just exactly what an activist is. How is an activist different from a volunteer? Do activists have to stand for radical causes or can their goals be more in the mainstream? Are they rebels with a cause, or ordinary people caught up in something larger than themselves? These are some of the questions I asked myself as I scoured websites, read posts on list-serves and asked friends and colleagues if they knew any activists in the area.

I didn’t answer these questions completely, but once I met, interviewed and photographed a baker’s dozen of activists, I discovered some common threads.

True activists are committed to their causes for the long haul, and often through personally difficult circumstances. More than half of those I spoke with and photographed have been involved with their causes for more than 10 years, and a handful for more than 30. None of those I spoke with had any intention of “retiring” from their cause, even in the face of obstacles such as lack of funding or difficulty in attracting interest.

Another common thread is that the driving force behind the activists I featured was overwhelmingly personal. Lisa Olney of Orford, for example, has worked daily to ensure higher safety standards for children’s toys since her daughter Ellie died in an accident involving an unsafe play yard. Her dream is a world in which no more children will be killed by the toys they play with. Wynona Ward, of Vershire, who grew up in home afflicted by domestic abuse, went to law school and eventually founded Have Justice Will Travel, which provides legal representation to women who have been abused, often providing services at their homes. These are but two examples of activists taking personal, life-altering circumstances and trying to change the lives of others for the better.

Though this feature has drawn to an end, the work of activists never ceases. I have seen a world of change through the lives of those I interviewed, and I hope that through their pictures and stories, some readers will find inspiration to take a stand of their own.

Sarah Priestap is a staff photographer for the Valley News.

Related

The Cause: Nuclear Power Proponent Howard Shaffer

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Man: Howard Shaffer, 71, of Enfield. The Cause: "Saving nuclear power for my grandchildren, and the world." The Means: Public speaking, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, appearing at demonstrations in support of Vermont Yankee, offering testimony in support of nuclear power at anti-nuclear meetings. The Impetus: An engineer who worked at Vermont Yankee and other facilities, Shaffer …

The Cause: Social Justice Advocate Val Mullen

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Val Mullen, 91, of Vershire. The Cause: Currently, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), advocating women’s rights, social justice, peace among nations and the end of nuclear energy and weapons. Mullen and a few Chelsea residents founded the Chelsea branch of the organization in 1980 to bring area women together for peace and social justice. …

The Cause: Post Office Closings Opponent Nichole Hastings

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Nichole Hastings, 34, of Norwich. The Cause: Keeping area post offices open, especially those bordering the Appalachian Trail. The Means: Educating members of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy about how hikers would be affected by closings; leafleting; picketing; and encouraging local residents to contact their legislators. The Impetus: When Hastings, who works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and with …

The Cause: Animal Rights Proponent Sue Skaskiw

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Sue Skaskiw, 58, of Bridgewater. The Cause: Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society (VVSA), which promotes animal welfare. The Means: Offering spaying and neutering services for stray animals and, at a reduced price, for dogs and cats belonging to low-income individuals; finding new homes for pets and farm animals; working with state legislators to pass animal-welfare laws; …

The Cause: Animal Rights Advocate Miriam Jones

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Miriam Jones, 47, of Springfield, Vt. The Cause: Protecting farm animals. The Means: VINE (Veganism Is the Next Evolution) Shelter, a sanctuary for farm animals and birds that Jones co-founded in 2000 and now operates with Pattrice Jones, Aram Polster, Cheryl Wylie and Kathy Gorish. The Impetus: Jones, a longtime activist in many causes, including gay and lesbian …

The Cause: Electromagnetic Radiation Opponent Matthew Fisken

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Man: Matthew Fisken, 32, of Lyme. The Cause: The effects of electromagnetic frequency, especially smart meters, on human health. The Means: smartermeters.blogspot.com and youtube.com/smartermeters The Impetus: A couple of years ago, Fisken started experiencing headaches, a ringing in his ears, and a general lack of focus that made it difficult to work. Eventually he tied those symptoms, which occurred …

The Cause: Same Sex Rights Advocate Craig Stowell

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Man: Craig Stowell, 30, of Claremont. The Cause: Equal rights for same-sex couples, including the freedom to marry. The Means: Stowell, the Republican co-chairman of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, a bipartisan group he co-founded that supports same-sex marriage, has testified before the Legislature, organized petition drives and spoken at fundraising events in support of gay marriage. The …

The Cause: Student Government Proponent Nick Ciarlante

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Man: Nick Ciarlante, 21, of Stoneham, Mass., a junior at Colby-Sawyer College. The Cause: Working for change through student government and through local and national politics, supporting the Republican Party. The Means: Ciarlante has taken an active role in student government in both his high school and now as student body president at Colby-Sawyer. Ciarlante is also currently volunteering …

The Cause: Children's Product Safety Advocate Lisa Olney

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Lisa Olney, 36, of Orford. The Cause: Educating parents and caregivers about how to identify and purchase safe children’s products. The Means: Sharing her story and promoting awareness through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Kids in Danger (KID) and Safe Kids of New Hampshire. The Impetus: On Dec. 19, 2002, Olney’s 13-month-old daughter, Ellie, was killed after …

The Cause: Breast Cancer Survivor Amy Dressler

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Woman: Amy Dressler, 43, of Sunapee. The Cause: Supporting breast cancer survivors and those being treated for it. The Means: TGIF, a support group that meets from 4:30- 6 p.m. on the first Friday of each month at Molly’s in Hanover for drinks and to talk about everything — cancer and non-cancer related. In between meetings, the women support …

The Cause: Domestic Violence Opponent Wynona Ward 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Woman: Wynona Ward, 61, of Vershire. The Cause: Have Justice Will Travel (HJWT), a non-profit organization founded by Ward after she graduated from law school in 1998. It provides free legal services to women and children in abusive situations. The Means: Ward and the other attorneys who work for HJWT often drive to women’s homes to provide legal guidance …

The Cause: Recycling Advocate Katie LaJoie

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Woman: Katie LaJoie, 62, of Charlestown. The Cause: Helping Sullivan County communities transition away from the Wheelabrator Incinerator in Claremont toward a recycling-based system of waste management. The Means: As an individual and through the Claremont-based group, Working on Waste, working to shut down the incinerator, by holding public hearings, compiling research on the impact of the incinerator, and …

The Cause: Student Government Advocate Mason Cole

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Man: Mason Cole, 21, Dartmouth ‘13, from Westchester, N.Y. The Cause: Working to elect Democrats locally and nationally, promoting and protecting voting rights for students. The Means: As president of the Dartmouth Democrats, Cole promotes student involvement in local and national campaigns, encourages students to educate themselves about their voting rights and to get out and vote, and canvasses …