Maggie Schubart was an exceptional activist who made immeasurable contributions to our island and world. Maggie passed away in 2010, yet her legacy of community involvement and gentle leadership continues to inspire.
In November 2006, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie in her home, in the aftermath of a major snow storm. Maggie had made a big pot of stew; we drank tea and chatted in her kitchen. Maggie and I had worked together on food security efforts and she had generously agreed to be part of my Master’s thesis research on learning in social movements.
Maggie and her husband Hank, the esteemed architect, and their five boys moved to Salt Spring from California in 1968, during the Vietnam War. Her social change work had began years earlier when she helped establish Bay area KPFA radio station that became a force for change.
In San Francisco, both she and Hank were active in the civil rights movement and anti Vietnam War efforts. Maggie said, “Yes, I was involved in the civil rights movement because…because of what it was. The reason we bought our card table was so we could set it up out in front of St Dominique’s church on Sunday and register dark voters. And I spent a day a week at a place called Freedom House trying to facilitate solutions to individual problems people would bring. We were thoroughly involved in the civil right movement. At the same time we were involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement and part of that was pointing out to African Americans that they were disproportionally taken in the draft and died abroad.”
On Salt Spring, Maggie and Hank were very involved citizens, working to promote peace and arts and culture. Maggie joined the national Voice of Women and gave gifts of membership to others. That emerging group sparked the formation of the Salt Spring disarmament group which spearheaded a nationwide petition.
Maggie remembers “Salt Spring was declared a nuclear free zone. Art and Lou Rumsby escorted the petition to all these communities and got people to sign against nuclear testing and eventually presented it, at the time our representative was Jim Manley, he was a convinced peacenik. No concrete results emerged but I always think, even though you can’t see results immediately somewhere along the line, some little button was pressed or something clicked, no effort is wasted.”
During the nuclear free zone campaign, they devised a clever tactic to piggyback an informal citizen’s vote onto a federal election. The organizers set up unauthorized polling stations on voting day, in the same location as the federal voting stations. They were completely open to the voters that their poll creating a nuclear free zone wasn’t official and the results were impressive.
Maggie recalled, “(Results were) about 92% here and on other islands a bit more. I sent telegrams to Trudeau and Uri Andropov and whoever was president of the United States at the time, saying we have voted such and such to be nuclear free and of course, they didn’t answer but we felt better about it.”
Maggie and Hank invested in their beliefs. They opened the Crossroads store which carried third world goods, endeavouring to raise people’s consciousness. In another example of putting your money where your values are, they bought a house in Nanoose Bay with sight lines to the submarine testing bases. Protesters and activists used the house for campaign headquarters.
Maggie stressed that change happens often through arts and culture, rather than lectures and protest. “Being in anti-war marches in the 60’s and 70’s and having Country Joe and Fish sing right alongside us gave an emotional boost and had a clarifying effect for some reason. It helped me to formulate my older ideas about how important culture is and how much more effective it is than lecturing or presentations.”
Two local groups that Maggie championed, Peaceworks and Salt Springers for Safe Food, created community celebrations to encourage more of what they wanted. In Maggie’s words, “To me, especially music and certainly drama and to some extent painting, all the arts in any kind of cultural context, I think are more meaningful because it is indirect but the recipient person is the one really having the experience and I think its more incorporated into their consciousness.”
Maggie cautioned not to be too susceptible to all the negative news in the media, “When I meet people who are immersed in that kind of thing, I make a real effort to show them there are other ways of looking at things. The whole world isn’t North America and they will feel a lot better of they get involved and the best thing to do is to take matters into your own hands and no matter what you work on its all valuable.”
Maggie shared her wisdom, if asked. One technique she suggested for events was to have admission by donation, and then trust the money you need will appear. While nerve-wracking to not know what your revenue will be, I have found this technique to be effective as those that can pay are often generous and the people that can’t will contribute in other ways. Social change requires both passion and dollars and lack of money shouldn’t be a barrier.
Maggie was involved with multiple social change efforts over the years, including local affordable housing, food security, peace campaigns and the film festival. Many groups held their meetings around Maggie’s kitchen table and numerous activists have benefited from her involvement and encouragement. Like many, I was inspired by Maggie and am grateful for her mentorship. As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants and Maggie is a giant.
Ellie Langford Parks is a social justice adult educator, community development professional and music manager. Most recently she's an instructor in UVIC’s Masters of Arts in Community Development program, and manager for the Helping the Helper series: Leadership development for non profit leaders.
Ellie is inspired and intrigued by those who act to improve the world. The Creating Change series honours activists and active citizens. Contact Ellie with your profile suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org