Putin has withdrawn from the S.T.A.R.T. treaty renewal talks. Talks have broken down between governments whose nuclear weapons are at the ready. Tension is the highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. We seem headed to Mutual Assured Destruction. It is time to imagine a popular citizen’s diplomacy blossoming this spring as it did in 1983. Read Open Borders: A personal story of love, loss, and anti-war activism and relive the uprising of a city sitting in the center of Ground Zero, a target in a nuclear war. A city from which ordinary citizens wrote and carried a letter of peace to Moscow, Leningrad, and Tashkent and Samarkand in Uzbekistan and handed it out on the streets in the U.S.S.R.
Reviews suggest this slim volume will inspire the reader to action.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 17, 2018
In her memoir, Open Borders: a Personal Story of Love, Loss, and Political Activism, Betsy Bell twines two narratives: her anti-nuclear war activism, and her feminist development within a long, loving marriage. Recounting her eye-opening 1983 trip behind the Iron Curtain, part of a delegation of Seattle citizens delivering a public message of peace (and a secret cache of letters addressed to two “refusenik” families) to their sister city, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Bell captures the dramatic events—and everyday details—of a precarious time in history. Bell’s story has unfortunate resonance today, and speaks to the power in the personal: knowing “the other” and wishing for the happiness and wellbeing of our so-called adversaries. “Putting words on paper is my way of taking up arms again,” Bell writes in the book’s introduction. “Action gives me hope.” Bell’s story, enhanced by contributions from four other activists, is a call to action—and evidence of a life lived with the curiosity, compassion, and respect in which she places her faith. A compelling, inspiring book!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 5, 2018
Betsy Bell’s book is not only a personal history of her participation in citizen-based diplomacy at the height of the Cold War, it is also a chronicle of anti-nuclear war activism in the city of Seattle. What is wonderful about the book is how much it remains very much on the human scale and therefore draws the reader in.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 3, 2018
Too often in our lives we let ourselves become convinced that our own “small-selves” can’t really change the direction of things, because the issues are too big and too complex, and that any efforts we expend towards global-betterment are wasted energy, and won’t make a difference. But then, if we are lucky, we read a story of individuals that, through their own determination and effort, do make a difference on a critical global issue. Betsy Bell’s Open Borders is one of those inspiring stories. Describing the efforts of her family, friends and activist colleagues in Seattle during the Cold-War 1980s, Open Borders captures efforts to engage on a person-to-person level with citizens in Seattle’s sister city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, located in the heart of the USSR. Bell’s story describes the efforts of her team to craft personal connections between Seattle and Tashkent, built around the joint belief that we really have more in common than we may initially believe, and that “regular-citizens” of the world must work together to prevent catastrophic nuclear war. Bell’s story is both highly descriptive of the times, as well as very personal. It provides important insights as to the common questions, challenges and doubts that come with efforts such as these. Mostly, Bell’s story provides needed inspiration for all of us to continue to show up and take action on the issues that are most important to us; to get involved, and to stay involved.
This is an uplifting, inspiring, and personal story of how people to people peace efforts of thousands in Seattle changed Cold War relations in the 1980s. A powerful testimony to how the personal is political, how engaging in activism is empowering, how feminist sensibilities can develop even as love flourishes. Bravo!!
Betsy Bell, born before WWII in New York City, spent her formative years in the Jim Crow town of Muskogee, Oklahoma. As a Girl Scout, she began her social justice activism working with a bi-racial team to integrate public schools after the 1954 Supreme Court decision mandating the end of school segregation. After completing her BA and MA at Bryn Mawr College, she began an academic career in Lawrence, Kansas where her husband taught. In Lawrence, she advocated for reproductive rights with Planned Parenthood. She lives in Seattle where she has held several career positions. Twice widowed, Betsy has published two short memoirs and several poems.
For the past fourteen years, Betsy has worked with the Seattle area faith communities toward economic justice through the Jubilee USA Network. Betsy believes in the power of ordinary citizens to create a positive, inclusive and just society.