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Editorial: In death, as in life, Frances Crowe will continue to inspire

  • Frances Crowe at her home in Northampton in March. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Thursday, September 05, 2019

When longtime activist Frances Crowe was born in 1919, women still didn’t have the right to vote. One hundred years later, as we bid her farewell from this earth, much has changed, and we all owe her a debt of gratitude for fighting for the causes of peace, the environment, equality and a nuclear-free world.

In May, the Gazette named Crowe, a resident of Northampton since 1951, its Person of the Year in recognition of her serving as an inspiration to so many in the activist and advocacy communities. But Crowe remained humble. “It isn’t that I’m different from anybody else,” she told the Gazette. “I’ve just been at it longer.”

Still, anyone who knew Frances Crowe could tell you there was something special about her. While full of kindness and trust for her fellow people — reporters seeking her out at times found her door unlocked and open — her inner determination to make change got her results.

Speaking to Gazette reporter Dusty Christensen Tuesday about her death, friend and fellow activist Claudia Lefko said one of Crowe’s proudest achievements was getting the radio program “Democracy Now!” with host Amy Goodman on the air in the Valley.

Goodman herself told Christensen, “(She) just would not take no for an answer, and it just so deeply inspired us.”

In addition to her strong fights against wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and other places, Crowe’s anti-nuclear stance propelled her into activism. The United States’ decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki solidified her opposition to World War II. Working for a nuclear-free world was a cause she fought for until the very end of her life.

In her final column for Hampshire Life magazine, Crowe highlighted an episode that describes her commitment to the anti-nuclear cause. To mock the common practice of smashing champagne bottles to launch new ships, she brought a baby bottled filled with her own blood to dump on a newly commissioned nuclear submarine in Connecticut in the 1980s. With help from some fellow Northampton activists, she managed to get in position and poured her blood on the sub.

She described how the crowd surrounded her, scratched her face and arms, tore at her clothes and pulled her hair before police arrested her.

“It was all worth it,” she wrote. “We have to stop making nuclear weapons of all kinds.”

For Crowe, getting arrested was a sacrifice she was willing to make if it advanced a cause she believed in, something she proved again and again through acts such as chaining herself to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Following years of anti-nuclear activism, much involving Crowe, the plant shut down in 2014.

Once asked by friend and activist Lois Ahrens how many times she had been arrested, she replied, “not enough.”

Crowe’s death at the age of 100 leaves a hole in the Valley’s robust activist network and compounds the loss of Springfield activist and Arise for Social Justice founder Michaelann Bewsee, who died earlier this month at the age of 71 from complications of lung cancer.

And yet, while serving as an inspiration to so many, Crowe said that she was inspired by members of the youth activism community, including Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, students in the Pioneer Valley and her own grandchildren. So long an elder stateswoman of progressive causes, she has long seen that the movements she was involved with didn’t start or end with any one person.

On so many causes she cared about, Crowe effectively passed the torch to others. NuclearBan.US, a nonprofit organization that started in Crowe’s living room, is continuing the fight against nuclear weapons under executive director Timmon Wallis. Jo Comerford, now a state senator, called Crowe one of her earliest inspirations when Comerford moved to the Valley in 1998.

Activists around the world name Crowe among those who inspire them.

As we all reflect on the long, meaningful life of Frances Crowe, we can take heart that her work served as an inspiration to so many and has led to meaningful change. But it would be a mistake to think of her work as having come to an end. We expect that she will continue to inspire and move people to action for years to come.