She spent a month in federal prison for protesting at a submarine base. She counseled 2,000 conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. She was personally thanked by Nelson Mandela for her work on his behalf.
She is Frances Crowe, Northampton’s beloved peace activist, environmental champion and anti-nuclear advocate. Crowe, who received an honorary degree from Smith, celebrates her 100th birthday on March 15. To commemorate her birthday, friends, community members and fellow activists will join her in a protest titled “We Shall Not Be Moved” Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. The week after the protest, Crowe’s longtime friend Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!” will speak on campus in her honor.
Crowe’s illustrious career as an activist has won her countless awards, most notably the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey and the Joe E. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest. Smith keeps her papers in the Sophia Smith Archives.
Since 1960, Crowe has been a pillar of the Northampton community. She has chained herself to nuclear-energy facilities, fought the United Nations’ sanctions on Iraq at weekly anti-war vigils outside of the county courthouse and inspired those she meets, urging them to use their voices to create change. Crowe, a war-tax refuser since the beginning of the Iraq War (she refuses to pay for killing), throws herself onto her causes’ front lines. She has lost track of the number of times she has been arrested. In 2012, she stated: “Not enough [times], I don’t count. But I know I haven’t achieved what I’m trying to achieve.”
“Democracy Now!” is a cause central to Crowe’s heart. In the early 2000s, she illegally installed a radio transmitter in her backyard to broadcast Goodman’s “War and Peace Report,” which was unavailable on local stations until UMass Amherst’s WMUA started to broadcast the program. Crowe would carry business cards listing the stations on which “Democracy Now!” aired and would hand them out to people she met. “She was shameless,” said Claudia Lefko, longtime friend of Crowe’s. “This is how committed she was.”
Crowe’s relentless urging has impacted countless people, and many find themselves caught up in her windstorm of projects and are inspired to stand along with her. “She touches your conscience,” said Lefko. “She had me; she hooked me.” At Crowe’s urging, Lefko founded the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange in 2001 in collaboration with a team of pediatric oncologists in a Baghdad hospital.
“Frances leads by example,” said Susan Lantz of Northampton, who has worked with Crowe for 20 years. “Her approach is always to get to the heart of the matter.”
Crowe is an advocate for the power of the media, which Goodman’s talk on campus represents. “Frances doesn’t want [her legacy] to be part of [Amy’s talk],” says Lefko, although Goodman is coming to campus in honor of Crowe. Central in her mission is to inspire students to listen to Democracy Now, to take action, and to get radical. “She wants Amy to inspire students.”
Her cotton-white hair and often tie-dyed tee shirts make her stand out wherever she goes, walking with the accompaniment of her walker or sometimes pushed in a wheelchair. Walking with Crowe can be overwhelming – nearly everyone she passes wants to give her a hug, say hello, tell her a story, give her an applause. Crowe is an emblem, a celebrity in the community.
Yet, despite this, Crowe herself shies away from the spotlight. “It’s never about her,” said Lantz. Instead, she prefers the attention to be on the causes themselves; Crowe uses her celebrity to bring people to her campaigns and inspire them to work alongside her.
Goodman will talk in Weinstein Auditorium on campus on Thursday, March 21st at 7 p.m. The event is free.