Hundreds gather to honor Frances Crowe

  • Manuel Eduardo holds up a personal eco-footprint calculator sheet, which were distributed at the Frances Crowe Memorial Assembly Sunday in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Expandable Brass Band Member awaits with his sousaphone to march in Downtown Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • The Expandable Brass Band leads a marching procession down the streets of Northampton, Sunday, in honor of late activist Frances Crowe. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • As a true folk hero, Frances Crowe has inspired many works of art in honor of her activism. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

Staff Writer
Published: 9/9/2019 12:17:39 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Renowned peace activist Frances Crowe harbored no qualms about dying — or “spinning off,” as she called it — so long as she knew that others would continue her advocacy work.

At a celebration of Crowe’s life held in Northampton on Sunday, hundreds gathered in what was not only a remembrance, but a dedication to honoring Crowe, who died Aug. 27 at age 100, through her preferred method.

“In Frances’ final days… people met with her and talked with her,” said Crowe’s daughter, Caltha Crowe, “and Frances’ hope that was getting fanned up as people filed through her home was that people would be inspired and carry on her work.”

Caltha Crowe addressed a crowd that had assembled in Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall. Some of them had walked there from an earlier gathering at Pulaski Park as part of a celebration of Crowe’s life dubbed “Do Something!” The term came from an idea to which Crowe had dedicated much of her life, whether it was through spray-painting “Thou shalt not kill” on missile casings in Rhode Island in protest of nuclear weapons; bringing independent news program Democracy Now! to the Pioneer Valley through pirated broadcasts from her backyard; or staging a funeral for fossil fuels to oppose a pipeline that was being constructed through Otis State Forest, to name only a few instances.

Crowe’s civil disobedience and peaceful protests often got her arrested, though she was known to describe the number of times as “not enough.” She was arrested at age 98 when protesting the pipeline in the Berkshires, and in another notable incident, she spent 30 days in jail after spray-painting the missile casing.

Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, highlighted Crowe’s willingness to put herself on the line when fighting for causes she believed in as he recounted the first time he met Crowe. Hoping to gain her approval, McGovern at one point told Crowe that he had been arrested four times.

“She didn’t seem very impressed,” McGovern said to the audience at John M. Greene Hall. When he asked Crowe how many times she had been arrested, he recalled that she had answered, “Too many times to remember, but way, way more than four.”

“And then she said, ‘Congressman, you can do better,’” McGovern said to laughter and cheers from the audience, later adding that he expects this phrase will regularly guide him in the future.

“Frances, let’s be totally honest, was a troublemaker,” McGovern said. “but she only made good trouble.” She was also “a voice of reason and a voice of sanity during some very muddled times,” he noted. “She was a gentle woman with a spine of steel.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, speaking to the Gazette at Pulaski Park, referred to Crowe as a “spunky but fierce” figure who was a natural fit for Northampton while also influencing national and international issues.

“Northampton has always been at the forefront of social justice and pushing for change,” Narkewicz said, “and Frances really just embodied that.”

Passing the torch

Throughout the day, a theme of “passing the torch” also resonated among speakers and others. At the gathering at Pulaski Park, some held signs featuring teenage activists such as Greta Thunberg, who is known for speaking out against climate change, and Emma González, an advocate for gun control and survivor of the Parkland school shooting.

Crowe’s influence on introducing activism to younger generations was also evident at the Pulaski Park gathering. Melle Lowenthal, 16, of Northampton said that Crowe was a longtime friend of her family, and recalled that Crowe inspired her to participate in advocacy work when she was as young as 6 or 7 years old.

“That really left a big impression on me,” Lowenthal recalled, adding that she continues to engage in activism today.

Kit Sang Boos of Northampton called Crowe “an icon of activism,” adding that she is also inspired by Crowe. Boos does not consider herself particularly involved in activism, but said that Crowe’s example has made her reconsider what she can do to make an impact.

“I need to do more,” Boos said, adding that she has become increasingly interested in climate change issues in particular. “Like (Crowe) said, consume less, do more.”

Speakers at John M. Greene Hall, such as state Sen. Jo Comerford, said that those inspired by Frances will ensure that her legacy lives on.

“Frances, we’ve taken hold of that torch that burned so brightly in your hands,” Comerford said, “and we promise to pass it forward in your name as we carry it together.”

Jeff Napolitano, executive director of the Resistance Center for Peace and Justice and former American Friends Service Committee director, echoed Comerford’s sentiment.

“We are here because she brought us here together,” Napolitano said. “We are her legacy. So Frances lives on because she has passed the torch, the splendid torch, to all of us.”

 Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gaz

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