Friday Takeaway: “How can we work together?”

  • Frances Crowe at her home in Northampton, Monday, Mar. 4, 2019.

Published: 3/28/2019 5:04:11 PM

Over the years, I’ve learned that community action — the kind that can change the world — begins with the simplest question once two or more people have established their commitment to changing immoral or otherwise hurtful corporate, government or community policies.

“How can we work together?” begins the conversation that can transform everything.

When a community begins to organize, participants do not necessarily know how positive transformation will occur nor when or where. They may undertake detailed courses of action and make specific plans, but they also know that the ways of true transformation mean belief in the possibilities and good outcomes, some of them unanticipated.

Although our world still knows tragic war and the consequences of war, including nuclear weapons and nuclear power, I have experienced and witnessed many successful efforts of community organization leading to transformation and good outcome.

Through vigorous and effective community action, we:

■brought Democracy Now, Amy Goodman’s wonderful television and radio program, to central Massachusetts and established our own community radio station;

■saw a freeze that lasted for years on US production of nuclear weapons, although the threat now grows again;

■witnessed the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant;

■participate in ongoing weekly vigils to oppose U.S. warmongering and U.S. sanctions against other nations;

■confronted defense industries, including General Dynamics, Raytheon, GTE, Bath Iron Works and Lockheed-Martin in civil resistance actions that involved jail time for some participants;

■resisted University of Massachusetts, Amherst production of anthrax, again with some resisters going to jail;

■advocated for providing shelter for the homeless more than 30 years ago in a Northampton Take-Off-The-Boards campaign;

■with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), counseled hundreds of young men to resist the draft, especially during the American-driven war in Vietnam;

■organized voting campaigns;

■encouraged investors, particularly colleges and universities, to stop supporting the South Africa apartheid government.

My longtime association with Northampton’s Claudia Lefko serves as one of my favorite experiences among many that resulted in enduring associations and friendships. I met her in 1998 at a time when others and I planned our defense during our trial as the Raytheon Peacemakers who blocked the gate of the Andover defense contractor. As I handed out leaflets at the Northampton Recycling Center, I recognized Lefko and approached her to ask if she had considered acting to resist U.S. sanctions against Iraq years before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

She traveled to our trial in Andover, where the former U.S. attorney general, Ramsey Clark, advised our resistance group during a high-profile trial that lasted several days. Unusually, Judge Ellen Flatley allowed us to employ the necessity defense to justify our actions at Raytheon: we said we had to block the gate to shut down the defense contractor in order to save others from injury and death. Nevertheless, the jury found us all guilty and Judge Flatley assigned us to community service.

Lefko wrote about the trial and other resistance activities for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. A talented artist and teacher, she also established the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange. Claudia traveled periodically to Iraq to foster the exchange and bring aid to the Iraqi people. She found many opportunities to show the art of Iraqi children in the U.S. as she built a case for lifting U.S. sanctions in Iraq.

Lefko also became instrumental in the work of the Northampton Committee to Lift the Sanctions, later the Northampton Committee to Stop Wars, referred to by its website,, as Northampton Committee to Stop the Wars. The Northampton Committee provided a natural transition for AFSC supporters and for me, and the committee often collaborated with AFSC. Northampton, the Valley and other central Massachusetts and southern Vermont communities have a substantial core of dedicated workers for peace and justice, and together they pitch in to support endeavors aimed at righting wrongs perpetrated by governmental and corporate policies.

Just a few weeks ago, in a very personal effort that touched my heart, Lefko organized friends from past community actions of all kinds to celebrate my 100th birthday with 100 signs and a walk through Northampton. I am so grateful for the tribute.

Over the years, I have made countless friends in the course of community organizing efforts designed to bring social justice and peace to our world. May we someday see the elimination of war, discrimination and repression. What a wonderful world that would be.

A 1977 Gazette article described Frances Crowe as “a long-time anti-war activist.” The founder of the American Friends Service Committee of Western Massachusetts, Crowe continues her pioneering peace work today.


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