Guest column by Carolyn Toll Oppenheim: An activist to the end; Frances Crowe led a Resistance Film and discussion series up to her death this week

  • In 2016, Frances Crowe, left, a Northampton activist who died this week at 100, spends time with a friend, Rachel Wyon, of Cambridge, while waiting to hear presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak. Gazette file photo

Published: 8/30/2019 4:00:28 PM

Much of what has been written about the activist work of Frances Crowe did not go up to the present, as her body slowly failed.

But one area of her activism continued literally until her last days — the Resistance Film and discussion series in the community room at Forbes Library, where a core of people were her ongoing community.

In the last 3½ years, one of Frances Crowe’s ongoing activist projects that continued until her very last days was the Resistance Film series that ran every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Forbes Library. Every two weeks, a small group of people watched films and engaged in deep discussion with Frances about the issues.

Two weeks ago, on Aug. 14, Frances sat in her usual place in the front row left, watching the film “The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons,” about the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on July 7, 2017, with her anti-nuclear activist friends who spoke after on how to get involved now in the work.

This week on Aug. 28, I opened the film evening to a standing-room only audience of old and new people who came to honor Frances, who died Tuesday, and also to see and discuss the film. It was the first film without her in years.

Even at 100 years old, Frances was concerned about the current growing restrictions on abortion, so we had planned to show “Jane: An Abortion Service,” about a little known secret, a women-run illegal abortion ring that flourished in the Midwest from the late ’60s until Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in the early ’70s.

Frances’s desire to connect with younger people and their issues made her ever current and popular. Activist speakers after the film talked about plans and strategies to confront the growing restrictions on abortion today. She would have been thrilled to see the crowd and dive deep into discussion with the multiage crowd, as she usually did.

Library staff greeted me with deep emotion as I came in to start the film and discussion program — the first without Frances in years. (I am Frances’ co-coordinator on this current iteration of the film series.) Library Director Lisa Downing, Assistant Director Molly Moss, Arts and Film librarian Dylan Gaffney and Reference Desk librarian Heather Diaz, all part of our team, talked about their sense of loss of Frances working with us.

Frances began her film series some 15 years ago at Media Education Foundation with Sigrid Schmalzer, a UMass professor, and her partner Winston Close, of Northampton, members of the Northampton Committee to Stop the Wars. Ironically, Sigrid helped organize and facilitate this week’s program on abortion.

As Frances wrote recently in her Hampshire Life column, she long ago realized the value of film as an educational tool for social justice activism. When the MEF venue was no longer available, the Forbes Library became a welcoming home.

As Frances’ body became too frail to do the kind of activism she is most remembered for — demonstrating, getting arrested, standing on vigil — her brain was still on fire. Showing films and using them as a tool to bring in local activists to educate about the work was something she could do until her last days.

The work continues and the next two films reflect her work. The work goes on and we welcome people to come to the films and contact me to get involved in the film series team.

The films include:

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>Sept. 11: “Unfinished Business — The Japanese-American Interment Cases.”

Speakers will be people who went to the Homestead, Florida, and Tornillo, Texas detention camps for immigrant children.

■Sept 25. “Plastic China” tells the story of an unschooled 11-year-old girl and her family working in a recycling plant in rural China thousand miles away from their mountain village home town.

Carolyn Toll Oppenheim, of Northampton, is coordinator of the Resistance Film Series at Forbes Library, a former journalism professor at Emerson College and a former reporter at the Chicago Tribune.


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