Frances Crowe with David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, showing her his Executive Order to align the city with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Quaker peace activist Frances Crowe (1919-2019) spent her whole life fighting for peace, justice and the environment, and of all the causes she fought for, the one she was probably most passionate about was the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Frances was joyously tearful at hearing the news two years ago (at age 98) that 122 countries had finally adopted a treaty banning everything to do with nuclear weapons under international law. She was determined to give this new treaty all the support she could, and so we worked together to form NuclearBan.US, a campaign to build support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was launched in her living room in November, 2017.
Frances was prepared to go to jail for her beliefs (and did many times). But she was also prepared to make enormous personal sacrifices for her beliefs. She stopped paying her taxes because her tax dollars were going to pay for war and preparations for war. She stopped driving her car because fossil fuels were causing climate catastrophe. She stopped eating her favorite foods because they were being shipped halfway round the world and fueling not only climate catastrophe but global inequality.
She agreed that NuclearBan.US could not expect people to take such extreme steps, but she wanted people to do more than just “proclaim” their support for the elimination of nuclear weapons. She wanted people to take action, to demonstrate their commitment to this, to take personal responsibility for the fact that we still have these evil weapons in our midst and we still have governments who are ready and willing to use them to slaughter millions of innocent people, supposedly for the sake of ‘national defense.’
NuclearBan.US therefore set up a process through which individuals, faith communities, businesses, schools, cities and states could “align” themselves with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – by divesting from any investments that may be supporting the continued existence of nuclear weapons in this country; by refusing to work for any of those companies, do research for them, supply to them; and by agreeing to boycott their products (until such time as they stop their involvement in the nuclear weapons industry).
Some cities and towns across the country had already made such commitments when they became Nuclear Free Zones back in the 1980s. Takoma Park, Maryland and Berkeley, California thus became the first two cities in the US to declare themselves “Treaty Aligned.” Frances’ own city of Northampton, Massachusetts, however, became the first city in the US to go through the process from scratch to become newly Treaty Aligned, which they completed in 2019.
Frances’ own Quaker Meeting, Northampton Friends Meeting, became the first faith community in the country to become Treaty Aligned. Since then, a small but growing number of churches, businesses, schools, colleges, cities and towns have become Treaty Aligned or have started the process. Frances herself was, of course, one of the first to declare herself individually aligned with the treaty.
Since the NuclearBan.US campaign was launched nearly two years ago, it has gone through various transformations to keep up with the latest developments on the nuclear front (such as the collapse of the INF Treaty and the Iran Deal, the changing relations with North Korea, the nuclear false alarm in Hawaii, etc) – and to keep up with the latest developments on the Frances Crowe front! Frances has always been concerned about many other issues apart from the nuclear weapons issue, and as she approached 100, was increasingly concerned about the climate crisis and its links to all the money, brainpower and international goodwill being squandered on wars, militarism and nuclear weapons in particular.
One of Frances’ personal goals as part of the NuclearBan.US campaign was to get Smith College to align with the Treaty by divesting from the nuclear weapons companies. Smith College holds her archives and considers her one of their own, although she did not go to college there. Last spring (at age 100), Frances helped bring together students from the Divest Smith (from fossil fuels) campaign and the Smith Center for Religious and Spiritual Life to talk about getting the college to divest from nuclear weapons and from fossil fuels.
Just a few days before she died, Frances sent a letter to the President of Smith College, urging her to divest the college from nuclear weapons and fossil fuels as a way of “addressing nuclear weapons, the climate crisis, and injustice in powerful and practical ways.” The campaign at Smith will go on, as part of Frances’ legacy. But there are other ways that the legacy of Frances Crowe lives on through NuclearBan.US.
Partly as a result of Frances’ persistence in seeing the links and trying to bring together the issues of peace, justice and the environment under a single banner, NuclearBan.US has now expanded its focus to include all three of the life and death emergencies facing the whole planet right now. These are the climate crisis, which threatens catastrophic consequences to human civilization and the planet if it is not fully and immediately addressed with bold and decisive action (ie. with implementation of a Green New Deal); the threat of nuclear war, which could happen at any moment, on purpose or by accident, and has the potential to destroy all life on earth; and a third global emergency, the increasingly unsustainable levels of inequality that threaten to tear this country – and the world – apart at the seams, preventing us from being able to address either of the other two emergencies.
The new “Warheads to Windmills” campaign was launched in Congress, with the publication of a report by the same name in Rep. Jim McGovern’s office. The campaign calls for implementation of a Green New Deal to address the climate crisis and inequality with the scale and urgency required. It calls for the US and other nuclear nations to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This will to help pay for a Green New Deal, not just in this country but also in the other countries that emit the most greenhouse gases – and just happen to be spending all their billions on nuclear weapons at the moment. It would also release all the scientists, engineers and technological infrastructure currently devoted to nuclear weapons, but needed to solve the remaining renewable-energy challenges. And it would help build the international cooperation and goodwill needed to address climate change and other worldwide problems on a global scale.
By divesting from fossil fuels and from nuclear weapons, by taking steps as individuals and as organizations, faith communities, cities and states to disconnect from these companies as far as we can, and by declaring our solidarity with the rest of the world, we can all carry on the work of Frances Crowe and help ensure a healthy, thriving future for our children and grandchildren and the many generations still to come.