At 100, Women for a Change founder shows no signs of slowing
By KATE BARCELLOS
Aug. 06, 2018
WOODSTOCK, Vt. (AP) — "It's in our blood to protest," Jane Curtis said. "It seems all I do is march."
One million people joined in the Women's March on Washington in January 2017, the day after President Donald J. Trump's inauguration, and those who stayed in Vermont marched on Montpelier, which saw a crowd of 15,000 to 20,000 people.
And Curtis, then 98 years old, now 100, was one of them.
"We have to speak up for ourselves as women," said Curtis, who spearheaded the Women For A Change Movement after the election of President Donald Trump. "I still think that there's feeling by the men that the men should control us. They call it being protective and helpful, but we can do it ourselves. We must do it. We are doing it."
With the help of co-founders Nira Granott Fox and Deborah Luquer, Curtis began organizing, reaching out to politicians and rallying for one of the most important political events in modern history — the 2018 midterm election.
"You can't force people to vote, but it is your duty as a citizen and a member of the republic to vote," Curtis said. "The future of what they want in Washington is horrid. If we don't fight, we're losing our liberties, losing access to information, losing the ability to be good Americans. It's being taken from us."
From early 2017, the movement began to gain speed: Before long, a 12-person steering committee had been formed, and in March the area movement formally became Women For A Change.
Today, the movement has around 50 participants and is still growing.
Anyone is invited to join: No matter which political party you belong to, if you're for empowering women, you're welcome under Curtis's "Big Tent."
"The 'Big Tent' is something we'd all like to happen," Curtis said. "We might not agree, but we're all under the 'Big Tent,' which is 'what's good for women.' It's important that we all work together. That we have the freedom to express themselves in any way we can. There's an enormous amount of unused power that can be used for the good of the country."
Later in 2017, Curtis held a rally in her backyard that raised more than $2,000 for Emerge Vermont, a program aimed at arming Democratic women with the skills, knowledge and tactics to run for public office.
On June 21, just two days before Curtis's birthday party, Women For A Change filled Tribou Park in Woodstock with just less than 100 people protesting the separation of children and families at the United States border.
Nine days later, they filled the park again, this time for the national June 30 Families Belong Together protest.
Saturday, the group is set to convene again at Tribou Park, rain or shine, at 11 a.m. to register anyone who isn't registered to vote in the 2018 primaries, to offer information on candidates and share ideas.
Because it's time, once again, for women to stand their ground.
"Men have been the doers, and we've been the stay-at-homers," Curtis said. "We're not standing around in the kitchen anymore. We feel empowered, and we're on the right road. I feel good about the road we're on. We just have to keep doing what we do and keep our ears open to what's happening."
Her activist spirit, Curtis said, came from the elder women in her family, who saw the problems of the world as repairable, and set a young Jane to task.
"(My mother) was very much an activist," Curtis said. "She'd always say 'Jane, you've got to do something about this.' My mother and my grandmother were certainly tough women: They weren't beholden to any man. I learned a lot from them."
Born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, Curtis spent the summer of 1930 with her family in Feldafing, a village in Bavaria just 20 miles south of Munich.
"I remember how beautiful it was, before the war," Curtis said. "I remember going to the bier stube in Munich with my father, when I was 12. That was where Hitler started out."
Beneath the beauty and majesty of the landscape, a social eruption was coming to a head: the Nazi party was gaining traction.
And they took the newspapers first.
"I was about 12 years old, too young to know what was happening at the time," Curtis said. "The newspapers shut down, any my father said, 'We're going to war.'"
Curtis watched, even from afar when she returned to the states, as the regime slowly choked the spread of truthful information.
"I saw what happened in Germany when they started shutting down the papers," she said. "They stopped selling the 'evil' news, and they sold the 'good news — Hitler's news.' Then they said, 'Mr. Hitler is right, he is the leader, follow him.'"
Curtis said she's watched throughout history as it happened again and again where fascist movements flooded the minds of citizens with propaganda.
And she said it's happening again.
"The idea of 'fake news,'" Curtis said. "Once you control the news the way you want it, you have people right in your pocket. They'll do anything they want you to do, and that's terrifying. I see this happening again. Controlling the news. One of the most important things is to keep the newspapers open. We need access to good news. Real, true news. "
Curtis saw World War II unfold as a college student at Smith, where she said she saw few movements.
"I remember feeling 'here I am, safe and sound,' and I felt terrified," she said.
Once she graduated, Curtis began work at the World's Fair in New York City, before she married Will Curtis and moved to West Hartford, Vermont, and then Hartland, where they raised their daughter, Kate, and tended their herd of Jersey cows.
Then came the Vietnam War.
"I went down to Washington in fear and trembling to an enormous group against nuclear proliferation," she said. "I was terrified: There were so many angry people around me."
Curtis didn't stop her marching when she returned to Vermont. She protested in Montpelier, and every weekend amid groups of supporters, before marching on an air base in Chicopee, Massachusetts, against the bombing of Cambodia.
She has seen it all: She saw the passage of Roe v. Wade, and the era of Martin Luther King Jr., the Cold War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the election of Barack Obama.
She's been underestimated as a woman in a war-torn world where men ran the show.
It was in that world that she realized her power as a woman.
"We have a terrific fight on our hands," Curtis said. "They would like us to have fewer and fewer options, and women have to stand together for the rights we innately have. We're not controlled by men, and we don't need help. We need to do it ourselves."
And at 100 years, Curtis said, as long as her feet are on the ground, and her two canes are in hand, she's claiming her place in line, fearless of the men who would silence her.
"They've had it easy for 1 million years, and we're supposed to make it easy for them," Curtis said. "There is hope if you fight. You can't lie back. You have to get out there. Any way you can."
Information from: Rutland Herald, http://www.rutlandherald.com/