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Craven: Roz Payne Remembrance

Bobbie Lanahan
Roz Payne relaxes in the sun with Burlington photographer and teacher Dan Higgins.

Roz Payne was fearless. And she made a difference. In fact, much of the culture we value in Vermont today was influenced by her passions. She contributed to the founding of the Onion River Co-op, now Burlington’s City Market and helped organize the People's Free Clinic, now the Community Health Center. And both, in turn, have inspired similar community-based assets throughout our region.Roz was an early 70’s migrant to Putney’s Red Clover commune and the personification of 60’s activism. She was a founder of Newsreel, a political film group that fanned out across the country to raise awareness on the Vietnam War and the black power movement. In the student strike at Columbia, Roz was both protestor – and filmmaker.

I met Roz in 1971 in Washington. She was there with other Red Clover members to protest the continuing Vietnam War. It was a year after Kent State - and a week after the Vietnam Veterans staged their own dramatic demonstrations. Tension, excitement and trepidation were in the air. And Roz seemed right at home.

Through the years, I’d see Roz in a variety of Vermont settings, where we’d compare notes. I worked in the arts and made movies - while she collected all the Newsreel films she could still find and transferred them to video, to keep them available. The result is a priceless archive of the turbulent politics of the time. We both taught. And in 1989, Roz was elected constable in Richmond, Vt. – her last home town.

Newsreel’s work was about 60’s politics - and for getting it out there. Roz hauled 16m projectors into Harlem neighborhoods – and other out of the way places - to show films and lead discussions. I could relate to that, since part of my own work involves taking my films on the road into small villages and towns.

Roz Payne was a force of nature, an activist with every ounce of energy she possessed. You might say she grabbed the 60’s political culture by the throat and simply never let go.