On October 23 thirty-five years ago, four college friends joined me for a ride from Middletown, Connecticut to Hampton Beach State Park for a rally across the harbor from the construction site of what would become the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant. It was my first No Nukes rally.
The rally was held two months after a demonstration at which 180 people had been arrested for peacefully attempting to occupy the construction site. I don’t remember who spoke at the rally. What I do remember is an announcement that there would be another attempt to occupy the construction site the following spring.
A few months later I phoned the Portsmouth office of the Clamshell Alliance to ask how to get involved. They told me all participants would need to attend a training session in the techniques of nonviolent action, and that I should call Joanne Sheehan, a nonviolence trainer in my area.
Looking back over three and a half decades, it’s interesting to reflect on how a rally and a couple of phone calls put me on a path to many acts of civil disobedience, dozens of nonviolence training sessions, and recent conversations about the role of nonviolence in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
It’s also interesting to look back to say that while the No Nukes movement generally was given an “environmentalist” label, the Clamshell Alliance always saw the construction of the nuclear plant as an abuse of corporate power, not just a threat to the environment. Its founding statement, adopted in 1976, stated a fundamental belief that “energy should not be abused for private profit, and that people should not be exploited for private profit.” The “Declaration of Nuclear Resistance,” adopted a year later, explained “The nuclear industry is designed to concentrate profits and the control of energy resources in the hands of a powerful few, undermining basic principles of human liberty.”
It was an understanding of the links between corporate power and nuclear power that led us to Wall Street on October 29, 1979, when we blocked the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange on the 50th anniversary of the Great Crash. Hundreds were arrested. (You can see video of this demonstration in a clip from Green Mountain Post Films.)
In a sense, Wall Street got the message. After the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, the moguls of finance lost confidence in nuclear power plants, whose designers and builders assured them would never fail. With a realization that billions of dollars of investment could turn overnight into a pile of radioactive rubble, investors began to see nuclear power as too risky.
Other social movements got the message, too. Mass, nonviolent action can have a powerful, transformative effect. Participatory democracy can work, even in the course of mass action. People power can challenge the power of money. The Clamshell Alliance didn’t invent these concepts, of course. But the Clamshell model spread across the country in the late 1970s. Its descendants are in the streets now, once again (or still) saying people are more important than private profit.
If you look at the poster included in this post, it looks like the October 23 demonstration was intended to be a site occupation involving civil disobedience. Organizers realized more time was needed to prepare, and the date of the 3rd occupation was put off until the following spring. That turned out to be a wise decision. The poster was revised, but a few copies of the old ones remained.