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The Pledge of Resistance and the “Sofagate” Action

Ronald Reagan brought with him to the White House an extreme anti-communism and intense hostility to the government of Nicaragua, which was led by revolutionaries who had recently ousted a US-backed dictator. Soon the administration was organizing, funding, and training a band of counter-revolutionaries – the “contras” – who waged terrorist attacks across the border from bases in Honduras and Costa Rica. An outright US invasion seemed like a real possibility.

To protest and deter an invasion, US activists organized the “Pledge of Resistance,” a campaign which promised massive civil disobedience in the event of a US invasion, beginning in 1984. Across the country, “affinity groups” of activists organized, attended nonviolent action training sessions, and prepared to occupy Congressional offices. By publicizing their activities, they sought to influence Congress to restrain the administration’s bellicose agenda.

Perhaps it worked; there was no US invasion. But despite evidence of flagrant human rights abuses committed by the contras, US support for them continued. The CIA even mined Nicaragua’s harbors. As the suffering of the Nicaraguan people deepened, the Pledge of Resistance decided to change its plans. Instead of waiting for a US invasion, the call went out for affinity groups to begin acts of civil disobedience. Many of the actions were based on occupations of Congressional offices.

Planning the Action

In New Hampshire the Pledge of Resistance was coordinated by Witness for Peace and AFSC, working through networks of locally based peace and solidarity groups. In the spring of 1985, several affinity groups demonstrated at the offices of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation.

In addition to an active role in coordination and training, I was part of a local Concord affinity group made up largely of activists associated with the Concord Committee on Central America. I have a clear memory of our nonviolent training session, held at the office of Womankind Counseling, which was then on Warren Street. It was our plan to occupy the office of Senator Warren Rudman, who had served as the state’s Attorney General before seeking office as a Senator. He had a reputation as a moderate, but supported the administration’s policies in Central America.  (His office was in the building at the corner of N. Main and Centre Streets in Concord, in the space where the Prescription Center now runs its medical supplies and equipment operation.)

As we debriefed the roleplay of a scenario in which we occupied Rudman’s local office and refused to leave, we asked ourselves some critical questions. What was our demand? Did we want to meet with the Senator? Refuse to leave until we talked to him on the phone? Shut down the office to say “no business as usual” should be allowed until he changed his tune on support for the contras?

Through discussion we recognized that while we weren’t opposed to meeting with the Senator or talking with him on the phone, dialogue would not by itself address our concerns. Likewise, assuming we might be allowed to stay throughout the normal business day but would be ejected at the close of office hours, we agreed that this, too, did not really meet our concerns. Neither did we see much point in simply being disruptive. Instead, we agreed that what we really wanted to do was communicate to the Senator the depth of our concerns, and that this would be better accomplished through persistence than short-term disruption.

Action and Arrests

If my memory serves, we delivered to the Senator a letter explaining that we would be having individuals sitting silently, by themselves, in the waiting area of his office for two hours each morning, and two hours each afternoon, as an expression of our concerns. We all signed up for shifts and began our visits on Thursday, May 16, 1985, when Don Booth took the morning shift and Marcia Freeman took the afternoon one. The pattern of two people a day for two hours each continued the next day and every weekday of the week that followed. While we sat on the sofa inside the doorway, members of our group read books and articles about Nicaragua and US interventionism, wrote letters to the Senator, and sat in silent reflection.

At the end of the second week, we were handed a letter from the Senator informing us he would no longer allow us to continue. Sitting near the reception desk, he said, we were able to overhear conversations his staff were having with constituents about Social Security checks, veterans benefits, and other issues. “It is simply impossible to treat constituent inquiries in a confidential manner when a protester is sitting in the office in a position to overhear private conversations,” he wrote.

“Although I appreciate your effort to conduct your demonstration in a manner which avoids disruption of business at the Concord office,” the Senator continued, “I have become convinced that the present situation is unworkable. Therefore, in fairness to other constituents who may wish to use the Concord office, I must ask you to end your sit-in demonstration.”

We called a meeting, agreed it was not our intent to disrupt constituent services, but that we would not suspend our action. After all, anyone in the waiting area would pose the problem Rudman had identified. In a letter we drafted, we informed the Senator that we understood his discomfort about the effect of our presence on office operations. “We have not thought about our presence of concern as a protest demonstration,” we wrote, “but as a simple statement of our awareness and caring.”

“It is important for us to continue,” our letter went on. “We are sure that US administration policies in Central America will have disastrous effects for people here as well as for people in Central America, and we want to express that concern by our presence.”

“We do not need to be in the office for half of each working day, as we were last week. Our concern can be expressed in one hour a day,” we informed him, adding some specific policy recommendations with regard to ending support for the contras, blocking military aid to Guatemala, and support for a regional peace agreement then under discussion.

The following week, on Wednesday, May 29, we delivered our letter and began again. Five volunteers, one a day, entered the office, took up our position on the waiting area sofa, and were told that if we did not leave we would be arrested. When we each politely said we intended to stay, police were called and we were each taken to the Concord Police Station for booking on charges of criminal trespass.

From the Office to the Courts

At Concord District Court four months later, we had the chance to argue that what we were doing was well within our rights to peacefully petition the government for redress of grievances. One member, Dick Duckoff, who hired a lawyer, succeeded in getting his charge dismissed. The other four, who chose to represent ourselves and were tried by a different judge, were all found guilty. Don Booth, Meg Grace, and I decided to appeal to Superior Court, where we would have a trial by jury. Stacey Baston decided not to appeal and went to jail.

Don secured representation from the NH ACLU. Meg had a public defender. I continued to represent myself. Rudman, the former Attorney General, was taking so much interest in the case that the city and county attorneys were apparently not of sufficiently high caliber to prosecute a handful of pacifists charged with misdemeanor offenses. Instead, Assistant Attorney Generals, who spent most of their time on homicide cases and other serious felonies, were assigned to the case. Rudman also arranged for legal counsel from the US Senate staff to help out.

My own memories of the Superior Court proceedings are pretty fuzzy, but the order issued by Judge George Manias on January 3, 1986, referred to hearings held on three days in mid-December. The State filed motions to exclude evidence of the office manager’s reasons for having us arrested, wanting instead to have the trial consider only whether the facts met the standards for criminal trespass. The State tried to consolidate the three cases into one, to which we objected. Don’s lawyer filed three motions to dismiss, including one based on constitutional rights, one claiming the trespass statute was overbroad, and one “on grounds of collateral estoppel.”

Judge Manias did not take a long time to rule that what we had been doing was in fact protected by the First Amendment protections of free speech and the right to petition. The prosecution argument that we were invading a private office had no validity, he ruled. We had been “licensed and privileged” to enter the Senator’s office. That’s exactly what it’s there for, and that’s why it was located in a prominent downtown location, the judge observed.

“At all times pertinent to this matter,” Judge Manias wrote, “the Defendants remained silently sitting on the Senator’s couch and did not carry with them any placards or materials that would visibly disrupt the office, nor did they engage in any activity such as shouting, yelling, or speaking out loud that would disrupt the office.” The charges were dismissed on January 3, 1986. The NH Supreme Court later refused to consider an appeal filed by the State.

Together with other demonstrations taking place during the same period, the action was covered amply in the local press. In fact, I was being interviewed by a Concord Monitor reporter at the time of my arrest.

Lessons Learned

Looking back with thirty years hindsight, I can still draw out some of the lessons of what we sometimes called the “sofagate action.”

  • Be thoughtful about your demands. You might get what you ask for and discover that really wasn’t what you wanted. In this case, what we wanted was to communicate with the Senator, not just to talk with him, and not just to get arrested.
  • Nonviolent action training offers opportunities to test out action scenarios in role-play exercises. We can adjust our plans based on the experiences we share.
  • It is possible to conduct a high quality action with a small number of people.
  • The courtroom can be treated as an extension of the action. Look for opportunities to continue to raise the issues which motivated the act of civil disobedience in the first place.
  • What may start out as a short-term commitment can extend into days, weeks, and longer when hearings, trials, and appeals are considered, and that’s not even counting the possibility of jail time.
  • But the lengthy time between arrest and trial, and the even longer time if a conviction is appealed to a higher court, can diminish enthusiasm. (In another civil disobedience action I organized, the gap between arrest and ultimate conviction was so long that our lawyer and one of our members had time for heart surgery, a second member had a hysterectomy, and a third had a baby.) Life goes on while we are waiting for justice. In this case, we did not return to Rudman’s office after the ruling was issued. (And by the way, the Senator re-arranged his waiting area.)

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As we walked into Manchester’s Veterans Park, where yesterday’s Black Lives Matter march would begin, the first person we saw up close was a white man carrying a large rifle.  He was approached right away by Matt Lawrence, one of the activists who had volunteered to be peacekeepers (or “ushers”) for the march.

Organizers of the march had asked people not to bring weapons, Matt calmly explained.  The rifle-bearing man said he was there to help the police with security.  He would be joined by others openly carrying weapons throughout the next two hours. 

As the Back Lives Matter crowd swelled to more than 200, the number of counter-demonstrators grew as well.  By the end, a group of men who were apparently members of a motorcycle club were attempting to goad activists into heated arguments about whether or not “all lives matter.” 

Several members of Manchester’s police department stood by, generally on the edges of the crowd. 

For the duration, a small group of peacekeepers, identified by their white arm-bands, kept an eye on the counter-demonstrators, often walking and chatting with them.  At other times they placed themselves between the two groups as way to provide a buffer, diffuse tensions, and discourage the anti-racism activists from engaging in the types of heated arguments that could have easily escalated into violent conflict that would put lives at risk and interfere with the march’s purpose.

Given the recent events in Dallas and provocative statements from the city’s police chief, this was not an idle concern. 

By the time we left at about 9 pm, most of the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators had already departed.  Two activists were still arguing in a generally calm manner with a young woman carrying a large rifle.  But by then it was clear that the march had successfully created an opportunity for people to express outrage against the pattern of police killings of Black people.  Participants, many of them young, felt the strength of people coming together in a call for change.  It was loud, spirited, and peaceful, which had been the organizers’ intent. 

A few observations:

First, it was constructive for the organizers to be clear that the march was intended to be peaceful and to post guidelines on Facebook:

-if confronted by a counter protestor or violent person, remain calm and peaceful and try to keep moving

-if someone comes at you with their fists, weapon, etc, step back and call for one of the ushers to take control of the situation until law enforcement arrives

The explicit guidelines made it easier for peacekeepers to do their jobs.

Second, peacekeepers demonstrated several techniques that proved to be effective. 

– Talk one-on-one with people who appear hostile.  Introduce yourself.  Try to make a human connection.  Keep them busy talking to you. 

– Remind activists that the purpose of the action is best served by refusing to take the bait from hostile counter-demonstrators looking for a fight. 

– Stay calm and help others do the same.

In a Facebook post after the march, Alex Fried reflected on peacekeeper training he had received several years ago.  “I’ve never had to use the skills I gained in that training until tonight,” he wrote.  “I went up to one of them and introduced myself. I kept my hands open and in front of me at all times. We shook hands and spent the march together. I talked with him about his life, his political opinions, his childhood growing up in NH, and his job working for a weapons manufacturer. As much as possible we kept the armed protesters separate from the march.”

I’ve seen plenty of counter-demonstrators over the years, but last night is the first time I’ve seen them show up with weapons.  If that’s a sign of things to come, let’s get more peacekeepers trained.  

 

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You Have Nothing to Lose but the Nukes, and a Solar Future to Gain!

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Stephen Comley addresses the Clams on the World Fellowship lawn.

Ever heard of the “bathtub curve?” It’s a principle of reliability engineering that illustrates the failure rates for technology. When a form of technology is new, it has a high failure rate. As the bugs get worked out, failure rates decline. But as the productbathtub curves age, failure rates rise again.

Paul Gunter says the bathtub curve is useful for understanding nuclear reactors. Disasters at Three  Mile Island and Chernobyl represented catastrophic failures of relatively new reactors. Fukushima would be an example of failure for an aging reactor. The aging of the US reactor “fleet” means “this is the most dangerous time,” Gunter said.

With backing from the Cheney and Obama administrations, the industry promised a 21st century nuclear renaissance and promoted itself as a replacement for fossil fuels. Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford says “the renaissance story line was hard to resist.”

“By early 2009,” he writes, “applications for 31 new reactors were pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The promises came garnished with tales of remorseful changes of heart from oft-obscure nuclear converts. With few exceptions, the news media – especially television with its thirst for the short and the simple – fell for the renaissance story line.”

In a foreword to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, Bradford writes of the supposed renaissance, “It is all in ruins now. The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others lingering on in search of a license, which is good for 20 years. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains to be taken from any electric customer’s pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in fifteen years.”

Or as Paul Gunter put it, industry has gone from the “too cheap to meter” line of the 1950s and ‘60s to the reality of “too expensive to matter.”

Gunter, a Clamshell founder who is now co-director of Beyond Nuclear, was one of several speakers at last weekend’s Clamshell Alliance Reunion, held at PAUL40world fellowship july 2013 285World Fellowship in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The annual event is part social, part educational, part planning and plotting for a community of activists who met in the No Nukes days of the 1970s and 80s.

Other speakers included Doug Bogen, who’s been promoting the potential of offshore windpower from floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine; Naoto Inoue, a solar entrepreneur from Arundel, Maine; and Stephen Comley, who woke up to the dangers of nuclear power when an NRC official told him to stock upon potassium iodide pills for the the residents of his Rowley, MA nursing home, 12 miles from the Seabrook reactor.

Spurred to action, Comley organized 80% of town residents to sign a petition for Seabrook to be shut down. As a long-time Republican activist, he even delivered the petitions in person to President Ronald Reagan. He is still talking about nuclear dangers, especially his allegation that counterfeit, substandard parts were installed at 72 reactors, a fact revealed to him years ago by an industry insider. Comley started a group, “We the People,” to collect such stories and try to get action from people in high places. At this time he’s trying to communicate with Michelle Obama in hopes that she can get through to her husband.naoto04world fellowship july 2013 276

Paul Gunter said “climate change needs to motivate all of us.” That’s why it was great to hear from Naoto Inoue, who heads Talmage Solar Engineering in  Arundel, Maine. From installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at homes on the coast of Maine, Inoue has taken the plunge into large-scale solar generation with a 2.2 megawatt PV installation in Sharon, Vermont. With support from Vermont’s pilot “feed-in tariff” program, the solar array can economically provide enough electricity for the entire town.

Doug Bogen says offshore wind is another viable alternative. The state of Maine has a commitmDOUG03world fellowship july 2013 138ent to support 5000 megawatts of capacity in the next 20 years, by coincidence the date the Seabrook reactor’s license is due to expire. We can’t rely on wind for 100% of our energy needs, he said, but the potential is  there to replace New England’s aging nuclear plants and phase out fossil fuel plants as well. Bogen is promoting the idea that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a massive industrial facility sited on a deep water port, would be the perfect place for the massive wind turbines to be manufactured.

The Clams also heard some words of wisdom from Peter Kellman. peter17world fellowship july 2013 321Whatever struggle you’re in, says the veteran organizer, never forget “the big picture.”

I was also grateful to spend some time with Sukie Rice, a former American Friends Service Committee staff member who conducted nonviolence training workshops for early Clamshell demonstrations at Seabrook.  She recalled meetings in the spring of 1976 at which Clamshell organizers agreed to adopt nonviolence as a guiding principle for direct action.  “If what they wanted was for New Hampshire residents to see them as legitimate, they would have to act in the manner of nonviolence,” she recalled.  It was Elizabeth Boardman, she said, who introduced the Quaker principle of consensus decision-making.  The use of affinity groups and “spokes” meetings came from the experience of the Cambridge-based Nonviolent Direct Action Group, an anti-war project of the early ‘70s.  From early on, she said, “I knew it was the start of something big.” 

sukie-arnieworld fellowship july 2013 178

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I admit I have not read all the works of all the great revolutionaries and I may have forgotten most of what I have read. But I can’t recall Lenin, Mao, Gandhi, Che, Paine, Fanon, or Dellinger identifying violation of a municipal curfew as an important revolutionary tactic.  Barbara Deming makes no mention of curfews in “Revolution and Equilibrium.”  I don’t think Dorothy Day was ever busted for being out late after 11 pm. “Curfew vimanch dist ct 021olation” isn’t even on Gene Sharp’s famous list of 198 methods of nonviolent action (though I suppose it could be a sub-set of method 137, “refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse”). So the June 22 hearing at Manchester  District Court could prove to be historic.

At issue was the claim of 15 Occupy NH activists that the “right to revolution” expressed in the State Constitution gave them the right — and the obligation — to violate Manchester’s city curfew last October. With the legal leadership of Barbara Keshen, staff attorney for the NH Civil Liberties Union, they made a good case.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. After several days in which Occupy activistsmanchester 10-19-11 018 maintained an encampment in Manchester’s Victory Park they were told by police that the City would insist on enforcing its curfew ordinance, which calls for parks to be empty of human persons between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. On October 19, they shifted their encampment to Veterans Park, a more visible location a few blocks away. At 11 pm, police warned the activists they would be cited for violating the curfew if they refused to leave. Most of the people in the park (including me) scurried to the outside of the fence on Merrimack Street. Most of those who remained were given a summons for the curfew violation and left the park on their own steam. The few who still refused to leave were placed under arrest, charged with trespass in addition to the curfew violation, and taken to the Manchester Police Station. (See my earlier posts for details.)

The Right to Revolution

What is in dispute is whether Constitutional protections of speech and assembly trump the curfew. Also in dispute is whether Part One, Article Ten of the New Hampshire Constitution, titled “Right to Revolution,” has any bearing.

Article Ten states:

“Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

Once we’ve verified that “emolument” means what we think it means, it’s not hard to make the case that government is serving the private interests of a class of men, that the endsmanch dist ct 012 of government have been perverted, that public liberty is long past being at risk, and that conventional means of redress haven’t been all that effective, our own Constitution is telling us it’s time for action.

Defendants Will Hopkins and Matt Lawrence both testified that they have felt unable to influence government through conventional methods. Hopkins, director at NH Peace Action, explained that months of persistent work can go into getting a brief, inconsequential meeting with one of our US Senators. Occupiers are diverse in age and ideology, he said, but share the view that “we no longer have a way to seek redress of our grievances.”

Lawrence said much the same thing, while explaining how the Occupy encampment was set up to house, clothe, and feed everyone who showed up and give voice to allmanch dist ct 033 who wanted to participate. “I have an issue with a government that makes it possible for some people to make a ton of money while others are living in squalor,” he told John Blanchard, a Manchester prosecutor, during cross examination.

The hearing’s most dramatic movement was the introduction of proof that the Occupiers were familiar with Article Ten and in fact quite enthusiastic about it. Seth Cohn, a State Representative who identifies with both Occupy and with the Tea Party, participated in the Occupy demonstrations last fall.  On the witness stand, Cohn explained that he had read the relevant constitutional passage during a Veterans Park General Assembly at which the “people’s mic” was being used as a means for sound amplification. Without objection from the prosecution, Kersten Cornell, a UNH law student doing an internship with the NH CLU, set up a laptop and video projector and popped in a DVD. Soon everyone in the courtroom could hear Rep. Cohn shouting omanch dist ct 047ut a few words at a time from Article Ten with the whole crowd repeating the words in unison. (It was hard to resist joining in, but I was pretty sure Judge Lyons would not approve.)  At the end everyone cheered. Or as Cohn understated on the witness stand, “there was general agreement with that statement.”

The DVD was admitted as Defense Exhibit E.

Cohn also testified that it’s not just the federal government that is held captive to  moneyed interests. After a two-year term as a State Rep (one of mine, in fact), he said that state government may appear to be accessible to citizens, but that’s because the “influence that happens because of lobbyists is invisible.” Lobbyists, of course, work for organizations and businesses that can pay them. “Ninety percent of what goes on behind the scenes is about money,” he explained.

Law Professor Speaks about Perversion (of government)

manch dist ct 018 Jim Pope

Once the defense overcame prosecutors objections to his qualification as an expert witness, Jim Pope, a Rutgers University Law Professor, took the stand to make the case that the ends of government have been perverted in the interest of the rich. Using a set of slides familiar to anyone who’s been following discussions of the manch dist ct 030 crop growing gap between the rich and everyone else, Pope illustrated the nation’s widening income gap, the change in the top marginal tax rate, the recent drop in union membership, and the share of national income claimed by the wealthiest 10% of Americans.

“Are the ends of government perverted?” Attorney Keshen asked.

“There is a gigantic shift in that direction over the last thirty years or so,” the professor responded. “Workers are getting a smaller and smaller proportion of the proceeds of industry,” he added a bit later.

“Is public liberty manifestly endangered?” Keshen asked.

“Public liberty is endangered because of the influence of money on politics,” Pope manch dist ct 050 responded.

It’s not that lobbyists and contributors directly buy votes, he explained. But members of Congress spend 30% of their time raising campaign funds, he said. That means they are calling up rich people on the phone while their constituents futilely try to get their grievances redressed. And there’s little doubt that fundraising has to weigh on them during the 70% of their time they are supposed to be doing the people’s business. It’s “a pervasive kind of influence,” Pope testified.

Pope’s real area of expertise is not economics; he has studied the impact of social movements on the law. American history, he said, has seen a series of major “republican moments” (note the lower case “r”) in which people have risen up to challenge a legally protected status quo. Major examples he cited were the American Revolution, the Jacksonian period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populists, the New Deal, and the Sixties.

During normal times, he said, most people stay out of politics and governments are dominated by elites. But “increasingly the citizenry begins to feel frustrated,” and eventually something happens that ignites a passionate form of politics unlike business as usual. When large numbers of people are drawn into politics and “ordinary people are doing things that are extraordinary,” that’s a “republican moment.”

Pope outlined five features of a republican moment:

  1. Unlike normal times, large numbers of people engage in serious political discourse;
  2. Arguments are moral rather than “pecuniary,” based on the common good, not private interest;
  3. The subjects of debate are fundamental;
  4. Representative politics is overshadowed by direct participation; and
  5. Social movements displace political parties and interest groups as the most powerful actors.

Citing sit-down strikes and sit-ins of earlier periods, Pope said “occupying spaces is exactly the kind of protest tactic that this kind of movement traditionally uses.” Without commenting on how Article Ten should be interpreted (a topic the Judge had made clear was beyond the expertise Pope was entitled to draw upon), the professor reminded the court that Article Ten came from the generation which escalated its protests from peaceful petitions and boycotts to outright armed struggle.

“Is the reason to make sure power resides in the people?” Keshen asked.

Pope agreed.

I was the final witness and I didn’t take notes, so I don’t remember exactly what I manch dist ct 064 said. But I did enjoy the prosecutor’s question about whether Occupy activists had marched to Mitt Romney’s campaign HQ in Manchester. I explained that this had occurred, that Romney was there, and that the activists had invited him to attend the General Assembly.  (He declined.)  I also affirmed that I delivered a bit of a pep talk about nonviolence and civil disobedience just at the police were moving into the park at 11 pm on October 19.  A set of my photos, which appeared on this blog, was introduced as evidence by the defense. 

Judge Lyons has given both parties ten days to submit legal memos. From their lines of questioning, I expect prosecutors to make a case that Occupy protesters had notmanch dist ct 049 exhausted their means of redress and in fact were engaged in all sorts of other actions to make their voices heard. In other words, a presence in the park between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am was not essential. The defense will presumably restate its argument that the 24-hour occupation, along with the principles of direct democracy, is a fundamental part of the social transformation sought by the occupiers, and is therefore in need of Constitutional protection.

I would not count on Judge Lyons to rule for the defense. But the defendants and their attorney are determined to take their case up the legal chain. By the time it’s over, we could see the NH Supreme Court rule that the constitutional right to revolution protects the Occupiers desire to be in a public park after curfew.

(Thanks to Kersten Cornell for the photo of me.) 

IYou can also read coverage of yesterday’s hearing in the Concord Monitor and NH Union Leader, and view a story from WMUR TV.)

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stop now brattleboro march 22

Hundreds arrested at Entergy offices in VT, LA, NY

One difference between a person and a corporation is that a corporate person can be in many places at once.  To occupy space in, say, three states, it takes at least three natural persons.  There were many times that protesting today outside the offices of Entergy Corporation, the rogue corporation that operates the Vermont Yankee nuclear station in Vernon, Vermont.

Had the plant’s operators been obeying state law, the plant would have ceased operation today.

Upwards of 1000 people took that message to the company’s Brattleboro officebrattleboro march 22 028 this afternoon.  More than 100 of them were arrested and charged with unlawful trespass for attempting to deliver their message directly to the company.

Meanwhile, seven activists with roots in the New England anti-nuclear movement were arrested for criminal trespass inside Entergy’s corporate headquarters in New Orleans.  They were Renny Cushing, Lynn Chong, Ben Chichester, Kendra Ulrich, Jeff Brummer, Nelia Sargent, and Paul Gunter.  They were released after six hours.

Five others were arrested at Energy’s office in White Plains, NY, near the aging Indian Point reactor.

The demonstration outside the Entergy Brattleboro office, organized by the SAGE brattleboro march 22 018 Alliance, followed a rally on the Brattleboro Common and a 3.5 mile march up Putney Road and Old Ferry Road .  Organizers made a deliberate decision to demonstrate there, rather than at the reactor, to keep the attention on the Entergy Corporation.

“We come peacefully to Entergy Headquarters today with this message: your time is up,” began the SAGE Alliance’s statement about the demonstration. 

Those who participated in civil disobedience were organized into affinity groups.  SAGE also asked everyone to abide by a “nonviolent code of conduct” that articulated the discipline they intended for the action, for example, “we will not harm anyone, and we will not retaliate in reaction to violence.”

Spirits were high throughout the Brattleboro action, and the potential of solar energy was much in evidence.  

New Phase of Resistance

Entergy’s 40-year license expired yesterday.  Although it received a 20-year extension (the day after the Fukushima meltdown began) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the State of Vermont insists the New Orleans corporation also needs a Certificate of Public Good from the state and permission of the legislature in order to keep operating.  The dispute is ongoing in federal court.

No Nukes activists, who call attention to VT Yankee’s history of radiation leaks and tfrances brattleboro march 22 echnical failures, aren’t waiting for the court.  Frances Crowe, a 93-year old activist who was among the first arrested (and the first to be released) told a reporter, “As I was walking down, all I could think of was Fukushima and the suffering of all the people, and I don’t want that to happen to New England.”

Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, was quoted saying, “I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their — and my — frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired.”

The day’s actions represent the beginning of a new phase of resistance to VT Yankee and defense of democracy.  Visit the SAGE Alliance web page for information about upcoming actions.

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manchester 11-5-11 026 The Saturday gathering of Occupy New Hampshire at Veterans Park in Manchester was treated to a visit from Mark Twain, who spent most of an hour entertaining and informing about 30 members of the 99%. 

“We have a choice between democracy and empire,” intoned the white garbed writer, a veteran of the anti-imperialist movement that opposed US intervention in the Philippines at the close of the 19th century.  Whether those gathered knew the story or not, Twain’s point was lost on no one.  Having just completed John Sayles’ massive novel, A Moment in the Sun, set in 1898, I knew what the writer meant when he said, “in our name they are torturing people.” 

Twain was portrayed by Ed Helm, a one-time Capitol Hill staffer who has dabbled in other forms of politics in recent years.  Ed is now producing a series of TV programs dealing with the current empire and the fiscal excess which fuels it. 

newmarket 11-6-11 003 Sunday the scene shifted to Newmarket, where about a hundred people met at the Stone Church to hear from Occupy members and discuss issues including economic and labor conditions, drone warfare, education policy, and nuclear power. 

The program included a panel with five occupiers sharing their varied experience and perspectives.  Michael Joseph, a late-50s teacher, spoke about the correlation between runaway corporations and declining labor standards.  “Occupy groups everywhere, employers with a conscience, and self-employed must understand and support the revitalization of the traditional labor movement,” he said.

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Shannon Thompson and Matt Richards, both a lot younger, were less specific in their analysis but every bit as passionate in their commitment.  For Shannon, the Occupy movement is “humanity’s chance to prove itself.”  Matt, who grew up in a Manchester working class family, said he “wanted to get together with people in my community to see what we can do.” 

Cacilia Svenbye, a veteran of the movement that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the Philippines, said she found “the same shit” when she migrated to the USA.  Since then, she’d been waiting 18 years for the people to rise up.  Like Matt, Cacilia was one of 5 people arrested at Veterans Park for disobeying city curfew regulations.  

And Theresa Earle, who is in the process of moving to New Hampshire, described herself as a nerd with no activist experience who was among the initiators of Occupy Boston.   “People want their voices heard,” she said, a pretty basic expression of what the Occupy movement is all about.

Shannon says Occupy is a “movement of mass education.” In that spirit, I suppose, I gave a short presentation at Veterans Park on Saturday about the Clamshell Alliance, which occupied the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the late 1970s.   And on Sunday I led a short workshop about active nonviolence.

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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 woscan - oct 230001uld 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.

 

 

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