Civil Disobedience at Seabrook
Clamshell Is Too Tough to Crush
Seabrook, New Hampshire is a town of 5700 people situated on the Atlantic coast just north of Massachusetts. In August 1976 construction of two large, 1150-megawatt nuclear reactors began on a piece of Seabrook land once used as an Indian burial ground. Now more than 40 acres of marshland has been filled in and covered with warehouses, guard buildings and a cement factory.
Next to the fenced-in compound containing the buildings is a bare dirt parking lot from which one can see all around. To the west is the asphalt road that connects the site to the highway and the town. To the north, beyond an array of giant gray conduits awaiting assembly, lie unspoiled salt marshes. To the east one can see the shoreline where lobstermen and fishermen work and where, on any sunny day in July or August, 100,000 people may be soaking in the sun and salt water. To the south stand pine trees that tower above the ten-foot chain-link fence surrounding the buildings.
On April 30, 2000 people closed in on the parking lot from the road, the marsh and the sea to make a stand against the plant's construction. From the highway came the main phalanx, marching and chanting eight abreast and hundreds deep. Reporters and cameramen postured and scurried before them like the fiddler crabs that live in the marsh. Amidst the dust swirling up to the whirling blades of police helicopters hovering above, the demonstrators poured over the parking lot. They clapped and cheered as they saw a second line of demonstrators moving inland from the sea like a slow subway train. Stopping about every 70 yards, they seeded their path with Indian corn. A third group, coming from the north, made a stone walkway across the marsh, scattering the rocks after they had passed in order to leave no mark.
In the compound behind the parking lot, where the demonstrators met, no one and nothing moved. Three hundred troopers from every New England state except Massachusetts stood silently in twos and threes along the fence.
The policeman must have known the demonstrators would not cause trouble as they watched the protesters start launching kites and playing piccolos. Although the troopers kept silent, they smiled when they threw back the frisbees that occasionally sailed over the fence.
The occupiers had come to plant seeds and protect the marsh, to share music and back massages, and to befriend the police. But most of all they had come to protest and to act, to use their bodies as well as their minds to thwart the construction of the plant. They stayed until Sunday, when the police came out of their compound and carried them off to buses and then to jail. Yesterday 880 were still there.
The coalition that directed the occupation is not even a year old. On July 13, 1976 the Concerned Citizens of Seabrook and 14 other citizens' groups organized the Clamshell Alliance to try to permanently stop construction of twin nuclear reactors at Seabrook. Clamshell's founding statement declared that nuclear power plants threaten the human environment and that non-nuclear energy sources are adequate for New England's energy needs. To halt the use of nuclear power in New England, Clamshell advocates direct nonviolent action, such as one-to-one dialogue, demonstrations and site occupations.
On August 1, 1976, police arrested 18 Clamshell members for trespassing during a non-violent occupation of the Seabrook construction site. At the official ground-breaking ceremony four days later, a dozen Seabrook residents, many elderly, blocked the path of the official procession. There were three arrests. On August 22, 180 people were arrested for trespassing in the second Clamshell occupation at Seabrook. During the occupation of April 30, police took 1414 people into custody.
The Alliance's rapid growth has resulted from its development of a broad base of support. Farmers, schoolteachers, doctors, housewives, students and blue-collar workers were among the 2000 "Clams" who occupied the Seabrook site on May Day weekend. Their ages ranged from the teens to past 70, with the average somewhere between 25 and 30. They came from all over New England and the United States. And they came prepared to go to prison for their beliefs. One leader said last week, "I've lived on the seacoast all my life, so I've been involved all my life... If someone wouldn't hire me because of my arrests at Seabrook, I wouldn't want to work for them anyway."
Many of the occupiers had been active in antiwar activities, civil rights campaigns, and labor organizing drives. But Clamshell differs from these movements because the women involved have roles at least as large and important as the men's. On April 30 about half the occupiers and three of Clamshell's four principal leaders were women. Women brought Clamshell's case to New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson, and a woman spoke to the predominantly male press corps at a press conference before the occupation.
Two of Clamshell's women leaders, Elizabeth Boardman and Sukie Rice from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), were responsible for creating the trapning program that made the April occupation one of the best-planned demonstrations in recent history. They used veterans of the August occupations, in pairs of one man and one woman, to teach Clamshell recruits the principles of non-violent direct action. During five-hour sessions conducted at the AFSC office, Phillips Brooks House, and other locations throughout the Northeast, the two-person teams led groups of 15 to 20 people through a program of discussions, role plays, and songs like:
The Clams go marching ten by ten And after this time we'll do it again, As we all go marching down to the Seabrook site.
Each training group became an "affinity group," the basic functional unit of the occupations. Each group was self-sufficient, carrying enough food, shelter and medical supplies for up to four days. An "off-site support person" was assigned to each group to provide additional food or legal assistance if necessary.
Representatives from each affinity group democratically elected "decision-making bodies" to determine on-the-spot strategy during the occupation. As the first wave of "Clams" swept past the barricades onto the site on April 30, Clamshell spokesman Harvey Wasserman exclaimed, "There's an entire government going in there!"
By then it was clear that the Clamshell Alliance was a powerful political organization. The coalition had engineered a mass non-violent demonstration with efficiency, intelligence and solidarity. They had taken on New Hampshire's leading pair of nuclear advocates, Gov. Thomson and influential publisher William Loeb, while much of the U.S. and part of Europe watched. The confrontation and the public interest it generated comprised a success in themselves.
The Loeb-Thomson team had been defeated by New Hampshire citizenry twice before. The town of Durham prevented Aristotle Onassis from building an oil refinery there. Walpole had similarly rejected a proposed paper pulp mill. Last spring the people of Seabrook attempted to stop the nuclear plant by the same meangs. In a town meeting they voted 768 to 632 not to allow construction of the "nuke." But Thomson encouraged the Public Service Company, the private power company that is now building the plant, to go ahead with construction in spite of the vote. He added that an employee who opposed the plan should "resign his state job and go out and oppose it."
This year, just two days before the April occupation, Thomson released a statement calling the planned demonstration a "thinly disguised act of terrorism." He claimed intelligence reports on his desk indicated that "once the demonstrators occupy the site, they do not plan to leave alive." The next day the top half of the front page of Loeb's paper, the Manchester Union Leader, was covered with a banner headline: "Leftist Groups Hope for Violence."
Clamshell publicly reiterated its firm stand for peaceful action and accused Thomson and Loeb of "fostering a climate of violence." Clamshell leader Cathy Wolf went to Thomson's office and told him, "I'm young and I don't want to die." Clamshell's guidelines, training requirements for occupiers, and past record of peaceful action convinced all but a few townspeople that there was nothing to fear.
Some Seabrook residents let demonstrators camp on their land the night before the protest. Many more lined the road along the march route, holding up "No Nuke" signs and cheering the demonstrators. Lobstermen ferried more than 100 occupiers in from the ocean onto the east side of the site.
Thomson modified his position the day after his terrorist speech and the day before the demonstration, when he agreed with the Public Service Company to allow a limited occupation. The Clams could occupy all of the site except a freshly fenced-in 40-acre compound in the center where all the buildings were.
Thomson helicoptered onto the site four hours before the occupation to publicly announce the agreement.
Throughout the first day of the occupation neither the governor's press secretary nor the public gave the press any assurances that they would not be subject to arrest if they entered the site. One television camera crew covered the events with gas masks hanging in sacks from their shoulders. The Real Paper staff--a former vanguard of the counterculture--appeared less concerned. They arrived in a Winnebago mobile home covered inside with thick pile carpeting and empty Budweiser cans.
The second day the press was blocked from re-entering the demonstration site. Those who had stayed overnight were asked to leave. Several who refused were arrested. All of the remaining demonstrators were also placed in custody, after Thomson had flown in to ask demonstrators to leave.
Although he had known about the expected size of the occupation more than a week in advance, Thomson had not made adequate arrangements to deal with the more than 1400 persons who were finally arrested. Hundreds of them spent the night cramped in school buses and National Guard trucks and were given no food or water. Many waited 14 hours to be arraigned. The arraignment process itself was extremely irregular. One judge was setting bail at $100 while in another courtroom nearby a different judge set bail at $250. Thomson again coptered in to survey the scene, but the confusion continued throughout the next week.
Last week over 900 demonstrators began officially serving sentences for convictions that are automatically appealed to another court in New Hampshire. The courts refuse to release those remaining in jail unless they put up bail. Thomson has asked "corporations, labor unions and rank-and-file citizens" across the country to contribute money to defray the cost of the occupiers' incarceration. "Our battle of today can become theirs of tomorrow," Thomson said Friday, advising other states contemplating construction of nuclear plants or already employing them that they too might be "invaded by a mob."
On May 1, the occupiers carried their signs with them as they were escorted to the buses during the arrests. The signs said, "Give Breeder Reactors the Pill," "No Nukes is Good Nukes," "Freebrook," and "Atoms for Peace Eventually Go to War." But as the buses pulled out of the site, a new sign appeared in front of the crowd assembled outside: "We Shall Return."