with Sharon Tracy 6-26-07
My husband Tom was a radiologist and was a founding member of Physicians for Social responsibility in this area. Back in the 60s we were working to stop the testing of nuclear weapons. I was running around trying to corner the powdered milk for this area (because the radiation was concentrating in cows milk). The radiation was coming down in the Albany area, particularly the west side. It came over here from the bomb tests out west. We collected baby teeth and the Tooth Fairy sent the baby teeth out to St Louis where they measured the radiation.
I started the Mobilization for Survival here (a national organization against testing nuclear weapons). There was a lot of attention paid to the radiation threat. So when they proposed the nuclear power plant at Montague, there was already a lot of opposition. And when Sam Lovejoy toppled the tower, then we all responded.
And that is when I first remember the affinity group coming up. I was working on non-violence training and someone called me up and asked if I would do a non-violence training here for the anti-nukers and I said yes, I’ve got to find out. We didn’t have computers so I couldn’t just google. So I pulled out Richard Gregg and some of the books. He wrote one of the first—The Power of Non-Violence. So I started reading those. In Europe they had been doing affinity groups, so I was reading about those. And WIN magazine was so helpful. They did a lot of good material. I have been going through old WIN magazines lately and I am really impressed. They did a lot on affinity group formation and that kind of thing. (WIN is the magazine of the War Resisters League.
I remember I went up to Woolman Hill to do the non-violence training. And we were out on the lawn there and I was trying to get everyone together and explaining about affinity groups and moving through hassle lines and scenarios and so forth. There were probably about 20-25 people. Then we got all involved in the (Sam Lovejoy) trial and then Montague was dropped.
Then later, at some point, I heard Helen Caldicott, and she wasn’t on fire the way she was later. She was young and had just come to this country and a bit hesitant. But she knew a lot of information and she was very clear on her position, which was great.
So then Seabrook emerged. My earliest memory was there was to be an occupation at Seabrook in 1977. People had been going up to the coast for meetings, but I wasn’t involved in that. I wasn’t interested in organizing or having input on policy, that was not my thing. But I was interested in non-violence training. A group at the University (of Massachusetts at Amherst) asked me to do a non-violence training. We were in the basement of the Campus Center in one of the big rooms. All day we had groups going. We were forming these affinity groups and people were going out to get their stuff together for the occupation.
Sharon: So that was for the 1977 occupation where there were more thousand 2000 people trained who walked onto the site, and there were ultimately many more people involved because each affinity group had two support people who were not arrested and there were many others who left when the arrests began. You trained people to be non-violence trainers. How did that work?
We had the agenda that we were trying to cover. We went through that: the history of non-violence, and what is non-violence and why non-violence interjected with music and hassle lines to help people get in the role of the arresting officer or the provocateur. And then we set up scenarios. I remember on of my favorites was you are walking onto the site and are all together. All of a sudden someone comes with a microphone and comes to interview you and wants to ask you all these provocative questions. You have your media person. You just keep focused and do what you need to do and the media person is there to speak to the person. And then the person who wants to join the affinity group at the last moment and how you deal with that. Because of the possibility that the person is totally on a different task, journey, than you are and is really a provocateur. Or maybe not, but it’s not fair to the group to have a new person come in. So how you handle that.
We tried to really have an agenda to tell people how you go through it. Of course, after you do a role play then you sit down and talk about your feelings. How you felt about everything that had happened and how it felt to be a policeman and how it felt to be a provocateur. We debriefed.
After that, we talked about the scenario of what we were going to do and what people had to do to get ready. Who was going to be the media person? Who was going to be the support person? Who was going to be the medic? Then the occupation of course. We took tents, sleeping bags, food, our nuts and our fruit so that we were all set.
Sharon: So ultimately you trained people to train others. For the next year we were organizing up until the summer of 1978 for 20,000. They had to be trained as well. Some of the people you trained went on to be trainers themselves. So that’s how the non-violence training spread exponentially throughout New England and ultimately nationally.
Sharon: Could you tell a Clam story?
Once we got on to the site and people set up where they were going to be sleeping, put up their tents, got their bedrolls out and so forth and settled down, someone said, “Why don’t we have a Quaker meeting in the morning?” It was announced on the bulletin board on a kiosk on the site. After breakfast, a lot of people came. Probably there were only three or four Quakers in that Quaker meeting. But it was really great. We sat in a big circle and everybody was very quiet. And it was just a wonderful moment to be together. Then people began to speak out. Why they were there and their vision of what this land could become and the new society that they wanted to build in the shell of the old. So that it was a wonderful sharing of visions of the future and extremely reassuring and uplifting to help us get ready for the afternoon. For the crackdown. We did not expect it to happen til Monday. It came on Sun afternoon.
When they announced we had to get off the property and they began arresting people, I remember some of the disappointment that certain people had to leave because they had responsibilities. They were well known people and had things to do.
Some of us decided not to cooperate with the arrests (went limp and had to be carried, linked arms and were difficult to separate, etc.) and were really badly treated, particularly the men. The police near the end of the arrests, they were tired, and some of the heavier men were pulled over the rocks. It was rough to see that.
Sharon: What is the legacy of the Clamshell?
Well I think it was one stage in the people’s struggle for justice. I think a lot of people deeply involved are living a simpler life. They are not extremely dependent on oil; their footprint is not as large as others. I think it was a step in the process of awakening, of bringing the consciousness forward that our society is not sustainable. That if we continue to live the way we are living, of course we need nuclear power and all the terrible things.
Like wireless communications. So when I walk down the street and I see people on their cell phones, and I think of the evidence showing the cell phone technology is leading to honey bees being killed, I wonder what it will be like when we no longer have fruit to eat or we no longer have as many vegetables. The drug companies will make a lot of money because they will be selling us our vitamins in pills. So that our food will come through artificial techniques.
So I think this was a peoples rebellion against it. And maybe we should have rejected all of the electricity that comes from nuclear power
I feel now that people have to stop shopping. And we have to have massive strikes as they do in Europe. Italy last year had five days, not altogether, five different times during the year, they had calls for national strikes for to say no to the (Iraq) war.
Even if we had one day like that the peace movement backs off from it: “Our brothers and sisters own stores, they would have a hard time surviving.”
Sharon: The Clam was one stage in the peoples struggle…all struggles are interwoven now. We said no nukes then and we have a responsibility to complete the job. Do we Clams have the capacity to re-activate?
You know it’s very hard. Back then we had much more freedom of the press. That’s why I have been working for the last five years chiefly trying to do something with independent media locally. The media was totally taken over and captured people’s minds and their imaginations.
Last week we were up in Brattleboro. The Shut it Down group had blockaded the gate at Vermont Yankee, chained ourselves, we had been arrested, we were given a court date. We appeared at court. We were not on the docket; they had no paperwork for us. They said the attorney general of the state had dropped charges. Well, we sat in the court until they finished with everybody on the docket. The judge, who seemed a very fair woman said “Court is adjourned. That’s the end of what’s on the docket.” We stood up and said “No we have a court date today and we want to be tried. We want to put our statement out there before the court.” We each had chosen an area that we wanted to speak on, so we spoke to that. First the judge had fled, the dist attorney had fled. Other people stayed in the court, and some of the people who had been on the docket stayed. I thought it was a powerful thing. It took about ten minutes for all seven of us to read our statements. To speak truth to power. But you couldn’t get any press there to cover it. It was very hard. One of the court officials said, “You’ve got to go to the Attorney General.” We said, “Yes, we will go down.” We called his office but he was away. There was someone there just answering the telephone. But we’ve written a letter to him saying we want to come and talk to you about this. We want our day in court. So it’s extremely hard.
Sharon: There was such a diverse outlook on things. One area of difference was non-violence itself. For some it’s a spiritual underpinning. For others it was a tactic and strategy. But we were all agreed around non-violence. That built trust.
I should say something about the armory. We weren’t extremely diverse in the armories. People who were in a position to risk arrest are not the homeless, the undocumented, the poor. Lots of students. But we suddenly found ourselves in the armory with our sleeping bags on the floor late at night. Then they slowly brought in cots for us to put the sleeping bags on to get us up off the ground. We were together in our affinity groups. Claire Bateman was marvelous. The next day she said, “Why don’t we all put our food out on this big, long table. We can share”. That was wonderful because then all the veggies and hummus, tofu, cheese came out on the table and we had lots of good food there to share.
And then as we began to organize ourselves within the armory, saying we are going to set up this agenda. After breakfast we’re going to have workshops and we’re going to meet with the affinity groups and figure out what we will do that day and who is going to be the representative to the spokes meeting.
Each affinity group had different offerings. Some wanted to do massage, others wanted to do art, some wanted to do story telling, some wanted to do music, some wanted to do movement building.
Bill Moyer was wonderful. (From MNS, a different Bill Moyer.) He died two or three years ago. A wonderful organizer from the Movement for a New Society. He did workshops. People like that, one doesn’t meet in everyday life. Everything you can think of was put out as a possible workshop. They listed them on the kiosk and so people were free to go to any of the workshops. Then we had entertainment in the evening.
(We had) Lots of meetings in the affinity groups as we negotiated with Meldrim Thompson, the governor, and trying to figure out how we were going to make our statement. Some people had to leave earlier, but others stayed.
Sharon: There was bail solidarity where out-of-staters were being charged bail but in-staters were not. New Hampshire people said, “We’re not going to leave unless everyone gets the same deal we do.”
Bail solidarity, that was wonderful. Most of us within the affinity group had a chance to go to the spokesperson meetings which were very hard to figure out. And of course the diversity was that some people were really difficult to deal with. Some of the militant men. And there were some women trying to come together around some of our issues. You began to see the movements for the future. So I felt that it was a wonderful two weeks.
It really was extremely movement building. We felt we were living this new society now, in this moment, in the armory. People got really frustrated. We had one night, we had a rumble where everybody walked around and banged garbage can lids and got wooden spoons and banged and sang. People were dancing, and they put on costumes, and they did strange things with their clothing. And after doing that for an hour or more, people had the energy to go back and kind of collapse and be together. I think it was a demonstration that if people are left alone they can find ways of managing their future if you have a commitment to non-violence and training. You can build a new society. If you don’t have the global corporations that are trying to use you.
Sharon: A thread of the Clam story is grassroots democracy. Can you speak to how our work in the Clamshell furthered grassroots democracy?
I think the Clamshell demonstrated that grassroots democracy can work. So I think that’s one of the visions I carry with me when the lights go out here and we have no electricity or almost no oil. How are we going to begin to deal with one another? How are we going to get our water? How are we going to dispose of our waste? How are we going to manage? I think that was good, that’s a reassuring picture. That maybe if we all have the training and the vision that we will find a way to deal with those things when we have to. When we are really faced with it. You know, its probably coming sooner rather than later.
Sharon: Imagine speaking to a group of young people…we as antinukers haven’t been good with educating young people. What would you say to them to encourage them to activate?
Recently I was invited by my son who is a senior at American University in Washington, or by his professor in cultural anthropology, to come down and talk to the class. I went because that is precisely what she wanted me to do, was to share. She said do it in any way. So I told my stories: where I am and where I see hope, stories about my community, where I found community, and what I am doing. She said she had never seen the students so responsive and so excited. They kept me a long, long time asking questions.
They said, “That’s what we really want more than anything else is community. Where can we find this?” I said, “It’s not all just moving to Northampton. I said you have to have an awareness of what’s going on the world and you have to find people who agree with you. And you have to come together and really face it and try to help one another. Begin to build something right now.
I told them about what we’ve been doing the last almost three years. In September is Friday Night Films at the Media Education Foundation. We have films that we started originally on non-violence to show how the people in South Africa fighting apartheid, the civil rights movement, Gandhi in India, the Danes under the Nazis, Solidarity in Poland, the Chileans under Pinochet, how they kept themselves together and organized and what they did. And then we started showing films about what’s going on in this country and the building of the empire, trying to get at the truth of what’s going on with our foreign policy. That the media won’t cover. People stay and we have a discussion. They come week after week, different people always. A long discussion. So I think we have to find ways of bringing people together so we have discussions to talk about these things.
Tomorrow night in Northampton there’s going to be a meeting about how the city responds to this hotel they want to build at Polaski Park, a 300-room hotel. Some of us feel we don’t need another Northampton Hilton, what we need is affordable housing down there for chiefly people who work in Northampton so they don’t have to drive so that the teachers and the people who run the city can have a place to live so they can walk to work. I think that we have to help people look at what’s going on and get involved in their own community.
I also feel I can’t tell people what to do. I can only model through my behavior. Like I eat locally only, as far as produce and I don’t eat any food that comes by air. It meant I had to can and freeze and dehydrate a lot of food last summer.
Sharon: There was a time when you did tell people — you instructed them in non-violence. The affinity group seems it is the unit, especially in the action situation. Regarding the Clamshell legacy, you helped organize thousands and thousands of people into the affinity group structure. Do you see any correlation to what it is we need to build for the future when you talk about building community?
I think the affinity groups in Northampton now are some people working on trying to stop the exit 19 they want to build to get more cars out to shop at the big boxes, that’s an affinity group. There’s an affinity group of the people who oppose the hotel downtown. There is an affinity group of the Montague Farm people who have now some conservation blend. They are building an organic CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) for the neighbors. We are creating the new society right here in Northampton. Some of us are pledged to walk and not use our cars. In other words, there are people who understand the ecological footprint and they are trying to put it together in their lives.
And that is where non-violence is at right now I feel. In our community.
Sharon: That’s very hopeful because its so do-able.
Exactly. I don’t worry about who is going to be the next presidential candidate, I don’t think I can have any impact on that at all. They aren’t going to do anything. They are part of the empire. But when I walk downtown, when I say no to buying apples from California, and you know right now I’m out of apple sauce and I don’t have apples. Right now the only fruit available are strawberries. And so I go down every day and get my strawberries. That is empowering. People see you doing it and more people begin to think maybe that’s the good society.
Now we have Democracy Now on the television here in Northampton five times a day.
Also I don’t pay any federal taxes and that feels good. I file, I write a letter and explain to them why I’m not paying for the empire. And I take that money and give it to things like the Northampton public schools, International Peacekeeping, money for Voices in the Wilderness that gets medicine to children in Iraq And that feels good!
Of course I read about all the terrible things that are going on with our governmentt. I do what I can. I will stand on the bridge today from 4:30-6 (Ed: The thermometer read 101 downtown) to say no to torture and try to raise that issue up. But I don’t depend on getting my good feelings from anything going on in the empire.
Sharon: It seems you have many connections, the affinity group you are sitting in with up at the Vernon reactor, the media project, and so on. That’s what makes you a very strong leader
We tell people don’t work alone. It’s too hard. Get in a group, find a group where you can really talk it through and support each other. Like the Raging Grannies. Fortunately the press has really picked up on them. They like their colorful hats. They don’t talk about the songs they sing, but they are very political. They never talk about that. They are there. And Code Pink. Those women I think are great. And that’s where when you say a diverse group, I was arrested last September at the White House with a group. Most of the people who were in the holding cell with us were Code Pink. And most of them were not opposed to war; they had sons or husbands in Iraq. But they want to stop the war. They want to bring them home. That for me was a new mixture. It’s good. Some of them I see from time to time at various demonstrations. They are moving.
As far as Clamshell, I think it really brought affinity groups to this country. Before that, in the civil rights movement there were no affinity groups. It was masses of people. This was one way of dealing with large numbers and helping us manage ourselves.
Sharon: That’s a good point: It helped us manage ourselves. We had personal relationships with everyone in our own affinity group, and we trusted that every affinity group had similar personal relationships. So all the affinity groups could work together based on that trust.
And we had all been through the roleplaying and understanding the role of the media and feelings and the history. So I feel it was a very important contribution.
And the Clamshell was a lot of fun.
Sharon: It seemed that events unfolded in the way we needed it to and we called it Clam magic.
Yes, Phil Berrigan has always said that he’s often walking in the dark of night with a couple of other people, perhaps to get on an Aegis vessel, to do damage, that’s carrying nuclear weapons. The way will open before them. They are quite surprised. They’ll be walking all night and all at once they’re there and they’ve gone through this no mans’ land where they say they’ll shoot to kill if anyone goes. They often find they get there and they find the guards are asleep or nobody is there and they do their work.
I think the Clam magic, we all realize that something is going on. If we have the faith and focus, know what we’re doing, the way will open. The training, too. You can’t always answer every question that people about to do civil disobedience ask you. But you have to believe you have some kind of magic or power within yourselves to communicate the seriousness of what you are doing, that you can get a response from the so-called opponent.
The Native people would perhaps say that the Great Spirit is out there in the land and feels what you are doing. So I like to think that as I move that the Great Spirit around me is protecting and opening the way and helping. That’s the way I look at it.