I grew up smack in south central NH, in dairy country, where we would often awaken to find cows had once again broken through the fence and generously left behind evidence of their presence all over our front lawn. I grew up sheltered from the harshness of much of life, though I do remember that day when Ward McAllister’s brother returned home in a pine box from Vietnam. It was an awakening that ended some of my innocence and that of our town.
Four years later I was moving on—from my college to “career”—to work on the west side of Manchester as a health aide/family worker in Head Start. I had grown up in a working-class/aspiring middle-class Catholic family, the first (and only) of five children to complete college. It was through my work in Manchester that I came into contact with the Granite State Alliance.
The GSA was organizing in a number of areas and focusing on a mid-winter 1976 conference that centered on many issues related to women. It was at a workshop on utility organizing in NH where some of us learned for the first time of the impending
construction of the Seabrook nuclear plant. Following this conference came a spurt of
personal growth, awareness, and education as a woman (a feminist-dare I use the word?) and as an avowed anti-nuclear environmental activist.
Those two qualities—feminist and environmentalist— are truly inseparable for me and, I believe, for most women. I came to understand this as I came to the seacoast to work in the Clam office. Beginning in the summer and fall of 1976, I encountered some of the most dedicated and committed women I have ever known-women from many places and movements whose work and lives affected me deeply. There were those long-time women from the peace & justice and anti-weapons movements: Elizabeth Boardman, Grace Paley, Frances Crowe, Barbara James, Lydia Willits. There were three daring women who joined me as a part of the first affinity group to be arrested at Seabrook: Medora Hamilton, Mary Gregory, and Anne Carol Riley. There were the local community women whose homes, yards and pots of coffee were always available. There were the countless, tireless women throughout the organization in New England taking on organizing and leadership roles in everything from nonviolence training to resource development, from legal and labor issues to community and affinity group organizing, and more (Suki Rice, Anna Gyorgy, Judy Barrows, Cathy Pillsbury, Isabelle Natti, Jean Alonso. Debbie Clott, Eileen Brady, Jan Schaeffer, Nina Swaim, Sharon Tracy, Diane Dunfey).
I would like to name twice as many. There were thousands more back home educating others and providing support for those arrested at Seabrook over the years.
There were struggles over many things: process and strategies, decision-making,
identified leadership roles, media responses, the Rath proposal… In each and every
situation, we as women struggled to make our voices heard with what I considered to
be great, lasting successes. Look where we were coming from—we had few role models from which to gain insight. The Clamshell was by no means flawless or without its white male dominance or privilege both within the organization and endemic in the
power structure we attacked. But there was a fundamental “rightness” about the issues
of justice and equality for people and the environment that underscored all our work
and laid the foundation for the amazing scope of work accomplished and future
directions in which we each went.
There is a fundamental connection between women and the state of the earth
that brought women into the forefront of the anti-nuclear/pro-environment movement
at Seabrook, around the US, and worldwide. It is this connection upon which we have built a very successful environmental awakening in our lives, in our world for today and into the future.
So “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm?” This song came from the World
War I, “gay Paree experience of many US soldiers. “How ya gonna keep ‘ em down on
the farm, after they’ve seen an armory?” For this NH farm girl, there’s been no turning back!
Kristie Conrad, a NH native, lives within two miles of the Seabrook nuclear power plant. She is Literacy Services Coordinator with Rockingham Community Action. This article was published in Peacework July/August 1996.