I participated in the April 30, 1977 occupation at Seabrook as a result of my then-wife working at in a non-profit energy/environment policy center in Washington DC. She found out about the occupation and wanted to be part of it. She persuaded me to go along, and so she, I, and another friend went together. I think that we must have driven in our friend’s car – funny, I actually can’t remember how we got there.
We arrived on the 29th and camped in a field behind someone’s house. It may have been in West Kensington. There were people from all over and banners, teepees, and a lot of activity. We went through general orientation to what was happening and non-violent training. We joined an affinity group made up of others who came alone or in pairs. We named ourselves the “Sun Ups.” I was impressed by the commitment to nonviolence and the quality of the non-violence training, and I also recall thinking what a rag-tag group we were and wondering how we would ever make a positive impression on anyone.
On Saturday morning – the 30th – we started to march to the reactor site pretty early, moving slowly and singing and chanting (“Meldrim Thompson, Meldrim Thompson, do you hear? Do you hear? We won’t let you build it. We won’t let you build it! Is that clear! Is that clear!” Thirty years later that refrain still rings in my head whenever I demonstrate or march – against war, for immigration reform, whatever – “Meldrim Thompson, Meldrim Thompson …,” and “All we are saying is give peace a chance…,” are always swimming in my head. I guess the days when we cut our teeth as activists are destined to live forever in our hearts and in our minds.
It is still cool in New Hampshire in April, and as we walked toward the construction site the sun slowly came out – a beautiful spring New England day — and it got hotter and hotter. It was a scraggly line with banners, songs, and people carrying their warm clothes that they had peeled off. I thought that when we got to the construction site they would lock us out and the demonstration would be over and I could go home and go to work on Monday. Honestly, I was kind of hoping for that.
But strangely that didn’t happen. The Public Service Company of New Hampshire opened the gates and let us onto the site. I hadn’t realized it, but our group was in the van of the march, and when we arrived the site was practically empty. By then, I had really gotten into the spirit of the day, and I remember my elation and immense feeling of power when I walked into PSC’s vacant dirt parking lot, looked around, and realized that we had gotten there; we had done it peacefully; and we were in the process of making that PSC ground our own. And it continued to be our ground from late Saturday morning, until late Sunday afternoon and into Monday morning.
People kept streaming in from the front gate. Soon another group came across the marsh to the north – they were going to be the ones who got onto the site if PSC had kept the main gates locked, which they didn’t. People poured in all day – 2000 and more. All the affinity groups had elected spokes persons, and the “spokes” met non-stop to try to keep the occupation organized. They were on a spot roughly the center of the parking lot and debated constantly. I was fascinated by the spokes meeting and spent hours there listening.
The Sun Ups were camped at the northwest corner of the site – near the entrance. Late Sunday loud speakers mounted on New Hampshire state police cars announced that we had to leave or we would be arrested. Almost immediately busses pulled up; more police arrived; and they began to lead or drag occupiers onto the busses. I think that the Sun Ups talked, and we all agreed to go cooperatively. I have pictures of all this because the action began near the Sun Up camp. Our bus pulled out of the past the PSC main gate and onto Route there was a large group of Clams who hadn’t occupied, and they cheered for us. It made me feel good to have that support.
The buses took us to a holding center at the Portsmouth armory, which became more and more crowded as time passed. Then magistrates came and began to arraign us. First they offered anyone who wanted to leave the right to do so on “personal recognizance (PR).” Within the group fierce debates waged on what to do — the consensus position was to stick with the Clam plan for “bail solidarity”, meaning at that point in time that we wouldn’t pay bail and we wouldn’t accept release on our personal recognizance. Still, some people who had commitments to work the next day or who just lost their taste for the struggle accepted the PR offer. I didn’t, and then the PR window closed. Everyone who remained went before the magistrates who set monetary bail and send us off to jail. We were lucky to have been arrested first – other Clams had to wait all night to be arrested and then had to wait up to 10 hours on busses to be arraigned.
No one from our group was arraigned with me. They set my bail at $500, I think – whatever it was, it was a lot of money for me back then – close to a month’s take home pay. After arraignment they put us on another bus. By then it was dark. The bus had screens on the window. I didn’t know anyone on the bus, and that was a low moment for me. I felt very lonely and had serious second thoughts about not having taken the PR offer when it was made. I took heart from one thing. I had recently done some reading about South America, and I vividly remember saying to myself, “Thank god that I am in America and not Chile or Argentina or somewhere where they would torture and then kill me.”
The bus went to the Somersworth armory. There were only a few people there when our bus arrived, but among them were some Sun Ups. It was wonderful to be welcomed by familiar faces. They said, “Come on over here – this is our place,” and they put my backpack and stuff where they had stowed their things, which was really just a spot on the concrete floor, but after the anonymity of the bus ride, that spot felt like home.
It was late on Sunday, and I was emotionally drained from the occupation, arrests, arraignments, etc. People kept arriving and more and more people were packed into the armory. We were in their large drill room. I guess it must have been about 20 or 30 yards wide and 40 or 50 long. The National Guard had laid tables on their sides along two sides of the armory in an “L” shape. It was sort of a coral – a low wall of table tops to keep us in and leave them an aisle along the outside of the tables.
The other two sides of the coral were the interior walls of the armory. There were doors in them, and they were locked. As more and more “prisoners” arrived we began to complain to the guards that there wasn’t enough space. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it, so some Clams started to push the tables out so we could have a little more space. This frightened the guards – they had no idea of what we might do, and they started to shout, push back, and (as I recall) point their weapons. This is the only time that I was really scared – I remembered Kent State and what could happen when untrained and frightened guardsmen killed a student demonstrator. Funny, I can’t remember how this was resolved, but it was, and with no one harmed on either side. Maybe the National Guard agreed to stop bringing in new people and also moved the tables back to give us a little more space. In any case, that was the only time that there was any significant tension the Clams and the “captors.”
What I remember about the armory is that it was crowded – until a few days later when people started to pay bail and head home; that we did a lot of discussing as Clams were inclined to do; that when people left we always gave them a send off with a cheer – except I remember vividly that someone protested this saying that we were supposed to be doing a bail solidarity action (which now meant “no bail” unless everyone was released on PR) and that he didn’t appreciate cheering for people who were breaking solidarity; and that we were entertained by a great musical/comedy/drama troop called the Juicy John Pinks, who came all the way from DeKalb, IL to occupy the site and be arrested with the rest of us.
There was pretty much a news blackout – occasionally we would get news of the legal maneuvering or what was going on in other armories from our lawyers – I think that they were the only visitors that the state allowed. I thought that the food they gave us was pretty good; although a lot of Clams complained – especially the vegetarians. It was hard to sleep at night because they kept the lights on, but I think that we finally got them to dim them at least some. In some of the other armories the guard gave the Clams cots, but I think that at Somersworth we slept on the concrete floor. Fortunately I had a backpacking mattress. After a few days they let us out in the yard to walk around or whatever for an hour or two a day. After one exercise period one of the Clams refused to come back inside, but some of the Clams from his solidarity group him talked him for a while and then he came back. The National Guard let it go at that, which was good, because trying to break out of jail brake is a crime that involves a lot more jail time than trespassing.
One cool thing about Somersworth was the shower situation. At first the National Guard didn’t let us take showers, and the bathroom situation wasn’t very good – just one small bathroom with two or three urinals and a couple of stalls for about 200 men and women. It was particularly difficult for the women, because they always needed to use the stalls, and I recall that there was some tension between the men and women over this issue. In any case, there was an adjoining shower room, which we found out about somehow – maybe looking through a keyhole. So when we learned of the shower room, we put some pressure on the National Guard to let us take showers, which we all badly needed after 3 or 4 days without bathing. Eventually they agreed, and they set us a system with three shower periods per day – men, women, and other. I don’t know what they had intended for the “other” shower period – probably that men and women would alternate. But that wasn’t how it went down. Instead we made it into a co-ed shower period, and that is when I always showered. It was the aesthetic highlight of my time in Somersworth – no disrespect intended to the Juicy John Pinks.
My wife and friend had trial dates two weeks after we were arrested, but mine was only a week, so they bailed out on Tuesday or Wednesday and went back to Washington, D.C. where we all lived. I decided that it didn’t make much sense to bail out go all the way to DC just to turn right around and come back for the trial, so I stayed in Somersworth for the week and bailed out shortly after the trial. At the time I had a job at the National Wildlife Federation as a project manager, and I recall that when I was signing out of Somersworth the head National Guard guy – probably a captain or a major – saying to me something like, “What’s a guy like you doing here? You have a decent job – not like the rest of these people.” He wasn’t trying to be a jerk – just saying what was on his mind. I can’t remember what I replied – probably something bland like, “Well nuclear power is bad for all of us and everyone needs to do their part.”
The denouement of my court case dragged out for more than two years, and in addition to that I had three post occupation experiences as a Clam:
Vigil at the NRC:
I lived in Washington DC. A year or so after the occupation the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) deliberated on the final federal approval needed for construction of the plant to proceed. The NRC met at a building in northwest DC. My brother and I joined a group of Clam and other anti-nuclear protesters on the sidewalk in front of the building that housed the NRC. I can’t remember if we chanted, sang, prayed, or some combination of those, but we sat on the sidewalk as the NRC meet and focused our power on helping them to see the right decision. It didn’t work. Word came down to us in the street that they gave the final go-ahead for construction.
March on Washington, May 1979:
The next big event that influenced national nuclear debate was March 28, 1979 when there was a partial melt down of the reactor core at Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Middletown, Pennsylvania. In response Ralph Nader, who had not been involved very much in nuclear stuff, decided to organize Washington DC demonstration. The date was set for May 6, 1979. In mid-April a friend called me and said that Nader was looking for volunteers to help organize it. I went to their offices after work, and there was a big meeting of prospective volunteers. They asked everyone in the room to say who they were and to what organization they belonged. I wasn’t going to mention an organization, but then I though that although I wasn’t a Clam organizer, I had occupied the site, been arrested, and spent a week in the armory and that I had as much right as anyone to call myself a Clam. So when it was time to introduce myself I gave may name and said that I was with the Clamshell Alliance. Everyone said, “WooooooWoooooooo!!! – hard core,” and so they gave me some fairly responsible work to do rather than the more run of the mill calling and mailing.
Initially Nader didn’t expect the demonstration to be too large – maybe 50,000 or so, which is not big by Washington DC standards. To get people to come, they were promoting the fact that Jackson Brown was going to perform. But, in the final run up to May 6, they began to realize that it was going to be huge. Do you know how they figured out how big it was going to be? It’s interesting – it was by the number of busses that were chartered to bring people to DC. The Nader organization was in touch with groups throughout the east, and most of them were sending activist to DC by chartered bus. By late April the count of buses chartered soared, and that was when we knew that we were going to have a monster event.
When the leadership realized how many people were going to come you could see the whole attitude change, and all of a sudden we weren’t promoting Jackson Brown any more –our outreach became focused on our anti-nuke message – and we downplayed the entertainment. In the end, there were at least 500,000 people – probably more. They covered the entire west lawn of the Capitol and spilled out into the streets and parks beyond.
On the day of the event my job was to organize a group that would issue press passes so that the media could enter an area where they could interview the celebrities who were going to speak. The people that I organized were mostly middle class and from the suburbs – they had never done a radical thing in their lives, and I am sure that they will never forget that day – we were at the top of the hill and could see the whole crowd fanned out below. The celebrities included Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Ralph Nader, Dick Gregory, Barry Commoner, and others. To get to these stars the press had to get passes from us. It made us feel pretty powerful. When we were not to busy, I would wander into the press area. Some members of the press were real pigs – shouting things like “What a piece of ass!” and other vile comments at Jane Fonda. It made me wonder if we weren’t too lax in whom we gave credentials – didn’t use our power enough.
Follow the Money:
The last chapter in my Seabrook experience consisted of reading a magazine article. It must have been in the mid to late 1980’s, because by then I had gone to business school and knew what a junk bond was and who Michael Milken was.
I was living on the west coast, and I think that my mother, who lived in Rhode Island, sent me the article. I can’t remember what the publication was – a weekly I think – maybe the New England Journal or something like that. The article related how the PSC of NH was about to declare bankruptcy and the whole project would have stopped – just like the Clam wanted and primarily because of the increased costs occasioned by delays that resulted from Clam action and environmental regulation. The head guy from the PSC went to Michael Milken, the guy who made a huge fortune selling junk bonds. What he did was to get investors to look at their real risk of default and determine that the default risk was less than that which conventional wisdom had previously assumed. Milken created a huge new junk bond market. When the PSC group went to see him he gave them his general spiel on junk bond theory, including the possibility that some of the companies which financed by junk bonds would in fact default. In the article the PSC head guy said that he took that in but basically ignored it – thinking that the PSC wouldn’t be one of those. But, it was.
Milken gave the PSC new life with a big junk bond issue. Without that new funding from junk bonds construction on both reactors would have stopped. With the money, construction continued, but not fast enough. The PSC got the first reactor on line, but ran out of money again, defaulted on at least some of the bonds, and couldn’t complete the second reactor. Milken eventually was investigated for insider trading investigation and in 1989 was indicted by Rudi Giuliani. He was convicted of securities fraud, served time in prison, and paid hundreds of millions in fines and settlements. If the article that I read was accurate, there probably would not be a Seabrook nuke without the financing that Milken arranged.
Lee Daneker, an Occupier, Seabrook, New Hampshire, 30 April 1977, wrote from Seattle, Washington, 27 March 2007.