I've lived all my life in this country
I love every flower and tree.
I expect to live here 'til I'm ninety
It's the nukes that must go and not me.
--Charlie King, "Acres of Clams"
Charlie King, a folksinger and songwriter, wrote "Acres of Clams" to celebrate the resistance of the Clamshell Alliance to construction of the nuclear power plant at Seabrook New Hampshire. By the time it was written, New England had a large and growing opposition to nuclear power, committed to nonviolent action/civil disobedience. Regional organizations modeled after the Clamshell Alliance were springing up around nuclear power plants all over the country.
Clamshell activist and Green Council member Guy Chichester protested with a dramatic direct action and subsequent court victory, carrying it on to include a campaign for governor of New Hampshire.
As Guy wrote in S/R (No. 10, p. 26),After Seabrook site occupations began in 1976, no new construction applications were completed, and 125 plant projects, many of them under construction, and some of them fully built, were cancelled.
Despite a powerful movement, the Seabrook plant did go on line. Guy was one of many New Hampshire residents angered by the government's refusal to listen to citizens. To add insult to injury, the government-utility combination installed warning sirens on long poles throughout townships in New Hampshire. The sirens would periodically unleash "test" blasts as an ever-present reminder that potential megadeath loomed across the seacoast region.
Big Brother-like, the system practiced blaring out messages such as "Go to your home, close your windows and doors, tune into your emergency radio channel." Fed up, Guy went to his tool shed and grabbed his chain saw.
"You ought to come and watch," he told friends. "We'll have clam chowder afterward." Guy pulled the cord; the saw let out its roar; in a few minutes, a six story warning siren crashed to the ground. The small crowd roared.
At that point Guy was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, a class B felony with a seven year incarceration potential.
After raising bail money, New Hampshire Greens realized that they had a candidate for governor. He would challenge Republican Judd Gregg, a particularly odious pro-nuke incumbent whose family banking interests had been making tens of millions on nuke financing.
Guy's 1990 campaign was the first Green gubernatorial effort in the U.S. As he toured the state, Guy made the campaign an anti-nuke forum. Newspapers welcomed the novel story of a Green under indictment running for governor. But newly developed barriers in the Rebublicat system kicked in. Even with his name kept off the ballot, 1.3% wrote in Guy's name.
Guy was brought to trial two times. The first resulted in a hung jury. Then 12 jurors, all living in New Hampshire under the Seabrook threat, acquitted him. As he walked down the court steps after the trial, a woman juror approached him, shook her finger, winked, and said, "Mr. Chichester, you really should not have cut down that siren."
Seabrook gave national visibility to a movement that had previously been almost exclusively local. Most opposition to nuclear power had been limited to legal intervention in licensing hearings and citizen initiatives. By the time it was ended, there were successful anti-nuclear campaigns all across the country using a wide range of strategies, linking Native American uranium miners in the southwest to farmers in Minnesota, professionals and labor unions, housewives and hippies. And the growth of nuclear power in the US has been stalled for more than two decades.
A mature movement for social change involves use of a variety of strategies. The Ralph Nader presidential campaign showed growing skills of US Greens in using electoral campaigns well as a means to highlight issues ignored by major parties. What did the various components of the anti-nuclear movement bring? Intervenors brought superb technical skills and invaluable information bases. But the process is expensive, time-consuming, and virtually incomprehensible to the general public. For the most part, it was accessible only to professionals.
Citizen initiatives brought a broader base, and public education on a door-to-door basis. But without care, they run a high risk of providing only NIMBY rather than systemic changes.
Direct action, like that of Chichester, brings dramatic attention to an issue. Subsequent legal proceedings and media attention provide opportunities for public education, and they may provide a spark for broad-based citizen activities. They can also involve those who are alienated from more traditional political activities, provide new avenues for outreach and organization, and leverage tremendous political pressure. But alone they do not tend to institutionalize policy change.
Electoral campaigns also offer opportunities for solid organizing, media attention, and access to audiences that direct action cannot reach. But they can be expensive, and do not often hold interest after the election date.
The Nader campaign, at least in some areas, developed political skills for Greens. But political change is only as secure as the next election unless it is firmly grounded in real change in social perceptions and values. Greens are a social as well as a political movement, and the challenge for us includes understanding how diverse actions and elements create social change, and using them effectively.