About Clamshell

PICNIC TABLE DEMOCRACY

The Clamshell Alliance was the New England model for a national movement that forced the nuclear industry to shelve its plans for new nuclear plants for 30 years. The Clamshell Alliance fulfilled Albert Einstein’s plea to take the issue of atomic energy to the village square. Petitions, town referendums, workshops, informational pickets, alliances with social justice movements such as labor, Native Americans, and women’s groups, lectures, brochures and flyers all helped inform and mobilize people. And music, buttons, posters, films, alternative energy fairs, rallies, sit ins, and massive, nonviolent citizens’ occupations of the Seabrook, NH, nuclear plant site gave color and drama to the movement. Taking its name from the clam beds of the marshes where the Seabrook, NH, nuclear power plant was to be built, the Clamshell Alliance lasted from 1976 until the early 1990s. Its legacy lives on in movements for social justice and in the lives of the people who joined together in the Clamshell and other antinuclear alliances to demand “No Nukes!”

The Clamshell Alliance was formed in Rye, NH, at a backyard picnic table in July 1976 by New England activists who adopted the Founding Statement and the Declaration of Nuclear Resistance (hyperlink here). This was shortly after the federal government issued a construction permit to Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) for twin 1150-megawatt reactors on the marshes of Seabrook, NH, and within sight of the heavily-populated beach resort of Hampton, NH. PSNH, one of the smallest utilities in the nation, undertook one of the country’s largest nuclear power plant projects.

The Clamshell was grounded in the belief that nuclear energy is too important an issue to be left to the scientists, utilities, lawyers and government. Through public education and nonviolent civil disobedience, petitions and picket lines, rallies and site occupations, the Clamshell Alliance put a spotlight on the issue of nuclear power. Thousands of people around New England organized local, autonomous anti-nuclear groups. Clams carried out local events, and also helped plan Clamshell actions, making decisions through highly coordinated communications.

The Clamshell defended local democracy. Repeated town meeting votes by NH and MA residents against plant construction, power lines, financing and waste disposal had been ignored, and the people disenfranchised.

Structurally, the Clamshell worked to promote inclusiveness and equality, giving equal weight to every voice and eschewing appointed or elected leaders. It adopted a commitment to the non-violent discipline of the 1960s civil rights movement, consensus decision-making, and a stance of complete openness with government and law enforcement officials as well as all its supporters. Members of local groups organized non-violence trainings where action participants formed themselves into affinity groups, a requirement for taking part in direct actions. Perhaps most important, the Clamshell Alliance served as an example that ordinary people had the right, the ability, and the responsibility to challenge and change the direction of energy policy in the United States.

Representatives, “Spokes” from local and regional groups around New England sent representatives to discuss issues and planning. The spokes brought those discussions home to their groups and returned with the voice of their group until we hammered out a shared decision, or consensus. It was a superbly grassroots democratic process.

Clams were a hodgepodge of New Hampshire locals, New England natives, and transplants: students, fishermen, writers, carpenters, mothers, factory workers, apple pickers, teachers, farmers, and lawyers; Quakers, people with no prior political experience, communists with a small “c”, community and labor organizers, activists from the Native American solidarity movement, the antiwar movement, the women’s movement, and the nonviolent movement to build a just society; middle-aged, and old, and mostly young.

We educated ourselves, each other, and our communities about nuclear power, organizing, nonviolence, the legal system, alternative energy, and economics. We were inspired by and stood on the shoulders of previous social justice movements – labor, war resisters, Native Americans, civil rights, antiwar, disarmament, feminism, back to the land, the antinuclear occupation in Whyl, Germany – and we learned about the rich legacy we carried forward. And our democracy included the full participation of women in all roles and in leadership.

The Clamshell Alliance organized two occupations of the Seabrook, NH, construction site in August, 1976. These resulted in 18 arrests of NH people on August 1, arrests of 180 New England people August 22, and generated international headlines. During the fall and winter, activists throughout the US organized public education events and non-violence trainings. On April 30, 1977, more than 2,000 people of all ages from thirty states organized into small affinity groups trained and committed to nonviolence walked onto the construction site of the then-proposed nuclear power plant in site in Seabrook, NH. During this nonviolent civil disobedience action in opposition to construction, Clams stayed for two days; 1,414 were arrested and incarcerated in National Guard armories around NH. Almost two weeks later 500 remained incarcerated demanding bail solidarity, and eventually won the release of all arrested on personal recognizance.  The incarceration garnered even greater international media attention and energized the occupiers to return home and build on this success.

Thousands more participated in a legal rally on April 30 and, on the seacoast and back home, acted as support, legal, and media liaisons during those two weeks. That occupation of the construction site and incarceration in the armories captured the imagination of the media and, more importantly, of the people. Similar antinuclear citizens’ alliances grew up all around the nation: Oystershell, Sunflower, Abalone, Palmetto, Shad, Crabshell, Trojan, and  others. All of these groups were rooted in the same non-violence discipline, affinity group organization and consensus decision-making process as practiced by the Clamshell Alliance. That one civil disobedience occupation by the Clamshell Alliance was just the highest profile  antinuclear organizing campaign of the Clam and the US antinuclear movement, but it was neither the first nor the last campaign.

Plans for another citizens’ occupation of Seabrook were changed to an on-site anti-nuclear rally, attended by more than 20,000 people June 24, 1978. Several hundred of those participants continued on to Washington D.C., where they occupied the sidewalks in front of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for three days. A national coalition of anti-nuclear groups organized the Wall Street Action on October 29, 1979, the 50th anniversary of the Wall Street crash. This non-violent civil disobedience action led to the arrest of more than 1,000 people and brought a powerful focus on the failed economics of nuclear power.

The Clamshell Alliance continued into the early 1990s. Clams blockaded block delivery of the Seabrook reactor’s core vessel, organized waves of civil disobedience by small groups of people and developed creative and grassroots strategies for blocking a publicly funded bailout of the financially ailing nuclear plant construction project.

We made mistakes. We lost the battle against the Seabrook nuclear power plant; Unit 1 finally went online in 1990 but Unit 2 was cancelled.

We thought we won the war.  President Richard Nixon in 1973 announced the plan of the nuclear industry to build 1,000 nuclear power plants by the year 2000. We stopped them dead in their tracks. For 30 years after the occupation, no new nuclear power plants received approval for construction and many nukes were scrapped.

Until now. Taking advantage of a sympathetic federal government, the even-more centralized energy industry has successfully squashed community involvement in nuclear plant licensing and has engineered heavy tax payer-financed construction subsidies to make new nuclear power plants profitable.  The industry proposes 100 new nuclear power plants in the US by 2020, double the number currently operating.

We offer these reflections in hopes they spur all of us on to renewed activism in opposition to the resurgence of nuclear power, to join with those who have kept the struggle going all these years, and to once again fight for justice with a strong and nonviolent heart.