Feb
07
    
Clam Magic by Court Dorsey

Clam Magic

Court Dorsey

            Early in 1977, a group of young activists in DeKalb, Illinois began a self-study seminar created by The Movement for a New Society (MNS) called the Macro analysis Seminar.  We were all a part of a network of affiliated projects centered around Juicy John Pinks, a restaurant and coffeehouse that included a food coop, Duck Soup Coup, a conservatory of folk music, and a theater project, The Colmpany of the Ashis Tree.  Just as we finished the unit on nuclear power, we heard about the Clamshell Alliance.  We aborted the seminar, created a performance piece about nuclear power, formed The Crumbs of Bliss affinity group, packed ourselves into two old beaters and headed east to join the Occupation.  We arrived at Joan Bigler’s Kensington, New Hampshire campground a few days early, intending to perform our street theater around the Seacoast.  Local organizer Kristie Conrad made up a list of destinations for us, and we set out to perform wherever we could.  Our most memorable performance was in front of the Manchester Union Leader headquarters in Manchester.  The Union Leader was a notoriously right-leaning daily with front-page editorials written by publisher William Loeb.  During our performance, a man in a suit and tie leaned out of the doorway to watch, and cranked his forefinger around his head a couple of times to say, “You guys are nuts!”  It was Loeb himself.

            The next few weeks were filled with the most intense and formative experiences I can remember.  Here are a few images from the 1977 Occupation.  Our feeder march had  already arrived at the parking lot of the construction site, and The Crumbs were hanging out.  In the distance we heard bagpipes and saw another feeder march arrive led by a piper in full Scottish dress.  It was stunningly beautiful. 

            We met for hours on the parking lot, using the Clamshell Alliance consensus process of affinity groups and spokes.  The Quakers and members of MNS seemed to be the backbone of the process, and our endless decision-making kept us busy until the police arrived.  I remember seeing Governor Meldrim Thomson land in a helicopter in battle fatigues to take personal command of the National Guard.  Equally as impressive was Clam organizer Renny Cushing in his jumpsuit and his battered suitcase painted with the words “Seabrook or Bust”.  To me, he looked like a north-country send-up of Che Guevara.  We were arrested and herded into an impromptu holding cell: the unhitched closed in trailer of a tractor-trailer truck.  It was terrifying to be locked into the darkness not knowing what would happen next.  Eventually, we were taken by bus to our arraignment at the Hampton County Courthouse.  Music sustained our spirits throughout.  When we arrived, we were singing:

            Swing low, sweet paddy wagon

            Comin’ for to carry me home.

 

            After our arraignment, which we had rehearsed in our non-violence training session back in DeKalb, led by a non-conformist activist priest from Chicago, Father Bill Hogan, we were taken to the Somersworth National Guard Armory, where we spent the next two weeks.  It was an amazing all-expenses paid conference of organizers, activists and artists, all networking and getting an unforgettable education in direct action and civil disobedience.  The Crumbs of Bliss had managed to stay together through the arrest, and we performed two of our theater pieces in the armory: our Nuclear Power Play and The Food Day Play about the agribusiness and food industry, a piece we had brought with us from the Food Coop movement in Illinois and Wisconsin.  We had also brought music with us, especially one song called Nuclear Power Blues by DeKalb songwriter Dave Williams:

            Oh they found some funny rocks out on the Utah flats,

            And they thought they’d make some money so they hired some bureaucrats.

            They said, “It’s what we need to keep us free from care.”

            Now we all got nuclear power radiation everywhere.

 

            (Chorus)

            You can’t see it, you can’t feel it, you can’t stash it in the hall,

            You can’t serve it up for dinner, it won’t answer when you call,

            You can’t throw it in the outhouse, it’ll never tell a lie,

            You can give it life and money, but you cannot make it die.

 

            Oh they said it could be tamed, so they built them up a bomb,

            And when they had decided that nothing had gone wrong,

            They built their power plants with their guards and guns and lights,

            So their safe stuff could be safer and we could all sleep well at night.

 

            (Chorus)

 

            Oh it’s in the Mississippi, it’s in the kitchen sink,

            It’s in the snow on Christmas and it’s in the milk we drink,

            And underneath the continent there’s tons of it on store,

            And we only have to keep it safe a million years or more.

 

            (Chorus)

 

            So here’s to all the great men who brought us right along

            With strong defense and honor, and business right or wrong.

            Someday we’re bound to meet them in that Mansion in the Sky,

            ‘Cause for their deeds we can be sure we can kiss our ass good-bye.

 

            Every night in the Somersworth Armory we had a talent show.  Poems, songs, plays and skits were created and shared, and on one occasion the increasingly sympathetic National Guardsmen gonged the acts with a kitchen pot and a toilet plunger.  We could peek behind a temporary barrier created out of shoved together lockers to separate us from the Guardsmen, and we saw Pete Seeger on their television set singing Charlie King’s Acres of Clams and talking about our Occupation

            Perhaps because of the delicious love making sessions that took place all over the armory floor in the cover of darkness and sleeping bags, the Guard announced one day that they would separate the men and women.  A fierce round of decision-making took place about how we would respond.  Some felt we shouldn’t comply.  Others, including the savvy and influential WIN Magazine affinity group from New York City, felt that we shouldn’t cloud the issue with relatively petty concerns.  Our consensus process was unwieldy and failed to produce a decision.  All we could agree on was to remain non-violent and, knowing that prisoners had to be shipped with their shoes, we all took our shoes off and tied the laces together in a huge pile in the center of the floor.  When the moment came for the separation, 150 prisoners sat down, and The Crumbs of Bliss began a reprise of our Nuclear Power Play. The Guardsmen entered and we all began to sing a song from the Clamshell song sheet:

            Love, love, love, love

            People we are made for love

            Love each other as ourselves

            We are one.

 

            For the next two hours the Guard tried in vain to impose the separation.  Women were dragged into one corner of the armory and two lines of Guardsmen formed to stand between the males and females.  The song didn’t end, and neither did our commitment to non-violent confrontation with the Guard.  There were cascading testimonials, a virtual storm of nuclear facts and figures, pleadings, one on one conversations with individual guardsmen.  Many of them were moved to tears as they stood their ground between us.  Every Guardsman was relieved approximately every half hour to regain his composure.  The shoes remained tied in a pile.  There was no stopping the barrage of Clam Magic.  Eventually, a lawyer representing the Clamshell barged in and announced a negotiated settlement: there would be no gender separation, if half the prisoners would agree to be moved to another armory.  From that time on, the men and women of Somersworth dwelt together in relative harmony and perfect cohabitation. 

            Two years before the Occupation, I had picked up an old longhaired white bearded hitchhiker in Marin County, California.  He told me that he had founded the Universal Life Church, a legal church that would make anyone a minister for a five-dollar fee.  He told me his mission in life was to empower people spiritually.  “What about the five dollars?” I asked.  “If you want to do what you want to do in life, you have to learn to make your living with your left foot,” he said.  One of our support people, a little Jewish YIPPIE named Zap, was a minister in the Universal Life Church.  He was a street kid that looked a lot like Zonker – tiny, bearded, disheveled, with a few circuits shorted out by a few too many acid trips at too early an age.  No one from the Alliance had been able to get into the armory to see us, and news about what was happening elsewhere in the action was scarce.  One day, one of the National Guardsmen called out: “Crumbs of Bliss Affinity Group, your spiritual advisor is here.”  The Guardsman rolled his eyes, and in came Zap, waving his fingers in a pair of peace signs and bearing toothpaste, newspapers and cigarettes.  They couldn’t stop him – he was a minister – of the Universal Life Church.  It helps to have friends in High places.

            Later that summer, one of the Crumbs, Cheryl Fox, and I returned to New Hampshire, because I had been called for an early trial resulting from the April 30 Occupation.  Cheryl became the Legal Coordinator of the Clamshell, and I ended up having one of the first three trials, a pro se defense, with witnesses including Howard Zinn and Helen Caldecott.  Eventually I argued the Competing Harms issue for the Clamshell Alliance through the New Hampshire Supreme Court, using a brief that had been written by a Franklin Pierce law student.  So it happened we were in New Hampshire in the summer of 1977, when a Songs from Seabrook concert was held at Harvard University’s Sanders Auditorium.  I performed songs that I had sung at the Somersworth Armory, and Cheryl and I met various other singers from the other armories. Several of us later formed Bright Morning Star.  Bright Morning Star spent the next twelve years touring the U.S. and Canada in a blue and white 1962 GMC school bus playing concerts sponsored by the burgeoning anti-nuke movement.  We played with Pete Seeger, Odetta, Holly Near, Gil Scott Heron, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raite, at concerts, rallies, demonstrations, folk festivals, civil disobedience actions, and a slew of other events.  We began in the anti-nuke movement, but moved through a whole host of movements, including labor, feminist, gay rights, anti-war, Central American Support, and Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaigns, among others.  We took our name from the Appalachian Hymn Bright Morning Star, which I had rewritten for the Clamshell actions.

            Bright morning star arisin’ (3X)

            Day is a-breakin’ in my soul.

 

            I don’t want no nuclear power plants (3X)

            Day is a-breakin’ in my soul.

           

            I’m gonna pitch my tent at Seabrook…

 

            While I’m takin’ a ride on the po-lice…

 

            While I sleep like a baby on concrete…

 

            Swing low sweet padd y wagon

            Comin’ for to carry me home…

 

            I looked over Seabrook and what did I see

            Comin’ for to carry me home?

            A band of policemen comin’ after me…

 

            If you get to Hampton Court before I do…

            Tell old Judge Cassassa I’m a-comin’ too…

 

            And while the judge is sayin’ I’m guilty (3X)

            Day is a-breakin’ in my soul.

 

            But I still don’t want no nuclear power plants…

 

            So keep the armories ready…

 

            In the spring of 1978 the Clamshell planned an Armory Ball to take place in one of the National Guard Armories.  It was meant to be a reunion of prisoners and guardsmen who had been housed together the year before, as well as a momentum builder for the 1978 summer Occupation.  Hitchhiking early that spring, I was picked up by a National Guardsman who had been on guard at one of the armories in May of 1977.  He told me that he was sympathetic to the Clamshell Alliance and was considering joining us for the Occupation that coming summer.  I wrote his story, slightly tweaked, into a song and performed it at the Armory Ball.  While the hoped for groundswell of National Guardsmen at the event never materialized, the Armory Ball was a great media story and a lot of fun.

            Well along last spring in the month of May

            The boss told me to go to work one day,

            So I left my job and my family

            For the National Guard and the armory.

 

            I was told they were shippin’ in a bunch of Clams

            All arrested on the nuke site lands.

            Now the state and the Gov’nor were a-callin’ me

            To do my duty for the PSC.  (Public Service Company, builders of the nuke)

 

            (Chorus)

            Oh the boss tells me what my orders are,

            He gets ‘em from the Captain with the big cigar,

            But the Clams are sittin’ on the armory floor,

            There ain’t nobody tellin’ them no more.

           

            Well the Clams started comin’ so I stood my post,

            Hoverin’ and a-feelin’ like a good green ghost.

            I had my orders so I did my job,

            Jailhouse warden for the Clamshell mob.

 

            Well here come one of them clammy commie kooks

            Talkin’ ‘bout freedom and talkin’ ‘bout the nukes,

            And I’m thinkin’, “Damn, if the kook is right,

            He won’t hurt me but the kooky nukey might.”

 

            (Chorus)

 

            Well I stood on guard all the day and night,

            What I was seein’ was an awesome sight,

            Each Clam spoke and they had their say,

            Free as a whistle and it worked that way!

 

            Well since that time I’ve had a secret thought,

            I can’t tell no one ‘cause I might get caught,

            But come next summer it might come true,

            And now I’m gonna tell my little thought to you:

 

            (last Chorus)

            When the boss tells me what my orders are,

            I’ll tell him “Tell the Captain with the big cigar!”

            ‘Cause I’ll be sittin’ on the armory floor,

            And there ain’t nobody tellin’ me no more.

            This song demonstrates how the Clamshell Alliance was almost as much about process as it was about nuclear power itself.  Through the following June and the occupation of the site by 20,000 people in a three-day “rally” sanctioned by the state, the process of making decisions by consensus was still used by the Clamshell.  It required the unanimous agreement of close to 5000 active and semi-active affinity group members, and even though the bitter unresolved debate over fence-cutting eventually caused the Clamshell Alliance to dissolve, on the last day of the 1978 Occupation, every occupier left the site by the agreed upon time.  It was a miracle, even if it was the last miracle of the old Clam Magic.

           

           

 

 

Court Dorsey

June 30, 2007

Comments Posted:
3 Comments posted on "Clam Magic by Court Dorsey"
Joe and Ginny on August 26th, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

Just listened to an old recording of you on a radio show at Slippery Rock University great memories of your time here


sharon collins on June 25th, 2012 at 9:20 am #

As I listened to “Their Way” on my newly found MPR-Best of Keepers CD I ‘google’ you Court Dorsey ! And am delighted to find this account of your activity with Clamshell. I’m doing a copy and paste to read later today. Hope this finds you well !
Sharon Collins – member – Northern Sun Alliance…MN


Richard Stanhope on October 19th, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

I remember, as a very young boy, all the people staying in tents at Joan and Roy Bigler’s house in Kensington NH. My parents were good friends with Joan and Roy. My mother told me that there were so many people there that Joan wanted my folks to have some of the people stay at our house in East Kingston(which was about 10 mins away). I even remember the concert ground that the people had set up – but that might be another No Nukes rally we went with Joan.


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