Feb
08
    
Frances Crowe’s Stories

FRANCES CROWE’S STORIES

As told to Sharon Tracy

EARLY DAYS

My husband Tom, a radiologist, was a founding member of Physicians for Social responsibility in this area. Back in the 60s we were working to stop the testing of nuclear weapons. Radiation was coming down in the Albany area from the bomb tests out west. We collected baby teeth and the Tooth Fairy sent them to St. Louis where they measured the radiation. A lot of attention was paid to the radiation threat, so when they proposed the nuclear power plant at Montague, there was already a lot of opposition. When Sam Lovejoy toppled the tower in 1974, we all responded. Someone called and asked if I would do a non-violence training here for the anti-nukers. I said, “Yes, I’ve got to find out more.”  We didn’t have computers or Google, so I pulled out Richard Gregg’s The Power of Non-Violence and some other books. In Europe they had been doing affinity groups, so I was reading about those. WIN (the magazine of the War Resisters League) did a lot of good material on affinity group formation. I remember I went up to Woolman Hill to do the non-violence training out on the lawn for about twenty to twenty-five people. We got all involved in the Lovejoy trial and then Montague was dropped.

NON-VIOLENCE TRAINING

My earliest memory of the Clamshell was there was to be an occupation in 1977. People had been going up to the coast for meetings, and organizing and making policy.  But I was interested in non-violence training. The local group asked me to do a non-violence training. We were in the basement of the UMass-Amherst Campus Center in one of the big rooms. All day we were forming affinity groups for the occupation.

We had the agenda we went through: the history of non-violence, what is non-violence, why non-violence, interjected with music and hassle lines. We set up scenarios. One of my favorites was you are in your affinity group walking onto the site and all of a sudden someone comes with a microphone to ask you all these provocative questions. You just keep focused because the affinity group has a media person who speaks with the interviewer. Another was how you handle the person who wants to join the affinity group at the last moment. That person may be on a totally different journey than you are and is really a provocateur. Or maybe not. But it’s not fair to the group to have a new person come in. Of course, after you do a role play, you debrief. You talk about everything that happened and how it felt to be a policeman and how it felt to be a provocateur.  Then we talked about what the affinity groups had to do to get ready: who was going to be the media person, the support person, the medic? And the occupation scenario of course. We took tents, sleeping bags, food. We were all set.

Some of the people trained by me and others (Suki Rice, Elizabeth Boardman) went on to be trainers themselves. That’s how the non-violence training and the affinity group model spread throughout New England, the US and even internationally. As far as Clamshell, it brought affinity groups to this country. I feel that was a very important contribution. Before that, there were no affinity groups. The civil rights movement was masses of people. The affinity group is a way for large numbers of people to manage ourselves.

ON THE SITE: Once we got on to the site and people put up their tents, got their bedrolls out and settled down, someone said, “Why don’t we have a Quaker meeting in the morning?”  It was announced on the bulletin board on a kiosk on the site. After breakfast, a lot of people came. Probably there were only three or four Quakers in that Quaker meeting. We sat in a big circle and everybody was very quiet. Then people began to speak out. Why they were there and their vision of what this land could become and the new society that they wanted to build in the shell of the old. It was a wonderful sharing of visions of the future and extremely reassuring and uplifting to help us get ready for the crackdown. We did not expect it to happen til Monday. It came on Sunday afternoon.  When they began arresting people, I remember disappointment that certain people had to leave because they were well known or had responsibilities. Some decided not to cooperate with the arrests (they went limp so had to be carried). The police grew tired, and some of the heavier men were pulled over the rocks. It was rough to see that.

THE ARMORY (MANCHESTER): I should say something about the armory. We weren’t extremely diverse in the armories. People who were in a position to risk arrest are not the homeless, the undocumented, the poor. Lots of students. But we suddenly found ourselves in the armory with our sleeping bags on the floor. Then the guards slowly brought in cots. Most of us were together in our affinity groups. Claire Bateman said the next day, “Why don’t we all put our food out on this big, long table?” All the veggies and hummus, tofu, cheese came out on the table and we had lots of good food to share.

Then we began to organize ourselves, setting agendas: after breakfast we’re going to have workshops and affinity group meetings and figure out who is going to be the representative to the spokes meeting. Each affinity group had different offerings, massage, art, story telling, music, movement building. Everything you can think of was put out as a workshop and listed on the kiosk and so people were free to go to any of them.   Bill Moyer, a wonderful organizer from the Movement for a New Society, did workshops. People like that, one doesn’t meet in everyday life. Then we had entertainment in the evening.

We had lots of affinity group meetings as we negotiated with Meldrim Thompson, the governor, trying to figure out bail solidarity and how we were going to make our statement. Some people had to leave earlier, but many others stayed. Most of us within the affinity group had a chance to be a representative at the spokesperson meetings which worked very hard. The diversity was that some of the militant men were really difficult to deal with. And some women were coming together around our issues. You began to see the movements for the future. So I felt that it was a wonderful two weeks of extreme movement building. We were living this new society now, in this moment, in the armory. It was a demonstration that people can find ways of managing their future. With training and a commitment to non-violence, you can build a new society.

CLAM LEGACY: I think the Clamshell was one stage in the people’s struggle for justice. It was a step in the process of awakening, of bringing the consciousness forward that our society is not sustainable, that if we continue to live the way we are living, of course we need nuclear power and all the terrible things. The Clamshell was a people’s rebellion against it. Maybe we should have rejected all of the electricity that comes from nuclear power

Back then we had much more freedom of the press. The media was totally taken by what we did and in turn captured the public’s minds and their imaginations.

The Clamshell demonstrated that grassroots democracy can work. That’s one of the visions I carry with me for when the lights go out and we have no electricity or oil. How are we going to deal with one another? How are we going to get our water and dispose of our waste? How are we going to manage? I think the Clamshell was reassuring: if we all have the training and the vision then we will find a way to deal with those things when we have to. You know, its probably coming sooner rather than later.          Recently I talked to my son’s cultural anthropology class at American University in Washington. I told my stories: where I see hope, where I find community. The students were so responsive and so excited. They kept me a long, long time asking questions, saying, “Community is what we really want more than anything else. Where can we find this?” I said, “You have to have an awareness of what’s going on the world and you have to find people who agree with you. You have to come together and really face it and try to help one another. Begin to build something right now.”

We have to find ways of bringing people together so we have discussions to talk about these things. We have to help people look at what’s going on and get involved in their own community. We tell people don’t work alone. It’s too hard. Get in a group, find a group where you can really talk it through and support each other. The affinity groups in Northampton now are the people working on trying to stop the exit 19 they want to build to get more cars out to shop at the big boxes, there’s an affinity group of the people who oppose the hotel downtown, there is an affinity group of the people building organic community sustained agriculture for their neighbors. There are the Raging Grannies. The press has really picked up on them because they like their colorful hats, but they don’t talk about the very political songs they sing. We are creating the new society right here. That is where non-violence is at right now. In our community.

CLAM MAGIC: Phil Berrigan has always said, “The way will open.” He and a couple of others would be walking in the dark of night, perhaps to get on a nuclear weapons vessel to do damage. They’ll be walking all night and all at once they’re there and they’ve gone through this no mans’ land where they say they’ll shoot to kill if anyone goes. They are quite surprised. Often they’ll get there and they find the guards are asleep or nobody is there and they do their work.                                                                  I think it’s the same with Clam magic. If we have the faith, the focus, and the training and we know what we’re doing, the way will open. You can’t always answer every question that people about to do civil disobedience ask you. But you have to believe you have some kind of magic or power within yourselves to communicate the seriousness of what you are doing, that you can get a response from the so-called opponent. The Native people would perhaps say that the Great Spirit is out there in the land and feels what you are doing. So I like to think that the Great Spirit around me is protecting and opening the way and helping. That’s the way I look at it.

Frances Crowe is a long-term activist, turning 90 in 2009 and doing civil disobedience at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to close it down. She was the coordinator of Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee during Clam days.

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