By Benjie Hiller


            For me, working with Clamshell, first as a law student and then as a lawyer, was a remarkable experience. I was involved in the planning of actions and with legal training for demonstrators and legal workers. I met with and advised folks who had been arrested, both during and after their arrests. I assisted folks in preparing for court hearings, helped them draft pleadings, and sat with them as an advisor at trial. Thirty years later, nothing has even come close to how rewarding it felt to be told by my fellow Clams they trusted me, and that my efforts helped to demystify the legal process and empower them in dealing with it.

            When they went to court, Clams brought the same principles as they did to their other work. This meant attempting to control one’s destiny through grassroots democracy, and not turning over that control to others, be they corporate executives or legal professionals. In many prior political campaigns (often for good reasons) when people were arrested, lawyers were called in. Often this resulted not only in all the decisions in the criminal defense being made by lawyers, but often in lawyers becoming the spokespeople for the political campaign as well. Relying, in part, on the example of the Camden 28 (a Vietnam War draft resistance trial), and on their own desire for empowerment, it became the norm for Clams to go “pro se,” that is to represent themselves in court. Lawyers and law students that had technical legal knowledge were asked to educate and assist Clams who were preparing an action and/or had been arrested.

            For some lawyers this very different dynamic of interaction with their “clients” proved difficult to accept. For others it made perfect sense. Why would someone commit and act of conscience and then have someone else get up and explain it? With some technical assistance and training, Clams represented themselves with distinction, not only at trials, but in a wide variety of complicated motion hearings and even appellate court proceedings. For legal workers lucky enough to work with them, it was the experience of a lifetime. For Clams, it was gratifying to be able to continue the process od taking back the power to control their lives in yet another forum.

            The Clamshell legal team wrote the National No Nukes Legal Handbook that was published by the National Lawyers Guild. It detailed the workings of the legal system, how people could defend themselves within it, and the various ways lawyers could help defendants. The handbook was used nationwide by those resisting nuclear power. The way the Clams dealt with the legal system and lawyers helped set a model for the other anti-nuke alliances around the country. This model has been followed in large part by other progressive movements up to the present day.

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