INSIDE: Manchester Days by Karl Meyer

INSIDE: Manchester Days

Karl Meyer

All did not come together easily.  No food had been stockpiled for prisoners.  Upon arrival Francis Crowe looked around and said to a friend, “Let’s put up a table and share all the food we have in our packs.” The National Guard guards were grand kids compared to the 58 year-old peace activist.   And most were scarcely older than the rest of their charges.  When the guards insisted the men’s and women’s cots be separated, the Clams argued with them point for point.  What’s more, once the prisoners chose to remain incarcerated, much of the “guarding” part of their jobs became moot. 

“It was way too public,” Pat LaMountain remembers, “I was sick of hamburgers.”  When relationship tensions arose, there was nowhere to work it out.  People looked for ways to relieve tension.  Rick Dodge remembers playing endless hands of cards, “It was difficult.  Most of us had already been together several days before the arrests too.”  Manchester prisoners vividly recall a high balcony that overlooked their sprawling jail.  Police and Guard officials would sometimes appear there. “You’d look up and realize you were in a fish bowl–they were checking on you,” says Pat LaMountain, “So we’d do weird things–pretend to be strange, so they had something to look at.”

Since no cooks had been put on alert, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and boiled hot dogs was some of the first food offered— costing “tax free” New Hampshire’s Governor Thomson both cash and political capital.  Further complicating things–some detainees were vegetarian.  Inches separated the cots of tired prisoners.   Despite protests, guards were under orders to keep lights on all night.   Greasy-haired Clams in sweaty sleeping bags grew grumpy.

Two incidents stand out from that time.  At one point whispers started circulating through the crowds.  The vast cot-village grew instantly silent.  All heads turned to the end of the room where, as Rick Dodge recalls, “The famous Governor Thomson had come onto the balcony.”  The silence did not last.  With a single catcall the spell broke.  Cries of ‘no bail!’ and ‘we can take it!’ rang out. The Governor withdrew.

And then there was “the rumble”, as Frances Crowe terms it.  The long hours of confinement–food, phone, shower, and bathroom lines were all taking their toll.  Many hadn’t been outside in days.  “Yard time” in a narrow, fenced parking area was dispensed by guards to a few people at a time, in twenty minute spurts.  Many just didn’t bother.  Then, it snowed in May.  Four inches of slush piled up outside armory walls.  A giant cabin fever was building.  It broke one evening–when the guards called out a loudspeaker-order for quiet above the normal din of hundreds of cramped people. 

At first there was a grumbling compliance.  But then someone started slowly drumming the top of a metal trash can.  A few people applauded.  That drumming was answered from another trash bin, echoing between cavernous ceramic walls.  A wild, nearly primal wail rose up as ragged Clams got off their cots.  They pounded their feet.  A rhythmic trash-can-din filled the space.  People began to dance.  They howled, they sang.  Guards be-damned–an impromptu rumba line formed, snaking around the arena. That ecstatic “rumble” went on for over an hour as astonished jailers looked on, amazed.         

Spirits rose and fell as their confinement lengthened.  People did bail out, due to job or family responsibilities, or from boredom and claustrophobia.  Tex LaMountain went home to be with his five year-old daughter.  After most of a week Rick Dodge left when his parents showed up with promises of clean clothes and a shower. 

But the Clam’s core “no-bail” strategy seemed to hold the center.  Five days after the arrests, 600 people were sleeping on cots at Manchester.  And hundreds were still being held at other armories.

Karl Meyer                                                                                       

I participated in the Seabrook occupation in1977.  Though I met Rick Dodge a year or two later, I did not know any of the other people quoted here until the idea for this story took root.  All were generous with their time.  What’s clear at this juncture is that there are sobering issues facing us in the ways we generate, use, and waste or conserve resources.  I don’t think anyone I’ve spoken to would disagree that nuclear power is the most powerful way to make power.  It is also inherently secretive, which has implications for a democratic society heading into the future.  What’s clear to me personally is that we will only have choices if we choose to participate in the energy debate.

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