Clam Structure and Support City by Susanae Hoch Glovacki

Clam Structure and Support City

by Susanae Hoch Glovacki                  

 Journalists at the time described the “military efficiency” and “discipline” of the 1977 Clamshell Alliance occupation. What they were seeing was the power of a nonviolent movement, of people committed not only to a cause, but to each other, to communication with “opponents,” and to the community created from that conflict. People came to Seabrook to voice their concern about nuclear power, and to do it so they could be heard. The intentions of the Clamshell were not to gain attention through violent confrontation; violence destroys communication with those we hope to bring to our side. There were no secrets. All the plans for the occupation were given to the police, National Guard, Public Service Company, and the public before the event.

The Seabrook occupation was a mass action organized so individuals did not get lost in the crowd. Everyone who occupied went through a nonviolence preparation session beforehand, then joined an “affinity group” of eight to fifteen people. The role of women in the Clamshell was crucial to what made the organization different from 60’s movements. We dealt with the media, were medics and marshals, facilitated huge meetings, organized support functions, and handled legal proceedings.

When the occupation marchers started out April 30th, we weren’t sure whether we would meet a police barricade, tear gas, or open access to the nuke site. Yet affinity groups were prepared for any event. Spirits were high. People on the four routes of the march carried kernels of corn to plant when they reached the site, symbolizing hope for the future.

Affinity groups stayed together throughout the action, preparing supplies and transportation, marching and camping together, and making decisions as a unit. Each affinity group had a medic, a media person, someone who was on the lookout for disrupters, a non-occupying support person, and a “spoke” (spokes­person). When decisions were made during the action, the spoke relayed the consensus of the affinity group to the Decision-Making Body (DMB) a representative group of all the affinities so everyone had a voice. One of the DMB’s first decisions was to set up the tent city with streets for easy med-van access, and to break ground for the “Gov. Meldrim Thomson Memorial Latrines.”

Voices were heard in many ways: the first press release issued by the imprisoned Clams sailed out of the Manchester armory in a Frisbee.

The armories had their share of community­ building. Then-governor Governor Meldrim Thomson and his attorney general David Souter (now on the US Supreme Court) couldn’t have given us a better educational and organizing opportunity. It was the first time there had been so many no nukes people in one place at one time for so long! People who had been split off from their affinity groups during arrest formed new ones, and the decision-making process and support system con­tinued.

Clams held workshops on nuclear power, safe alternatives, the energy industry, Third World peoples’ struggles and many other issues. Evenings, the incarcerated Clams held talent shows, poetry readings, fashion shows, and dances. One of the talent shows was judged by a pan­el of National Guardsmen. Over and over, guardsmen expressed amazement at the spirit and organization of their prisoners. Clamshell’s struggle was against nuclear power, not the police or National Guard, so occupiers related to the Guard and police as people, not as their roles.

Support people were the individuals from each affinity group who did not take part in the civil disobedience and so remained free to see to the needs of their affinity group members. Support people at the “North Friendly Staging Area,” musicians with a fiddle, banjo, autoharp, guitar and a caller, started a contra dance after the occupiers left for the site. They learned later that just as they were beginning to dance, occupiers on site and were themselves dancing in celebration.

Then there was Support City where more than 100 people camped for the two weeks of the occupiers’ incarceration, organizing support. Support City was high energy and very busy keeping up with providing food to vegetarians in the armories, relaying messages between armories and between the 1400 imprisoned Clams and their friends and employers, and organizing transportation, medical supplies, paralegal advice, vigils and rallies.

Indeed, the pressures on Support City to keep up with the various needs of the action were great; we were strengthened ten-fold by caring for ourselves and keeping a sense of humor. Imagine having had three hours sleep in the last two days, one peanut butter sandwich and a glass of powdered milk, no shower for a week, you’ve been hassling to organize bail for a friend all afternoon, you’ve just made it back to camp and are ready to collapse, when there in front of you is a “parking attendant” turning in circles and motioning you – not left or right, but up towards the sky! It’s either laugh or cry, but in any case – go give that jerk a hug.

            Not everything about the Seabrook occupation was inspiring or cause for celebration. There was confusion, uncertainty, and exhaustion. Some people lost their jobs or failed school exams. But what the press called “military efficiency” was not hierarchy, but came from the full participation of many people working at a high level of agreement on purpose, goals, and strategy. That common agreement generated a trust among us, from the individual, to the affinity group and encompassed the many thousands involved. That is the vital element that must sustain any long-range effort toward social, political, and personal change.

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