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In 2006, I was assigned to write a story for New Hampshire Magazine on the 30th anniversary of the Clamshell Alliance's campaign to block construction of the Seabrook nuclear power plant. As part of my research, I had the chance to interview the late Guy Chichester, one of the Clams' founders. It was a tremendous experience and an honor; the kind of thing that makes my work so rewarding.

Before the Clams, Chichester was a leader in the effort to block a planned oil refinery on the shore of Great Bay, just off the New Hampshire seacoast. That effort was led by oil baron Aristotle Onassis, and had the enthusiastic backing of then-Governor Meldrim Thomson. The refinery was never built, thanks to intense local opposition. 

He was an impressive man, tall and lean with a shock of gray hair and a well-trimmed gray beard. His face was maybe 80% Ian McKellen and 20% Old Man of the Mountain. I spoke with him in his house in the center of Rye, NH; at the time, I thought that someday there might be a historic plaque on the house, because it had been the epicenter of the Clamshell Alliance in its early years. Its office was in his front room, and many a strategy conference was held over his kitchen table. The Clams' logo, an open clamshell with a cartoon atom between the two shells, was designed by his son Drew; on the day of our interview, he wore a Clamshell pin on the lapel of his coat.

Guy Chichester died in 2009 at age 73. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

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I'm a New Yorker, I was born on Long Island. Lived there all my life except for four years in the Navy during the 50s. And then, in the late 60s, I was a carpenter. I specialized in rebuilding and renovating older residential buildings. Around metropolitan New York, Connecticut, etc. But there was a time when I needed to do more and more work in Connecticut. So I started commuting; leaving Long Island Monday morning, coming back Friday afternoon. Got to like Connecticut. Moved there. 

Then I went to work for a contractor, building a condo project on the old Victor Borge estate in Southbury, Connecticut. Then I went to work for a lumber company, traveling throughout New England; I was their road man. 

My mother's family was from downeast Maine, and I spent a lot of time there as a child. We went looking for a house that would fit our family [he had five children], couldn't find anything affordable in Connecticut. In my travels, I'd keep an eye for something suitable here. This house [in Rye] showed up. We moved here in 1970. 

 

The first stirrings of the Seacoast anti-nuclear movement began in the late 60s, when Public Service of New Hampshire first proposed a nuclear power plant. When did you get involved? 

In 1974. The Seacoast Anti-Pollution League (SAPL), when it first organized, was not an anti-nuclear organization. It wanted to get the public's ear with the sense that we're open-minded here. 

 

You initially got involved with SAPL. 

That's right. That's because Ari Onassis came here in 1972 and hooked up with Thomson. They held private meetings down in New York at Olympic Oil headquarters. 

That had definitely activated people.  We didn't want cockamamie ideas that were destructive and threatening to our health coming to the Seacoast. We rallied around that thing. It was a very short and hot campaign that lasted about six months and then it was over. I was very busy in that whole affair. Myself and some of my cohorts had an organization called CCR, the Concerned Citizens of Rye. The town got together behind the idea of home rule. We were confident we would reject  the proposal. 

 

The refinery would have included offshore ports for oil tankers. And as I understand it, Rye would have been impacted by the pipelines. 

The pipes would have come right through this part of Rye. 

Had you been politically involved before the refinery?

Well, I worked for McGovern [in 1972]. I had some success recruiting people around the Seacoast. We got McGovern out of New Hampshire as the "winner" who didn't have the most votes. He started from nowhere, and almost came out on top. It was enough to give him momentum. That was my first real active involvement in anything political. 

 

After the defeat of the refinery proposal, in 1975 you became head of the SAPL?

Right. The League had a nominating committee. And Ed Dumaine showed up at a meeting of CCR one night, we were talking about Onassis and the Governor and so forth. Near the end of the meeting, he piped up and said "If you really want something to be worried about, you'd better pay attention to that Seabrook project!" 

When the meeting was over we had a little chat, and he said we'd like to nominate you. I guess this might have been in the spring, after the Seacoast rose up and drove Onassis out of the state. So it was my involvement in the Onassis issue that brought me to the attention of SAPL. I asked for more information. They sent me a report of the NRC -- the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] at the time. In it, they detailed the scenario for a typical meltdown accident and the aftermath, in a typical average sized plant. It was a pretty discouraging looking thing. They were talking about an average loss in early morbidity, death, lingering illnesses and death, on the order of 35,000 right away. 

So it got my attention. I said this is a little crazy. They may like to live in a world like that but not me, so I'm going to go to work for these guys and see what I can do. 

 

You were president of the SAPL from early 1975 to mid 1976.

They got in touch with me in the fall of '74, I was installed in early '75. I basically went through '75 and into '76 until sometime after January 26th, when Renny Cushing and I and a fellow called Ron Rieck. Ron Rieck went up the weather pole [at the Seabrook site], which was a very tall structure, must have been equivalent to an eight-story building. Way the hell up there. He went up there and built a nest. We meant it to be a signal that the people in New Hampshire had grave concerns and we're telling you that here, at this spot, on January 26, bitter cold. And sometime between then and midsummer, late June or July, I resigned from SAPL. Partly because some of the members were very unhappy about the fact that I was engaged with that project, and that I was also the President of SAPL. 

 

Was it a disagreement over tactics -- whether or not to commit civil disobedience?

Yeah, it was mainly that. I remember them coming storming through the back door here one day, a posse (laugh). They were unhappy, and I didn't need a lot of unhappiness. My job was about as done as I could have done it at that point.  I had wanted to focus on the nuclear issue entirely. That was fine with me. Their complaint was that I could not be wearing two hats, because I might jeopardize the legal intervention. We parted ways. They said I couldn't wear two hats, so I took off their hat. Then I was very busy after that with Clamshell. 

When did the Clamshell Allliance come together?

The principal organizers were talking about what had to be done. A civilly disobedient commitment, nonviolent. Martin Luther King. We understood the power of the vested interests, the establishment, all the pieces of it, and we had to have something equally powerful. We had an agreement about that, in the spring of '75. 

When I became head of SAPL, they began a set of hearings on a construction license for Seabrook. I reached out to others who were opposing nuclear plans elsewhere in New England. Bringing those people here for those hearings was good, because they were well connected in their own places. The word went out that Seabrook and Governor Thomson -- Governor Thomson had a terrific reputation (laugh) and people responded wonderfully. 

So we had this network of people. Lovejoy and the filmmakers brought their movie. [Lovejoy's Nuclear War, an account of Massachusetts farmer Sam Lovejoy's efforts to block a nuclear plant there.] The real thing that got me going in that direction was the movie, because I showed the movie for the members of my organization. That was another thing that my detractors marked down: I was bringing in this movie that promoted civil disobedience. 

In the middle of it, Howard Zinn comes on and talks about civil disobedience. He speaks of the essential place of resistance to power, if the people are not alert and brave when the need is there, they'll grind us all into chopped meat. Those are my words not his, but that's the import. He said it's a great noble history, and there's hardly ever been any major change to broaden human rights that has not begun with civil disobedience. No labor union would ever have formed without civil disobedience. 

So he laid that all out, and that was all I needed. I felt very empowered by that. From there on, I took care of everything I was supposed to take care of as President of SAPL, but I wasn't innovative, I didn't have the kind of energy that I was full of for the other project. So it wasn't a surprise that I resigned. 

 

And then you got more involved in Clamshell. 

Yes, exactly. We sat in a bowling alley here, three or four of us, summer of '75, and reviewed where we were. And agreed there's enough people around New England who might respond if we raised the issue, enough people would join us. We had to decide on a focus, where shall we act out on this thing? 

Nothing had been built at Seabrook yet. We knew with the Governor, because of his character, that if we did civil disobedience, he would overreact, and that would just play right into out needs. We operated on that premise from then on. 

 

Who came up with the name "Clamshell Alliance"?

I did. When I made the call to bring people together for what turned out to be the founding moment, I called it the Clamshell Congress. 

 

Your son designed the logo? 

My son Drew, yeah. I have it on my jacket right here. Interestingly enough, over time it has clouded up sort of like a radioactive fog. (Laugh) At the meeting, we changed the name to the Alliance. 

We had a name, we had a statement of purpose. We went out and organized and organized and organized. We knew we wanted to go to Seabrook in good weather, the following summer. And in concert with the issuing of the license [June 1976]. We had good arguments, we had fabulous testimony on record about the damage to the marine environment, just from the construction, let alone the nuclear power plant. 

But in spite of your evidence, it became clear that the system was going to push this project along. 

Correct. 

That moved you in the direction of civil disobedience. 

Yes. We were prepared to go in that direction, but we were hoping that we would prevail, that SAPL and Backus and company would prevail. 

The fact that Paul Gunter and Ron Rieck and a few others, walked from the western part of the state with a horse drawn wagon, heading for Seabrook. "No nukes." Walked across the state, talking to people as they went. 

[Note: In early 1976, a group of antinuclear activists took a wagon tour across the state, starting near the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, trying to spark opposition to Seabrook.]

There were a lot of activities that turned out to be on the full of the moon. There was that kind of, quite mysterious and wonderful, a confluence of energy and beauty in our lives. And we really loved it.  We were all around New England, raising issues and problems for people to respond and take these matters seriously. And it worked. 

Then we come to the first action, 18 people, New Hampshire people. We didn't want to give the newspaper down there [the Union Leader, then owned by] Bill Loeb, give him the chance to say "outside agitators." He did anyway, but we could say he doesn't know what he's talking about. 

 

Were you one of the 18? 

No, my job was to be outside, to be running around doing other things. Talking to media, town officials, cops, things like that. 

Were you ever arrested during that period? 

No. Arrested many times since then, and elsewhere during this time. But in the Clamshell Alliance, I had work to do. 

 

Other Clams have talked about surveillance of the group and efforts at infiltration. 

I experienced quite a bit of it. I had a young woman who showed up here from Washington DC, she had a Maryland plate on her car. The Clamshell office was in the front room of this house at the time. And she just wanted to help. She had stickers all over her car, a little Volkswagen. I said, come on in. I smelled something funny as soon as I laid eyes on her. She sat there with her skirt conveniently up. 

I said, "My address book has gotten into a real mess here. How about copying it over for me in a new address book?" She said, "Oh sure, no problem!" So I took out whatever pages I wanted to take out, and put those in my pocket, and gave it to her. 

One of the Clams found out that one of the hotshots in the NRC had the same name as this young woman had. They found out that that fellow was her father. That was just one example. 

I had another guy come in, in 1977. The movement was getting big at the time. He introduced himself as an editor of a vegetarian magazine in southern California. He said we would like to write an article, to describe the general scheme of bringing people together as you have done, and how that is going to affect nuclear power around the country.  

From the moment I laid eyes on him -- you get a strong sense of who you're dealing with. I didn't believe him for a minute. So I said, look, I don't believe a word of what you've said. But I'll tell you, you want to know the strategy around here? I'll tell you. It's very simple. If the nuclear builders and the feds will back out of this deal at Seabrook, let the project die, it will be the best thing for all the nuclear industry. Because if you don't do that, what's going on here is going to spread right across the country. And we win no matter which way it goes. That's the strategy, how do you like it? He mumbled something, got up and left. He got what he wanted. 

Then there was another cute little incident. I found out the phones were being tapped from the guys at the telephone company. More than once my phones would stop working for some reason. They'd come and go up the pole and fix it, and come down . I asked "What happened?" He said, "Well, someone was up there messing with the line, and it looks like they left in a hurry, left something loose and it fell apart."

I never found out who was doing it. Nobody ever caught them in the act. 

 

How long were you actively involved in the Clamshell Alliance?

Well, from the summer of '75 till sometime in the early 80s... I think, I can't remember, it might have been right before or right after Chernobyl.  Sometime in the mid-80s, around there. By that time, the thing that really changed the Clamshell was a very wide rift between certain parts of it, which were a group down in Boston that was called CDAS (Clams for Direct Action at Seabrook). Their idea of direct action and ours were different. 

They called it nonviolent, but they also knew they were raising the risks involved for violence to take place by their willingness to confront -- they had a whole attitude that we're not going to worry about the finer points of nonviolence. We're satisfied that we're a nonviolent group, and you're going to have to trust that. 

So we announced to the world that the Clamshell Alliance is not part of CDAS, and we're sorry that we are unable to support them in their plans to protest the continued construction fo the project. Sure enough, when they got into action there, they had sort of bolo balls that they winged over the fence and aimed at the security guards and the cops. I don't think anybody was really hurt. There might have been some rough arrests made, but not dangerously rough. 

So it was a rent in the fabric that could never be repaired. 

 

Many former Clams have said that the experience had a profound effect on their lives. How did it affect you? 

Well, to keep it simple... The people who were part of the Clamshell Alliance and any other part of the anti-nuclear and environmental, non governmental organizations that I knew, were all -- with one or two important distinctions -- virtually all as good a group of human beings as anyone could ever hope to meet. I get emotional when I think about them like this, because there's just so much about them that I grew to love. 

They are beautiful people. And that is such a wonderful compensation for any kind of work or small sacrifice that I have ever had to endure, that there is no comparison. I am the beneficiary in this relationship. 

I've also come to learn so much about the world we live in. Because we all have our specialties that we can share. So we all become teachers and students. And your life just becomes richer than it could possibly be in anything else I could think of. There are certain common efforts that require nothing but simple trust. It's one of the most wonderful kinds of relationship that you could have. It's an extended family of a kind that is rare. 

 

You've stayed socially active ever since. 

Yes, I have. There's a connection between my work in the peace movement and the anti-nuclear movement. Many of the same companies are involved in both. Many of the people who were part of the Clamshell Alliance were people who came right out of the Quaker traditions and the American Friends Service Committee. We are more interested in keeping those traditions, the history of other people in struggle, alive and well and growing, than anything else, than our own familial responsibilities and commitments. 

 

Are you discouraged at the direction this country seems to be taking?

Yes, but I believe in the longer run. I've always had a great faith in the people of this country. I think we've learned enough of the basic dream that is inherent in the Bill of Rights, from our schoolteachers, from our families. We've learned that there is something about who we are, that it's a government of the people. It's unique, it gives us a kind of freedom that many other social systems don't allow. 




Email me at john [at] johnswalters [dot] com