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Arnie Alpert is a longtime activist in New Hampshire, beginning with his involvement in the Clamshell Alliance. He's spent most of his adult life as Executive Director of the American Friends Service Committee's New Hampshire office. In a January 2006 interview, he shared his memories of the Clams and his thoughts on the Alliance's lasting impact. 

 

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I was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I first heard about Seabrook and the Clamshell Alliance in the fall of 1976. I went up to Hampton Beach State Park for an alternative energy fair and rally on October 23. It was originally planned to be the Clamshell Alliance's third civil-disobedience action, but for some reason, the plans changed. At the rally, the Alliance announced a mass nonviolent civil-disobedience action for the spring of '77. 

I had been a bit of an activist, but not an organizer. Graduated high school in 1973. Vietnam was winding down at that point. I had supported the grape boycott and the United Farm Workers Union. 

In college I majored in environmental science, and was clued into environmental issues. This was the first energy crisis; as I was thinking and reading about energy and the environment, I became aware of issues around nuclear power. I was attracted to nonviolence, from my experience with the farm workers and reading about Gandhi and the civil rights movement. When I heard about the Clamshell Alliance, things fell into place for me. 

This was my senior year in college. A couple months after October '76, I thought about organizing for the spring demonstration. My friends on campus were not keen on the idea, so I decided to go ahead on my own. It was my first experience as an organizer. 

We had to have a nonviolence training session. We got about 50 people; there was so much interest, we had a second session. Sent two busloads of students from Wesleyan to Seabrook on April 29, 1977. On May 1 I was carted off to the Portsmouth Armory, and then the Concord Armory. 

April 30, we marched to the Seabrook construction site. We weren't expecting to get there, but we did. We set up an encampment; there was a big aura of celebration. I heard Charlie King sing his song "Acres of Clams" -- may have been the first public performance. 

The next day, it became clear that orders for arrests had been given. Occupiers were given the option of leaving the site. Most stayed; 1415 were arrested. (1414 is the official number; Paul Klinkman of Rhode Island was arrested, never booked, but held in armory anyway.)

We were staying in until everyone was released without bail. Maybe 600-700 were in for entire 2 weeks. A real battle of wills with Governor [Meldrim] Thomson. [Note: Thomson was a staunch law-and-order conservative and a devoted backer of the Seabrook plan.] There was a lot of public discussion and coverage on the cost of jailing all of us. 

In the end, we were all marched through District Court in Hampton and found guilty without a trial. I made a kangaroo costume in honor of the "kangaroo court," and hopped into the courtroom. The NY Times mentions someone in a kangaroo suit, but it wasn't me -- another protester had had the same idea. 

This was right near the end of my senior year. There were quite a few of us, and a lot of support on camps, so the Dean allowed us to take incompletes, graduate on time, and finish our work later. 


I moved to New Hampshire on Election Day 1978. I had been involved in anti-nuclear activity elsewhere, mainly in Connecticut. I was involved in the Spring 1978 demonstration/rally. In November, I was hired to work part-time in the Clamshell Alliance office in Portsmouth. I worked there for a little over a year. 

Judy and I met earlier that year, at a coordinating committee meeting. She was on the Clamshell Alliance staff, I was still in Connecticut. When I moved to Portsmouth in November, she had just lost a housemate and needed someone to split the rent. I moved in; we lived together for a couple of years, and then fell in love. 


I joined the AFSC in 1981, replacing Eric Wolfe, who had also been a Clam. He's now in the labor movement, working for a large IBEW local in San Francisco. 

There were many unofficial ties between the Clamshell Alliance and AFSC; shared some offices and many staffers and volunteers. AFSC also provided nonviolence training for the Clamshell Alliance. I left the Alliance staff in late 1979, thought I'd get a more mainstream kind of job. 

When [President Jimmy] Carter started draft registration in 1980, AFSC started doing education about the draft and CO status. I got involved. When Eric left the Concord office, I applied and got the job. 


My experience in the Clamshell Alliance inspired my lifelong activism. A couple of significant events: 

When I arrived in 1977, my affinity group as diverse in age. The stereotype is that we were all young hippies. I was one, but others were in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. Some had been nonviolent activists for decades. 

A year later, I went to a 2-week training program sponsored by the War Resisters' League.  In the process, I met quite a few activists -- and again, they came from all age groups. I began to realize that activism wasn't just a youthful thing, but something a person could spend his whole life doing. 

I get discouraged with the course of events sometimes. But my experience in the Clamshell Alliance helps; knowing it's possible for motivated people to bring about profound social change. I've experienced it, so I know it's possible.  


On whether the Clamshell Alliance won or lost: The struggle at Seabrook connected to so many other issues: nuclear power and nuclear weapons, peace, environmentalism, democracy. In some areas, it had a profound effect. On Seabrook, one plant was built -- but not the second. 

I think a case can be made to give the Clamshell Alliance credit for the collapse of the nuclear power movement in the US. Look at the change of consciousness between May 1977 and March 1979 [the Three Mile Island accident and the release of "The China Syndrome"] -- there was a collapse in confidence in nuclear power, not only in the public, but also in the financial sector. As Wall Street lost confidence in the profitability of nuclear power, the cost of financing new plants skyrocketed. That did in nuclear power; but it wouldn't have happened without the antinuclear movement. 


Also, the "Clamshell model" of nonviolent action has been tremendously influential. The application of nonviolence in a decentralized style, with affinity groups, training, and consensus decision-making, was not invented by the Clams. But after the Clams, it became a standardized model for protest.  The manual written for a Clamshell action has become the template for other movements -- gay rights, anti-globalization. 


 




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