The truck drivers at the lumberyard listened to classic rock, the yard foreman listened to Paul Harvey, and for all we knew the salesmen listened to Frank Sinatra or something. But a couple of us younger guys — me, the hardware stock clerk, the part-time stock clerk who worked in the paint department — we listened to WBCN, the progressive rock station that broadcast from downtown Boston. The morning DJ on WBCN was Charles Laquidara, known for his leftist politics, and one day he announced that there would be a big action to oppose the Seabrook nuclear power plant over Memorial Day weekend. I decided to go.
That day, I ran into John, an old friend from my church youth group, and he said he’d go up with me. I was working six days a week at the lumberyard, but somehow I managed to get that Saturday off. Charles Laquidara had given contact information for getting rides up to Seabrook, and John and I got a ride up. Several hundred of us camped out on an old farm owned by a Seabrook resident who was opposed to power plant. John and I strung a plastic tarp over our sleeping bags, nestled in among all the other tents in the woods on the farm.
Someone gave us an orientation. We were told not to engage in civil disobedience unless we had nonviolence training, and unless we were prepared to be arrested. We were warned to watch out for the cops that carried night sticks with a little extra handle sticking out at ninety degrees, because they were trained to fight in crowds. Watch out for the Rhode Island state police because they were known to be especially vicious. If you do get arrested, here’s what you do. John and I weren’t going to get arrested; I was paid by the hour and couldn’t afford to miss any days of work.
The next morning, we all went over to the main gates of the power plant. Some people committed civil disobedience, blocking the gates by sitting down and linking arms. I saw a former quasi-girlfriend sitting there with her arms linked to the people next to her, singing whatever they were singing. The cops started moving in. I remember seeing state police from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and I stayed away from the Rhode Island cops. We left before it got too ugly.
John and I were walking away from the protest at the gates at the power plant, along a residential street. I had an American flag stuck in my Boy Scout backpack. A couple of locals accosted us, started yelling at us, they didn’t want us in their town. We stuck to the principles of nonviolence, and didn’t respond. One guy said, “You don’t deserve to have this,” and grabbed the American flag out of my backpack. We just walked away from them, but I felt angry and troubled.
That night, back at camp, I ran into some activists I had known at my Quaker college. We agreed to meet on Sunday morning for silent meeting for worship, in the manner of Quakers, out in the woods. When I got back to the tarp, I discovered that John had gotten second-degree burns on his hand from one of the candles we had, and he had had to go to the first aid tent to have it bandaged up. I had a hard time being properly sympathetic, I had too much else on my mind.
On Sunday morning, ten or a dozen of us went into the woods away from the camp site, sat in a circle, and began Quaker meeting for worship. After about fifteen minutes, two people from our campsite, two young men with beards and scruffy clothing, came up to us and said, “We want to let you know that you’re over the property line. You’re on the property of the power plant.” We smiled, nodded that we understood, and kept sitting in silence. They suggested that it would be a good idea to leave. We nodded, smiled, and stayed where we were. Individual protesters were all making their own choices about what risks they were willing to take, so the two young men with beards walked off and left us alone.
We continued to sit in silence. After another twenty minutes, I began to feel deeply moved; it came to me that I was not being moved to offer vocal ministry, but I was moved nonetheless; I began to shake slightly, and I realized how it might have been that the Quakers came to be named. We sat until the hour was up, when I turned to the person next to me and shook his hand; we all shook hands; and we walked back to the campsite.
There were more actions on Sunday; I don’t even remember what happened on Monday. John and I made it through the long weekend, on not enough sleep and not enough food, and got home Monday evening. My mother, who had walked down the streets of Wilmington, Delaware, in the 1950s holding the hand of two black children she was teaching when someone drove by and yelled at her, “N—— lover!” — my mother got angry at me for getting my shirt dirty. “Why did you wear a white shirt?” she said. “Look at this! it’s ruined.”
The next day I was back at work in the lumberyard, waiting on customers, putting stock away, making up loads on the forklift. Those guys who had taken the flag out of my backpack were probably pretty much like the guys I worked with, the guys I waited on, the guys I was friends with. I wondered if we had done more damage than good when we were at Seabrook.