by Jon Chase (Quaker Silverbacks)
Forgive me if I can’t recall which of my several protests of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant came first; that was 45 years ago! But neighbors of mine at Newton Corner got me interested, and I joined them for a couple of early protests in the late 1970’s, before nuclear power became a national issue. Meldrim Thompson was governor of NH at that time, and he pushed hard for nuclear power. The state liquor stores distributed literature advocating a nuclear plant, but there was no alternative view available. So two of my neighbors and I walked into a store and handed out anti-nuclear literature. We were quickly arrested, and spent the night at the Hillsborough County Jail. Many months later we were advised to appeal our arrest in court, which we did successively, winning a judgement of $1,000 apiece.
In 1977, I was one of over 2,000 protestors who occupied the site of the Seabrook plant. We had non-violent training, and formed into affinity groups for support, between 12-15 people in each. I do recall the glorious, shared euphoria we all felt as we stepped onto the site and realized that our well-planned takeover had succeeded…at least for the moment.
We spent the night camped in tents, but dawn brough the reality that our bold occupation was short-lived, as hundreds of state police from all six N.E. states descended on our campsites and hauled us away.
We were taken to tractor trailers initially, before being transferred to school buses and driven to National Guard armories across the state. I was with a group enclosed in a hot, airless, trailer, the door shut, with no light. We were packed in like sardines, literally shoulder to shoulder, with no room to sit or lie down. To say it was claustrophobic is a gross understatement; after an hour some people had trouble breathing, and there were several mild panic attacks. We finally convinced a guard at the door to open it a few inches, and we took turns squeezing to the front for some precious breaths of fresh air. I didn’t wear a watch in those days, so I don’t know exactly how long we were there, but it was many hours, and it took a conscious effort on all our parts to stay calm, though several people broke down and needed to be comforted.
I was shipped to the armory in Manchester, the largest armory of all, and spent several days there; others spent up to two weeks, I believe. We slept in our sleeping bags, were fed, even getting our demand for vegetarian meals, and organized. Initially we were all separated by sex, but that quickly fell by the wayside. Spirits were high, especially after hearing the news and realizing we had put Seabrook on the national map and made nuclear power a legitimate, big-time issue.
Most of us received $100 fines for trespassing. I chose not to pay mine, opting instead to work it off at the Brentwood County County House of Correction at the rate of $5 a day, for 20 days. It was a good experience, though not always easy. It did result in my jailhouse photo being published with my story on the front page of my local Newton Times, thanks to friend Roy DiTosti, who surreptitiously took my photo with his Leica tucked beneath his shirt. It was all for a good cause, and resulted in vivid memories of a movement that years later proved to have a lasting impact.
State police escort the reactor vessel for the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, arriving on a flatbed truck, 1979