‘To the Village Square’ recounts anti-nuke movement’s beginnings in Franklin County
On the face of it, the book with an iconic black-and-white cover photograph of protesters marching down railroad tracks toward the 1976 occupation of the Seabrook nuclear plant construction site conveys the story of the “No Nukes” movement born a few years earlier in Franklin County.
But “To the Village Square,” a collection of images by French-born photojournalist Lionel Delevingne, is a story about “the power of community to force action and make a change,” writes Delevingne in a foreward to the 144-page book, published this summer....
Delevingne’s 121 stark black-and-white photographs document the anti-nuclear movement that began in February 1974 with Sam Lovejoy’s toppling of the meteorological tower on the Montague Plains and included demonstrations at Seabrook, N.H. Numerous photos in “To the Village Square” also graphically chronicle the aftermath of nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
And yet longtime environmental activist Anna Gyorgy emphasizes that the book is really a testament to grass-roots democratic action. Gyorgy, whose introductory essay puts Delevingne’s photographs in a historical context based on the history of the anti-movement she witnessed and participated in as a resident of the Montague Farm from 1971, points to timeliness of that same grass-roots organizing against the natural gas pipeline project currently proposed to cut across Franklin and Worcester counties as a way to confront global climate disruption.
“The book gives us a way to look at the past while thinking about the present and looking at future,” said Gyorgy,.....The photos by Delevingne, whose work appeared in The Valley Advocate, but also in Mother Jones, Ne Times, The Village Voice and are now archived by the University of Massachusetts, include a number of Franklin County faces in their younger years, including Lovejoy and Gyorgy herself, in the days before she briefly directed Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass Energy Project, co-founded the organization Women and Life on Earth and moved for more than 25 years to live in Germany before returning last year to Wendell.
Some of those images — of a young woman with the words “No nukes” painted on the rump of a white horse on the Montague Plains, of rallies and protest marches as well as occupations evoke an era when Northeast Utilities first announced plans to build twin 1,100-megawatt reactors on the Montague Plains, where the state had recently abandoned plans to build a landfill for metropolitan Boston’s trash.
Reflecting back on the roots of the anti-nuclear movement, Gyorgy — the author in 1979 of “No Nukes: Everyone’s Guide to Nuclear Power” — recalls, “Nobody knew much about it. It was just an article in the paper,” she said. The irony was that the Vermont Yankee plant, half the size of each of the proposed twin reactors, had begun operation about 20 miles north, not far from the Guilford, Vt., commune where Gyorgy and friends from Montague Farm often went to visit.
Lovejoy had been a physics major at Amherst College and Gyorgy picked up a copy of molecular biologist John Gofman’s book, “Poisoned Power,” at the Yellow Sun Co-op in Amherst. “That book really got us going, at a time when this was thought of being for white-coated scientists and high-up executives and government people,” she recalls. “It could have gone (on) that way, but we said, ‘This is dangerous and unnecessary.’ Sam’s action was a catalyst, regionally and nationally.”
In addition to the new mantra “no nukes” that began showing up on bumper stickers, protest signs and horses, the new movement also led to creation of a “NO” party — Nuclear Objectors, that is — with Gyorgy running as the first-ever woman candidate for Montague selectman and Lovejoy running for a town meeting member’s seat. If they didn’t win those positions, they at least won the right to campaign door-to-door for those posts and to convey their concerns to voters at a time when many of the issues concerning nuclear power weren’t being aired.
“It was (seen as) a fait accomplis, a given,” Gyorgy recalls. “We found out about it and we didn’t want it and we figured, if they were open to the facts, nuclear power is its nemesis. It was hard for people to change their opinion on something as big as this.”
From the outset, opposition to the Montague project took a different tone than the more procedurally oriented, Brattleboro-based New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution had taken in beginning 1971 in battling the Vermont Yankee plant with the help of lawyers.
“They’d said, ‘We’ll hire a lawyer and intervene,’ even though it’s never worked to stop it,” Gyorgy said. “Our position was ‘there is no safe nuclear plant.’”
As the controversy over the Montague plant grew, the project slowed, and the Alternative Energy Coalition that had formed to continue its work around the county to fight the proposal also promoted energy conservation and renewable power technologies like solar, wind and hydropower.
With development of Montague slowed, protesters turned their attention to the twin nuclear plant site proposed for Seabrook, N.H.
There, using a strategy of nonviolent occupation based on a protest Randy Kehler of Colrain had witnessed at a German nuclear site, protesters — hundreds of them from Western Massachusetts — occupied the construction site in August 1976 and again in May 1977, when more than 1,400 were arrested.
In 1980, a year after a nuclear accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant that drove new concerns about nuclear safety in this country, Northeast Utilities dropped its plans to build a nuclear plant at Montague. Plans for the Seabrook’s second reactor were dropped in 1988, by which time construction costs had risen dramatically.
Gyorgy says much of the credit for eradicating President Richard Nixon’s 1973 plan for 1,000 commercial reactors in the country by 2000 goes to the refusal by ordinary citizens to accept what nuclear opponents showed was an expensive, dangerous technology that was not needed.
“Now, I think it’s really the time — it’s past time — when we have to look at the whole big picture, and turn away from this centralized, dangerous form of energy that’s extremely profitable to big multinationals,” she says. “On the (proposed) pipeline, people are doing similar kinds of public education, saying this is not needed, this is the old model. We have to get away from fossil fuels and centralized energy sources.”
Although there’s been convincing evidence about climate change for decades, as well as awareness that renewable technologies could safely provide energy to replace nuclear power and fossil fuel-generated electricity, time has been running out, says Gyorgy, who adds that she became more hopeful by taking part in the People’s Climate Action in New York recently.
“We’ve lost all these years,” she says. “In the book, we see these people involved on their own time. We weren’t paid, we’re not from NGOs or Washington organizations. We started really small, small, small. We have to bring this message to the people: that we have the political power if we use it.”
It’s important to understand the nitty-gritty details of the technologies that seem to provide solutions, Gyorgy says, but not lose sight of the big picture.
“We have to change public will,” she says. “That’s how change comes.”
Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.
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