Friday, September 23, 2011

Rally Retrospective: On the Sidewalks for Vermont Yankee

This is an edited version of an article I wrote for True North Reports. The picture in that article was correctly critiqued by Rod Adams, so this version has a better picture. Pro-Vermont Yankee people on the right side of the picture, opponents on the left side.

Rally for Nuclear Power and Vermont Yankee

On Monday, September 12, the lawsuit between Vermont Yankee and the State of Vermont began at the federal courthouse in Brattleboro, Vermont. The "Safe and Green Campaign", an opponent group, announced they were holding a "silent vigil" in front of the Courthouse from 7:30 to 9 a.m. that day, just before the hearing started. The group had held a similar vigil in June, when the preliminary injunction hearings took place.

Nuclear energy has supporters, but they are seldom visible. The opponents organize marches, vigils, skits, demonstrations, and puppet shows. Some of us decided to hold a rally to help correct the visibility balance. Rally participants came from the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute, the Vermont Pilot Project of the American Nuclear Society, and the Coalition for Energy Solutions.

Many people support nuclear, and by 7:30 a.m. there were about 25 of our group on the sidewalk in Brattleboro. We had decided to stand across the street from the Courthouse: we had several practical reasons. Where we stood, we weren't blocking the Courthouse steps. There was "no parking" on our side of the street, so our signs would be more visible.

Furthermore, when we arrived, a green pickup truck was already further down the block on our side of the street. It had several green VY4VT signs, and was driven by a representative of the Vermont Yankee union, the IBEW. The pick-up was not there by chance. We had asked if some people from IBEW might come, and they came to support us!

At first, there were more supporters than opponents. Most, but not all, of the opponents stood on the other side of the street, near the Courthouse. More and more opponents came as the morning wore on. By the time we left at 9 a.m., we were outnumbered, probably 60 to 25. However, we were still a big group and very visible. As we waved at the cars going by, we got many waves and "thumbs-up" from the drivers. One young woman who was walking by asked for a pro-Vermont Yankee sticker and she carefully attached it to her backpack. We had excellent signs, and white t-shirts saying "Nuclear Power Yes Please."

Our Policy: No Confrontation

I had briefed everyone before the rally about the opponent's love of "street theater." We had all agreed to walk away from any confrontation. We weren't there to argue. In general, things were calm, but not always. One of the opponents came to our side of the street, holding a large sign. He positioned himself on the street, standing in front of one of the women in our group, who was standing on the sidewalk. He held his sign up, and hid her from passing traffic. She objected, and told him he was being very rude. He said he was doing this because he loved democracy. Since she has served in the state house, this "love of democracy" business was not going over with her!

I dashed over and headed off the argument, allowing him the victory. However, a certain amount of escalation followed, with people from their side coming over and people from our side stepping into the street to remain visible. Eventually, the police told everybody to stay on the sidewalk! That was a good thing!

Interestingly, many of the opponents were carrying Vermont flags, "Supporting Vermont" in the lawsuit. One opponent had a sign, "State's Rights Trump Feds." (You can see the sign in the this video.) I was a young adult in the 1970s, and the sight of counter-culture demonstrators with state flags and "state's rights" signs made my head spin!

I also knew that some of the people waving Vermont flags lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I live in Vermont, and I should have had a flag! After all, by supporting Vermont Yankee, I support clean air and a good economy for Vermont. I support Vermont!

Afterwards, some of us had breakfast together. We were a jolly and enthusiastic group, who felt we had made a difference. We had made nuclear supporters visible. People had honked and waved at us. We were a presence.

At breakfast, several people asked: "When are we going to do this again?"

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Robert Duncan said...

Thanks, Meredith, for this interesting & perceptive account of the dueling demonstrations. (Incidentally, I enjoy reading your blog all the time, to keep up with the VY controversy; but I rarely post comments.)

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you for reading the blog, and thank you for the comment!