Friday, November 23, 2007


Thirty years ago today, I was arrested by the state police on the banks of the Columbia River. I wasn't alone. Ninety-five other people were also cuffed and carted off the grounds of the Trojan Nuclear Plant after refusing to stop blocking it's gates, in the largest act of civil disobedience in Oregon's history anyone could remember. For context, this was two years before the Three Mile Island disaster, and nine years before the devastation at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The general public believed nukes provided clean and efficient fuel, and had little reason to doubt the authorities. The Mighty Atom was our little buddy!

Startling data from the scientific community was roundly ignored by government and big business in line to make a profit. A grassroots group of environmentalists, the Trojan Decomissioning Alliance (TDA), countered the official story through educational outreach at schools and in the community. TDA was a lively bunch of activists, fired up with the spirit that we could change the world, or at least our small part of it. We met in an old church in Southeast Portland, hashing out politics and environmental news, and mapping strategy over bulk food and jugs of apple juice from nearby landmark Corno's, or beers at a local pub well into the night.

Good people, high spirits. Although decisions were made in a utopian, if tedious, consensus process, we were lucky to have staffer Norman Solomon, now a noted author and media critic with a weekly syndicated column. Norman is a great guy and a good organizer, a "non-leader" willing to roll up his sleeves for the necessary gruntwork.

The decision to commit civil disobedience came after a hand-wringing consensus session, and I can still picture the tattered copy of Thoreau that contributed to the exhausting debate. On Civil Disobedience, a classic that should be required reading.

After weeks and weeks of debating, non-violent training, role-playing, interviews with lawyers and civil rights activists, late night guitar-playing parties, and soul-searching preparation for the possibility of jail, the day finally arrived. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and misty in the morning. I had turkey sandwiches in my backpack, and so did a lot of others, though there was a large vegetarian contingent. Someone brought apple juice from Corno's and we passed a jug around. The cooling tower rose from the mist like Mt. Doom. It started to drizzle. We blocked the gate.

Cut to the chase. We were arrested, handcuffed, and dragged to police buses. In captivity, we sang songs, rapped, played soccer with a rolled-up T-shirt.

"We were elated by the trial," said Norman Solomon, in his book, "Made Love, Got War." "It turned out to be the last time the DA went along with allowing extensive testimony on the dangers of nuclear power...the Trojan Decomissioning Alliance redoubled it's media outreach to challenge the usual arguments for nuclear energy." There were more arrests, at later occupations, and a total of 272 occupiers were dispersed to jails in seven counties.

The first trial presented to the public several days of expert testimony from a number of leading scientists and expert witnesses. Lon Topaz, former head of the Oregon Department of Energy, testified that the Trojan plant posed an imminent danger to the public. He said it should be shut down.

Performing community service wasn't so bad. In fact, sending organizers out into the community may not have been the brightest idea the authorities ever had. We met more people that way and they realized we weren't scary tree-hugging freaks they had been warned about. Many of them didn't like being downriver from the nuke plant to begin with, and they told us so.

That was thirty years ago today.

A brief film of the final days:

Norman Solomon's books:


Patti said...

Ha! *24* years ago, I took a class at Evergreen called Perspectives in Non-Violent Action, from an activist ex-Jesuit priest named Don Foran. We studied you guys! :) I also wrote the best paper in the class, about how to put together actions that made people identify with issues and understand how their own lives were impacted, rather than doing the in-your-face stuff that turns people away. Wish we could figure out how to do something about the huge mega-corporations now. Clorox just bought Burt's Bees.

Bob Rini said...

Wow, that's great, Patti. One for the history books, eh? It's amazing how many things have changed since then, but how many of the core issues remain the same. We had/have a deeply divided society; a highly unpopular war; a president who took office without receiving the popular vote; uptight, morally preachy fundamentalists; a secretive, self-serving leadership; and an environmental crisis. It's like a time machine that doesn't really work. Come on, Science! We were supposed to be living in domed city utopias by now!

Mister Manifesto said...

Wow, who knew you were such a rabble rouser?

Clorox just bought Burt's Bees? NOOO!

Bob Rini said...

Ha! You want Utopia and you get Fruitopia.