March 22 is around the corner. On that day, the first that Vermont Yankee will be operating beyond its licensed 40 years, citizens from many states will be taking actions at different Entergy corporate headquarters across the country. Entergy’s VY corporate offices in Brattleboro will be the scene for one of those actions. Most likely, some people will get arrested.
But there will also be many people marching and rallying who will be legally exercising their First Amendment rights under the protection of both our Constitution and of our police. In fact, as plans for direct action were materializing and being communicated publicly, Vermont State Police Lt. Kraig Laporte, the station commander at the Brattleboro barracks, contacted organizers of these actions to see how they and the police could work together to minimize pandemonium and maximize safety. "Whatever side of the fence you’re on, it really doesn’t matter. Public safety is our foremost mission" he said in conversation. "We understand the desired scope of what is planned. How can we keep that safe?"
Organizers of the March 22 actions appreciate the need for safety of both citizen marchers and of the police who are in their midst. By sharing action plans as they materialized, organizers showed the authorities that they could know what to expect and what to prepare for. Now a mutual trust has been built because of this honest exchange of intent and information.
At the meeting between representatives of the SAGE alliance and the police, the specifics of arrest were being discussed. Everyone was agreeing that no one would try to run from the police, or resist them or try to trick them. There was a divergence on the subject of going limp. For an officer, if someone goes limp when they are being arrested, it means that they have a dead weight to carry or drag, which can easily cause back injury to the officer as well as injure the person who went limp. From the police point of view, it’s passive, but it’s still resisting arrest. Lt. Laporte noted that one activist explained how his principles compel him to not cooperate in an arrest. His resistance would not be aimed at the officers, but rather is a manifestation of his beliefs. Reflecting on this, Laporte said that understanding why someone does something like going limp doesn’t change the act of arresting them, but knowing that it’s not an act against the officer -- this could change the interaction between the officer and the protester.
In these days of ever more militarized police forces, police brutality against Occupiers in various cites, and ever increasing levels of electronic eavesdropping and data gathering, it is especially gratifying to discover that our local constabulary still see themselves as our peers and neighbors who are interested in preserving our Constitutional principles and serving the needs of our citizens. If only bad-actor corporations like Entergy could gain a little of that sort of understanding we might not be finding ourselves forced to take action to send them back to Louisiana.
As part of our March actions, there was a seven-mile evacuation walk from the Vernon reactor to Brattleboro on the first year anniversary of the Fukishima multi-reactor meltdown in Japan on March 11. As we were walking past the house of one Vernon resident, he and his young daughter came out of their house and he asked us, "Where are we going to get the power to replace Vermont Yankee?"
I stepped out of the march to respond, and after a moment or two we had shaken hands, introduced ourselves and started to talk. First, we talked about how Vermont wasn’t going to be buying any power from VY after March 21 -- not because the state prevented it, but because the free market system of power utilities did not trust Entergy enough to buy their power. We talked about how underfunding Efficiency Vermont is preventing us from realizing savings in electric use, savings that could equal up to a third of what we have been buying from VY under the about-to-expire contract. We talked about hydro, NIMBY, industrial wind installations, about natural gas and its ugly fracking underbelly.
Though we agreed on some of those issues, we disagreed on others. When the conversation drew to a close, it was clear that there wasn’t enough time to fully understand where each of us stood on these various topics. But it was clear that two people who seemingly are on opposite sides of a controversial issue can come together in the heat of the moment and still have a constructive, positive and friendly conversation. That little girl learned a beautiful lesson on citizenship from her father that day and it was an honor for me to be part of it. Interactions like this one and the ones between organizers and the police are actually serving to strengthen our community bonds and deepen our skills as active citizens.
The actions to close Vermont Yankee should not be seen as protests. These are positive, community building actions in solidarity with the State of Vermont which has clearly said that 40 years is enough. VY should close as scheduled. Entergy is the real nay-sayer. Entergy has defied its own reactor’s guidelines and now operates it at 120 percent of its designed capacity. Entergy is protesting Vermont’s vote of no confidence and is using its immense wealth and corporate lawyers to defy the will of the state.
Citizens should have no fear in joining the voices and actions saying no to Entergy Nuclear. Non-violence, cooperation, creative expression and relentless adherence to principles are some of the key hallmarks of this movement. There is a place here for everyone.