Jon Duncanson, 25, stared out at the Pacific. Two years ago, what had happened at Love Canal and Three Mile Island had made him feel that time was running out. Now he stood on a beach 10 miles south of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, where, over the next week, would occur a major event in the American anti-nuke movement an elaborate 10-day protest, in which a record-breaking 1,850 persons would be arrested.
The Abalone Alliance, a loose coalition of 60 anti-nuke organizations, had vowed back in March 1979 to “blockade” the plant to prevent workers from getting in when it came time to bring the plant on line. Located about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, the plant had been fifteen years in the making–and constructed as it was on an earthquake fault line–15 years in the protesting. To date it had cost $2.4 billion.
Early indications suggested that as many as 30,000 protesters might participate in the blockade, a figure that sent shock waves down the spines of local law enforcement. In fact, as Duncanson and his five companions inflated Zodiac rafts to practice rough-surf landings for their part in the blockade, seven obvious lawmen from various agencies watched. The guy from the FBI took pictures through a telephoto lens.
Duncanson and the others were part of the Abalone Alliance as well as members of Greenpeace, a radical organization that has become symbolic of a new trend in the environmental movement: civil disobedience, salted with the threat of outright violence. Greenpeace studiously disavows any interest in breaking the law, but its record suggests otherwise. Members have been arrested and detained and their boats seized all over the world.
Greenpeace International, based in Washington D.C., is their well-financed umbrella organization, and it operates something like a granting agency. For example, Duncanson and the others submitted a proposal–budget, objectives, etc.–and got the money to go ahead. Three members would act as “support” people, and three others would pilot the Zodiacs. Duncanson was one.
Then there was Jay McManus, 26. He had been the support man for a Greenpeace action in Japan that, after elaborate plotting, resulted in the release of hundreds of captured dolphins scheduled for slaughter. And then there was Désirée Crockett, 23, totally at home handling anything from fancy nautical knots to the carburetor on a Suzuki outboard. Her only worry was that an arrest record might keep her out of the merchant marines.
Together they would lead a kind of environmental Normandy Omaha Beach invasion that would land Abalone Alliance people on the beach. The protesters would then disappear into the hills around the nuclear facility on the chance that a wrinkle in the plant’s license might not permit a start-up as long as civilians were wandering around the property.
The Coast Guard had established a “safety zone” offshore of the plant, and violating it could lead to massive federal penalties, plus confiscation of craft. Drawing diagrams in the sand, Duncanson sketched out a plan for a three-day action. On day one, they’d head out for a chartered schooner, the Stone Witch–just arrived from San Francisco and pick up protesters to bring in to shore. On the second day, they’d do the same. By then, Duncanson figured, the Coast Guard would have sensed a pattern. So on the third morning, Greenpeace would move the schooner and make elaborate preparations, as if to launch again.
Instead, however, they would have kept other Zodiacs on the shore to the south of the plant. When the Coast Guard’s attention was distracted, these would launch and race up the coast, hugging the shoreline and discharging a flock of demonstrators. Duncanson rubbed out the elaborate diagram he had drawn in the sand. The action would start tomorrow. Today they would just take a little run up the coast and reconnoiter the terrain.
It was a plan entirely in keeping with Greenpeace’s international reputation for being, if nothing else, sly. The classic story involves the time their major ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was seized off the coast of Spain during a whaling protest. The Spanish towed the Rainbow Warrior into port, removed the main propeller shaft and levied a massive fine.
Stuck in port, the Greenpeace people first smuggled the necessary repair parts on board and rebuilt the drive train. But they were still facing into the dock, the wrong direction for a quick getaway. So they asked the authorities if they could repaint the ship. Of course, the Spanish said.
After all, at that point, it looked like the government was about to own the vessel. Greenpeace neatly painted one side and then asked permission to turn the ship around, pointing seaward, so they could paint the other side. The Spanish were happy to oblige. In the dead of night, the Rainbow Warrior, its prop shaft secretly repaired, bolted for the open ocean. The Spanish navy, in hot pursuit, nonetheless lost them.
That’s the way Greenpeace has always played it. And that’s why, when it comes to the fundamental question of style and tactics within the environmental movement–the notion of active versus passive–Greenpeace is always associated with the former.
While Greenpeace was reconnoitering, the Abalone Alliance was preparing to break camp and start their land blockade. Their encampment at Diablo Canyon was something of a time warp. While Greenpeace was out playing like the marines, a guy in the Alliance camp, wearing tie-dyed pajamas and a feather headdress, was announcing: “Rebirthing! Rebirthing exercises, ten minutes, next to the medical tent! Please bring your own blanket!”
The encampment was an answer to the question, Where did all the hippies go? They were all there, poised for action in the hills above Diablo Canyon. There was probably more holistic health available in the campground than in all of Berkeley. Whether you wanted shiatsu, polarity therapy or simply a bit of Rolfing, it was on-site.
There was a half-kilowatt photovoltaic panel to power the PA system, and all organic garbage was being composted. The food from the central kitchen was strictly vegetarian, and anywhere you looked, it seemed there was a group of people standing in a circle, arms around each other, swaying and usually singing, either newly composed anti-nuke songs or older protest songs from the Sixties.
On the surface, it looked as if the camp had been frozen in time 15 years ago, but on closer examination, the Abalone Alliance could be divided into two very different age groups. There was the 17-to-25-year-old bracket. For them, this was the first real opportunity for institutional civil disobedience. And then there was the older (35 and up) contingent.