Civilly disobedient grandmothers

Ralph Waldo Emerson, famous 19th century idealist, upon finding his buddy Henry David Thoreau in the local jail: “Henry, what are you doing in there?”
Thoreau (in there for protesting a poll tax): “Ralph, what are you doing out there?”

Once again the clear will of the community is being spearheaded by a handful of especially dutiful citizens. This time it’s “the four grandmothers,” as they are styling themselves, who were found guilty in the recent trial of protesting the continued threat of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant by trespassing on its grounds.

Their argument was the “necessity defense”: closing Pilgrim is universally recognized as a job that needs doing and there appears to be no other way of getting it done. Thus the necessity of civil disobedience. The whole logic of government is to serve the interests of the people whose government it is. When it clearly fails to do that, when its laws prevent rather than uphold justice for the many, it is necessary to break them. As seems widely recognized with this trial, as with trials of past trespassers, the lawbreakers are right, the laws and those who uphold them, wrong.

The logic of closing down P ilgrim goes virtually undisputed. Its continued existence threatens the lives and the future of everyone around it, but especially those of us on this peninsula who are downwind of the plant much of the time and for whom, if there were an accident, there is no evacuation plan and, given the geography, none imaginable.

As we know, all of our town governments (that is, we the people in town meeting) have demanded that Pilgrim be closed. Our elected reps from the governor on down have demanded its closure. The governmental agency responsible for representing the people in regulating the nuclear industry, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (so-called) has ignored all such pleas.

If government were working properly in this case, as an expression and executor of the will of the people, the grandmothers could have remained home on their front porches knitting. Given the failure of government, it comes down to these four women, who have been fined and given suspended jail sentences.

There should be for all of us as we read the accounts of this trial a little bit of “What are we doing out here?”

Full disclosure: the author is a member of Down Cape Downwinders, an outer Cape group working to close down Pilgrim.


A bridge too many? The Vineyard state of mind.

If ever there was an issue crying out for a plebiscite, the proposed third bridge is it. The decision on this dubious improvement is crucial to the quality of life of everyone living on Cape Cod now and into the future. The people who will be most affected by it, for better or worse, should […]


The responsibility of the 99% to itself

All I’m getting these days is gloomy email about how, as bad as things have been with a small Democratic majority in the senate, it’s going to get worse because the Republicans are headed for a big victory. That’s gloomy for progressives; the Republicans are rubbing their hands in glee. The conservative billionaires seem to […]


Truro vs. a wealthy citizen

Truro’s protracted battle with the Klines continues. The issue in recent months is the $178,000 it had cost the town by July to attempt to enforce the law—that is, tear down this house declared illegal by the courts—and whether the town can afford to go on enforcing its own zoning. A former selectman (who happens […]


“Boyhood”: the drama of life as we know it

I finally got around to seeing the movie “Boyhood.” I assume a lot of people have seen it by now since it’s been playing on Cape for weeks. Someone asked me what it’s about and it wasn’t so easy to say. As much as anything, it’s about the passage of time. Its uniqueness is in […]


Ken Burns’ America: is there another one?

I assume a lot of us spent a lot of the evenings of last week watching Ken Burns’ latest American saga, “The Roosevelts.” By linking Teddy Roosevelt with his relatives Eleanor and FDR, “The Roosevelts” tells a story of our country covering more than a century— a lot more, if you think of us as […]


Our curious lack of curiosity about NStar spraying

NStar, persevering in its bad neighbor policy, in late August publicized a list of the next victims of its herbicide spraying of plants in its power lines right-of-way. All Cape towns have officially objected to this practice, along with all our legislators, but the virtually universal condemnation falls on deaf ears. NStar and the relevant […]


Nantucket’s school-age population growing, Cape’s shrinking. What’s going on?

“School boom on Nantucket; Student population soars as immigrant population takes root.” Who knew? It was interesting to learn from Saturday’s “Cape Cod Times” front page story that while Cape schools are shrinking, part of the much-lamented youth flight, Nantucket’s are bursting at the seams. “Some public schools on Cape Cod have closed as families […]


Rooting for the deadly underdogs

September averages the busiest month for hurricanes. This year, however, for the second year in a row, the news is the lack of the huge and often deadly storms. You can detect the note of disappointment as weathermen and weather journalists watch those low pressure “waves” coming off the west coast of Africa, encountering hostile […]


Creativity and the bearing of fardels

The meaning of Labor Day, insofar as it means anything these days, is about kicking back, eating hotdogs, drinking beer, in general giving ourselves a “well- earned rest” from our labors. Something like that. Labor is the hard stuff and pleasure is its reward. But there is a school of thought that argues that that’s […]