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.

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