What I Told the Democrats, and Why

There’s one Democratic Party candidate for Congress whose annoying emails just pushed me over the edge. But the Democratic Party is routinely guilty of this, and I’ve gotten off many of the lists of their various front groups. And probably, so are the Republicans (I’m not on their lists).

As I moved a full 100 emails received in the past month from this candidate’s organization or the Democratic Party on behalf of this candidate, I noted once again the in-your-face headlines. Here are just some of the examples from just the past week, in the order I received them (spacing, emoticons, and capitalization in the originals):

  • Special Election RUINED
  • TERRIFYING prediction
  • this just got WORSE (Paul Ryan)
  • ? Paul Ryan = FURIOUS ?
  • please, please, PLEASE
  • HUGE mistake
  • No!!!!!!!
  • R U I N E D

I’m a copywriter. I know what this candidate’s team is doing, and why. I know which hot buttons they are trying to push. But just as too much of the finest food still gives you a bellyache, too much hot-button-pushing makes the mechanism seize up. I’ve received 14 separate messages since Sunday morning (I’m writing this on Tuesday morning). It feels like marketing by assault rifle.

My response mechanism seized up. I put them on the not-giving-any-more-money list and unsubscribed. The form asked for a reason, and here’s what I wrote:

I don’t like your constant-crisis approach. I just deleted 100 emails from you all screaming at me, most unopened. I’m really sick of “the Republicans are out to get us, send us money again.” And also sick of “we’re on the verge of victory, send us more money.” I wish [Candidate name] well and hope he wins, but I want the Dems and especially [Candidate name] to market to me via intelligence and not fear. I am a marketer and have run successful campaigns.

Can’ we be better than this? I want candidates who will tell me what they will do FOR their district and their country, and not just that a powerful opponent hates them.

A citizen votes. Photo by Kristen Price.

A citizen votes. Photo by Kristen Price.

Remember: you are in someone’s email box because of the recipient’s good graces. Don’t abuse the relationship or overstay your welcome. If you annoy, you don’t get read, and eventually, you lose a subscriber. You could even find yourself blacklisted for spam.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Copywriting, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Politics, propaganda, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , ,

What I Told the DT Administration: Business Case for Paris Accord

Here’s a letter I wrote to US Cabinet Secretaries Tillerson, Perry, and Pruitt (State, Energy, EPA), and to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (with a different subject line). Please write your own letter. You are welcome to model mine. Click to send an email directly to Pruitt and Perry and link to Tillerson’s contact form.

"I wrote a letter to the US government" (picture of handwriting)

“I wrote a letter to the US government”

As a business owner, I ask that you maintain the US’s role in the Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Accord marks a wonderful opportunity for American business to make headway against the widespread perception that European businesses are more environmentally focused. American businesses cannot win back the international market share they’ve lost to environmentally forward-thinking European companies if our own government is seen as sabotaging progress. It would not even shock me if, should the US pull out, activists start organizing boycotts on all US-based companies. Boycotts like this are economically disastrous for the US, just as similar boycotts created enormous pressure on South Africa during the apartheid years and are now beginning to affect the economy of Israel over its presence in Palestinian territories.

I am a consultant to green and social change companies, and I see the positive bottom-line impacts of meeting or exceeding climate goals over and over again. Industries have found that climate mitigation, done right, lowers costs and boosts revenues, thus increasing profitability. I recently attended a conference with speakers from Nestlé, IBM, Google, Pirelli, Coca-Cola, Paypal, clothing manufacturer VFC, and many other global corporations, and the message from every speaker was about the bottom-line benefit of greening their company. This is why companies as diverse as Monsanto, Intel, Dupont and General Mills are among the 1000 companies that signed a public letter this winter urging the US to stay in the Paris agreement.

Progress on climate will also have beneficial effects in the wallets of ordinary Americans–because it will improve health. Reducing asthma and other carbon-related diseases means more discretionary spending and thus an economic boost.

Finally, the long-term picture of addressing climate change in a meaningful way means the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the energy, manufacturing, and agriculture/food sectors as well as a more livable world for our children and grandchildren. If anything, the Paris targets should be seen as a starting point. And if the US embraces this fully and uses its technological leadership, it will create market opportunities around the world for US companies selling the technologies to make this transition.


Shel Horowitz – “The Transformpreneur”(sm)
Watch (and please share) my TEDx Talk,
“Impossible is a Dare: Business for a Better World”

Contact me to bake in profitability while addressing hunger,
poverty, war, and catastrophic climate change

Twitter: @shelhorowitz

* First business ever to be Green America Gold Certified
* Inducted into the National Environmental Hall of Fame

mailto:shel@greenandprofitable.com * 413-586-2388
Award-winning, best-selling author of 10 books. Latest:
Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson)


Posted in Activism, Corporate Social Responsibility, Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Green Business, language, Politics, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sustainable Flooring Options for 21 st Century Designers

(Guest Post) Sustainable builds are environmentally sensitive and use less energy. Solar energy is a commonly used strategy for harnessing sunlight to generate electricity, and in some parts of the world, wind power is equally as effective. However, while these strategies are a step in the right direction, designers need to look beyond the obvious and put more effort into using sustainable materials for their architectural projects.



Cork Flooring

Cork is a sustainable material. It is warm underfoot and nice and soft to stand on, which makes it a popular choice for the modern home. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree. When sourced from a renewable forest, cork is harvested without causing any lasting damage. Cork bark grows back quickly, so it is eco-friendly. The only downside is that it is not as long lasting as some types of flooring.


Bamboo grows incredibly quickly and is regarded as a sustainable building product all over the world. Bamboo forests are fully rejuvenated four years after a harvest so bamboo flooring is eco-friendly and a great alternative to natural hardwood flooring. Bamboo is easy to maintain and can be treated just like timber. The downside to bamboo is that it only grows in certain areas of the world, so importing bamboo to North America generates carbon emissions.

Decomposed Granite Aggregate

Decomposed granite aggregates are a green solution for commercial environments. A range of different materials, including granite, glass, porcelain, asphalt and concrete, are crushed to size and used as a replacement for natural stone. The resultant aggregate can be used to create water permeable pavers and paver grit, which absorb rainfall back into the water table and prevent flooding and runoff. When white quartz, porcelain, and birchwood are used to create a roofing material, energy costs are lowered due to reduced heat absorption.

Recycled Glass

Recycled glass is an attractive flooring material for commercial and residential environments. Glass comes from local recycling initiatives and can be re-used to make glass tiles. This saves tons of waste glass bottles and jars from ending up in landfill sites. The main disadvantage of using recycled glass tiles is that they can be expensive and tricky to install.

Recycled Rubber

Recycled rubber tires can be repurposed to make rubber matting and tiles for commercial flooring. Rubber has excellent shock absorbency properties, it is water resistant, and it lasts for around 20 years before it needs replacing. Before investing in rubber tiles and matting, make sure you source products made from recycled materials rather than new rubber.

Reclaimed Timber

Timber is not eco-friendly unless it comes from sustainable forests. Unfortunately, some hardwood flooring is irresponsibly harvested from forests where trees are not replaced, so it is not an eco-friendly option. One solution is to use reclaimed timber flooring instead of new hardwood. Reuse wood from old buildings or boats. It will look beautiful and be far kinder to the environment than alternate options. Pre-seasoned wood is also less prone to natural movement once installed.

Choose your flooring wisely, as some options are not as eco-friendly as they first appear.

The author wishes to remain anonymous. The siteowner was compensated for one of the links in this article.

Posted in Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Living/Green Lifestyles

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (Part 5, Fighting the Battle Again)

Chernobyl and Fukushima

Chernobyl rendered a big swath of Ukraine uninhabitable. While a few more travelers are gaining permission to enter the dead zone, nobody lives there, and nothing you’d want to eat grows there.

After that disaster, the nuclear industry experienced a long series of accidents that could have been very serious, but were contained.

Then came Fukushima.

While it wasn’t nearly as destructive as Chernobyl, it still contaminated a 11,500-square-mile area and required the permanent evacuation of 230 square miles (evicting—and causing massive economic loss to—159,128 people). Much agricultural land had to be abandoned. Japan shut of most of its nukes for several years, causing great economic stress and forcing more intensive use of carbon fuels to replace the lost energy in a hurry.

And the world discovered that nuclear power plants, which are usually located next to water for cooling purposes, are not designed to withstand a significant flood.

I had written my first book about why nuclear power makes no sense, published all the way back in 1980. Following Fukushima, a Japanese publisher tracked me down and asked about bringing it back into print. I researched and wrote ten-page update that convinced me that nuclear power is still an absolutely terrible technology. If you’d like a copy, please download at http://greenandprofitable.com/why-nuclear-still-makes-no-sense/


Zombie Nukes are Back from the Dead

The safe energy movement made nuclear energy too expensive economically and politically for many years. But all of a sudden, the zombie power plants are back from the dead.

The two-reactor Watts-Bar plant in Tennessee was permitted back in 1973, but even more than most nukes, it was plagued by delays. Unit 1 took 23 years, going on-grid in 1996. Unit 2 took another 20 years, going online in late 2016. No US nuclear plants went online between those two dates. And meanwhile, these plants use obsolete, unsafe, 1970s design—a frightening specter.

A newer design, the Westinghouse AP1000, was selected for the two double reactors permitted during the George W. Bush years in Georgia and South Carolina. The idea was to prefabricate much of the reactor and thus shave time and costs. Instead, however, the plants have faced delays of many years, massive cost overruns, safety crises, and the resulting bankruptcy of Westinghouse (and near-collapse of parent company Toshiba).

The crazy thing is this: never mind the safety issues, the citizen opposition, or all the other stuff—why would anyone want to tie up billions of dollars for a decade or more constructing an n-plant that will never be economically competitive, uses unproven technology, and generates enormous opposition? There are very good market-based reasons why the US nuclear industry shriveled up after Three Mile Island. It’s hard to imagine any sane company or investors going there.


The Carbon-Friendly Magic Bullet Myth

The last several years, some environmentalists have embraced nuclear because they think it’s a big step forward on the path to a low-carbon planetary diet.

But they’re wearing blinders:

  1. Why do we want to reduce our carbon footprint? To protect the earth! Ask people who used to live near Chernobyl or Fukushima and were forced to evacuate if they think nuclear protects the earth.
  2. It takes over a decade to get a nuclear plant built and generating power—and that’s when everything goes smoothly (which is almost never, as we’ve seen). Climate change is an emergency and we can’t wait decades to solve it.
  3. We can lower that carbon a lot faster by investing in true green solutions. Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins notes that dollars invested in conservation and renewables will reduce carbon up to 10 times as effectively and 40 times faster than dollars invested in nuclear. I quote his figures in some depth on Page 10 of the Fukushima update.
  4. Nuclear has quite a bit more carbon impact than most people realize. Every step in the process other than actually running the fuel through the reactor—and there at least eight other steps—adds to the carbon footprint (and consumes fuel, too): mining, milling, transportation, processing, building the reactor and the massive concrete containment vessel, removing the spent fuel, storing it for 250,000 years, etc. (It’s still less than fossil fuel, but it’s far from zero.)


The “Gen 4 Will Be Safe” Myth

The thorium and pebble-bed technologies do look better than the old boiling-water or pressurized-water designs, from my non-scientist/informed layperson’s perspective. BUT they are untested. And they will also take at best more than 20 years to come online, if all goes well (and history indicates that I probably won’t).

We know this: the Generation II nukes were supposed to be much safer than the Generation I plants, even though they were rated to generate up to 10 times as much electricity, and thus were built much more massively, with more things to go wrong. Gen II plants failed at Fukushima. A Gen II plant came close to failing several times at Vermont Yankee. Even when that plant was new, its safety report to the federal government was extremely disturbing, going on to document incidents for many pages within the first year.

Cooling tower failure, Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee cooling tower fails, 2008. Photo by ISC ALC, Creative Commons license

The European Commission claimed at the time I wrote the update that Generation IV are the first nukes to be built with public safety integrated from the beginning. That creates yet another reason to shut down all the Gen I, II, and III plants (which are aging, going brittle, and increasing the danger to us)—and second, makes me wonder if in 20 years, after some of these plants have gone online and experienced catastrophic failures, if some scientists won’t be spouting similar rhetoric about Generation VI or VIII plants being the first to really be safe. The needle keeps moving on nuclear safety, as each previous reactor technology starts to fail.

Interestingly, the link I used in my post-Fukushima update now redirects to a page that does not make this claim, and in May, 2017, I couldn’t find anything about safety being built in to the new reactor designs anywhere on the organization’s website.


Lessons for Today’s Movements

We’d need a whole book to cover all the lessons today’s activists can bring back from the Clamshell experience. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Don’t just be against things; propose and organize for positive alternatives—and incorporate this in the framing you offer the media, the public, and to your opponents
  • Remember not just your short-term goals but also the ultimate goals. Clam had a short-term goal of stopping the plant and a medium-term goal of stopping nuclear power nationally and globally. But Clamshell also had positive long-term goals. On energy, the goal was not simply to build a non-nuclear power plant but to power society through a variety of clean and renewable technologies—and on process, to move the whole society in a more democratic inclusive direction
  • Organizing works best when you find ways of bringing the issues to the unconvinced—while not neglecting the deeply committed
  • You can find allies where you weren’t expecting to
  • When organizing people through active nonviolence, it will be much easier to win people over to your side; if you switch to violence, you’ll lose much of your natural constituency and your work will be harder
  • Enforcing a rule that participants must be trained for actions with personal risk (such as arrests or physical harm) is a very good idea
  • Agree on a governance structure, and stick to it (unless you get the whole group’s agreement to change it)
  • Perhaps most important of all—understand that whether most of your movement believe you can win or believe you will fail, you’re probably right. Come in with the attitude that you WILL succeed, and the chances of succeeding become much higher. Stress this in all your outreach. Phrase things positively but realistically; don’t promise overnight results you can’t achieve. Emphasize that your fight is a long-term struggle, and publicly celebrate every small victory along the way.
Posted in Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Greenwashing, propaganda, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , ,

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (Part 4: Shifts in the Culture)

Part 4 of a series of reminiscences of the April 30/May 1, 1977 occupation at the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant construction site, and its aftermath. If you missed Part 1, read it here, and then follow the links to Parts 2 and 3.

How Clamshell Changed the Consensus on Nuclear Safety

Remember the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in March 1979? How about Chernobyl in the Ukraine, 1986, or Fukushima, Japan, 2011?

Of course you know about these three accidents. They received extensive news coverage at the time, and now they’re part of our history.

But unless you’re actively involved in the safe energy movement, you probably never heard of the near disasters at the Enrico Fermi breeder reactor in Michigan in 1966, or the one at Brown’s Ferry, Alabama, in 1975. These were at least as serious as TMI. In fact, there have been at least 100 potentially devastating nuclear accidents since humans began harnessing “the peaceful atom” to generate electricity.

But one important thing had changed between 1975 and 1999. By the time of TMI, nuclear power safety questions had become newsworthy. Why were they suddenly newsworthy? We can’t know the answer for certain, but I’d say the odds are very good that it was because of Clamshell and the national citizen action movement it sparked. Those efforts caused a lot more people to learn about nuclear power, and to become scared, and to take action, which inspired more people, etc.

In other words, the 1414 of us who got arrested, and the roughly 600 involved supporters who kept the lines of communication open between those of us inside and the wider world, made a difference not just in the immediate struggle but in the national consciousness. We uncorked the bottle with our questioning and our very public action, and once that bottle was uncorked, the magic spread. As a country, we learned to question the authority of nuclear utilities and of the regulators who granted them permission. We learned that the system was not protecting us. We made the issue of nuclear safety important enough to the media that they reported immediately on what was happening at TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission admits this. Tom Wellock, a historian there, told the Boston Globe,

What happened with the Clamshell Alliance at Seabrook is that it really nationalized consciousness about nuclear power and inspired similar groups around the country. Their influence on policy-makers certainly mattered.

Rebecca Solnit notes, “Sixty-six nuclear power plants were cancelled in the wake of Clamshell.”

And Harvey Wasserman, one of the safe energy movement’s early activists and chroniclers, noted in 2007 that the protests led to an important secondary impact:

Inspired in part by the protests, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas’s China Syndrome, happened to open in theaters just as TMI went to the brink. The industry took the double body blow of a terrifying disaster and a Hollywood blockbuster.

What Clamshell Changed About Later Activism (Occupy, DT resistance, Sugar Shack Alliance, etc.)

Organizationally, Clamshell Alliance provided many lessons to later social change struggles. Nonviolent resistance in the US—the iconic strategy of the Civil Rights movement—had been fairly dormant since the US military pulled out of Vietnam in 1975. Clam revived it, and our spiritual younger siblings around the country like the Abalone Alliance in California and the Sunflower Alliance in Kansas spread it far and wide.

Interestingly, a group of disillusioned protestors, impatient with the slowness of nonviolent struggle, formed the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook in 1979—a group willing to use property destruction and to physically battle with law enforcement. CDAS’s actions were failures, serving mostly to discredit the protestors in the eyes of some locals—a failure that would be repeated in “The Battle in Seattle,” a protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999 where the small number of violent protestors dominated the media coverage and alienated many people.

Later struggles, such as Tiananmen Square and Arab Spring, returned to committed, principled nonviolence. This was also much in evidence in the South African struggle against its apartheid government in the 1980s (though not all elements were nonviolent).

Many movements in this current decade of the 2010s built directly on Clamshell’s process and tactics: Occupy, the stop-fossil-fuel-pipelines struggle (including Standing Rock), and the intersectional movement of resistance against the Trump administration.

Occupy’s ultra-democratic process no-leader, with innovations such as using a human chorus as a microphone to repeat a statement so others could hear, would probably never have evolved if it weren’t for the process innovations of Clam.

From that article by Rebecca Solnit linked above:

Their spirit and their creative new approach inspired activists around the country and helped generate a movement…Clamshell Alliance and many of the antinuclear groups that followed developed non-hierarchical, direct-democracy methods of organizing since used by activists and movements throughout the U.S. and beyond, including Occupy Wall Street, whose consensus-based general assemblies owed a lot to a bunch of hippies no one remembers.

Pipeline opponents took many leaves from Clamshell’s playbook, including naming their resistance groups. For example, the name of the Sugar Shack Alliance near me, contesting pipelines across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, reminds us that gas and oil pipelines threaten the maple sugaring industry—as does the severe climate change that fossil fuel infrastructure enables. Members pledge to train in nonviolent resistance and its code of conduct (click Nonviolence Training on the group’s home page) is almost identical to Clamshell’s 40 years earlier. In fact, just this week, 18 people were arrested at a Sugar Shack Alliance sit-in to protect trees in Otis (MA) State Forest that the pipeline company had gotten federal permission to cut down (in violation of state law). Meanwhile, in North Dakota, Water Protectors at Standing Rock opposed to a different pipeline waged a months-long occupation combining Native American spirituality and deep nonviolence in the face of serious repression.

And the post-election resistance understands the power of multiple sustained actions and on addressing multiple issues and constituencies while focusing on a more targeted immediate goal. It’s exciting to see these movements (and to participate in some).

Activists for a Lifetime

Clam not only changed the landscape in terms of resistance to nuclear power, but also changed the lives of many (perhaps all) who were involved. Over the years, I’ve constantly discovered that many people who were doing some of the best organizing work in sector after sector turn out to be Clamshell alumni. And as I prepare to attend a Clamshell reunion this weekend, I look at the list of attenders (and their email signatures) and I see that lots of them are still deeply involved in social change (as I am). I was one of the younger Clams, so many of these folks are well into their 60s and beyond.

My own life was impacted in lots of ways. One of those was my decision to live in an intentional community populated heavily with Clam veterans steeped in nonviolence theory and practice—the group that had developed the small-to-large consensus process, in fact. I lived at the Philadelphia Life Center in 1980-81, and learned much about meeting process, social change theory, and how personal growth can integrate with organizing.

A second was Save the Mountain, the movement I founded in 1999 (and devoted more than a year of volunteer time to) that saved our local mountain. I used many tools I’d learned at Seabrook and in that later nonviolent activist community.

Climate marchers in front of Trump Hotel, Washington DC 4-29-17 (Clamshell Alliance's spiritual heirs)

Climate marchers in front of Trump Hotel, Washington DC 4-29-17 (Clamshell Alliance’s spiritual heirs)

More recently, starting in 2013, I’ve focused my career on combining both marketing and community organizing to achieve social change and environmental justice: leveraging the business community to turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance—not through guilt and shame, but harnessing enlightened self-interest. Among other things, this involves helping businesses develop and market profitable products and services that directly address these goals.

Nuclear’s Deep Sleep (only 1/10 of Nixon’s goal)

The final impact I want to discuss (there were others) was the end of the industry’s dream Richard Nixon called for 1000 nuclear plants in the US; it topped out at 112 and is now at 99 or 100. And nuclear power plant construction ground to a nearly complete halt for decades. After 1996, the next new commercial reactor in the US only went online in 2016. Four are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, but these have been plagued by cost overruns, delays, manufacturing issues, and horrible economics including a bankruptcy by the reactor designer, Westinghouse, directly related to these projects; experts predict that they will never go online. Meanwhile, several plants including Vermont Yankee won a license extension from the NRC only to close just a few years later.

This series will wrap up with Part 5, on the current state of nuclear power and how the safe energy movement can organize to block a “zombie nuclear return from the dead.” Stay tuned!

Posted in People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (part 3—Inside the Armories)

Part 3: Inside the Armories

Part 3 of a series of reminiscences of the April 30/May 1, 1977 occupation at the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant construction site, and its aftermath. If you missed Part 1, read it hereAt the bottom of that page, you’ll find a link to Part 2, and at the bottom of Part 2, a link back here.

In Manchester at least, we were all held in one big room. Each affinity group had an area, and we kept our own areas clean. All the poles that held up the ceiling were numbered, so we had an easy system to identify our locations within the large floor.

Small-to-Large-Group Consensus Decisions

Have you ever tried to get even 70 people to agree on anything? Even with 700 people in the Manchester Armory, we maintained a commitment to consensus; we did not move forward organizationally until everyone was OK with the decision. That didn’t mean everyone was in total agreement, but it did mean that the people who preferred another choice were OK with going forward after their concerns were heard. We had numerous decision-making meetings about strategy, about the roles of our support people on the outside, and about how we were being presented to the world. And consistently, we were able to reach rapid consensus.

How? By using hubs and spokes on top of the affinity group structure: Each affinity group selected a spokesperson to represent our views to a circle of spokespeople. The representative was not empowered to make decisions on our behalf, but to express our views and bring the views of other groups back to the affinity hubs to discuss whatever issues those other groups’ spokespeople had brought up.

Over and over, this structure, which sounds cumbersome and slow from a distance, proved to work well and work quickly. We settled even the most complex decisions through consensus, and that consensus was always achieved within two hours or less—sometimes just a few minutes. And because every issue or concern was explored, and we only implemented after no one was blocking, the decisions we reached carried weight and took root smoothly and rapidly; no one was trying to sabotage them, because we all felt ownership of the process.

Creating a Learning Community

Another exciting piece was the way we took advantage of our time together in a confined empty space to teach and learn from each other. You could call it “University Within Walls.”

Detainees offered a myriad of workshops around energy issues, green living/self-sufficiency, creating inclusive and active communities, environmental justice, and social change. All of us had expertise in something, and many were willing to share their knowledge. Some of the offerings, as I remember them:

  • Nonviolence theory and practice
  • Understanding the mechanics of—and problems with—nuclear power
  • Building quick, cheap and easy do-it-yourself alternative energy projects
  • Organic food production and preparation
  • Organizing and fundraising skills
  • How to get media coverage
  • Strategy of social change
  • Meeting facilitation that works

Workshop leaders would put up notices or announce sessions at meetings, including the nearest pole number.

From what I could see, it looked like nearly all the detainees were taking advantage of this opportunity, so almost all of us emerged from our incarceration with more knowledge and better skills. And from what I heard afterward, similar education was happening in the other armories. This is probably one reason why so many Clamshell Alliance folks have remained involved in social change all these decades later.

Reaching Past the Choir

A few days into our incarceration, some of us started realizing that we had a captive audience for our message: the young National Guard reservists called up to ensure security and order. Since we were all trained in nonviolence and a pretty orderly group—other than two detainees who sneaked out, made a run to the nearest Haagen Dazs, and were re-arrested bringing back ice cream to share—they didn’t have a lot to do.

Unlike these National guardsmen of 1852, our primitive accommodations inside the armories included indoor plumbing. Picture credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections

Unlike these National guardsmen of 1852, our primitive accommodations inside the armories included indoor plumbing. Picture credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections

So a lot of us started hanging out with the Guardsmen (I don’t remember any women in uniform) and chatting them up. We asked some questions about what being in the Guard was like, what they liked to do in their spare time—and what they knew and felt about nuclear power and our protest.

Clamshell was deep in the counterculture, with new ways to make decisions, a willingness to challenge any authority, and the scruffy hippie look of 1970s activism. Yet, among this very non-counterculture audience, we found most of them open to talking, and some of them open to changing their positions. As Rolling Stone described it back then, “But the prisoners hung on, politicizing their jailers, the guardsmen, whom they treated as friends.

For me, that was the only the second time I’d reached across to people I saw as “on the other side.” The first was at a peace demonstration at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, a couple of years earlier. It had felt like a revolutionary act, humanizing each other and finding places of commonality while defusing tension. Since then, it’s been a part of my social change toolkit.

Part 4 will look at what Clamshell and the Seabrook Occupation accomplished in the wider world, the ripples of impact we had that continue to this day.

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, localism/locavore, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , ,

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (part 2—Outside the Armories)

Part 2 of a series of reminiscences of the April 30/May 1, 1977 occupation at the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant construction site, and its aftermath. If you missed Part 1, read it here.

The Nuclear Controversy Makes the News

In 1977, the vast majority of Americans had never looked into the arcane technical issues around nuclear power. The government told us this technology was safe, and most of us believed them. Three years earlier, I had taken on a research project for a college class on the pros and cons of nuclear power—and I discovered as I read several obscure books on the subject that there were a lot of cons, and no pros. But I was a tiny minority. What few news stories there were mostly pretty rah-rah. I’d never seen any media coverage about nuclear’s serious problems, accident history, or economic house of cards.

All that changed while we were in the armories. We got tons of coverage of the movement, and some reporters decided to look into our claims. As they saw that our resistance had merit, the culture shifted, and the media began to help us prove our case.

Impact on New Hampshire

New Hampshire was a very quiet place in 1977. Its population was much more rural and it didn’t have a lot of criminal justice infrastructure. The reason we were kept in National Guard armories rather than jailed was because 1414 arrestees far outstripped the capacity of New Hampshire’s jails and corrections officers; the state normally had about one third as many prisoners. Governed by Republicans who favored a libertarian ideology when it was convenient, the state had (and still has) no sales tax and a very lean budget. When they arrested us, they clearly expected us to make bail and go back where we came from until we came back for our court dates and patronized local hotels and restaurants in the process.

But in those strategy circles I described yesterday in Part 1, we decided as a group to do “bail solidarity”—to not post the modest bails and to stay as unwanted guests of the state. For several days, nearly all 1414 of us refused to post bail, leaving the state with a lot of extra mouths to feed, as well as a lot of staffing costs to pay the National Guard reservists who had to be called up to monitor us—costing the state $50,000 per day, according to Rolling Stone’s account of July 1977 (probably at least $150,000 per day in 2017 dollars). This created enormous pressure on the state to come to terms with us. People stayed as long as they could, and bailed out in small numbers as they were needed on the home front. (I bailed out after a week because I was running an event back in Providence; Nancy stayed the entire two weeks).

In other words, the Occupation continued after our removal from the site. It simply shifted to the multiple venues where we were held. And this became so expensive that the New Hampshire government capitulated on May 13, 1977 and released all remaining detainees without bail.

This logo featuring the sun and the Nuclear Power? No Thanks was a common sight at nuclear protests in the 1970s and 1980s. It was translated into many languages.

This logo featuring the sun and the Nuclear Power? No Thanks was a common sight at nuclear protests in the 1970s and 1980s. It was translated into many languages.

Until this occupation, opposition to the construction plans at Seabrook was mostly localized. While very strong in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire and the immediately adjacent communities in neighboring Massachusetts—opposition was not strong enough to block the plant through mainstream methods such as regulatory appeals and lobbying. Clamshell Alliance, formed in July 1976 and inspired by a nuclear plant occupation in Germany, turned to nonviolent direct action. Clam waged two small nonviolent occupations in August 1976, with 18 and then 180 arrests, and began organizing across New England for the April 1977 occupation. And the more people learned about nuclear power and its dangers, the more the resistance gained strength. Safe energy became mainstream.

Fake News, 1977 Style

Despite our incarceration, we had access to newspapers, delivered daily (presumably by the outside support system of people who had chosen not to be arrested to they could provide us what we needed.

One of those papers was the Manchester Union Leader. Despite its progressive-sounding title, this was a right-wing rag, owned by the notorious William Loeb, who would have been right at home in a Steve Bannon world. I believe it was Loeb, but it may have been his protégé, then-Governor Meldrim Thomson, who called us “The Clamshell Terrorists” (I can’t find the quote on Google).

Pretty much alone in its denunciation of us, the Union Leader lumbered through its daily attacks on us.

Meanwhile, we were getting very sympathetic and much more accurate coverage on a slew of both mainstream and progressive publications and broadcast media. And we had a lot of media-savvy people, both inside the armories and outside, that helped us tell the story our way. In the armory I was in, there was even a “graybeard caucus” that pressed the news media for acknowledgement of our age diversity every time a story said the protestors were “mostly in their 20s.”

The Idea of Alternatives Takes Root

One reason why nuclear had not been much questioned was that the alternatives were hard to see. Even though the 19th-century industrialization had been largely powered by water, and agriculture in the early 20th century used wind power extensively, as a society we hadn’t been trained to look past fossil and nuclear. But Clamshell made an important strategic breakthrough: being against nuclear was far more effective if we were for something else. Energy that falls from the sun, is pulled by the wind, or harnesses the current of a river is infinitely renewable. Once the infrastructure is in place, it doesn’t cost more to harvest and harness those sources—unlike fossil and nuclear that keep demanding more.

And we had this understanding well before the consciousness about global climate change and carbon footprint penetrated the general consciousness.

Admittedly, these systems aren’t always can be designed to be in harmony with their microenvironment and with the planet as a whole (especially at industrial scale, where they can be quite destructive). But they can be designed for true sustainability, while fossil and nuclear can’t.

Replicators: Dawn of a National Movement

As we emerged from the armories, we began to understand more of our true impact. We discovered that other dozens of Alliances named after their own local flora and fauna were springing up around the country, turning their sights on existing or planned nukes in their own areas. And this national movement successfully reversed the drive toward nuclear. Seabrook did go on line, so we lost that battle (although the power company only built one of the two permitted plants, and that was a significant victory for us). As far as I know, Seabrook was the last plant permitted in the 1970s or 1980s that went online as part of the electric grid. The terribly positioned Shoreham plant on Long Island, New York, was completed and turned on for testing, but then rapidly shut down and was never used to generate power. And for more than 30 years, no new nukes in the US moved forward. Those in the planning stages were scrapped, and many existing plants, facing the wrath of these citizen groups, eventually shut down.

We’ll revisit the deeper implications of that movement in Part 4 of this series. Meanwhile, stay tuned for Part 3.

Posted in Activism, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Innovation, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, People Helping People, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

40 Years Ago Today, We Changed the World (part 1—Why We Occupied Seabrook)

April 30, 1977 was a date that changed history—and I was there.

I was 20 years old. My then-girlfriend Nancy Hodge and I were part of the Rhode Island Affinity Group of Clamshell Alliance, a New-Hampshire-based safe energy activist group.

Like all the other participating affinity groups (typically consisting of 10-20 people), we’d been trained in nonviolent resistance. And we’d studied up on some of the many issues about nuclear power, among them:

  • Risk of catastrophic accidents (including several that had already occurred and were not widely known)—and the subsidized limited-liability insurance that was no insurance at all for pretty much anyone other than the plant’s investors
  • Cancer risks in routine operations, and much greater health risks when things went wrong
  • Need to isolate the wastes from the environment for 220,000 years (and no known way to do this)
  • Insecurity of the facilities, requiring extreme protection against natural disasters, human-caused failures, AND terrorist attacks—and thus threatening the freedoms of our whole society
  • High capital cost and short lifespan, making this an extremely expensive way to generate electricity
  • Hazards of ground, water, and air contamination

And many others. We also knew at least the rudiments of what was even then a far better alternative: harnessing clean, renewable technologies such as sun, wind, and water, and using the energy we already had much more efficiently.

And we knew that just a few years earlier, then-President Richard Nixon had called for 1000 nuclear power plants around the US. That the industry’s 1950s claim that nuclear would be “too cheap to meter” was utterly false. That the second-generation nuclear plants of the 1970s that were supposed to be safer were already showing problems. And that movements across Europe demanding an end to this unsafe and uneconomical technology were gathering strength, organized into affinity groups and providing a model for us. As far as I know, Clamshell Alliance, then about a year old, was the first organized regional movement of resistance against nuclear power in the US, but the movement in Europe, often involving nascent Green Parties, was becoming a significant force.

Nancy had made this beautiful sign with not-usually-permanent felt-tip markers, which she carried. Somehow, I ended up with it when I moved from Providence to New York. I have moved to a new place 12 times since I became custodian of the sign, and still know exactly where to retrieve it. And miraculously, though it’s faded and the cardboard is crumbling, that proud defiant common-sense message still comes through.

Sign by Nancy Hodge Green, used at Seabrook, 1977. Photo by Shel Horowitz

Sign by Nancy Hodge Green, used at Seabrook, 1977. Photo by Shel Horowitz.

About two thousand of us marched into the construction site, armed with such “dangerous weapons” as tents, sleeping bags, and healthy snacks. I think a couple of people thought to bring small shovels to dig latrine pits. We camped out on the site that night and did various things to get centered in the morning. I chose to attend a deeply powerful Quaker Meeting in the parking lot that still stands out as one of the.most deeply spiritual encounters of my life.

1414 of us, including Nancy and me, formed our affinity groups into circles, linked arms, and refused to leave when the order to leave or be arrested was given the next day. We were taken one at a time from our circles and placed on school buses by State Police from all the New England states, and eventually driven to one of several National Guard armories. The Rhode Island Affinity Group was all together in the Manchester National Guard Armory, with about half of all the arrestees. If I remember correctly, we were able to take our possessions and we used those sleeping bags during our incarceration. Pretty sure the state did not supply cots.

What happened during our time “inside” was amazing, both inside the armories and out in the “real world.” Tomorrow, Part 2 will cover some of the outside-world shifts that we caused.

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, media-general, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , ,

Why “Popularity Contest” Surveys are Useless

Found this list of 25 “Greenest Brands in America“—but frankly, I’m skeptical.

It’s based on reader votes. In any kind of reader popularity contest, the votes go to companies the most people are familiar with—or those whose marketers actively campaign and tell their fans to go vote for them.

Certainly, all these corporations have major environmental achievements; by now, every major corporation does. In fact, I attended a conference last month that focused on the profitability case for green action. Several of these 25 had speakers. I even moderated a panel that included Coca-Cola.

But this kind of survey pushes away the small companies with smaller followings but very green practices (Interface, Timberland, Patagonia, etc.) Only two such companies made the list: Tom’s of Maine and Ben & Jerry’s, and both are owned by much larger companies.

Patagonia's fish/mountain range-shaped logo

Patagonia’s fish/mountain range-shaped logo

I was also struck by three absences I would have expected to be there: Walmart, which has done more to green the supply chain and its own operations than any other player, but whose demographic doesn’t typically participate in sustainability surveys (and which has serious issues on other parts of the social entrepreneurship spectrum, especially on labor and supplier policies), Starbucks, which talks a great line to the right demographic, but whose practices don’t always mirror its rhetoric, and Whole Foods, whose entire mission intersects so well with green practices. Also kind of surprised to see Apple included. Either they’ve cleaned up their act or people give them more kudos than justified because their products are so cool and their fan base is so strong. To go from the Foxconn scandal to being named on a Top 25 list for green practices in just over two years is quite remarkable.

Even in surveys based on research, what you measure influences your conclusions. For example, Monsanto often wins data-driven corporate responsibility awards (and loves to brag about them), yet to many food activists, its policies are anything but responsible; they would call this award greenwashing.


Posted in Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Business, Greenwashing, language, Marketing Trends/News, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Role Can Nonstrategic Mass Movements Play in Social Change?

Are big protests a waste of time unless they’re part of an overall strategic plan? Nonviolent social change theorist George Lakey and I have been discussing this.

After my February post about Lakey’s idea that DT is creating enormous opportunities for social change workers, I got an interesting response from George (which I only just saw, thanks to a quirk in the WordPress interface). Please go read the original post and his response.

I believe my settings close comments after two weeks, and I couldn’t find a way to turn that off temporarily for this one post). So just to make sure there’s a way to keep the dialogue going, I’m posting my response here, as a new post, starting just below:

Marching at the Women's March on Washington with my wife and children

Marching at the Women’s March on Washington with my wife and children (from left: son-in-law Bobby, daughter Alana, wife Dina, me, son Rafael)

I agree with most of what you’d laid out here, George and certainly the key kernel that mass action makes the most sense as part of a well-thought-out and multidimensional campaign. And yet, I’m more optimistic than you about the power of a one-off mass action to build momentum for change. It has to be sustained, of course—but it can play a key role.

  • My own involvement with the Movement began because I attended a mass rally about Vietnam, at age 12 (1969). One of the speakers said something that was life-changing for me. But it was not until I was in high school that I began to realize that the real work of social change happened in the meetings to plan those marches, more than the marches themselves—and to participate as other than a drone showing up to other people’s events.
  • The reason all those no-nuke Alliances sprang up was because of what we did at Seabrook, a mass action.We inspired many other groups around the country to borrow our strategy, process, tactics, and even nomenclature, to organize affinity groups as we did, to educate about the issues around nuclear power and the safe-energy alternatives, and to be trained in nonviolent civil disobedience. And the reason we heard about Three Mile Island in the news two years later when we hadn’t heard about the earlier accidents at Enrico Fermi, Browns Ferry, and elsewhere was because of this national/international mass movement that started at Seabrook. It was having thousands at the site and 1414 arrested that pushed the issue into America’s consciousness. The first two Seabrook occupations almost a year earlier, much tinier, had almost no impact outside the local area.
  • Occupy could have been much stronger with leadership and goals, I agree. But still the movement had a great deal of impact. Like Clam, some of its process innovations have become part of the Movement. You talk about those turned off by Occupy, but what I saw was a generation of young people who moved from inaction, maybe even apathy, to deep, personal, and highly inconvenient action. They made sacrifices for social change. And I think a lot of them moved into actual organizing after the camps closed.
  • The recent Women’s March had very little strategy behind it but sparked the immediate and clear message that resistance is mainstream, that DT does not represent normal, and that oh yes, there was something we could do. And of course, it provided yet another opportunity for DT to make a fool of himself saying ridiculous things about the protests. I don’t remember another time when nonviolent protests unscrewed the legs of legitimacy from a government less than one day old. And again, a lot of folks who had never done anything political went from the march to the meetings. The thousands of hives of the resistance were enormously strengthened by that unstrategic mass event.

I’m glad you brought up the business community. This is where I have very strategically placed most of my own organizing in recent years: showing that business can create meaningful social change, not out of guilt and shame but out of enlightened self-interest: the profit motive. This is the subject of my 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, as well as my “Impossible is a Dare” talks. It’s the opposite of mass organizing: small groups and even one-to-one conversations.

So yes, let’s incorporate big protests into a wider strategic view, as the Civil Rights organizers did. Let’s read Alinsky and Gene Sharp, MLK and Gandhi, Barbara Deming and Dorothy Day, and of course, George Lakey. Let’s study the successes AND weaknesses of all these movements including Occupy, BLM, and the current resistance. And lets create strategies that keep the needle moving, both publicly and behind the scenes, toward the world we want. Outside of my social change work through my business, I’ve been focusing my own parts of the resistance on the amazing opportunity to get people who haven’t been talking to each other not just talking but supporting and acting in solidarity. I see this work—and especially the chances for Jews and Muslims to work together in solidarity—as deeply strategic based on seizing the moment where a conversation is much easier to have under the lens of both groups being under threat.

PS: George, I apologize for the late reply. WordPress only showed me your waiting comment last night. I approved it immediately but wanted to bring my much clearer early-morning thinking to my response. [end of my quoted response]

Posted in Activism, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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