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Jim Schermbeck

INTERVIEWEE: Jim Schermbeck (JS)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 10, 2002
LOCATION: Lubbock, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2232, 2233, and 2234

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 10, 2002. We’re in Lubbock, Texas. We’re currently taping on reel 2232 and talking to Jim Schermbeck, who has been assistant activist for many years and has been involved in the protest against the Comanche Peak Nuclear Project, as well as against TXI’s efforts to burn hazardous wastes in their cement kiln. As well as other projects that I imagine we’ll get into. But I want to take this chance to thank you.
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JS: Oh, thank y’all.
DT: We usually start these interviews with just a question about your early days, school days, and where you might’ve first gotten exposed and interested in the environment or outdoors, public health?
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JS: I think, for me, there’s not a clear and easy answer to that because I didn’t come to just the environment as an issue. I came to social justice in general. When I was in junior high, the Vietnam War was still going on. I was, for whatever reason, reading papers at that point. My mom would sit down every evening and read the evening version of the Fort Worth Star Telegram; they were still putting out an evening paper at that point. And I watched the evening news and just got int—involved in the debate over
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Vietnam when I was pretty young, and Kent State happened when I was twelve and that crystallized a lot of feelings that I had about what was going on. And then I started collecting maps and, oh, articles from the paper about Vietnam and things like that. And I—one thing led to another and I just ended up as a 14-year-old volunteer in the McGovern campaign in ’72. And then, after that fiasco, got involved in doing a—boycotting Safeways on behalf of the farm workers. There was a big farm workers or—
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big—but there was a chapter of the farm workers group, support group, in Fort Worth. One of my friends’ mother was very involved in that and so by the time I was in high school, I was out with sandwich signs on in front of Safeway telling people not to buy table grapes from Safeway because they were non-union. And during this whole period, my dad had some land in Colorado that we would go to in the summertimes and I’d also, during this period, grown up every summer going to a farm—my—the family farm on
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my dad’s side in Kansas. So, every summer I was either in Kansas and probably among the last people of my generation to actually hand milk a cow and churn butter and bale square—bales of hay and things like that and then we would go to this land in Colorado, which was up in the Collegiate Peaks, near the Continental Divide, very beautiful country. And I guess I came to the—to environmental issues through the back door, I always looked at them as social justice issues and my spin wasn’t exactly—it was, of
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course, in terms of preserving natural environment and so on, it was also about people getting poisoned by what was going on. And I saw, I think, early on the relationship between those kinds of social justice fights I’d been involved in and what was going on with the environment. And—and, plus, there was just an explosion of information activity around the environment with the war winding down and then finishing, really a lot of the nation’s attention and a lot of the—what was left of the left then, attention was
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focused on domestic issues. And I think that all combined to get me involved in environmental issues, although that’s not what I started out doing. I mean, in high school, besides boycott—let’s see, we boycotted grapes, we were taking up money for the farm workers. We would do little shows in front of social studies class about the fact that they—about the short—the back-stooping tools they would give these guys, the—the farm labor situation in general, things like that. So, the environment was not the first
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thing I got involved with, but I think when I did get involved with—with those kinds of issues, I brought a slightly different perspective than somebody that was coming, maybe, from the Audubon Society or—or Sierra Club or something like that.
DT: Can you go to this a little bit more, the connection between social justice and environmental justice, if that’s the connection you’re making?
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JS: To me, they’re just one in the same—I mean, people get shat on in all kinds of ways, and they’re usually people that are down low on the food chain. So whether it’s farm workers who are getting shat on by growers and exploited by huge corporate growing companies or whether it’s people who live downwind from a smokestack getting shat on by a large company that’s putting things out in the air that they really shouldn’t be doing, it’s the same sort of issue. It’s people being taken advantage of or being abused
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in ways they shouldn’t be. It’s just that with environmental health issues, it’s probably a much more insidious kind of being shat upon. It’s something that can give you cancer, it’s something that can make you ill, it’s something that can change your hormonal balance. There’s all kinds of things that are going on in people’s bodies because of the things that we put out into the environment that we are just now beginning to know. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of knowing what all this crud has done to
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human beings. But I think the—the issue’s the same, it’s economic power. It’s—it’s somebody saying I can do this from a high-level office suite and so they do it until somebody brings some kind of accountability and resistance to that idea. So, to me, it was—environmental issues, es—especially environmental health issues, are always exactly the same kinds of social justice stuff I’ve always been involved with and—it—particularly if you do an analysis of like where most of these facilities end up, they m—usually end up in poor to lower income neighborhoods. You know, you certainly won’t find a hazardous waste incinerator in Highland Park or an exclusive enclave like that, and there’s a reason for that.
DT: You said that your introduction to some of these public justice issues, social justice issues in the late sixties and early seventies, came about through reading the newspaper, watching what was on TV, collecting maps as you said. I’m curious why this information that was available to many 12, 13, 14 year olds influenced you…
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JS: Because I was a nerd. Because I was the biggest nerd that you ever—I gue—I was kind of a hippie nerd, I guess, at the time. I—I don’t know, I’ve asked myself that a lot. I think it’s the fact that my mother taught me to enjoy reading so that I’ve always read books and I always collected books. I can remember going out to a bookstore with a fr—a mom of a friend of ours—mine—and he would buy stuff that was geared toward 11 and 12 year olds and I would be buying these like man and the landscape anthologies and
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things and—I don’t know why. I—I just was involved in current events a lot sooner than most people are, if ever, in their lives. And I don’t know that—if that’s just because I was watching the news more or I felt more in—kind of the zy—geist of the times and getting involved with that or what. I don’t know, I—I don’t know. It—it—it would take many more hours on the couch than we have here to—to tell you why, as a kid, I was so interested in that, but I was. And I think music was a big part of that, too. I mean, there was—there was a whole culture at that point, you know, hippie culture that was against the war and had a lot of music, had great looking girls, all kinds of factors that come in to
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play. And there was—as—as I suppose in every city of any size, there was a gathering point for those folks every weekend at Trinity Park in Fort Worth. In Lee Park is where it was happening, I guess, in Dallas, but Trinity Park was kind of the hangout point. And I just was more attuned to that, I guess, earlier on than a lot of my peers. But I think instilling a love of reading and watching my mother—because my parents had divorced and I was living with her—watching my mom read the paper religiously, watching Walter Cronkite show the body counts every evening. That had an effect on me.
DT: You said that some of the social justice issues that were going on in the United States and around the world touched you. I’m curious when you started to focus on things that were happening in Texas and in Fort Worth. You mentioned going to Safeway, but that was about conditions in California.
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JS: That’s right.
DT: When did you start bringing it home to what was going on locally?
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JS: Probably—well, I mean, it depends on what you def—define as locally. In high school, I and another friend of mine—and a friend of mine were—were trying to run for student body president and vice-president. Principal wouldn’t let us because we were—we had posted these manifestos up all over school that were too radical for him. Too radical for Principal Mandervel. And, you know, anybody could sign up to run and we—
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I’m not sure we expected to win, but we kind of wanted to run and give them hell about things that were going on there in high school. And he just would not have any part of that and said, no, you can’t run. And I said, well, there’s something wrong with that. You can’t just do that, I’m a student in the school, you can’t just tell me I can’t run. So I had a great social studies teacher at the time, and I’m not sure he intended to—to let it
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lead to this, but he kind of whispered in my ear, you know, hey, there’s—there’s this group called the ACLU, you might want to give them a call and…so I did. I gave them a call and they hooked me up with an attorney in Fort Worth, a guy who later became, I think, a D.A. A good a—good lawyer. And I told him my story and he said, you’re right. They can’t do that. And so he wrote this brief and sent it over to the school
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superintendent’s office, I guess, and they were kind of surprised because they hadn’t realized the principal had done this. And got the principal in trouble, I guess, and they all backed down, ran, lost, because—and this is important, I think, at the—at the point where I had a chance to go up to and address the school, after all this, I kind of backtracked a
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little bit. I wasn’t as dynamic and forceful, I think, as even the manifestos would’ve, you know, lead somebody to believe. After all this, and taking on the school in that way, it kind of surprised me and I was a little taken back and I kind of wilted there at the end. I was also running against the first woman—first girl that had ever run for student body president, so it was all kind of a progressive, you know, mess in terms of voting for people. But I got a—a seat on the student body. There was also something
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that happened around that time that I’ll never forget. And has nothing to do with anything, I think, except authority figures. I was like 13 or 14, my hair was down past my shoulders, but I still, you know, I was skinny as a rail then as only very young people can be skinny. And was going back and forth on an airplane to my dad’s house a lot by myself. Went one day to Love Field, and I guess this is right after the first Palestinian hijackings of planes and things, but went to Love Field and—and my mom went off to go
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get a drink or cup of coffee or something. So I checked myself in and—at the—at the ticket counter there, got a boarding pass. And then these—and then these two guys came up and said, would you come with us? And they escorted me, by myself still, into this like ante room, little room off to the side somewhere and started interrogating me, as if I was a potential hijacker. And we got like a minute and a half into this and I was kind of bullshitting them, I guess. I don’t know, I don’t know what kind of attitude I copped as a kid then. But I do remember we hadn’t gotten very for—fa—far into this when there was this—what are you doing to my son in there? That kind of thing. And my—my mother
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comes in and throws open the door and says, what in the hell is happening? And explains my age and everything else and—and these guys kind of look bashful and are looking down at their shoes a lot. And I just remember thinking of that as being very hilarious because they thought I was much older than I was, I guess, and, you know, anybody at that point with long hair was a target, I don’t know. But it was just a—a great example of
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them getting it wrong and also my mom. Being very mom-like and—and coming after the guys. And she was just—she was on a tear. And you didn’t see her like that very much, that was also, I think, why I remember that. I mean it was—it was a very strange moment for her, to see her like that. But in terms of domestic issues, I—none of that happened before I got involved with nukes, I guess. Because that’s the issue…
DT: We were talking earlier about some of your earlier escapades and I was wondering if you could try to continue to talk about what was going on, I suppose in your teens, and particularly if it was affected by what was going on locally and environmentally?
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JS: Well, I often say that I was born to do this and that I was—that—that—I was trained to do this in that—in high school—actually the last year of junior high and—and all four years of high school, I was in competitive debate at a public school, which was unusual at the time because a lot of public schools didn’t have a debate program. But I—we—I happened to luck out in that the school that I went to not only had a program, it
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had one of the best coaches around. And so I got involved in competitive debate and that meant out—meant going out and researching topics, you know, very—a lot of deep research, a lot of first-hand reports and not just periodical stuff but, you know, deep government reports. Book—Brookings Institute type of things, that—that stuff. And that was great training because it made you ask the right questions and it made you—it made
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your bullshit antennas very adept. Because you could hear then answers to questions that weren’t really the answer to the question and know it. And you could hear what they were leaving out or what they—what people were not saying, or what they were saying. And clarity of language became more important, I think. And in fact, nukes, were a—
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energy in itself, was a topic one year in debate, and nukes, in particular, was a topic. So I had researched this topic and not really come to any, you know, revelation about it as a kid. I had researched it as part of a larger energy thing going on that year in debate and it just didn’t register to me as a huge thing at the point—at that point. But the debate training itself was really good.
DT: Was it more of an academic interest?
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JS: Absolutely, yeah. But—but—but you got—you know, in—if you stay in it long enough you get to the point where you’re in cross-examination debate, which is like the—the highest level, and you actually have periods where you’re up there with another person and you’re cross-examining them and they get to cross-examine you. And it was just really good practice. So that all happened in high school. And then I go away—I
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didn’t want to debate in college, I was completely burned out on it. And so I went and—and my graduating class in high school was like 5 or 6 or 700 people, the whole school was huge and my graduating class was huge and I wanted to go someplace that was not huge as a school. So I turned down a couple of offers to go places to go debating and stuff and went to Austin College in Sherman, which was an artsy-fartsy liberal arts
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college in—in Sherman, Texas, just about an hour north of Dallas. And was—I’m—I was pretty sure going to be a lawyer or something. I didn’t—I wasn’t sure what, but that, you know, was pre-law, something. Well, my freshman year there was pretty uneventful in terms of anything political. It was between my freshman and sophomore year that things changed. It was in 1977, in the spring, that the first occupation at Seabrook, New Hampshire took place. And Seabrook was a place where they were building the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, just north of Boston. And I was still reading the papers pretty regularly, even in college. I was getting the Dallas Morning News every day and
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reading that. And the fact that, I guess at the time, gosh, 2000 or more people got arrested at this nuclear power plant site really amazed me. Because it wasn’t anything—if you go back in time, the war was over, there wasn’t really a huge social issue that was bringing that amount of people to anything approaching civil disobedience on that scale anywhere in the country then. It was really kind of eye-catching to me to read about that
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and to learn that this whole thing was going on and it wasn’t even on my radar screen. So I—I remember I had this wall where I clipped out funny articles, or strange articles, or important articles and stuff and would tape them up up there and this Seabrook occupation, that got a space on that wall. So that—that—college let out that year and I went back to Fort Worth and met some folks, in particular, a woman named Kim
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Bachelor, who I had known in high school, she was a year or two ahead of me. She was a friend of a woman in my class and a sister, also, to somebody in my class that I knew fairly well. And she was one of the people that I had boycotted Safeway’s with. So—I also had a huge crush on her. And—and—and if people tell you that they get involved on strictly political terms all the time, they’re just lying through their teeth, because a lot of times it’s—it’s romance that’s playing a—a part in it. But, so we kind of started hanging out together that summer and in line one night to see a movie—and I can’t remember the movie that we were going to see—we just started talking about this Seabrook thing. And she told me, well, you know, there’s this nuke being built down the road from Fort
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Worth. And I had no idea, had no idea. And I said, no, I didn’t know that. And I said, maybe we should do something, maybe we should find out more about this stuff and—and find out what these New Hampshire people are about and this sounds kind of exciting and—and tell me more. So we did some research, I started getting things, writing off for materials, trying to do a little bit more research, subscribed to something called Wind Magazine, which I don’t think is around anymore, which was a great magazine out of
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New York, done by the War Resistors League. And by the summer—in the end of summer of 1977, we had founded this group called the Armadillo Coalition of Texas because at the time, you have to understand, it was all regional based. I mean, the whole ethic of that movement was to be a regional, indigenous resistance to what was going on in your part of the country. It wasn’t so much—the country was focusing not on international things because we had just gone through ten years of that with the war, and
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people were very focused back on things in their own backyard. So you had the Clamshell Alliance, you had the Abalone Alliance, you had the Oystershell Alliance, you had the Sunbelt Alliance up in Oklahoma, you had all these regional alliances. And of course, the—the armadillo was, at that point, a real symbol of the counter-culture coming out of the sixties and seventies. And we just decided to adopt that and to—and the initials spelled out ACT, so it was a good thing that way, it was a good name that way. And we sat in Kim’s living room, I think myself, her, and Lon Burnam, who’s now a—a state representative from Fort Worth and just decided we would found this group. And as 0
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the very earnest young man that I was, I spent just hours doing this founding document, you know, explaining the reasons why we were doing this and so on and—and modeling it after, you know, I don’t know, the Declaration and Cont stuff and all kinds of things and by the end of that summer, we went to the Fort Worth City Council Meeting that was
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talking about a rate hike to pay for Comanche Peak because they had this neat little thing called construction work in progress where they could just charge off whatever they were overrunning at the plant there to ratepayers on a regular basis and they were asking for another rate increase to pay for Comanche Peak. We went down there and—and talked in opposition to it—that was our first act of resistance to the plant.
DT: Were you alone in contesting the plant and the rate hike?
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JS: At that point, yeah. That point, we were—we were the only folks down there talking against it, yeah.
DT: What sort of reaction did you get from the crowd and the council?
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JS: Oh, you can imagine. I mean, you know, thank you very much and they pass it. We didn’t—you know, it wasn’t any kind of organizing campaign to defeat this thing, it was just kind of our coming out party in terms of declaring opposition. But, from that point, we did grow pretty steadily, and during this whole time, the anti-nuke movement gained a lot of momentum around the country because there were these alliances and
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coalitions springing up everywhere. There was a real sense of momentum that you—I think is very rare nowadays. I don’t know, I’m not involved in the PETA stuff and—and some of the other things that have taken off, but there was just a real sense that history was behind this and things were happening every day and, you know, this was a nationwide movement and these were your brothers and sisters in other places and it was just—it was an incredible feeling.
DT: What was the big opposition? Why were you all concerned about the plant?
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JS: Well, the more you—that was, you know, the more I researched it, the more I discovered things that I hadn’t known and didn’t research very well the first time around in high school, the whole issue of low-level radiation. It wasn’t the potential for accidents, with me anyway, that was the big deal, as it was with other people, I guess. It
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was the day-to-day operation of these things and the kind of insidious nature of—of routine radiation releases where, over a period of time, there were a certain number of people that would be sacrificed through—through cancer or through other kinds of things. It was a mathematical formula, in fact, there’s an article that I kept for the longest time, published in the paper, that said, you know, operation of the Comanche Peak Power Plant is expected to result in 15 cancer deaths over it’s operating lifetime. I mean, they had this down to a formula.
DT: And this was among the workers or the general public?
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JS: Among the general public. And it’s because when they fuel and refuel, they let a certain amount of radiation out. When the piping goes bad, or any—you know, any number of ways that the radiation can get out of that containment building. Plus the fact that it—the more of those plants you build, the more processing plants you need, the more places you need for the waste. It becomes a nuclear economy at that point. And there’s the old thing, you know, metaphor about a frog who’s in—how do you boil a frog.
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And you don’t pour all the hot water on the frog or in the pot at the same time because he’d jump out. What you do is put him in a little bit of warm water and then you turn up the heat, and you add more, you turn up the heat a little bit more, so it’s gradual. And then the frog is dead. That’s the way I kind of looked at the issue of radiation. In the more of these places existed, the more facilities they needed to support them, the more radiation got into the environment and pretty soon we’re living in a sea of radiation that wasn’t naturally based at all, it was a new—it was something that could define, you know, how evolution took off from that point on. For all exposed to new levels of radiation, what does that do to human physiology in terms of birth defects, in terms of
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how we adapt to that and so on. And just the whole fact that—although it—you know, I’m sure this goes on in other industries, the whole fact that they had worked it out to such certainty that there were going to be, not 14 and not 16, but just 15 cancer lives were going to be lost from the operation of Comanche Peak. That was really infuriating and mystifying to me. And this whole corporate approach—you have to remember at the
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time, this was right after—not too far after Nixon announced Project Independence. Right after the oil crisis, you know, and nuclear power’s going to be our answer to the oil crisis and everything. And there were going to be 2000 new nuclear plants across the country. And if you saw these maps, I mean, it was like, you know, every little borough was going to have one of these nukes and that meant all kinds of other facilities trailing
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along and—and it was just—there was a whole nuclear economy being proposed. And there were like these floating nuclear power plants that were going to be built out in the gulf, and by Florida, you know, and these nuclear plant parks where there’d be more than—you know, there’d be like 5 or 6 of them in a row or whatever. And just kind of a strange combination of Disneyland engineering and kind of the best and the brightest mentality brought to this particular field of—of nukes that combined to have a corporate arrogance about it that was just amazing to watch. And they were so—they were so sure of—it was—it’s just, you know, too cheap to meter, absolutely safe, nothing to worry
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about. And the more they said that, the more suspicious you became that not all was right. And sure enough, you—you read people like John Goffman or Earnest Sternglass or Rosalie Bertel, those guys, and you learned that, in fact, all was not well. That, in fact, those scientists had done work that had been ignored by a lot of people but showed that low level radiation was indeed a problem. So that kind of thing—that was the main concern for me. Low-level radiation and the kind of corporate arrogance that said, you
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know, we’re going to build this plant, we don’t care who we hurt in the process, we’ve already figured out who’s going to be hurt. It’s just a matter of picking out the names now of those fifteen and so forth. So that—it was also, obviously, from the first, though, also an economic issue because we showed up at this rate hike hearing. And—and that would come into play later, but at first it was a safety issue, it was kind of a corporate issue. And it was, you know, if they had had an accident, they were just south of Dallas-
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Fort Worth and predominant winds and so forth and it was a—it was going to be a big deal if they did have an accident there. So the more I researched about it, the more I—I got into these—into these works by scientists who had actually done the research that I hadn’t read about before and they were telling me that, yes, there was an increase in cancer around these plants. If you looked, there was a big increase in cancer among workers at these plants. Just the whole branch of this about uranium mining on native lands. At the time, there was a lot of uranium mining going on in the States here, most of it was on Indian Reservations, and most of those guys were not giving any—given any
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kind of air breathing apparatus at all. They were basically sent down into these uranium mines, you know, without oxygen, without anything. They were coming back, dying by the scores. There was just a whole fuel cycle involved; it wasn’t—it wasn’t just Comanche Peak. It was the plants that made the fuel for Comanche Peak, it was the trucks that transported that fuel there, it was the places wherever that waste was going to go, where there fuel rods were going to go after Comanche Peak was through with it. All that stuff was part of a nuclear cycle that opened my eyes to what was going on.
DT: You mentioned that there was a good deal of uranium being mined in the native lands in the southwest. Was there any talk about the uranium that was being mined in the South Texas (inaudible)?
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JS: No, we brought up, much later, after, I guess, two years after that, or it was 1979, 1980, when I started learning about it. I actually did a—an internship down in Austin under John Bryant there when he was still a rep from Dallas, before he was a Congressman. And started researching the uranium mining industry in Texas and found out how much there was in Texas and from that, grew some efforts on my part to—to
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bring an awareness to it. We actually had a walk from a south Texas uranium mine up to Glen Rose in ’80, ’81, I believe, that I initiated and started in—and, I mean, that’s a whole ‘nother story but that’s—yeah, I mean, there was…
DT: Tell that story.
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JS: Well, it was—it—it was a little-known facet of the nuclear industry in Texas, nobody knew about this stuff. And—but if you went down there and looked at it, you knew it was going to be a problem. It was huge—it—it was, just the scale of things for one thing. Chevron had a mine down there and I think Exxon did and, you know, the usual suspects all had a piece of this action. And you—you looked at these mine tailings and sitting in pools and it was just so obvious what a terrible problem this was and was
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going to be in terms of disposal. Because it was sitting out in the middle of nowhere, there were just big pools; there was no—hardly any lining. You know, it was seeping into groundwater, it was getting into surface water, it was just—it was just a mess. It was like a regular mining operation, which is fine, except you were dealing with uranium, you know, and everything was radioactive. And plus they had some, I think they had some
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yellow cake processing down there, if I remember right. We took a tour, I think, where there was some yellow cake being processed down there, so it was a fairly advanced industry down there. And we—there was just a few of us when we started out at this walk. It was just—this came after a lot of years of opposition, like at least three or four, maybe, in ’80, ’81. So I’d been at it three years. And I just got tired of doing nothing about this and I just said—I—I wanted—I’d been reading a lot of Gandhi—and I just
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said, I just am going to go walking and I’m going to meet people and I’m going to tell them about this problem and I’m going to get some press and this will be—it’s just, you know, the earnestness of the young. It was just something I felt like I had to do and this was action, it wasn’t just sitting in your room talking about it, doing it. It was actually getting out there and getting involved, and a kind of self-sacrifice, because we were going to walk every bit of the way from South Texas up to Comanche Peak. And some days,
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some stops we had help on, some days we just camped. Some people took us into their houses, we made contacts in weird ways, anyway, we got down there. We started this out, there were three of us. Evan, myself, and Roxanne and Elder. And, they were from Austin, I was from here. And we had decided the night before, we were the—we were very into affinity groups. There was this whole structure in the anti-nuke movement called affinity groups that was a very familiar, as in family, structure where you had
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groups of ten or twenty people who were tight knit, knew each other, had been meeting with each other before the action took place, almost an extended family approach to it, which was unique, I think, in terms of how protest movements operated up to that point. Or at least, you know, was new to me. And it wasn’t just going to a rally, it wasn’t just—you know, it was part—you were a family, you were part of—a member of a family. So we called ourselves, I think, the Beans and Squash Affinity group, because that’s what
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we were eating, beans and squash, a lot of beans and squash. At the last minute, the night before this walk started, we decided to go up to San Antonio and buy a yellow rose bush and we were going to plant this bush outside the uranium mine that we were going to start off this—I think it was Chevron mine. And we had—I had gone down there and kind of put this leaflet out talking about what we were going to do and dropped it off at the local Catholic Church. And there was this nun that we had called Sister Xerox, who
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had made sure that this leaflet had gotten to the sheriff’s office, the mayor’s office, every city council person in this town knew this was going on. This was Fall City, by the way. It was one of the biggest uranium mines down there. But she had made sure—she was not at all an ally, as it turns out. And she had made sure that every official in that town knew we were coming. So we started off from our camp and walked, literally walked a—a mile, I guess, out to the plant, the whole time with a—a sheriff’s car like twenty or
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thirty feet behind us. And he must have been bored to tears. And we got out there and we surrounded this—we dug a little hole on public ac—access property there, outside the gate of the uranium mine, planted the tree. I was still nominally a Christian then, and—and—and was going to ch—you know, had been in chap—participating in chapel in school and stuff and so I read a Bible—Bible verse there and we said a prayer. And it was just amazing the aura that surrounded that little gathering there. And you could tell that because people—there were all kinds of authorities around it. Besides the sheriff’s car, there was guys from the plant and I don’t know who else in terms of authorities
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making sure that we were not going to throw bombs or something like that. But they gave us a lot of space. You could just—it’s hard to describe, but you could just feel the energy coming from that group and over the years, I’ve just noticed this is—this is something that happens when things are clicking right or you have—you’re there for the right reason or peoples’ energy are in the right place, whatever kind of metaphysical thing is taking place there. That yellow rose bush and us three around it wa—had some
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kind of force field going on. And we ended that ceremony and started walk—started on the walk, you know, whatever it was going to be, three or four hundred miles. And again, all back to town and like for about a mile out of town, this sheriff’s car was following us, thirty feet back or so. And things like that happened all through this walk. More people joined us, you know, showed up out of nowhere. People that I had never recruited, didn’t know about, just heard about it and joined us on the way. I remember one time, we had a
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guy, Charles Perez, who had come without a coat and it was raining and Au—we were right on Austin and I-35, and it was raining and cold, this was like October, so about like now, you know, first front’s coming in. And we didn’t have any extra clothes or anything to give the guy, he had just shown up and—and it was nice weather when he had and now it was bad weather and he didn’t have a coat or anything. I remember walking down the access road of I-35 and Charles out in front of me, and this car pulls up—and I’m just watching this from the back—the car pulls up, this arm comes out of the car with a coat on it and gives it to Charles and then drives off. And that kind of stuff happened all the time on that walk.
DT: Were you carrying placards or sandwich boards, I mean, would they have known?
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JS: No, well we had a banner, which is one of the props that didn’t make it here today that I still have. It was a banner that said, Walk for a Nuclear Free Texas, it had a—some boots on it, and then part of the sun, anyway, it was homemade and…But no, I don’t think we were having—that wasn’t displayed or anything at the time because it was raining, we put that up. It just came by and this arm shot out and there was a coat attached to it and it drove off. Another time, a woman that I was—just adored from—in
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all kinds of ways, was joining us. She didn’t know where we were, she kind of had an approximation of where we would be that day because we had a schedule we had to keep to more or less. But she didn’t know where we were, and we happened to be in Belton that day at a convenience store getting a drink because we’d just come off I-35 and we were taking, I think, 6 up to Glen Rose, or whatever that highway is. And—and I mean,
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it was midday, we could’ve been anywhere on that highway and she shows up, having hitchhiked a ride down there, stopping at this convenience store. I mean, she found us without any trouble, you know, just right on, just amazing stuff like that. We got up here to Comanche Peak and there must have been 50 or 100 people waiting for us then. And we all planted spiderwort seed outside the gate there and had a good time. But that walk was—it was one of the most spiritual things I think I’ve ever done. And it just—because
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of the purity of motives and where I was and where other people were at the time, I think, accounts for that. I think I’m much too cynical now and withered to experience anything like that again. But at the time, it was quite something to—to see. And it did bring a little bit more notice to those uranium mines than they had gotten before. And since then, of course, that whole industry has gone bottom up and they’ve been left with these huge tailing piles down there and they still don’t know what to do. And in fact the local people
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who were so hostile to us at that point are now saying, you know, what were we thinking, and you were right, and—and it is a big mess and it still hasn’t been cleaned up. I think they’re spending millions and millions of dollars to try to either bury that stuff or clean it some way. I haven’t kept up with it in a long time, but, yeah, so that’s—uranium mining in Texas. Who would’ve guessed? And it’s all—I think it’s all gone now because the whole domestic uranium mining industry has gone downhill because there’s not that
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much demand and there’s so many cheaper imports coming in, which is another great, you know, irony to this because nuclear power is going to be our domestic source of energy that was going to keep us dep—you know, independent. And it turns out that you have to import uranium from like South Africa, which was—at the time was not a very good source. Or Russia, you know, or any number of other places that weren’t too great, they weren’t particular allies of ours at the time. And so the whole idea of energy independence by way of nuclear power just fell apart because of that industry going downhill and everything. But anyway, so that’s uranium mining industry.
DT: Let me ask you something else. This is early 80’s that you’ve been talking about and I think that you prefaced it by talking about the problems of chronic, low-level radioactive waste, or radioactive emission exposure. In ’79, I think, Three Mile Island had a partial meltdown and I was wondering if you had some concerns in Texas about a similar catastrophic failure?
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JS: Well, not only that, it was a very weird time—very weird spring, because China Syndrome had just come out before that—before Three Mile Island. And so—and I was—we were out there leafleting after every showing in Fort Worth and Dallas. We would, you know, we would stand outside the theater there at Seminary South Cinema 1 & 2, which is entirely closed up now, and hand out a leaflet saying it could happen, you know, this thing is real, it could happen here, you’re—you’re only 40 miles from a
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nuclear power plant, here, have a leaflet, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We picked up a lot of people that way. We recruited a lot of folks that way. So then, when it happened, I can remember exactly the day it happened and it—and—and—and I was with my then-girlfriend trying to find her an organizing job with Acorn down in Dallas and we turn on the radio and it was going on and I said, this is it, this is it. It’s—it’s finally happened. And followed that, you know, as—as the whole country did, very intensely. And thought that it was going to result in a lot more damage than it ended up resulting in, thank God.
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And then, we had already scheduled a rally and an occupation, our first civil disobedience at Comanche Plant was for that—was for June 10th. So all of that was already in play. And so, I was talking about momentum earlier, it just was incredible. People, you know, flocked to the issue. We had a symposium at the First Unitarian Church, we had a picket at TU headquarters over in Dallas. We had this huge protest during an international day
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of nuclear protest out at Glen Rose and then the week after that, we had our first occupation. So, while I had not been that—I had not been as concerned about the accident potential as I had about just the routine stuff coming from these things, certainly now it was spotlighted and…
DT: What do you think were the biggest risks of a catastrophe or some sort of major…?
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JS: Oh, it just depends on the plant. I mean, just—just this last year, this whole thing at a plant in Ohio, where they found a—a boric acid leak that resulted in the steel being rotted away by the boric acid. I mean, it’s a whole, it’s a continuing nightmare, I mean, this—we’re just now in the like the mid-life of these nukes, of the whole nuclear power cycle here. We still have to concern ourselves about dismantling these guys and the waste issue still hasn’t gone away despite the Yucca Mountain vote. It’s just we’re very early on in trying to deal with this stuff even though it’s been 40 or 50 years since the
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first one came on line. We’re just very—this stuff is all very new still. And the phenomenon of dealing with aging reactors. Nobody has a track record of dealing with these reactors when they’re 20, 30, 40 years old. And they want to relicense them for another 20 or 30 years. So that’s an issue. It just depends on the plant, you know, later on, when I—I went to D.C. for a—what was called a Washington semester in ’80. My grad—yeah, my last—my senior year, in the fall. Now I—I went there, to D.C. to
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basically get closer to some Seabrook demos that were going to—demonstrations that were going to be taking place. It was kind of my way to hitchhike up the east coast to get closer to these big demonstrations that were going to happen. But I ended up, while I was there, doing an internship for a couple of these guys who were writing a book on Three Mile Island. A kind of, In Cold Blood version, narrative version of Three Mile Island and what had gone on. A couple of them, I think, a guy is still a producer at 60
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Minutes. I forget his name, but these guys were—were writing this book and they asked me to research the documents over at housing—over at HEW—Health Education and Welfare, about Three Mile Island. There was a whole library over there of transcripts about what was happening in the control room during that time and so on. Man, it was an education. It was amazing to read these transcripts and what it—because it was much worse than anybody had imagined. The chaos in the control room. There were literally…
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JS: There were literally, in—in these transcripts, it’s—there were literally people reaching over other people to press any knob or dial that they think will help. They’re—you know, this guy’s down over here punching these buttons and this guy up here is turning this dial and none of them know what each other’s doing. I mean, they’re just—it’s like being in a kitchen with somebody, except it’s a nuclear power plant. And you know, and like something boiling over and everybody’s trying to react to it and nobody
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knows what the other guy’s doing. And the conversations between the plant operator and the governor and just—it was just a fascinating look inside the monster. And it just confirmed, of course, everything that I thought. But it was just really good—good chance for me to go and know first hand what had happened there. And after I’d read that stuff—it was so obvious before and—and it made so—so much more obvious after
00:50:05 – 2232
that that despite all their precautions, it’s still people that have to do this. It’s still people supervising people, it’s still people inspecting things, it’s still people. People are not perfect. Because we’re not perfect, there’s no—it—nuclear technology is so unforgiving in terms of perfection. You have to be perfect all the time, you have to be on the spot, you have to know what’s going on. You have to measure this, you have to make sure of that, and as long as it’s up to people to do all that, it’s never going to get done 100%.
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It’s—it’s just not because people are not perfect. It’s just the mishmash of perfection needed technology with imperfect people that came into very clear focus during the accident, but also just reading this material up in D.C. It was just very fascinating and I’m glad I did it. And I—I don’t know.
DW: Now you do that and it makes you either more scared, more frustrated, more what? Because having that information and power now, you know, do you not sleep at night? Is it that much worse than before?
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JS: Well, I was up in D.C. to, you know, to try to take over the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, that was the plan that Fall. That we were not going to be these wimps that just got arrested at the fence line, we were actually going to go in and block and sit down and make it sure that they were not going to be constructing the thing. It—it—you get in a game of sorts when you try, in a movement like this, where you escalate and the press dares you to escalate because they don’t want to cover the same action as last time
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because that’s old news. They just don’t—they don’t want you to just go out there and get busted on the row because what does that accomplish? And they’ve already covered that. So you’re in a contest with yourselves to escalate or find new ways to excite people about what you’re doing as well as the press, but you’re also running aget—running up against the reality that as you escalate that, your opposition’s also going to be escalated.
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So when I got up there in D.C. and was doing this research, well, yeah, it—it just confirmed everything I knew and—and made me more determined than ever not to try to let Comanche Peak go online and how I expressed that that fall was going up to Seabrook and participating in that occupation. I had missed the first two, the big one in ’77, I think there was one in ’78, and this was going to be a controversial one in ’79 because this was done by a faction of the Clamshell Alliance, it wasn’t exactly an authorized occupation
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on the good old non-violent sense of the word. It was going to be a more testy version of that. And we—in D.C., I was there not very long before I found a local group to plug into. I was going to American University and we got an affinity group up from American U. and some D.C. people to go up to New Hampshire with which turned out to be a great—again, a great fam—a great extended family of people that partied together, that went—had—saw each other socially and then went to these actions together. And we all
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did whatever, how many hours ride it is from D.C. to New Hampshire and got there and spent the night around a campfire thinking about what the next day would bring, how we would do this. Because this was going to be—people were bringing tools this time, people were bringing fence cutters, people were bringing types of things like that. It was not going to be your usual just sit down and get busted type of arrest. And they had divided the army that was there—and there was an army of protesters there—into a north
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and south flank of the plant. This p—this plant, like a—a lot of plants, sits right on the ocean’s edge. And there’s marshy land around it. Beautiful setting, I mean, they build—they always build these things in the most beautiful places. And I’ll never forget, as the sun was coming up that day, it was kind of a marshy area that we had to go across, there was the plant with the fence, here was the sun coming up in a full, yellow circle over here. Here was a full moon setting over here, bright white disc, they were completely at
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equidistance in the sky. That was the best moment of the whole day. You got there to the plant and these guys had not—it was just a revelation. Apparently, the south side was much more vigorous about testing the—the police line in the fence, they actually tried to get in there with fence cutters and tarpaulins to keep the water cannons off and so on. And they got beaten back by the police. That was the testier bunch. We got put in with the pacifists from like Maine and Vermont and—who, when we got to the fence line, just
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stopped. And nobody was testing anything, nobody was trying to get inside because there was—it was ob—I mean, inside the fence line, it was shoulder to shoulder police. And state troopers from all the New England states. You would not believe this, but Rhode Island has the most fascist state trooper—did at the—at the time, state trooper organization. They actually goose-stepped in these high boots and—and hats that they had. They looked just like, you know, brown shirts in 1938 or whatever. Anyway, they were shoulder-to-shoulder police inside the fence, so it was obvious that if you were going to try to do something, you would get beat up. But, hey, that’s what we were there
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for. Well, the—this north side was very pacifistic and I was—it was pretty disappointing the whole day because no movement—I mean, we didn’t get inside the plant, we didn’t do anything but sit outside. In fact, in our affinity group, there was this woman, this aspiring Barbra Streisand-type, that—that got to know this colonel on the other side, this National Guard colonel that was kind of directing things. And, you know, we would—as was the want at the time, you know, there were a lot of songs being sung and things like
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that because there was absolutely no action taking place so—so this woman decided to belt out some Broadway tunes. And it was a very surreal—and—and you know, she got to be buddy with this colonel and this colonel would like do requests for her, and you know, like Everything Coming up Roses, and, you know, other Streisand’s greatest-hit type of things. And she had the—I mean, she had a big voice, I mean, a big voice. She was very good. But it was very surreal to watch this performance going on for the benefit of this National Guard’s captain or colonel or whoever he was on the other side.
DT: Did you sense a sort choreographed…?
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JS: Well, our side was—I just don’t think that people knew what to do, there was no leadership there. And I felt kind of funny because I—you know, I was kind of a—just passing through so I didn’t want to take contr—you know, and you—you—you would have thought that somebody had a plan and they would’ve had something, you know, like a Plan B, what if this happens, this—we’re going to do this. Didn’t seem to happen that way. Things were very violent on the other side, I mean, people were getting shot with
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water cannons, people were getting hit over the head with batons. On our side, it was, you know, Barbara Streisand’s greatest hits. So, at the—at the end of the day, we all kind of congregated over to the gate, the main gate part on the highway there through town in Seabrook. I’ll never forget this moment. We had completely caught them off guard on the other side, because when we—when as a whole, as the whole group rounded this corner on the highway, there was no National Guard there, there was no State Troopers
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there, there was nothing there. For a moment, for like five minutes, ten minutes, we had the place to ourselves and there was this gate, and there was a place underneath the gate where you could go under and get actually on plant property. And I said, perfect, this is, you know, let’s go. This is what we’re here for. This is what everybody traveled here for, let’s get on plant property and do some occupying and—and try to force the issue. And when somebody tried to do that, everybody yelled at him, said, no, no, no, we don’t
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want you to do that. Come back over here, you’re going to get beat up, come on,
It was a revelation to me. It was just—people really didn’t want to do that. We had come all this way and here was this opportunity that was staring us right in the face and yet, for some people, for some reason, people just didn’t want to do what we had come there to do.
DT: Do you this was due to the non-violent protocol or was it fear or what?
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JS: I don’t know what it was. I think it was fear, I think it was exhaustion from the whole day having gone the way it was maybe for each side, I don’t know. But, to me, it was kind of the end of an era. It just—it just deflated my whole balloon that—I—I remember coming back from there thinking—just shaking my head, thinking, what in the world was that all about then, if people didn’t—if people had come there with the notion of what they were going to do. I mean, it was very clear. I mean, you could not have
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arrived at this demonstration without knowing it was going to ratchet up, you know, the aggressiveness of the protestors. If you—if you came knowing that, and you didn’t act when the opportunity presented itself, what were you doing there and what was I doing there? What had I been—what had I been so excited about, you know? It just—it just struck me as very wrong and while I continued to participate in actions after that, they
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were of my own making for the most part. They were down here in Texas or they were things like out in Diablo Canyon where we didn’t get busted, we were just harassing folks on site and so on. So I don’t—I don’t know—I think that was the last time I ever participated in anything like that in that way.
[End of Reel 2232]
DT: Jim, if you could maybe give us a little bit of background about how civil disobedience and some of the tactics that you used, whether it was up at Seabrook or down here in Texas, how they might have originated in Europe?
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JS: Well, there was this significant movie that I saw at the time that I think was part of all that—that was in Germany, where—where this started, where the idea of occupying plant sites and actually stopping construction of nukes started. There was a place called Wyhl, it’s W-Y-H-L, I think. There was a—a—a—this really bad 16mm movie of—called Reaction at Wyhl. And Green Mountain Distribution put it out, I don’t even know whether they’re still around or not. But this was like a home movie of what had
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happened at this German reactor site. They—the town—the community had actually crossed over the fence—this was before much was built on the site, given—but they’d actually crossed over the fence onto plant property, and set up a whole community, a whole village. They had a school there, they had a meeting place, they had, like, a bakery, they had a whole community. They existed on this plant site and prevented any
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construction from going forward. And it was examples like that that inspired the Clamshell and other people in the count—in this country to try to do the very same thing. Never happened here, but that was what the inspiration was to actually occupy a plant site, forcing construction to—to stop and pushing the issue in that respect as a—as a huge resistance movement, much like the civil rights movement. You know, integrating buses from one end of the country to another, integrating restaurants, taking physical action to
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change the circumstances, change the law. To change the context of what was going on. So, it wasn’t just a pipe dream to begin with, that this could happen, I mean, it had actually happened in Europe. It—I guess, the first occupation, or second one, at Clamshell—in—in—in Seabrook, were the closest that this country ever saw to that kind of thing. I mean, thousands of people occupying the site, they stayed there for a long period of time, relatively speaking. You know, they had institutions on site, they had an
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on-site paper for a week or whatever it was at Seabrook there. And then they got busted. And so that was the model that all of us had there, and that model was adopted by people literally—every—almost every place there was a plant site, it seemed like, that model was in existence. Whether it was in California or Louisiana or Texas or Kansas or Oklahoma or South Carolina, that was the model. So when that happened, we—we formed, Kim and I and Lon formed the Armadillo Coalition and didn’t think that civil
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disobedience was going to be our first act. We felt like we needed to do something else first. Educate people and so forth, so that’s what we did. But it was never ruled out as a tactic by the group. It was just something that we didn’t feel like we were up for first thing out of the gate. Maybe we were wrong, maybe we should’ve done that first thing out, but we just didn’t—we didn’t. The Armadillo Coalition became quite successful, I mean, considering—you know, relatively speaking, that had a chapter in Fort Worth, had a chapter in Dallas, had a chapter in Denton. I had a student group up in Sherman. There
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was one down in Waco for a while. So that we had these rallies, these demonstrations and so on, and at some point, we—I remember, we were at—what was then called Zoo World, which was this radio station in Dallas called the Zoo, which was the main rock and roll station in town and still very countercultural. It’s hard to see that now, imagine that now in this culture. But at the time, it was like hippiedom on the airwaves, you know. Like we would do actions over at TU and they—they would dedicate songs to us,
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you know, we’d be able to call and request and stuff and they had this like alternative culture fair every year called Zoo World. And we had a booth there, every year. And the first year we had a booth there, we had a booth and there was this group down the way called CASE that had a—a booth. And I had never heard of these folks before, I kind of wandered down, and that was the first time I’d ever met Mavis Belisle. She was staffing—and Mavis, I’m not going to say manning, she was staffing a booth for CASE,
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and we got to talking and—and, you know, what are you all doing? What’s in—well, we’re doing the regulatory side of it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, working with Juanita Ellis, doing this and this and this. What are you all doing? Well, we’re doing this, you know, thing, (?) Clamshell, blah, blah, blah. Well, it didn’t take very long for Mavis to—to get involved with the Armadillo Coalition, it was more her style of things. And she was the heart, or one of the—the core people in Dallas, for that group. And she was just a—a—a very good person. She’s a—she was a mentor of mine almost immediately and
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kind of a co-conspirator. I—I think I’ve traveled in a car with Mavis more miles than anybody I’ve ever known, even my wife. We’ve traveled from one end of the country to the other, going to conferences, going to actions, and it was all in the Catholic Church’s card, too, it was great. She worked for the—she was an editor of the Catholic Church paper there in the Fort Worth diocese. And she had a—they gave her a credit card and a car. And so, a lot of anti-nuke organizing that went on in North Texas from 1977 through
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80 something, Catholic Church paid for. At any rate, CASE was on the scene already and that’s how I met Mavis at that booth, and we got to talking to each other and she became an Armadillo Coalition of Texas person. And she never dropped out of CASE or anything, she still kept contact—contacts but they just weren’t doing anything. They were just sitting around waiting for the permit to come back up when they got ready to open it up and they were going to fight that. Meanwhile, we were out there trying to rabble rouse people to resist that fact to even build the plant in the first place.
DT: Can you explain a little bit about what CASE’s argument was against the…?
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JS: Well, CASE was going at it from a—a strictly regulatory point of view about the fact that it wasn’t being built correctly, which would be a concern, you would think, at a nuclear power plant. If they don’t build it correctly, there’s a problem or two, potentially. So they were concerned about trying to stop it, or at least trying to build a better nuke, I think. You would have to ask, and I’m sure you have, Juanita, if you haven’t interviewed her, you—she’s somebody that you should interview. She’s a strange pers—she was this
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housewife in Oak Cliff who got involved in this. And she has an amazing story. And going into her house during those years was like going into a canyon of boxes and papers. Things literally piled from the floor to the ceiling and you would wind your way through there to the—to the kitchen part where there was a place to sit down around the kitchen table. Everything else was kind of filled with documents and—and boxes and legal papers and so on.
DT: Related to…?
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JS: Related just to Comanche Peak. Because they had started back in 1974 and, in fact, she and an airline pilot, I think his name was Bob—Bob Pomeroy got followed around. There was a whole scandal about how they were followed and surveilled for what they were doing. And if you’ve ever seen these—I mean, they were the most milk-toast people ever. So you can imagine what they were doing—how they were freaking out about us. And anyway—rate, they were—had already fought the nuke on the
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beginning side of it, trying to deny them a construction permit and now they were waiting for another permit hearing to come up. That wasn’t going to come up for a long time.
DT: They were waiting for the operations permit?
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JS: Exactly. And a way to challenge it because that’s all they knew. They just knew how to challenge it from a legal point of view and—and Juanita wouldn’t just—she would just rather die than go protest anything. I mean, she—she never hit the picket line, she never did anything like that. I mean, the most she did was write letters and get involved in the legal part of it. And that was—you know, some people just are not cut out to do that, some people, like me, seem to fall into it without any trouble at all. So Mavis was looking for something more active to do, especially with everything that was
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going on nationally. I think she sort of recognized us as kindred spirits and decided to hook her train to our—or her wagon to our train for a while. So we became buddies and between Mavis and I, decided that it was time after two years of doing this educational stuff, it was time to do an act of civil disobedience, to escalate resistance. This was a very controversial decision on our part. We tried to get the Armadillo Coalition to go along with us on this, but a strange coalition of liberals and socialist worker party people
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prevented this from happening. Liberals, because they were scared to death about doing anything that radical at that point and you have to remember, at—in 1979, I don’t think anyone had been busted in an act of civil disobedience like since the civil rights movement. I can’t think of any movement in Texas where there was an organized civil disobedience campaign. So they were concerned about how many people get turned off, and plus, you know, we would get shot the minute we tried to go over the fence.
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Everybody was afraid of some redneck sheriff in Glen Rose getting a—a itchy trigger finger and people getting hurt. And then the Trots, the socialist worker people, Trotskyites, were all concerned that it was not going—you know, it was going to turn off the masses and that that was no way to organize a revolution. Most—some of the most conservative people in the world are calling themselves socialist worker party folks. So we had this—we kept trying to do this through the Armadillo Coalition and this—it
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just—it wouldn’t happen. So it was a tough—it was like giving up a baby almost, a child, because I—I had birthed this group. And we decided to form, at that point, something called the Com—Mavis and I did—called the Comanche Peak Life Force. There was this term that Gandhi used, (?), a term that was a life force equivalent meaning other people were kind of using that—there was a truth force, I think. That was a little bit too presumptuous for me, even then. I didn’t claim to know the truth, I just knew how to
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claim my part of the truth. But I did think that we were a force for life as opposed to that plant which was, to us, a death machine. So we called ourselves the Comanche Peak Life Force and we brought in somebody from Oklahoma, we brought and—actually people who’d done this in Oklahoma, at the Sunbelt Alliance, to come in and teach us nonviolence and how do you do this kind of protest? How do you pull off a CD—civil disobedience action like this. And had the great fortune to have a guy named Bryant Hunt and some of his guys come down and—and spend a day with us and teach—actually, a weekend with us, I guess, and teach us and train us. And again, I think it—
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this probably went on like for the sit down strikes at GM in the thirties, and—and the civil rights movement, I know that it was true. But in terms of how widespread it was, the anti-nuclear movement was very particular and strange in that it actually went to a great deal of trouble to teach people how to participate in these actions. You actually went through a nonviolent training session that covered everything, you know, how to react to tear gas and how to react to an arresting officer and what should your attitude be
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and, you know, no weapons, drugs, alcohol allowed, blah, blah, blah. There were whole manuals that were given out at these actions a—about how—what to do and what would be done and what would not be done and I don’t think anybody had done that up to this point in terms of a mass movement like this. It was very grounded in nonviolence. And so we got the training for this and we had a small core of people that we started out with that were also kind of refugees from the Armadillo Coalition who felt like we did. And
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then we started to advertise and we started to offer trainings on weekends at parks or at people’s homes that we did ourselves. And pretty soon we had about, I don’t know, a hundred, two hundred people that were interested in doing this action. Now, as it turned out, there were only about 50, I guess 48 people that got busted the first time. So, there were that many that got busted and a whole lot of people doing support because people did not know what was going to happen to us when we got busted. So the breakaway was painful, but I knew after that—after we formed the Life Force, I just—I never paid any more attention to the Coalition. It kind of had a life of its own after that and I co—I
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pretty much committed all my energy to Life Force stuff. And we had our first occupation on June 10, 1979. We also had the—just a good break when we had a—a lawyer named Louis Pitts come in and help out. He had been helping out at Barnwell in South Carolina, a lawyer. Has the most lilting Southern accent you have ever heard in your life, just the sweetest talking guy ever. The bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. Had to beat the women off with sticks. He liked Texas because of that because he found a lot of
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dates down here, he stayed with us quite a while. And he went into town and talked to the sheriff and the judge and everybody, all the authority figures in town about how—what he called greasing the operation. As in greasing the rails. And so he was going to in and grease things and talk to the sheriff about what was going to happen so it wouldn’t be a surprise. So that by the time we got out there, it was a very choreographed action. But still, at the same time, kind of a—a big deal, kind of a precedent, because nothing
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like that had ever happened before. You cannot imagine, it was—you know, I’ve often thought of these—these World War II films, you know, where they’re in like the bomber, the—the bay of the plane, about to parachute out and, you know, there’s like the—the Jew and the Catholic and the Polish guy and the guy—you know, there’s always somebody named Tex. And it was just like that in terms of spirit because you did—you were jumping off into a big unknown. Looking back now, it seems kind of silly but people were getting busted that had never gotten busted before in their lives. Like my mom would say, you know, I don’t mind you getting arrested, I just wait—I just wish
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you’d wait till after you’d graduated. People that didn’t know what was going to happen to their, you know, businesses if they got busted or to their college prof—you know, degree programs or something. So it was like a big unknown and people get very close when they’re about to encounter something like that. And so, you know, the night before, we had found this piece of property in Glen Rose—in—right in the middle of Glen Rose that this guy had let us have. Oh, God, what was—T—What was his name?
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A guy who actually used his property on weekends. Had a trailer on it, had this old crumbling original wooden structure, a house, that somebody’d built there in the 1880’s or earlier sometime, and the rest of it was clear land and it dropped down to the Paluxy, you were actually on the banks of the Paluxy River there. Really neat spot. And down at the banks, there was this slope and the trees were there and the night before there were like, you know, a dozen campfires going and people were singing and people kind of
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nervous about what was going to happen the next day and talking to each other and the next morning, we all circled up down by the river, sang a song or two to kind of get our spirits going. Talked to each other to try to reassure each other and said, just said, let’s go, let’s load up. So we all loaded up, went down there, had these make-do ladders that took us over the fence, we lined up, we marched to the front. There were—and there were lots of people that we had no idea where they came from. They just—just kind of like they did in the first couple of battles in the Civil War, people came out just to see what would happen and eat lunch and stuff. That’s what happened there. Glen Roseites
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and other folks from around the area just showed up to see what happened, to see if we really would get shot or something. And so we lined up, we had our affinity groups in order, we climbed over the fence using these makeshift ladders and got over there, sat down, and sang or chanted or sat, did whatever we had to do until Sheriff Larimore came by, who was just the nicest guy, I have to say. Louis had done a good job, plus I think this guy was semi-sympathetic to us. He was a younger guy and he—he was just—he—00:19:30 – 233
he kind of smirked half the time when he was dealing with us. And Sheriff said, OK, ladies and gentlemen, you all are now officially under arrest. Would you please accompany me over to the bus that’s waiting for you here. Because they had buses waiting for us, to put us all in. And we said, yes, sir. We got up, we went into the bus, and he took us down to the jail. Now Glen Rose is like the second smallest county in the state of Texas, I think. Doesn’t—didn’t have much money even then, now with the plant
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it has quite a bit of money, but, its jail could not hold 48 people. There was no way that we were going to go to jail in Glen Rose. So he wrote us a ticket, we go—we went inside, we got fingerprinted, he wrote us out a little ticket and that was the end of it, as far as the dramatic arrest was concerned. And while it wasn’t a big deal in the capital K cosmic order of things, it was a big deal for this area because it was the first campaign of civil disobedience against anything like that that had taken place. So the headlines, you know, were great, it was great news, you know. I remember seeing this one San Antonio paper headline that just—you know, at the—at the time, they had these tabloids in San
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Antonio, I think they still have one or two, but they’re just sensationalist, kind of New York Daily type things. And the headline was Sixty Nabbed at—In Plant. You know, like we were trying to sneak in or something. And they even got—they even inflated our numbers, which was great, too. You know. But it wasn’t nearly as that—as dramatic as all that, it was very orchestrated, very choreographed. We went over the fence, we got arrested, we got a ticket, we left. Then, there was a trial. And we had wanted to go to
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trial and Louis was going to be our lawyer. And the trial was much more interesting and much more—much more interesting, much more lasting in terms of its impact than the occupation was even, for that town. The Glen Rose courthouse, Somervell County Courthouse, doesn’t even have inside bathrooms, it—it had an outhouse. And the courtroom itself was not air-conditioned. So you had this kind of Inherit the Wind quality to it, everybody had fans in there, and the locals were out there and—and
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intermixed with the locals were people like me that had hair down to here and beard—full beards and everything. It was quite a mix of folks. And we had a six-person jury and on that jury was a hog farmer, a primitive Baptist minister—not just a Baptist minister, a primitive Baptist minister, that what’s the church called itself. Couple of women, I forget what they did. One of the ancestors of the founding fathers of the town, I mean, this was a hard core Glen Rose jury. And at the time, the strategy was to do something called a—a defense of necessity, a necessity defense. And this is where if you’re on this side of a fence and you see somebody drowning on that side of the fence, you can hop over that
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fence, trespass and break a law in order to save a life or com—or do a larger good. And this is what we were claiming we were doing at Comanche Peak. We were trespassing over their fence in order to call attention to a larger problem of the plant. And in doing so, we had to explain what the danger of the plant was. And so, the judge—God—God bless Louis—the judge allowed us to present this defense. He could’ve said, no, no way, it’s just a straight ahead trespassing defense. But I think everybody—it was such a
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novelty then, and it was such a big deal in this small town that they were kind of fascinated with it. And they were as curious as anybody about what was going on. So they allowed us this defense. And we got to bring in Rosalie Bertel and Earnest Sternglass and John Goffman in to testify for us in little Glen Rose. And so they got up on the stand and talked about how bad radiation was and so on and so—just tremendous education project for the whole town, plus the media was covering it. Well, the D.A.
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didn’t know what to do. He—he didn’t want to argue the merits of nuclear power, so he didn’t bring anybody up, any scientist or anything the company, I’m sure, offered him at the time. Nothing like that, he was—he wasn’t going to have any of that, it was just a straight ahead trespassing case. Plus, then, at every chance he got, he had 7 or 8 pictures all of—of—from the bus, they took pictures of us when we got ticketed and arrested. And they were Polaroid’s, and he had—of course, all 48 people, there were nuns that got arrested, there were older folks, there was Ma—you know, perfectly reasonably looking folk that got arrested, it wasn’t just all hippies. But, for his purposes, he had 7 or 8
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photographs of the longest haired, most bearded guys, all guys, that got busted, and I was one of them, that he would lay out in front of the jury every chance he got. When he—whenever he was explaining about something that was going on with this case. And we were—we were kind of the poster boys for the hippies that had invaded town there and blah, blah, blah. Well, we also got a chance, some of us—they chose, I guess, there were three or four or five of us that got up to testify on behalf of the whole group. And Sister
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Patricia was one nun from Dallas, I think Mavis might have been one, I’m not sure about that, there was a woman who was pregnant that testified from Austin. And there was me that also testified, and at the poi—that time, I was still, you know, doing chapel and directing it and I could talk all about how this was a New Testament type of thing to do and maybe somehow take the edge off that photograph a little bit, give them some background to it.
DT: What was the New Testament argument?
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JS: Well, I think it’s just that if you’re—of course, that would—that’s twenty years ago, or so, so it takes me a while back, but I was very into a kind of Martin Luther King approach to Christianity where it had, you know, if you—if there’s a wrong out there, it’s your duty to protest it in a very nonviolent, Christian way. And it’d be unChristian for you not to do it. That—and—and here was love as a message, basically. We’re all about
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loving people and loving our enemy and not holding it—not even being angry necessarily at the company, they were just trying to make a buck, blah, blah, blah. So I got up there and—and, you know, I had been in debate and gotten honors in high school, and blah, blah, blah, so maybe I wasn’t exactly the hippie they might have thought that I was when they first saw the picture. That was the point of the testimony at any rate. So it was just a grand time. I mean, we sat there in that—in that courthouse all week long just amazed
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because these—these locals had never heard anything like this coming out of these scientists about low-level radiation and the history of workers and just all kinds of great stuff. And sure enough, they voted four to two to acquit us, it was a hung jury. And when they announced that, it was just an amazing uproar in the courtroom. This came—like, they—they sent it out to the jury at like, oh God, 12 or 1 in the afternoon and the jury stayed out till late, late in the evening, I mean, it was dark when they came back and
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said—and said, we just can’t agree on a verdict. And the whole place erupted and filed out into the courthouse yard, around the courthouse there. The hog farmer came up and shook our hands, tears in his eyes, about what he had found out. Just an amazing sight. Just a—a—it was just an amazing thing that happened. It was—it was transforming for us and for them, as well. And that was probably the highlight of that whole chain of events down there in Glen Rose. We had more occupations after that, but that was the only time where we got to—you could be sure that was the only time we got away with that, arguing that defense and—and doing it that way with that result. All the other times
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were not nearly as dramatic. We had another occupation that same year in Thanksgiving, we had like a hundred people busted, again ticketed and so forth, but we never got trials out of that that were like that one. People were there right after—on the anniversary of Three Mile Island in ’80 and got busted and I think that was—and then in July 4th in 1980 was the last full-scale occupation that we tried to—to pull off. And that was different in spirit and strategy and everything else. You went from having that completely
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choreographed experience that I talked about earlier to the point, just a year and a half later, where we snuck on in the middle of the night, set up camp without them knowing about it, were determined to stay on site for as long as we could, to disrupt things as long as we could without getting arrested. So it was not choreographed at all. And we had gone out onto plant property and scattered about, knew where we were going to set up camp at. There were a couple of guys who wanted to take a—a canoe across the lake
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there and try to land on that side. That accounts for the imagery—I don’t know whether you can see it or not—but the imagery on the poster that we did—oh, it’s covered up now. But, there was anyway—Washington crossing the Delaware was on that poster. And decided just to reclaim July 4th as our own day to do this action at. And it was—in 19—it was the summer of 1980, where we had like 60 days in a row of 100+ heat. It was the hottest summer ever in Texas recorded. So there weren’t a lot of out-of-towners there and we were trying to promote this action to everybody on the east coast and stuff. Come on down to Texas and it was like, no way in hell are we going to go down there and broil.
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So we didn’t have as many people, it was—it was kind of demoralizing because we didn’t have as many people as we thought we might have. But we did it anyway and within the first 24 hours, there were helicopters buzzing all over the place, it was—it was closer to a para—paramilitary operation without the rifles and ammunition than it was the first kind of occupation that I described. And that was, kind of, generally the way things were moving in the movement as a whole. Things were getting—you know, this whole
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idea of escalating tactics and—and pressing the issue and not being satisfied anymore with just going across the fence and getting busted and saying, thank you, and let us have our ticket and go away. It was—it was more challenging. And so within the first—I think, the first day, some of us—they sent Rangers out, they sent Texas Rangers this time too, no—no more Sheriff Larimore. They weren’t going to let him handle this. It was Texas Rangers and it was more than one Texas Rangers, don’t buy that one Ranger, one
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riot slogan. And they were all overweight. And you can imagine, in the noonday sun, over 100 degrees, a fat Texas Ranger, he doesn’t want to mess with you at all. He—they were already in a very bad mood—very bad mood. So we took—they came and tried to land a helicopter near our camps. We all scattered in different directions and one of us—a group of us took a wrong turn and ran smack dab into a Texas Ranger, and who—who busted us. And so I just decided, and I’d been doing this for a while anyway in these actions, that I wasn’t going to cooperate with the rest. I was going to go limp and—and I told them that. And they kind of looked disgusted at themselves and at me, and realized
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kind of what that meant. And they dragged us out of the bush there into a clearing. And waited for the helicopter to land because we were going to be transported by helicopter into this holding pen that they had set up inside the plant at this point. They had—they had a little fenced in area that was like the Comanche Peak prison for the day or something that they had set up, that they were bringing people in there. I guess there were, I don’t know, five of us that got busted at that particular point or so. I think Mavis
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may have been in that group, I forget, it’s kind of all hazy to me. And they pulled us out—so they—they pulled us by our ankles, pulled us out of the bush and laid us in this open area and the helicopter landed, and I think they could only take two or something at a time, or three or whatever it was. And—and they were saving us for last. There were a couple of—this guy named Joe there with me and we both had decided to go limp and not cooperate with the rest. And we tried to explain to these guys, you know, nothing against
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you, it’s just our way of—of protesting the fact that we don’t want to leave and we’re trying to disrupt the system and whatever else excuse we had for doing that at the time. And they had special plans for us. And so when they had taken the other guys away—I—I don’t—I don’t think they did this to Joe. They put Joe on first, but because I red, you know, I had very red hair at the time and the relationship between authority figures, particularly police, and redheads is not good at demonstrations. They can point you out, you know, they pick out who they’re going to give trouble to on the police line there while—while they’re talking amongst themselves and that happened more times than I
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can count. And these guys had done the same thing, they just decided that they were going to—either somebody had told them that I was a ringleader or something like that or I was smarting off too much. I don’t think I was, but I may have been. And they were going to do something special for me. So instead of taking a direct line to the helicopter, they grabbed me by—this one guy—this one Ranger grabbed me by the ankles and started dragging me in an indirect line to the helicopter. And that indirect line had a huge
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cactus plant right in the middle of it. And I had a backpack on, of sorts, a little one but other than that, it was very thin clothing because it was July in—in Texas. You know, a T-shirt and—and some Army fatigues, some used—very thin Army fatigues. And I can remember seeing that thing coming up and realizing what was happening and just putting my head back and looking directly into the sun and I can’t explain—you know, it—it—it could be a physiological thing, it could be a mental thing, I don’t know what happened.
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But I just remember feeling the most—the—the best sense of ease that I’ve ever felt and then that—and just looking directly into the sun and saying, everything’s going to be all right, it’s going to be cool, and having some voice tell me that. And we went over the cactus and I got a bunch of cactus in me. And I rode to the little Comanche Peak prison with that in me. Spent the rest of the day in that impoundment with people picking cactus out of me. And it turns out that there was a particularly deep one in my rear end that was abscessing after a month a so, so I had to actually go see a doctor about taking it out because it was such a problem. And so I go—I—you know, I—I didn’t have a family
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physician at that time, it’d been years since I went with my mom to the doctor, so my—I think my step mom had a doctor she recommended on the west side of Fort Worth, completely I—you know, didn’t know him at all and I went in and explained, I need this thorn removed from my backside. I get in and the—and the physician’s assistant is somebody I went to high school with and so I have to explain this story to her and anyway, it’s—it was a weird thing and I got it out of me and—and it’s been sitting in this
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thing ever since. I mounted it. There was also a—a quote at the time about one of the plant people, or one of the Texas Rangers, basically saying, they’re just a thorn in our side. So that also kind of amplified the mythology around it. And later on, when I was doing Texans United work, we had a—a thorn award that we were giving out in honor of this, that I would give out to people. But that was a strange experience. And we sat there in that compound and we got booked, finally. We didn’t—a couple of us didn’t want to
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make bail, we went on a hunger strike, so we spent the next week or two in the Granbury—in the Hood County jail, in Granbury there, on a complete hunger strike. They tried to say that we were eating the stuff and it wasn’t true. And—and in jail, in the Granbury jail, one of the—the trustee in charge of cooking was somebody that knew me from high school. And I was trying to tell him, look, it’s nothing personal, it’s not that your food isn’t any good, it’s just that, you know, we’re doing this for a political reason, blah, blah, blah. That was the only time, I think, my dad—my dad came down to visit me when I was in jail there that week or so. And that was pretty interesting because he had
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stayed away. It wasn’t that he didn’t support it but he just wasn’t an active participant. And he actually came down and like dropped off a book or two or whatever and that was kind of neat. But…
DT: Your parents were supportive?
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JS: They were. They were remarkably supportive. I don’t know how—if I would be as supportive now, with my child, the way they were. And my dad—I—I found out much, much later, after he had died as a matter of fact, that he had ended up integrating the federal lunch spot in the federal building in the sixties. He had gone in with a black guy and actually sat down to have lunch in—in Fort Worth at the time, which I didn’t know anything about. So I guess maybe it’s genetic, I don’t know. He never did anything that activist when I knew him. He was a Democrat and he was certainly anti-
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Republican and anti-Nixon because they were messing—he was a federal government worker in HUD, because they were messing with his programs. But he didn’t—he never went to any rallies or did anything like that. He didn’t get involved in any anti-war stuff at all. My mom was not that way at all. She was very civic minded, she belonged to a neighborhood civic club and was interested in neighborhood stuff but never got involved in anything like that. But they were completely supportive, I was just very surprised about that. I guess I was surprised, I mean, there’s not much they could do about it at that
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point, I was over 18. I was going to do that and I guess they figured that out, that I was going to do it anyway. But, yeah, they were—they were very supportive. But anyway, that action was the last occupation of Comanche Peak that happened in the last action that I got busted for at plant site. There were actions after that. I guess the best one was when kind of the last remnants of the Life Force in, I guess it would’ve been ’81 or ’82, got together and did a demo down at what was then Dallas Power and Light headquarters,
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now it’s TU headquarters. Where we decided to take energy appliances, energy consuming appliances and stuff, and blockade the building and sell Comanche Peak to the highest bidder to pay ratepayers back. It was a ratepayer’s auction of Comanche Peak. So we took a refrigerator and like a stove, and load them on a trailer, we had this old car that somebody had donated to us, that we put lemons all over on and we were more than successful. We actually—we struck in the early morning hours, we had chains
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that wrapped around these appliances and then on the doors and people inside were actually blockaded. We were a fire hazard for like an hour because people could not get in or out of the building. One of our people got up on the—on a—like a second floor balcony, pseudo-balcony that’s on the building there and started doing his auctioneering from up there. And he was the last person to get arrested because they actually had to get a hook and ladder to come and get him off of that. It was a crazy action and then we did one at TU headquarters, upstairs in the executive suites where three of us got busted there.
DT: What were you doing there?
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JS: We were protesting Comanche Peak and the fact that it was still being built and I forget the event that triggered it, there was something that had just happened that triggered our response to that. But, within the Dallas County Court system, of course, they were not going to have any of that necessity defense business, none of that nonsense was going to happen in their courts. So all that went straight through, we got sentences, you know, we—we did our time. We—we—it was just not a very pleasant experience.
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We did not have Louis anymore as our nice friendly country lawyer, we had these guys that were assigned to us that had no idea about this necessity defense and this nuke stuff. You know, they were—they were usually assigned to heftier criminal types than us. There was one time when we were out in front of TU where I was arrested, literally, for standing on the sidewalk. We had just gone through—oh, I know, it was—it was a—it was the action that we had had fourteen days continuous occupation of the Comanche
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Peak site. We—we started on July 4th and we ended on Bastille Day, I think. Ten days, maybe, continual occupation. And on Bastille Day we had a news conference saying this is the end of the occupation, blah, blah, blah. Had it in front of the TU building and the whole conference was over and stuff and we were just talking amongst ourselves, me and another woman, Roxanne, the person I’d been on the walk with, and we actually got
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arrested for standing on a sidewalk. We were not moving fast enough on the sidewalk for this Dallas policeman. And they—and—and I’m sure this didn’t endear me at all to them, but as they arresting me, I couldn’t help but laugh. I was laughing the whole time because I knew it wouldn’t stick. It was just—you know, the law is whatever the—the cop says it is on the scene, but there was no way they were going to make this bust stick. There was just no way. So I was laughing all the way down there and I’m sure that just
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pissed him off even more, but it was just, you know, it was just hilarious. It was just too unreal. So we did things like that, but after a while, even that petered out. The actions around the rate hikes and stuff, and that all fizzled out. We did—we went out of state a lot, we went to Diablo Canyon and participated in that occupation. We’d go over to the Whip site in New Mexico and help those guys out. We were—we’d go to New York, we got more—more involved as the freeze—as the weapons issues came about. When I got
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involved with the nuclear power plant issue, man, the weapons issue was like verboten, you don’t want to turn off people by talking about the need to disarm nuclear weapons. You know, that’ll—that’ll run people away. We just want to talk about power plants. Well, all that changes in the 80’s, you know, people—the freeze movement developed and people really were wanting to talk about nuclear weapons. And so we’d send like a hundred people up to New York for this action that we did in conjunction with the big disarmament rally, peace rally. I think it was like half a million people, maybe the largest peace rally ever in the country. And as a component of that, they had a CD action at each
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of the embassies of—of—of countries that held nuclear weapons at that point. And we picked France, because France was a son of a bitch. They were still testing, they were really arrogant about it and—and we knew people were going to get busted in—at the British Embassy and it—you know, the American site and the Russian site, those were all predictable. But we felt like the French needed to be taught a lesson. So the Texas contingent took the French embassy on. And whenever we went out of town, we always
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got this rep, you know, as hard core Texas type, you know, we knew how to party, we knew how to get things done. We were not ideological at all. I mean, that was great—it was a—we were all—we were—we were just about the action and we didn’t have the politics splitting us in two. We didn’t, you know, it was very solid. And so we had a good time shutting down the French embassy there and it was a—it was a righteous action. And met some beautiful French women in the—in the process, who were joining 00:44:40 – 233
us and it was just a great day. We had planned on getting these boxes, these moving boxes and putting people inside the moving boxes so they couldn’t come and cut the chain. Anyway, there was this whole strategy about putting people inside boxes, cutting holes, and—and so that they wouldn’t be able to just load us up. And we had made these arrangements for sending all these moving boxes up to New York via, you know, UPS or whatever, on the bus or whatever, they didn’t get there on time. So, I don’t know, to this day, there still may be like 50 big moving boxes there at Grand Central Station or somewhere waiting for us to pick them up. But the action went off pretty well. The cops 00:45:18 – 233
in New York could not have been nicer and I found this out doing a Wall Street action, too, that—when I was up there before at American U. You know, they—they were really cool at that time about hand—because they were very experienced. The whole thing about being a…

DT: In Washington, D.C.
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JS: In—in—in New York. You know, they were very experienced in this kind of thing. And that’s what it takes, you know, they knew that we were not a threat to them personally and they knew all about this stuff. And they, you know, they had just the right attitude about it, so when we got on this bus, after we were booked for doing the French embassy action, you know, the guy was like giving us a tour, a rolling tour of New York. You know, there’s the Brooklyn Bridge and my dad worked on that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and they just took us into Chinatown and let us off. And that was it. And they
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were doing that to thousands of people that day. And it was great because Chinatown was happening and we spent the rest of the day hanging out at Chinatown. It was just a great action, and got a lot of press about it and stuff and—and made a big impression on everybody there.
DW: That’s actually a question I have is we’ve heard a lot about—New York is a big city, not like Glen Rose. In Dallas and Glen Rose, what is the response of the media and is your story existing here for us in the Glen Rose paper, or was it beside the El Paso tabloid you mentioned? Channel 4 news, Channel 2 news?
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JS: Oh, yeah.
DW: Maybe you could describe a little about your workings with the media, for or against?
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JS: Oh, well. There’s one—I know people outside the area who will never appreciate what this means, but this was for us, for me, personally, an indication of how far we had come. The night before, I guess, the second occupation, the one that had happened around Thanksgiving at Comanche Peak. Somebody had a TV, like a DC-powered T—or some kind of little TV there at the encampment. And Harold Taft—Harold Taft, this guy who has been doing weather since like before there was weather. He was doing
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weather for Channel 5 in—in—in Dallas-Fort Worth; he’d been there for—since like 1949 as the weatherman. He was God, when it came to weather, I mean, there was nobody else you listened to Dallas-Fort Worth but Harold Taft. Harold Taft. Harold Taft was on the night before, using his weather charts and stuff to explain where the radiation would go if there had been—if there was an accident at Glen Rose. They were giving
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Harold Taft time to explain because of wind directions and meteorological conditions, where would the radiation go if there was an accident at Glen Rose? And it was great, because it was—obviously it would be going north toward Dallas-Fort Worth and all of north Texas there. An amazing thing to have God explaining what would happen to the local populace if there was an accident at Comanche Peak. That was, for me, like the highlight. That was even better than getting on the front page. The first time we did it, it
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was big news. The second time we did it was not quite as big of news. And after that, it was not quite as big of news. And you know, the more we did it, the less newsy it was. This is what I mean when you get caught in a cycle sometimes. Activists will, with trying to escalate it—their—their tactics to get the press to come back and cover it because the press thinks, at that point, it’s old news. You’ve done that before, show me something new. So the—the first time we did this down here, it was big, big press. And the second time, it wasn’t quite as much and so on.
DT: So the story for them is the demonstration, not the underlying issue?
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JS: Right, exactly. Exactly. And that’s what made the Harold Taft part so good. And like the—the trial that happened so constructive because that was the education part that was getting out and changing people’s minds. It wasn’t the fact that they were getting busted—we were getting busted. It was the fact that all this other stuff was
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coming as a result of that. So, yeah, I mean, the—the difference is that we were very big news, obviously, in the community the first time we did it and then we got to be kind of old news after that. And I think that’s—that works that way regardless of what news market you’re in.
DT: How did your demonstrations sit with the TU, the Texas Utilities executives?
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JS: You know, they—they thought we were all kooks, I’m sure. There was a period when I was corresponding, though, with a guy named T.L. Austin, who was CEO of—of TU at the time. And himself a committed Christian. And I was trying to correspond with him on that basis by saying, you know, if you’re really—if you’re really serious about your religion, you need to check this out from a different point of view. Here’s what I’m talking about, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we corresponded politely back and forth
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about it in a very sincere way, I think. I mean, I—I think those guys still don’t know what they’ve done. Still can’t appreciate—you know, a lot of these plants got built because some executive at a utility company played golf with another utility company executive and this other utility company executive bragged about the nuclear plant they were getting built and this guy said, well, we—we’re going to get one of those, too. It was like buying, you know, a new Caddy or something. It was a status symbol among utilities at that—in that era to get you a nuke. Because if you didn’t get a nuke, you were
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just going to be some Podunk utility, but with a nuke, you were, you know, a bigger entity. And a—and a—and a more fascinating entity and a more high tech entity and so on. So I’m sure that’s what happened here, you know, and—and Brown and Root were involved in the construction and if you know anything about Texas history, you know how intertwined with the power that be—they are and..
DT: Can you explain a little bit because they were also the contractor of, I believe…
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JS: STNP [South Texas Nuclear Project].
DT: Right, STNP.
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JS: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, they were Lyndon Johnson’s, you know, official—unofficial construction company. He—if you’ve read Robert Cairo’s biography of Johnson, they struck up a relationship because the Mansfield Dam right outside of Austin and never quit. You know, they built the tiger cages in South Vietnam, they built the nukes, and Dick Cheney is now head of Halliburton, which is—contains Brown and Root. So there’s a long history of those guys being involved in a lot of bad stuff from the get go. And I’m sure that was part of it. I mean, we had no idea—you know, a nineteen-year old Jim Shermbeck from Fort Worth, Texas had no idea what was going on behind the
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scenes between TU and Brown and Root and the cities that were involved and so forth. So I’m sure they thought that we were kind of like a fly that they could just kind of swat and get rid of and—and so forth. We were not as much of a threat to them, I think, as they—as they thought their own bad economics were. Because as it turned out, the economics of that thing is what—is what was seriously damaging to that company and to the other partners that were in that. I mean, there were—there was a whole group of co-ops, for instance, of rural co-ops that had bought a percentage of Comanche Peak that later pulled out because the economics got so bad.
DT: Can you explain the difference in that culture?
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JS: Well, these things—we talked about how perfect the technology has to be. You have to invest a lot of money into perfecting this technology. And if something doesn’t go right, it takes a lot of money to fix it. And there was an instance here, excuse me, when they realized that, you know, they had two reactors down there and they were supposed to be mirror images of each other. Well, they built one to look exactly like the
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other one, so it wasn’t a mirror image and they couldn’t—put the containment vessel in wrong so it had to do a 180 degree turn on the containment vessel and that took, you know, millions of dollars to do. It just—because you’re dealing with the h—with radioactivity, because of all these precautions, you have to spend a lot of money.
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Everything takes a lot of money, everything takes a lot of labor. If you have an a—I remember reading, if you have an accident, that—even a minor one at a nuke—at an operating nuke, you know, it takes 60 guys running in for two minutes, staying there, and then coming out to deal with it. Because you don’t want to overdose them on their radioactivity. So instead of just having one guy go in there with a wrench, going in there and turning a screw, you have to have 60 guys going in there, you know, turning the
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wrench a couple of times and then coming back out because of fear of radioactivity. Well, multiply that on the scale of things down there, that these plants were the biggest that they had ever built, they were what was then called third generation nukes. They were completely experimental, nobody had built them that scale before, they were all out of proportion scale-wise. It was just a recipe for cost overruns, and sure enough, almost out of the gate these guys were experiencing one cost overrun after another. The only
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thing that kept them in the game was this process called construction work in progress, which they could charge all these overruns back to rate payers as they went along. And everybody sucked up and—and went along with that. You know, what would happen—and it was—it was just everybody knew this game. The utility company would demand a 30% rate hike, let’s say, and everybody knew that that was twice as much as they were going to get, so they’d half it to 15% and they’d get exactly what they’d wanted all along. That’s exactly the pattern that—that—that went for years and years and years. But the economics of that plant was what was really its weakest—its Achilles heel, as it were. So
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as Life Force stuff petered out, I was still interested in opposing it. So I—but I was also interested in getting another life because I’d—I’d seen where this was not getting us anywhere, the plant was still going up. I had seen this nuke go from just barely visible—visible on the horizon line to now being these two huge, two hundred fifty tall—foot tall, three hundred foot tall domes. It was very demoralizing and I said, there’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be something that we can do. So I started looking into the
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economic part of it. It was 1984, I was enrolled at UNT, trying to get my degree in radio/TV/film. And Ralph Nadir hits town, along with Jim Maddox and Anne Richards and a lot of these other people. And Ralph Nadir decides to set up a public citizen office, a—a branch of his national group. And he’s looking for people to work for him. So I—I drop out of school, and I go to Austin for a year to help open up this Public Citizen office there and write a report for them that was called Risky Business, that was all about how
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much ratepayers were going to end up paying for these nukes. Not just Comanche Peak, but for STNP as well, Palo Verde that El Paso had bought in as well. So—and Gulf States, Gulf States, east—east—southeast Texas had bought into a Louisiana plant. So it was all—it was, as far as I know, the first study of its kind in this state that actually took it—nukes from an economic point of view saying, how much will this cost the economy, how much will this drain out of the economy. And it was trem—tremendous amount, billions and billions of dollars because you had a multiplier effect and so on. And I am terrible at math, but I managed to get through this exercise with a lot of help from a lot of
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different people. And we like had the very beginnings of a computer, you can imagine, it was 1984, it was just very, very, you know, 5-inch really floppy disc, that’s where the term comes from. Very slow. But we managed to pull this off and we released this report and it got a lot of good publicity and it kind of started a whole new phase for me of—of attacking the plant from an economic point of view. And I came back from that, back up to north Texas and decided I wanted to…
DT: Could you continue, please?
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JS: Well, so, starting around 1985, I tried to put together a new type of model. And it was called the Comanche Peak Citizen’s Audit and it was going to be taking senior citizen’s groups, church groups, neighborhood groups and putting them into a force that could change how the cities were paying for the nuke—quit—make them stop paying for it. Let the utility run out of money, maybe stop it that way. And during this time, the
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operating permit hearings began because it was getting close. They wanted to open this thing in like ’88,’89 or so. And so Juanita Ellis and CASE were getting now more active again after being moribund for a while, they were climbing back into the game. And they were getting assistance from the—what was called the Government Accountability
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Project; it was a D.C.-based group, Billie Guard and some of those folks. And they were working with their own whistle blower stuff because a couple whistle blowers had stepped forward and said, these guys are not installing this stuff right, they’re—they’re mucking up, and they would go right to Juanita and they would blow the whistle on these guys. And that’s what brought Billie and them in because they were specialists in dealing with whistle blowers. They were lawyers and organizers on behalf of whistle blowers.
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So we—I never worked with Juanita directly, but I worked with Billie. And the strategy was that we would try to drive up the cost and try to deny them funding, kind of dam the river in terms of money, while they would try to drive up the cost in terms of correcting these things that the whistle blowers brought forward. And this was a semi—this was just getting underway, really, ’80—‘85, ’86, ’87. It—it—it more or less coalesced, we had printed material out there, we were starting to make some in roads with decision
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makers in the area and then in 1988, I went down and got the paper that day and the headline was that the nuclear power—the Comanche Peak opponents had settled with the company and the NRC. And it just blew me away. Nobody had told any of us that were working on this strategy that were still opposed to the plant about any of this. It was all done in secret. There was a—a CASE board meeting that was secret that Mavis—I think was still on the board or was not invited to, I forget the circumstances exactly, but all very hush hush. Juanita got a place on the Texas Utilities board, she got paid for her legal expenses plus and we got left out in the cold. And so, that was it. That was the end of my organizing against Comanche Peak because at that point there was a green light and there was nothing that was going to stop it.
DT: CASE was the only group that had party status?
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JS: That—that had party status, that’s right. And that was a real mistake on our part because we trusted them to do that part of the fight while we were doing the—the outside organizing, the economic part and so on. The rabble rousing still around the cost issues. Betty Brink was a member of a group that thought they had party status, but I guess they didn’t. I forget how all that played out. They—they—there were legal ramifications where they tried to get back in the game after that, but they were not allowed. Basically,
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once Juanita made that agreement, it was all over. And I’ve never talked to her about it at all, but it’s—I think, she was one of these people that I—I don’t think could have—she had to be involved in the nuke somehow, and she knew it was going to get licensed so the way that she was going to be involved was to be involved after the fact. You know, she couldn’t imagine a life without Comanche Peak, and this was her way of extending her involvement in that, that’s my pseudo-psychological analysis of her decision. Billie
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Guard, to my mind, is still a traitor to the cause and, like I told you earlier, if I ever see her, she’s going to get a—a big right-handed from me just for being kind of the architect. I don’t think Juanita would’ve done that without her being there. But everything changed on that day. I was—I was literally a zombie for the next week or so, just walking around not knowing what to do after that came down.
[End of Reel 233]
DT: The last tape, you’re talking some about the settlement that CASE reached with Texas Utilities and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and how it left many of the other participants in the campaign against Comanche Peak out in the cold and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the schism that happened in that case and maybe in other places in the environmental movement or in progressive causes in general?
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JS: Yeah, I don’t think schisms and factionalism is unique to the environmental movement. It’s present wherever you have more than one or two people organizing against something even if it’s a garden club or a cooking club or a faculty at a college or any kind of group has factions in it. And that’s because we’re all people and some people get along better with pe—some people than others do. Mavis and I knew, and still know, that we’re kindred spirits, I mean, we can—we can say things with glances or smirks or,
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you know, tones of words that say volumes that other people just don’t have that—we don’t have that relationship with. And whenever you try to organize a mass movement, you bring in people of all kinds. People that you agree with, people that you don’t agree with. People that you would never be caught dead with socializing outside of that particular movement. People that are lifelong friends of yours once, you know, you find them in that movement. It’s because it’s all people, there are go—always going to be factions. That’s why it’s better to have like-minded people if you’re—for instance, if you’re doing this kind of civil disobedience, everybody should know, this is what you’re doing and everybody is of a like mind about it and you at least have that in common.
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But, still there are factions, I mean, it’s—it’s just inevitable. And what amplifies that is the fact that it’s all volunteer, you know, nobody’s getting paid to show up at these meetings, nobody’s getting paid to protest, despite what other people may think about our missing checks from Moscow all those years. You know, that was the big joke, where’s my cut? Nobody’s getting paid, and so to get people off—off of the couch, out in front of the TV, to show up at these things, is a big—it’s a big deal. It’s—it’s much harder than it
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used to be, I think. There’s so many more distractions for folks, it’s so much easier not to pay attention to these things, it’s so much easier to be overwhelmed by events. CN—CNN is on 24 hours a day now, you get overwhelmed just watching the news, much less participating in a movement. So I think it’s—it’s always a problem that—we were not unique in that. I—I think the most painful one was—was when the coalition—the Armadillo Coalition decided not to do civil disobedience because that was—that was my
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first big group that I had ever formed and it was like walking away from a child, like I said. But it’s just inevitable, and I think the way that I’ve tried to deal with it in later organizing is just to realize that there are some people that I do not like, but that I need to work with on behalf of a bigger cause and that I overlook what I dislike about them in order to achieve the bigger end. That’s easier said, from my end, than—as opposed to somebody saying it about me. Some people just can’t stand me, hard as it is to believe. And if, you know, as arrogant and presumptuous as I am now, you—you can multiply that by a hundred-fold when you put it with young, you know, 18 years of age, or
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whatever I was when I started out. So I—I just think it is inevitable and the way to get around it is to realize that everybody has a little bit—part of the truth and—just like Gandhi says—and you get together in order to share those truths and find out, you know, which ones are valid, which ones aren’t. You test those truths and you come out of the process with a larger knowledge of things, with a bigger truth. But factionalism is always the curse of these, it’s—it’s just—it’s built in. It’s—it’s because we’re human beings and
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everybody has a different personality and you can bet there’s factions within the Bush administration. You know, like we were just talking about, that the whole fact that al-Qaeda does business with Hussein is ridiculous because they’re all different factions, they hate each other. Anybody who, I’m sure, deals with international politics must come to know the nuances that are involved, you know, some of them are political, some of them are just petty. You know, this guy dated my wife for twelve years before I
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married her or something, you know. And it’s just all kinds of silly things like that that’ll always be there. You just kind of have to maneuver around them or don’t allow the—the—the tensions to get out of—to—to lead you too far astray from what you’re there to do. So I—I don’t know, it’s real—it’s a real problem sometimes, sometimes you have to just intervene and say, look, we’re asking you to leave the group because you’re too much—because you’re running people off or whatever. You know, it’s very hard to do that but sometimes you have to. It’s just—it’s an ongoing problem because we’re human.
DT: Let me ask you something else that sort of is a follow-up to that. Many times there are groups that split apart and then sometimes there are individuals that split off from the group because they are just burned out. They’ve had too much of the frictions with other people or with other groups or frustration with the cause. You mentioned that after this settlement that CASE engineered, that you walked around like a zombie and I’m curious about what burnout feels like, why people go through it and how they come out of it?
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JS: I don’t know. There have been a couple of stages where I’ve just walked a—tried to walk away from doing this work. One was when I enrolled in UNT to go to film school. I just wanted to get out and do something completely different and wanted to do something that was not dependent on other people, that was more dependent on me and how I performed rather than the authorities or some abstract corporation or other people that I was like minded with at all. I wanted to do something for me and—and just get
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away from all this. So that was one way that I handled it, I just walked away. And even when I walked away, I didn’t completely walk away, right? It was—there’s always something that—that happens that you kind of get ensnarled by. But that was an attempt. And—and I would say I wasn’t burned out after—I mean, I was still gung-ho up until the day I read that newspaper headline. So it wasn’t burnout, it was—it was massive meltdown instead. But I know what you’re talking about. I think you have to pace
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yourself. And sometimes that’s a synonym for being lazy, I think, but sometimes it’s not. You have to pace yourself and you have to know that things are not going to be solved in a year or two. When I first got involved in—in this, when I was 19 years old, 18, 19, I thought we really were going to stop Comanche Peak within a couple years. I really thought that because of the mood of the times and—and everything that was going on and the possibilities, the potential that was there. I really thought that and when I first got
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involved with TXI stuff, I said, hey, this is so bad, it’s not going to be very long before we stop this. And, you know, 13 years later, it’s still going on, so I—I don’t know what to tell you about that. I think some—I think it’s all in your attitude about life in general, though, whether you’re an optimist or pessimist. Whether you’re—what you’re like as a kid. Whether—how—you know, there are people that you see right away that you know are going to burn out. They come in and they have all these ideas—what we really
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should be doing is this—this—this—this—this. Of course, it’s all things that you’ve done the last three years but they don’t know that. And you can just see where they’re going to just be a shooting star, they’re going to expend all this energy and then when things don’t get solved within six months to a year, they’re out of there. And you have to take a long-range view. I think being a student of history maybe has helped me, I don’t know, just seeing—although, my God, these fights of mine have gone on longer than the Civil War and Vietnam War combined, so I, you know, I don’t know. They give you some perspective. I’m—I’m reading—I’m really reading a lot about Abraham Lincoln
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now, who I find really fascinating. I’ve never read a lot about him before and I came across something last night that was really applicable to me these days, which is—he’s talking to a friend about getting rest and the friend is concerned he’s not getting enough sleep at night and so on. And Lincoln says something to the effect that, what—what you say is rest is—is the outside. The—the tired in me is inside and it cannot be reached. And that’s the way I kind of feel these days. The tired in me is inside and it’s a place
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that’s always tired these days. But still, you have to keep doing something because if you don’t do something, nothing will get done. I mean, that—it’s almost an arrogance that you have to have, but in places like Texas, maybe it’s a necessary arrogance, I—I don’t know if that makes sense. You have to believe that if you aren’t there doing this thing at this particular time, there’s not going to be anybody else doing it and the whole cause will be lost and set back years, whereas if you’re just a continuing strain of something, if
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you could just keep the—the links on the chain growing, that maybe that’ll lead to progress and the long run. And you have to count—you have to—you have to squeeze out victories that e—that aren’t even victories sometimes, you have to declare them victories, even if they aren’t. And you have to have fun, you have to have fun doing this. If you don’t have fun doing this, you are out like a light. That’s why, even early on, I mean, we—Mavis knows how to have fun at an action. She knows how to laugh, she has a dark—we all have a gallows sense of humor, I think that’s also what I appreciate about Lincoln. You know, always—he always had a sense of humor, no matter how dark. And
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that’s what you have to have, I think. You have to see the humor in it, and you have to realize that the small victories are victories nevertheless, and you don’t know what they got you but maybe they’ll get you something on that you’re not—you’re not even aware of yet. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done something and the ripple effects have been, you know, have come back years later to something. A guy that was on that walk that I was talking about—that walk from the uranium mines, as a consequence of that, he
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met somebody that was building earth-sheltered houses in Denton and decided to go out and build himself an earth-sheltered house and change his whole life around. So, I think it’s—it’s looking at it as a journey, not the end result—after a while, you have to look at it as getting something out of the trip and not the destination. The destination may arrive sooner or later, you—you—that’s kind of out of your hands. But the trip, you’re more or less in control of, and you’re part of it and you can have fun, or not, on that trip. You can
00:12:57 – 2234
make an impact or try to on that trip or not. And that’s where you get most of your satisfaction. I mean, the—the—the life changing things that have happened to me have happened because of the journey, not because we won at Comanche Peak, or TXI’s not burning hazardous waste anymore, the things that have changed my life have been as a result of trying to do those things. But they haven’t gotten done yet. So I don’t know how you—I—I think it’s—it’s deeply psychological question, I—I don’t know how to answer that. I think you’re just born with an attitude about things. I’m a—I’m a dreadful optimist. As cynical as I am, I do th—I do think there is a progression—and maybe
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that’s a result of being too much a history reader—I see a progression of things. I see a progression of things in this state where it won’t always be, you know, Anglo dominated. Another twenty, thirty years most of the people in this state are going to be black and brown, it’s going to be a whole different set of circumstances and politics then. And just the attitude that I—you know, just all the things that came out of the anti-nuke movement. God, just this whole view of technology, this whole, God, the health food
00:14:06 – 2234
stuff, just, you know, just everything that was in its infancy now seems to have blossomed in parallel as time goes on. Things that we were concerned about then, as hippies, I guess that’s part of a larger thing and not just necessarily the nukes movement. But I think the nuke movement teached—taught a lot of people and—and—and did some good teaching to folks who are still involved. I mean, Kim Bash—the person I founded Armadillo Coalition worth is—with—is still doing organizing around Central American
00:14:38 – 2234
issues. Lon Burnham is a state representative for Fort Worth. I’m still, you know, minimally involved in doing Downwinder stuff here, so I don’t know. I think it’s a crazy—you—you have to be crazy, probably, is—is the short answer. You have to be completely fucking insane to keep doing this over and over again without getting any result. Right? That’s the classic definition of insanity, when you expect to have a different result each time of the same process, so I don’t know. I—I th—I think that’s an unanswerable. I think that takes a army of Harvard psychologists to figure out.
DT: You mentioned Downwinders. Downwinders at Risk, and I guess the related group was Life Alliance and their effort to stop, or restrict the burning of hazardous waste at the cement kiln at Midlothian and elsewhere. Can you talk about that, which I guess was the second chapter of your big adult environmental effort?
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JS: Right. Yeah. In ’88, that headline happened and I was out of the anti-nuke business and tried to do film stuff for the next year. Did some work in an animation lab when they were still—when they were still doing these—animation with a huge room size camera and you were having to fractionalize seconds and so on. And just the most incredibly boring stuff I’ve ever done, some of it. Some of it’s fascinating. I did, oh, I don’t know, I’ve worked—I mean, I actually have led two different lives since around
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1981 or so. One foot in the organizing community, one foot in the film and video community, so that I was a script reader for a while for a thing called Film Dallas. I did an internship at a news station, I did this animation studio work. And then one day, quite by accident, somebody that I had known from my anti-nuke days said, hey, did you see this ad in the paper, in the classifieds, because they knew I was looking for work. And I said, no, what is it. It—and it was for canvassers, and I was not interested in being a canvasser because I knew all about that and that’s a—just a very shitty job that—God bless the people who do it, but it’s a—it’s not a very—I don’t know, it’s just a very tough job. And there was this ad for a group called Texans United that wanted more
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canvassers. And I wasn’t interested in that job but I thought I’d call them up and see if they needed an organizer. So I did, I called them up and they gave me a name of a guy in Houston named Rick Abraham. And I talked to him and they said, well, we are thinking about hiring an organizer up there, why don’t we come and talk to you. So they did, and everything I had done in the anti-nuclear movement had prepared me for this job. And—and—and we talked a lot about the bust, but you know, during that same time I worked
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with legislators, I worked with city council people, I did a lot of things besides just spending time getting arrested in that movement. You know, every—theatrical stuff, I did a puppet show, I did—you know, just the spectrum of political things you can do to try to right a wrong, I did. And getting arrested was the most sensationalized part of that, but it was—it accounted for like this percentage of time as opposed to this, you know, 11-year span that went on.
DT: What was the puppet show, if you don’t mind me asking?
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JS: Oh, it was just this puppet show—actually, we saw it at this conference up in Louisville, we all—this was like the heyday of the anti-nuclear movement and we all were—it was just such a tremendous spirit and this was the first national conference that we had gone to and people from all over the country was—were there, all our peers. And these guys from Kansas came and did this great puppet show about—I can’t even
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remember now what the script was about but it was just hilarious, we thought at the time. And it was just a whole new way to outreach people so we took it home and we did it down here in Texas in front of dinners and things that we would have and so forth. So, I did that and I wrote press releases and we did press hits and, you know, I—I would wear a suit and tie and do the—the whole legislative bit as well and all of that. I did all of that. So when I came in to interview for this organizing job, I knew the mechanics of it. I
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didn’t know the toxics part of it because I’d been dealing with nuke stuff, I didn’t know, you know, the particular, you know, lead from styrene, from blah, blah, blah except incidentally. That was—the technical part I didn’t know but the mec—mechanical part—how you do this job—I knew. And as—and there wasn’t anybody else in Dallas-Fort Worth that had that kind of experience that needed a job then, at least. Because it is rare to find people like that in this part of the country. So I got the job. And I was the north
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Texas organizer for Texans United and that ended up covering everything from the Oklahoma border down to Waco and everything from the Louisiana border out to about Wichita Falls. And that’s a lot of territory and immediately I was thrust into a lot of different fights. One of the first fights was against an incinerator in Oak Cliff called Dixico. Won that fight and as a result of that fight, won another fight about zoning for waste—hazardous waste incinerators in Dallas. Pretty much, Dallas has zoned out any kind of incinerator from ever happening in Dallas city limits again. Would not have happened had we not won that fight in—in—and pursued that into the city government in
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Dallas there. Crowley—went over to Crowley, Texas, homeowners were having methane come up through their bathroom plumbing and affect the quality of their indoor air as well as being right next door to this place that used to do aluminum smelting and that was now abandoned. Well, you go over and do the research and you look at the paperwork and you read between the lines, they were doing more than aluminum smelting there, they were handling lead and arsenic and cadmium. And it’s just a—another amazing
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insight into how regulators works and how government works. This place in Crowley was right in the middle—right in the middle of a neighborhood and it was flat on top. If you—if you approached it from street level, it looked like just this abandoned facility with some abandoned buildings there and was flat. And there was no piles of anything or there wasn’t anything smoking or barrels out or anything else. Well, if you were the neighborhood kid, though, and you were looking at it from the perspective of the creek
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down below and you followed that creek back to the border of this place, you would then be looking up at this huge pile of tailings, of this residue that all this flat stuff was built on top of. Nobody from the state or federal government had ever looked at it from that perspective before. They were always looking at the flat part and finding no problem. They had not ever gone around to the creek side of it and looked back up at this huge thing that was supporting all of the levelness on top there. Well, it turns out that there was a lot of contamination at this site and nobody knew about it until we started organizing around it. And this—Crowley was kind of my, I guess, test of—of fire as far
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as the National Toxics campaign is concerned, that was kind of my first test. They wanted you to be able to parachute into a neighborhood and organize it and change something on the ground by yourself. So I said, OK, I’ll—I’ll give it a try. The guy, by the way, who headed National Toxics campaign, John O’Connor, was the person who basically organized the whole country to get the Superfunds legislation in the first place. Based out of Boston, just an amazing guy, who recently died about, I think, last
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Christmas, died at the age of 47 or some—just really tragic. But, just an amazing guy who—who—also very young started out doing this work and organized this National Toxics campaign that I was now being employed by. So they said, here’s your test, go out and—and turn this thing around. So we did. We went out and took this group of about six families who had just wanted to get out of their houses and turned it into a whole citywide thing that got eventually state Superfund status for that site. And now it’s
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on the list and supposedly being cleaned up. And that was—that involved going door to door, being a canvasser, that involved press hits, that involved going down to the council and doing a little bit of guerilla theatre there. It involved inviting columnists down to take a tour with these women and write about it from a women’s point of view and so on and so forth. But that’s something that actually there is a beginning, middle, and end of. We actually had a problem, we found out about the problem and we did something about the problem and now it’s a state Superfund site. We also got involved with the west dally—the—we quickly got involved with the west Dallas situation, which was—there
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had been a lead smelter in—again, right in the middle of the neighborhood there in west Dallas. And instead of being a suburban neighborhood, this is a primarily black and Hispanic neighborhood, one of the poorest sections, if not the poorest section of Dallas. And there had been a lead smelter there for decades and decades. And it was really eye opening for me, it was the—it was like an environmental apartheid and—and in that, everybody knew what was going on but nobody did anything about it much. And there
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was a whole population of that community that was egregiously harmed by that lead smelter. I mean, people who lost their minds, literally, because of lead poisoning, people who lost their livers, all kinds of physiological effects from lead poisoning because this thing was literally spewing out pollution. It—they had a smokestack, but it was also at ground level all over the neighborhood. And they had closed down the smelter and they thought they had had a clean-up in 1980, but people were still finding lead in their—
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people were still having effects and they were still finding problems. And there was a suspicion on the part of some folks in the neighborhood that the problem was not taken care of, that the contamination was still there and there was—contamination was still in the community there. Despite closing down the—the plant, having a lawsuit even that paid out kids money. And sure enough, they were right. We—I cannot, you know, this one guy, Luis Sepulveda, who was the leader of something called the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice. If it had not been for him and his determination, this—this whole scandal would not ever have gone—have come to light. Now I was
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there assisting him but it was his—his just stubbornness that made this happen. The black—the—a lot of the black community there, especially the—the churches, the clergy in the black community all had real estate ties there and they did not want to see anybody talking about contamination in an area they were trying to develop. They were all into economic development schemes and bringing new money into the area and they did not want to see anybody talking about lead contamination because that was going to scare
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away the money. The Dallas City Council people that represented that area were tied into those guys and so did not also want to see—I mean, the—the community had no one looking out for them in terms of this issue other than this one guy who was a railroad worker, never went to college and had to retire on disability. That’s Luis Sepulveda in 1991 or so, 1990. And he was sure there was still a problem there because his folks lived down the street and they were still having problems and he was convinced it was all tied 00:27:06 – 2234
in to the lead smelter. So we started—we started organizing west Dallas and it was very hard at first because no one wanted to believe there was still a problem there. All the authorities thought that they had taken care of it and they didn’t want to hear it either. They were just like the black clergy, they didn’t want to hear anything about lead contamination from that smelter. But the great thing about being a member of the National Toxics campaign was that we had our own lab, we had our own environmental lab, so we could go out there, collect dust under the right circumstances and protocol and so forth, and have it sent back and see whether there was any lead in it or not. Well, it
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turns out there was lots of lead in these people’s attic dust and floor dust and so on. And so that brought new attention to it. And then we had a—a black reverend who was not bought out yet, Reverend Connolly come up to me and show me a picture and say, hey, you know what this is. And it was just a Polaroid of some black stuff out in a field in west Dallas, and he said it was in west Dallas. I said, what is this? He said, well, it’s the—it’s the—it’s the tailings that they buried out all over here, it’s all over west Dal—
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there’s—there’s tons of it all over the community here, they never cleaned this up. And I was—I was—I’m always skeptical—I’m al—I had to be very sk—because I was getting calls in—in this position of people, you know, the equivalent, I guess, of like cat in the tree calls. You know, oh, this company’s doing this to me or oh, this company’s doing that to me. I always had to kind of judge where my energy was going into to. And I was always skeptical of people’s claims of this but—but he was very sure of this and by God
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if he wasn’t right. It turns out that these guys had buried this stuff all over west Dallas, I mean, acres and acres and acres of it. Plus the fact that there was still a lot of lead dust coming from somewhere because the plant was still sitting there, the smelter was still sitting there, they hadn’t torn it down. So because of Lu—Luis and his stubbornness, they actually organized the first multi-racial coalition in that area because it’s very faction—factionalized between black and brown there. You know, everybody thinks it’s—it’s just between Anglos and blacks or Anglos and Hispanics. That’s not true at all and just the problem of faction lines that we were talking about. It’s true in those
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communities as well and there was a real power struggle going on between in—new coming Hispanics and people that had been there for a while, around what was called Cement City, for a while, because of a plant out there, and black folks. And he put together the first multiracial coalition in that area that that area had ever seen and they were frightened by that. The powers that be, on both sides, were frightened by that. But he was right. He turned out to be right. And we demonstrated, we picketed, we went
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down to EPA, I remember there was this one region wide demonstration against Region 6 EPA, which is like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas. And Rick Abraham, my boss, came up for that with some people from Houston who had a gripe against the EPA—this is during the Bush years, and—the first Bush years. And we literally invaded the EPA offices here, they tried to lock us out and shut down all the elevators. We found a back way, took the stairs all the way up to the, what was it, the ninth or eleventh floor,
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where the administrator was. Gathered outside of his office, sang America the Beautiful, you just have never seen anything like black and brown and white people singing America the Beautiful outside of a—a regional EPA office in this, you know, completely mundane setting, but it was just the most amazing thing. Greenpeace people were there, turning the fountains downstairs green with toxic stuff so that the fire department was showing up. It was pseudo—it was—it was dye that they use in sewer leak stuff, it was not toxic at all but it looked toxic as hell. And so the fire department was called out and showed up, it was just a grand scene. It was just a great day. But through actions like
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that, Luis got his message out. And it turns out that, in fact, that place was contaminated as hell. And now it’s a federal Superfund site again. They’ve dismantled the smelter, they’re going to eventually be able to use that property again for something else entirely. We want it to be for a medical facility to serve people there in West Dallas who’ve been harmed by the smelter and stuff. I don’t know whether that’s going to take place or not. Luis is now a justice of the peace, and a power that be himself in that community. And 00:31:47 – 2234
he was right, I mean, it was—it was him and a—a small group of people and me starting out saying, there’s a problem here. Keep—and we kept telling people there was a problem here and nobody would believe us and finally, there was a problem here and everybody believed us. And it was a big scandal again, for the second time. But that was also a story that had a beginning, middle and end. They actually had a happy ending to
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that story, at least right now, when things are getting cleaned up. So that was a big—another big fight and finally, the—the—the legacy that’s lasting up to now is the fight against burning hazardous wastes in cement plants at TXI.
DT: You were just introducing the whole dilemma and controversy over TXI.
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JS: Yeah. In my job at Texans United, I was kind—it was kind of an ongoing triage. Problems were coming in, people had a plant they were concerned about or had a landfill they were concerned about or an environmental problem. And since we had a canvas, we actually were able to go out on any given day and give out 250, 300, 500 leaflets to people at home about Texans United and what it was and to try to give us money. That’s what it was—the canvas was all about, was a money raising operation. But it was also
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able to distribute literature. And I tried to make it as educational as I could with the money part—without interfering with the money raising part. So there were a tremendous amount of people every day learning about who we were and if you had an environmental problem, well then, they had a phone number right in front of them and I got the call. So there were all kinds of—of small and big things coming into the office that I had to weigh and judge about whether it was worthwhile. What—what precedents
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would be set? Is this a widespread problem? Is this something that I can affect larger social change with? You know, that—those kinds of questions. And certainly that was true with West Dallas, there was just no question about that once you—once you got there and saw the layout and everything. And it was also true with this situation in Midlothian, which I am still involved with now, 13 years later. I started in ’89, I guess,
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Christmas of ’89, I’m still involved. First of all, Midlothian is unique in that it has three cement plants, and has had for—since the mid-60’s, or I guess, two since the mid-60’s and three since the early 80’s. It’s one of only two places in the United States that has that kinds of concentration of cement manufacturing. In fact, there’s a—a sign in town that says Midlothian, Cement Capital of Texas. Well, when the economy was going bad
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in the mid-80’s, one of these cement companies decided to start making money, not only by making cement but by accepting hazardous waste to be burned in the cement making kilns, the furnaces that they make the stuff in as a fuel. So that instead of having to buy as much coal or whatever, they could actually get people to pay them money for burning waste oils, petrochemical waste of all kinds, plastics, just any kind of hazardous waste that you wanted to carry and get rid of, these were the guys to go see. And because they
00:35:07 – 2234
were not officially hazardous waste incinerators, they did not have to have official hazardous waste incinerator equipment like scrubbers or anything like that. They could just build them—they could just burn the stuff in the same kilns that they use to make cement without any additional pollution control devices on them. One of these plants, North Texas, decided to start doing this in 1986 and the reaction of the other cement company in town at the time, TXI, was, oh, that’s a terrible idea. There’s going to be
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lead in the residue and there’s going to be air pollution and all kinds of other bad things are going to happen as a result of this. But because of economic pressures, a year later, in 1987, TXI was burning hazardous waste in their kilns. Circa 1960 kilns. And this was rumored to be going on, but I did not know anything about this until December when they actually had—when there was a—a—a notice in the paper—they actually had to put in the Midlothian paper that listed all the things they—they wanted to burn. It was a state requirement, I think a state permit that they had to do this for. And that’s when people
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figured out that they were actually doing this. People in Midlothian did not know they were burning hazardous waste, they just heard that they were recycling out at these places. And to this day, TXI calls it recycling or resource management. They don’t call it burning hazardous waste. They wouldn’t—they wouldn’t be so gauche. But that’s what’s going on. And people there in—in—around Christmastime of ’89 began to get concerned about this, once they saw the ad, once they realized what was going on. There
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was a group that was formed shortly after this meeting that took place down because of the concern called CAUSE – Citizens Aware and United for a Safe Environment. They got answers like—from North Texas, for instance, oh, you’re—you’re eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday will expose you to more toxins than the air pollution from our kilns. And, of course, to me this was very familiar rhetoric. This is something akin to what the nuclear power industry was saying to us ten years before, so this was like
00:37:20 – 2234
the same script, different players. Different plant but—but same strategy. Downplay the significance of the harm and accuse everybody of being sensational about it. Well, this group formed and I was never—I had never organized anywhere I wasn’t invited. So I showed up and I looked around and I asked them if they wanted some help and they said yes. So we started organizing around these plants and this issue. And we started having forums and a big forum happened the night the first Gulf War started taking place. I remember it vividly, going down to this forum while they had just starting bombing Iraq the first time. And went down to Austin, this is when Ann Richards got elected, went
00:38:19 – 2234
down to Austin, set up a tent city outside of TNRCC—what was then Texas Water Commission Headquarters where we actually had a fake graveyard set up and some tents and a whole booth thing and we stayed down there for a week and went over to the governor’s mansion and surrounded it and sang Ann songs about how bad it was to live downwind of these guys and so forth. And started trying to work with the legislature to—to change this before redistricting happened, they actually had a fairly sympathetic
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legislator who tried to do something in the legislature, I believe in ’89, ’90, ’91—didn’t get it done. So we started trying to make this a more popular issue in trying to organize beyond Midlothian city limits and take the fight more downwind. And we were fighting them on particular permits that came up or issues that came up, fines and so on. Going down to Austin a lot and so forth. And the CAUSE group was a very weird—it was a very conservative group. It wasn’t weird, but it was very conservative for the most part,
0:39:35 – 2234
made up of Midlothian locals and I did something that they did not like. We had gotten along famously and that’s where I met Sue Pope. She was one of the people that was in CAUSE to begin with and we had traveled down to New Braunfels together for a meeting down there. And we had actually gotten the state to set up this commission to study the issue. Kirk Watson, who was—is now running in this year of 2002 for state attorney general, was then head of the Air Control board. Turns out Kirk and I knew each other from high school. I didn’t remember him, but he knew me from debate. And the first time we met, he said, I know you, you kicked my butt in debate. And that just, you
00:40:16 – 2234
know, you always remembers the one—remember the people you lose to. You never remember winning, you just remember the people you lose to. So he and I knew each other, we got along famously, we set up the—he was very nice, he set up this commission, thought all our problems were solved, had good recommendations out of this commission to make the same standards for incinerators and kilns that were burning hazardous waste applicable. And if that were to happen, they’d be out of business
00:40:41 – 2234
because they couldn’t afford to upgrade their kilns to hazardous waste incinerator standards. Well, at exactly that same time, those recommendations went over to a—a newly condensed state agency, they collapsed the Air Control board in with the Water Commission and made the TNRCC. Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and instead of putting Kirk Watson in charge of that commission, they put another guy, John Hall, in charge of it, who was not as favorable to us and our recommendations. And
00:41:11 – 2234
so if we had had Kirk in office another year longer, we might have been able to solve this thing in 1993, 1994, but we didn’t. And it’s been a story like that ever since. We’ve missed the brass ring here and there by a matter of months or certain political circumstances or whatever. John Hall was head of the Water Commission, tried to get away with passing some very weak stuff and calling it reform. We called him on it. It was just a very messy and bloody affair down there in Austin and that’s why we ended up having the tent city down there and so forth was to try to shame them into doing something more while there were still people like Ann Richards in office. Well, I sent
00:41:54 – 2234
out a mailing once for a newsletter, I think it was for a newsletter that came out of our office, but it—on the back, it had a story about Kirk Watson and the Air Control board. And I didn’t have a graphic to go with it. I didn’t have a picture of Kirk Watson and I didn’t have a state of Texas graphic or anything like that, so I just clipped a Air Control board symbol—emblem, off of something of theirs and put it on that as an attending graphic. And the people in CAUSE had a very strange reaction to this, they thought I
00:42:26 – 2234
was trying to pass this newsletter off as an official Air Control board graphic. And I said, no, I—it was just the only thing around and blah, blah, blah, blah, and they were convinced I was trying to do this and—and fool people and there was a split in the group. And we had done a lot of things together. We had not only gone down to Austin and stuff, we’d had our first balloon release there, right across from the plant and stuff and it was very—that was very hard to take, but they were very adamant about this. And so,
00:42:57 – 2234
Sue Pope and I decided that we—we’ve got to express our opposition to this somehow, we’re not going to let these folks drive us away from this issue. So we said, why don’t we get more people downwind. The—the—the company’s—Midlothian’s a company town. It was obvious that the city council there—none of the local county commissioners are going to do anything about this because of the tax money that’s coming in because of these three plants. It’s 60% of the tax base. So why don’t we move the fight downwind, where there’s not as—the financial part is not as involved and there’s no incentive by local communities to be involved—to be in league with the plants that way, but their still 00:43:39 – 2234
getting the pollution. Maybe even more so, because if you live on the right side of Midlothian, you don’t get any pollution at all from these plants because you’re upwind from it. It’s actually the people downwind in Cedar Hill and Duncanville, DeSoto, Dallas, Arlington, Grand Prix, that are actually receiving the bulk of this air pollution. So that’s what we did. We decided to do that and that’s how Downwinders at Risk was born. We started meeting in the Cedar Hill library. We gathered steam, we had a big
00:44:10 – 2234
permit fight coming up with TXI because they were going to have to apply for a federal permit to burn hazardous waste even though they’d been doing it since 1987. They had to officially apply for a permit to do it here in the 90’s. And—so we were gearing up to do that. And we knew it was going to be a very expensive fight. And I was—I was put in a position that Juanita Ellis was put in years before me of taking on the regulatory structure and trying to win through that. And odds are not very good in Texas for
00:44:43 – 2234
winning through hearing process before the state and they’re even less so in front of the legislature, but those were our avenues for change. So we decided to participate and try to, along the way, win the fight in the court of public opinion and maybe cut the thing short before we even got to a hearing process. We were somewhat successful. We got—we had a—we gained momentum, we gained membership, we got the PTA—local PTA’s involved. We got young moms who were PTA moms and passed resolutions against waste burning that went all the way up to the state PTA convention and TXI was there fighting us every step of the way. And it was a big, huge battle at the state PTA
00:45:32 – 2234
convention and they finally passed this resolution against it and we won that. We battled them in each of the cities that we had targeted to try to get money from for this fight. We went to each city and said, if you throw in $25,000 apiece, we can fund a lawyer and experts and so on that we need for this fight. We won in a couple of—we won in Duncanville and DeSoto, they beat us in Cedar Hill, but not by much. And each one of those communities was, in itself, a campaign and a fight and a huge hullabaloo each time 00:46:06 – 2234
because it was literally take—starting from scratch, educating a city council about what was going on and then convincing them to spend money on it, which is never easy, but we did it a couple of times and we actually went to hearing. I became a pseudo lawyer with Stuart Henry, just an old son-of-a-bitch from way back and we put on a good show and thought we had won and then the judgment came down that we hadn’t. And they gave TXI the permit and that was in ’99. And, oh I—we did lots of guerilla theatre,
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actions at shareholders meetings and things like that. We—well, anyway, we—we had a lot of fun and again, it was like the board that we had accumulated for this group, for Downwinders, was like a big family, was like an extended family. And it was just a very good, it was—it was the most pleasant experience I’d had organizing since Comanche Peak Life Force days because of the people involved, because of the spirit, because the momentum that we thought we had. It was just—I thought it was just all there again. But we lost that permit fight and just as we had lost that permit fight, just as that was coming up and we were getting over that, came this whole regurgitation of—of what’s—
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the smog issue in Dallas-Fort Worth area. Of the idea that Dallas-Fort Worth was not meeting federal ozone standards, smog standards. Well, this is true and one of the reasons is because these cement plants produce a lot of smog pollutants that go right up into Dallas-Fort Worth. So we could have, I guess, packed up our bags and gone home after this very demoralizing and exhausting—it was just exhausting to do this permit fight. And you can’t imagine the amount of money that TXI spent against us, in terms of
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armies of lawyers and everything else. It was just exhausting, and—but we climbed back out and we got involved in this—in what was called the SIPP process, State Implementation Plant Process for smog in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and made that process address these cement plants. They would not have done so had it not been for these people showing up on a regular basis and harassing the state and—and north Texas council governments into looking at these cement plants as a prob—part of the problem.
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Certainly not—I—I mean, cars are a problem, everything in this area is a problem in terms of—of smog pollution, but these plants in particular were the largest industrial sources for that type of pollution. And they were not going to even consider these guys when the process started. At the end of that process, we got a recommendation out of this committee to reduce smog emissions from these plants by 50%. Pretty good, starting from scratch. It went down to Austin, it got reduced immediately to 30%. So that’s the difference in—between local and state policy right there. That was the only recommendation coming out of the local committee that the state did not adopt, having to
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do with these cement plants. The state has a real blind spot, or weak spot, I guess would be a better way to put it when it comes to these plants and the influence that they’re able to buy in Austin. There have been some changes as a result of that plan. They’re not always good, but there have been some. And now, in 2002, we’re about to start up on another cycle of SIPP meetings that I’m—that happen every first Friday or so of the month it seems like, and I’m going back for those and again, we’re trying to put the
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cement plants in the spotlight and not let them forget about them and try to seek at least a 50% cut, if not more, in their emissions. There’s a lot of scandal, long stories about how the state ignored best available control technology that was already out there. In the TXI hearing, for example, the state should have known, and they probably did know, that a plant just like TXI, up in Michigan, had actually installed scrubbers for the first time ever. And that could’ve been used in our case, but the state didn’t reveal that information 00:50:32 – 2234
during the hearing and it was up to us to do that at the last minute. It came in too late and was not deemed as part of the process. So there’s a whole example out there of a plant that’s has better pollution control equipment, but is not being applied to this TXI situation because the state doesn’t want it to. Same thing happened with this SIPP process. It was up to us to go out and research what the best available control technology was for these types of plants, and it turns out that the state totally ignored a group of like 15 or 18 cement plants in Europe that are operating at 80% efficiency when it comes to these types of pollutants. Whole different type of process that they just ignored last time out, it was
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up for—it was up to us to go out and research it ourselves. It’s always up to the citizens to go out and do the research and be the watchdog. This whole idea that people have of the government or the EPA being a watchdog or the NRC being a watchdog, that’s all crap. If the citizens aren’t there, looking over their shoulders, reading things that they are not reading, putting things together that they aren’t putting together or don’t want to put together, reading between the lines. If they aren’t there forcing the issue, no watchdogging gets done, it’s always up to the citizens.
DT: Why is that?
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JS: Because of the influence that industry has in government. It’s—when you’re talking about TXI and state government, it’s one in the same entity. They may be officially, you know, diagramed in different places, but it’s like TXI’s a fourth branch of government, you know, practically. It’s—or any industry like that, Dow, or TU Electric, or Brown and Root, these are people that—look, they h—they can hire—what did TXI
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have last legislative session? They had probably 8 or 9 lobbyists that they can hire fulltime to do nothing but visit with these guys, take them out to dinner, whatever they want to do. We have groups of citizens that can come down every so often from, you know, Dallas-Fort Worth and spend a day with these guys trying to explain what it—problem it is. There’s just no contest. Again, it’s—it’s a corporation who is a—which is
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able to spend all of its resources, 24/7, on defeating you. And here you have a ragtag group of citizens that are not getting paid to do this, that don’t have the resources, are not getting any money to go out and, you know, being able to hire lawyers or experts or anything like that. And it’s a mismatch from the beginning. It’s a miracle to me that anything progressive gets done. Every once in a while, something does happen, but it’s
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especially hard in Texas. It’s just—it is the belly of the beast. I think when you do have something nice, when you do have a victory down here, it kind of resonates louder and longer than it might if it were in New York or California or someplace, but it’s—it’s very, very difficult to do this kind of work here. It always has been, everybody’ll tell you that, and it still is.
DT: Well, considering how difficult it is, when you look into the future, what do you foresee as far as the environmental challenges or the opportunities that may be involved?
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JS: Actually, I’m really scared nowadays because of—because of the fact that we seem to be messing up—that we’re—that technology is still outpacing our ability to handle it. If you look at genetics, if you look at biotechnology, there are all things—all kinds of things being planned now that people have no idea of. If you—if you look at the plans of the people who gave you the Internet, the Defense think tanks—Defense Department think tanks and some of the private think tanks, you know, they’re saying in
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30 or 40 years, we’ll be grouped into, what is it, two groups of human beings, the naturals and the enhanced. And the enhanced will be the ones that have enough money to afford to be able to get, not just facelifts and things, but middle enhance—enhancements, athletic enhancements. There’s a whole line of reasoning that we want to be able to be post-human. To be able to not be dependent on bodies anymore, but to have our minds—literally like a Star Trek episode, you know, encased in some plastic and rolled around
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places. And it’s getting to the point where all this is beginning to sound like Richard Nixon announcing 2000 nuclear power plants across the country in 20 years. It sounds incredible and unbelievable, but it also sounds very scary. And they really want to do this kind of stuff. So I—I—I don’t know, I—I can’t—I suppose I’m more optimistic in that there seems to be more awareness about some things. Certainly, you know, things in terms of the environment seem to be more consciously addressed these days, and it seems
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to be an issue more than it used to be. And certainly, with air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area it’s a issue—a—a huge issue because it’s gotten so bad. And because people are getting sick, especially in the summertime, at the height of the smog season. So those things are encouraging in that you have a wider constituency to address those things, but other things are happening that make you think that you’re going to have to go through this whole thing again on a second, you know, time around. Even with nukes, you know, this administration, this Bush administration, is promoting nuclear energy, again as an answer to our energy problems instead of advocating conservation and getting the hell
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out of Saudi Arabia and oil there. Talking about nukes and being dependent on foreign uranium and all this kind of stuff and it makes me think I’m going to have to be out there doing this crap all over again when I’m, you know, 85 years old and in a wheelchair. I’m going to be out picketing some Comanche Peak or like plant or whatever their—plant they’re planning to build. It’s very discouraging in that respect.
DT: (inaudible) trying to recruit new generations. What would you say to young people coming along as advice from the mountain?
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JS: I—I don’t know, I’m probably the worst person to give advice because I’m such a hopeless, optimistic person in one sense and—and I just—I don’t know. I don’t know what advice I would—I would say pick your battles carefully. You only have so much ammunition, so much energy to give and you have to be really careful about how you expend that. You have to really have a sense of humor. I think the fact that I was always
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interested in film and video gave me a kind of third eye, a director’s eye, to step back and look at all of this and see where—to tell whether I was going over the cliff or not. I think you need that if you’re going to stay in it for very long. I don’t know. I think you have to pace yourself, I think you have to find people that you can do with this. You have to find—you can’t do it on your own. You have to find some kind of companionship. You have to have very tolerant partners. And if you can, get your funding before you start.
DT: One last thing. You say you’ve got this, you’re fortunate to have this third eye. Maybe you can use it to describe a place that gives you respite and serenity after these long fights.
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JS: You know, it’s interesting, because Glen Rose used to be that place for me. I actually spent a year living in Glen Rose, in that dilapidated wooden cabin that I described earlier on that piece of property. Actually lived in Glen Rose for a year and—and we had a—a kind of place down on the river there where we would have lodges, where, you know, we’d—it’d be a cold river, it’d be about this time of year, and you’d get—you’d heat up some rocks and you’d have a—a little steam lodge down there by the river. And that—that place used to give me quite a bit of comfort. Now I can’t even go
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within a hundred miles of there without seeing those—seeing those domes. I can’t even get near it. And it used to be that—we lived—when we lived in Dallas-Fort Worth, you know, we lived in a place called Justin that was outside of the metro mess, on 2000 acres. It was great, we rented a—a ranch house. And that used to overlook a creek, we used to go out to a place called the point, and that used to be that place. But now? I don’t know. I’m kind of stuck here because we don’t have any land. We’re—we’re in a situation where Robin and I are living without any land around us and that feels kind of strange. So, I don’t know. It’s—it probably would be—it would probably be somewhere around Fort Worth because I still feel like Fort Worth is my home. But in terms of a particular
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place, I don’t know. I’ve tried to find those places, wherever they are, on the journey. You know, there—there’s like this one place in—in Yosemite that I remember finding that was just beautiful. And a—just a little mountain stream, it was a great day, really sunny, and the leaves were all the right colors and I’ll just remem—forever remember that moment in time. And so I try to find those places wherever they are. You know, and out here, I guess, it’s with the canyons. With the canyons. Because the rest of this is
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pretty flat, but every once in awhile out here, and where we live in Slaton, is—is near a canyon, where the last of the southern herd of buffalo used to roam. And so you can’t go into that canyon without thinking about what happened to those guys and that’s not, I guess, a very comforting message but the landscape is different and it’s pretty spectacular. So those kinds of places, I—I don’t think there’s one place anymore that gives me that sense. And I will tell you, too, that’s it’s—it’s not just places but it’s
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people. It’s—it’s people like Mavis, those kinds of things. I don’t know. It—it’s hard to think about it right now because we’re just so landlocked where we are, in—in a square in a small town. And we don’t have an—even hardly a backyard and it just feels really strange. So, I don’t know. I—I’m hoping we can get back to Wise County, where we do have a home and feel a little bit more at home there. It’s actually on—in the Trinity River valley and if you get up on the hill high enough, you can actually see the river and the valley. And I think that’s the view that I miss the most right now.
DT: Thank you.
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JS: Sure. My pleasure.
[End of Reel 2234]
[End of Interview with Jim Schermbeck]