Harvey Wasserman on How We'll Survive and Win
DAVID SWANSON: I’m speaking with Harvey Wasserman, long time wonderful activist, author, author among other of wonderful books of "Solartopia," and Harvey, you were emailing me yesterday a little bit about success stories. Do you want to elaborate?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, when we first started the anti-nuclear movement back in 1973, and we weren’t the only ones, there had been a bit of an anti-nuclear movement. There have been some three successful stories in the U.S. that I know of in the 60s where reactors were stopped or moved. One was in Humboldt County, California where they actually proceeded, they started to build a nuclear plant and discovered it was right on an earthquake fault, so they dug this hole and I guess, I haven’t seen it, but I guess the fault was visible. That’s abandoned, then there was going to be one in eastern Oregon, in the desert part of Oregon and the City of Eugene was a partner, and they pulled out, based on a citizen uprising. Then there was also going to be one in Ravenswood, Queens, right in the middle of New York City! And that one, there was a great man named Larry Bogart who helped fight that, but that one was just moved to Indian Point, it actually became Indian Point.
So, there was some… there were a couple of books around about anti-nuclear stuff, but in ’73 the, I was living on a communal farm in Montague, Massachusetts, which is 90 miles west of Boston and 180 pretty much due north of New York City and the local utility came in and said they were going to build a nuclear plant, two reactors, two big reactors four miles from our house. And we just basically said no, we’re not going to let this happen, we saw they published a picture, an artist’s rendition of the nuclear plant superimposed on the site where they wanted to do it and, you know, it was kind of like an instinctual thing when we saw this, we just said, you know, we’re not gonna do this. It was a communal farm and we never actually sat down and had a meeting! And discussed whether or not we were going to oppose this thing, it was just all instinctual, we just, everybody assumed we were going to fight it, and we just started fighting it.
I did a lot of the writing and so somehow the phrase “no nukes” came through my typewriter and it was a pretty obvious thing to do, pretty obvious thing to say, but that’s how all that happens, and we did defeat them. They never even got the bulldozers in, really, we just preserved the site and things started from there. Technically, I had been pro nuclear since 1959, it was the year of my bar mitzvah and I got a book “Our Friendly Atom” by Walt Disney (David laughs). Then I did a report, I used that for a report in ninth grade, so I knew everything about nuclear power at the time (chuckle). It was really funny karma that that had happened because, if you had asked me between 1959 and 1973 about nuclear power, I would have told you ‘sure, it’s great, it’s wonderful.’ But when confronted with the reality, and it wasn’t something I had thought about all those years, but when confronted with the reality, we just said hey, this is ridiculous. Did a lot of basic research on it and nothing in the past, let’s see, ’73 so what is that, 38 years, nothing in the past 38 years has given me any pause to want to change my mind about nuclear – everything I have seen about it has made it appear worse than we originally thought. (David begins speaking) Yeah, sorry, go ahead.
DAVID SWANSON: So let me play devil’s advocate, Harvey, here’s a success story, you educated yourself, you learned about nukes, here’s several success stories, they tried to put nuke plants in towns where there either existed or there arose good community activism, and they were defeated, but they went and put those plants in other towns.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Not all of them, the one in Oregon wasn’t really placed. Much later we got Trojan, and I guess the one at Humboldt, that really didn’t turn into much of anything, it didn’t really relate to Diablo Canyon. Yes, the one in New York was moved. Well, the point is that in 1974, just after we got started, the Arab oil embargo happened and Richard Nixon got on the news, on the national TV and said there would be a thousand nukes by the year 2000. And we have the footage, it’s in a movie we made. We’ve seen the year 2000, there were 104, so somewhere along the line 896 nukes went missing. The basic fight, actually, and the bigger picture was that the industry needed to get government funding, you know, the basic decision which was made in France, was the government going to fund this or was it going to be done with private money? In France it went to the government, and what you have in France is a national socialist system, and I use the word advisedly. I mean, I do teach Western Civ! National socialism is a form where the corporations run the state and in France the corporations run the nuclear industry, it’s all paid for by the government, the government owns, operates, monitors, regulates and reports on, or doesn’t report on, what happens at these nuclear plants. It’s completely beyond the reach of the people.
Now here in the United States there were various attempts, there was an attempt under Ford to get a major waste situation done, there are a lot of other attempts along the way just to turn this into a national system, a national socialist system, but because there was an anti nuclear movement that didn’t happen. So along the way, all these reactors, or almost all of them met some kind of resistance, as opposed to other places, and that made a huge difference. Now, I will point out, for example, you had Sweden and Denmark. In Sweden the industry proceeded and they built eleven reactors, which for a country of Sweden’s size is a lot. In Denmark the anti-nuclear movement rose up and stopped them, and Denmark never built nuclear plants. Then four farm implement companies went in and went in to the wind business and Denmark wound up being the center of the world wind business for all that time, and they made a fortune, and more than 10,000 people in Denmark work in the wind business today.
So, decisions were made elsewhere along the way, too. I was in Japan in the mid-70’s. My friend and I, we traveled around Japan, we spoke in various locations, we brought the film, we were interviewed. I did a lot of writing in Japan actually in the mid-70s. The Japanese anti nuclear movement did prevent, keep the number down, prevent a number of reactors from being built and this thing at Fukushima was…there’s no surprise in it, this was predicted. Everybody in Japan knew that the reactors were on earthquake faults and that they were vulnerable to tsunamis. Fukushima is not a surprise! I spoke to Kashuazaki which five years, less than five years ago had an earthquake where all seven reactors were forced shut. In Hamaoko, we knew about Hamaoko which is just being shut now, so this is a global movement and it clearly had an impact. But here in the United States we transformed the nature of the business and we forced them to get private money. We cut them off from federal and state funding many, many, many, many times. The list of reactors that were opposed and then prevented from being built is very, very long. When Nixon tried this in the year ’74, we made the announcement. There were about 250, roughly, reactors that were online under construction or on order and from the moment he made that announcement that there would be a thousand, the numbers started going down, it was just the exact opposite of what the industry wanted.
DAVID SWANSON: But let me continue the devil’s advocate role, Nixon wanted a basic income guarantee. Nixon put through the Environmental Protection Agency, which now the Republican party wants to eliminate. In the 1970s there was activism, there was an anti war movement, there was media, there was communications, there was opening for different voices on our airwaves, there was less money in the political system, there was less corruption, there was an understanding of the rule of law that’s been lost in the global war on terrorism. What do you say to people at speaking events who raise their hand with that kind of objection, ‘look, the ‘70s, even the ‘80s was a different world, today we are helpless victims.’ What do you respond?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: No, well, first of all, there’s one other thing, which is Nixon wanted to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam and, you know, if you ever wanted to have justification – I don’t know how old you are! (chuckle) I don’t know if you are old enough to have marched during the war in Vietnam, but …
DAVID SWANSON: I was born at the end of ’69, so I was a little kid, but I’ve seen the tape of Nixon telling Henry ‘you know, we’re just trying to think big.’ He was interested in using nukes.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah, so, I got the crap beat out of me twice during the Vietnam war and we marched, and people said that, no, you guys didn’t really have any impact on the war, it was all the Vietnamese and the government did what it did, and if you ever want to see a justification for the marching and the whole anti war movement, Nixon in his autobiography mentioned that he wanted to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam but he couldn’t do it because he knew that the anti war movement would blow up the country, and so all of our marching and all of our protests were, I think, justified, made, shall we say, tangibly impactful by the fact that we did prevent Nixon from doing that. God forbid, can you imagine if they had used nuclear weapons in Vietnam? My God, what a different world it would be.
So today, yeah, we are at the end of empire, there’s no doubt. This is a classic situation where you’ve had a country that, like Greece and Rome, Babylon and the Persians, and the Brits, and whoever else have had a goal of empire and are now on the tail end of it where you have a government that’s out of control, you have a huge gap between rich and poor, getting worse. Hold on one sec… [pause in tape]. This is a bad time, it’s a tough time, but it’s also, we have accomplished a lot. I think that people have to remember, and this is tough, and Obama is tough, because he’s such a horrific, terrible president, he’s just an empty corporate suit, he did, he is the ultimate bait and switch. He ran a campaign as a progressive, very clearly, made promises to the progressive movement, which he shucked and jived around, but essentially, well maybe you shouldn’t use that phrase, but you know, it’s legitimate. Let’s put it differently, let’s just say that he really portrayed himself as someone who is going to come in, as you call it, and make change and take on the corporations. You can always go back and look at the rhetoric and see that he hedged his bets, but the point is that in 2008 we put together, the world, the country put together one of the greatest grassroots electoral campaigns in the history of the country. It was aimed at very clearly and explicitly at eradicating the horrific legacy of George W. Bush, it was aimed at taking on the corporations and changing the nature of war and of our approach to the environment. You had millions, literally millions of people who came out and worked, not just that came out to vote, but worked, to make sure that the election was not stolen at the polls, which we knew could happen. You look at the 2008 campaign, everything about it was right for a country that had a strong, progressive, grassroots sensibility. The problem is that the guy at the top turned out to be a shyster, essentially. But…[David begins to speak] wait, wait, let me say one more thing though!
Let me just say one more thing about it. It was also aimed at electing an African American, and W.E.B. DuBois said that the issue of the 20th century is the color line. And in many ways it was the color line. Many ways, not entirely of course, there were many other issues, but in the 20th century, race was a huge issue, stating the obvious. It’s now that Obama is tangible, and has turned out to be such a lousy president, we tend to overlook it, but… the election of a black man, of an African American to become President is a huge deal. The one promise that Obama has kept is that he has put an African American in the White House. He’s actually put five, if you count his wife, his kids and his mother-in-law. This is a big deal! Nothing he will do, bad president as he has been, is going to change that. So the rest of it, I understand. I understand what you are saying, but we do have to acknowledge…
DAVID SWANSON: But I haven’t said anything! Harvey, he promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan dramatically, and he kept that promise. He promised to enlarge the military, he kept that promise. He promised to start using drones in a major way, including in Pakistan, and he kept that promise. He was for nukes, he was for clean coal, there’s a lot …
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, yes and no, you have to go back and look at what he said about nukes. He hedged his bets on nukes. We followed very closely what he said about nuclear power. He attacked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he made some clear statements about waste