Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

Dan Ellsberg, Sam Lovejoy, Randy Kehler, and me

In reporting on the no-nukes movement in the U.S., my journeys intersected with Sam Lovejoy, Daniel Ellsberg, and Randy Kehler – three legendary civil disobedience activists

pImage courtesy of Richard Asinof, photo by Karen Spangenberg

Sam Lovejoy, left, and Daniel Ellsberg, meet backstage at a no-nukes rally in April of 1979,

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/19/23
The story behind the photograph that documents the time when Daniel Ellsberg met with Sam Lovejoy for the first time, backstage at an no-nukes rally in San Francisco in early April of 1979.
What made Montague Center in western Massachusetts such a hotbed of political activism in the 1970s? What role did The Valley Advocate, an alternative weekly launched in September of 1973, with its refusal to accept advertising from the utility, Northeast Utilities, play in the success of the no-nukes movement? How did the legal intervention, led by a Northampton law firm, Lesser, Newman, Sibbison, and Souweine, prove to be the linchpin in preventing the Montague nuclear power station from ever being built?
I have compiled a collection of my reporting, “Preserve Your Memories,” capturing more than 100 stories, beginning in 1972 and running through 2010, that parallels my work as a reporter with numerous alternative weekly newspapers – including The Boston Phoenix, The Valley Advocate, The Drummer, The Daily Planet, and The Real Paper, as well as mainstream publications such as The New York Times, Boston Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. What I need is an agent – Katie Grimm, are you listening – to take the manuscript and turn it into a publishable book.
A second volume – one that captures my work as editor and publisher of ConvergenceRI, which would capture a collection of more than 100 stories I have written in the last 10 years, since the launch of ConvergenceRI, would provide a continuity of storytelling, because our own personal stories are our most valuable possessions, and sharing them is what makes us more human – and helps to build a sense of community and neighborhood.

Editor's Note: It is appropriate to tell this story on June 19, Juneteenth, which officially will become a state holiday in Rhode Island in 2024, the holiday that acknowledges the end of slavery in the U.S. The roots and tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience grew out of the civil rights struggles. As we move forward together, the stories of our past need to be inclusive.

PROVIDENCE – It took a while of searching, going through my four-drawer metal filing cabinets, to find the photograph I was looking for: A portrait of Daniel Ellsberg, the infamous leaker of the Pentagon Papers, and Sam Lovejoy, the infamous weather-tower toppler from Montague Center, Mass., meeting for the first time, backstage, at an anti-nuclear rally in San Francisco in early April of 1979, a week after the accident at Three Mile Island. [Yes, I really should digitize my papers, as my son will remind me to do.]

The photograph, taken by Karen Spangenberg,  captured a serendipitous moment in my life.

• Lovejoy was a founding member of the No Nukes movement and the Clamshell Alliance, a neighbor of mine who had once recruited me to run the communications campaign for a candidate for district attorney for Hampshire and Franklin counties, Jon Souweine, by showing up uninvited to a dinner at my home and refusing to leave until I had said yes.

Lovejoy, along with Anna Gyorgy, Nina [Simon] Keller, Harvey Wasserman, Dan Keller, Steve Diamond, Tony Mathews, Sue Kramer, and Chuck Light – and a supporting cast of hundreds, had decided to put nuclear power on trial. In February of 1974, on Washington’s Birthday, Lovejoy had loosened the guy wires of a weather tower, causing it to come crashing down on the Montague Plains. Lovejoy then hitchhiked a ride with local policemen to the police station in Turners Falls, where he admitted to his civil disobedient act and his intention to put nuclear power on trial.

Through Lovejoy and his merry band of pranksters, who lived on a farm that had been the home of a splinter group of the Liberation News Service, efforts, they defeated the plans by Northeast Utilities to build a twin-nuclear reactor on the Montague Plains.

• Ellsberg was a frequent traveler whom I had encountered numerous times in my journeys as a journalist – from his attendance at the debut of the film, “Hearts and Minds,” a documentary on the Vietnam War, in 1975 in Washington, D.C., to his appearance as a witness at the trial of Amy Carter in April of 1987 in Northampton, Mass., which I reported on In These Times.

What the photograph captured – the chance meeting of Lovejoy and Ellsberg, two individuals whose civil disobedient actions would change the arc of history of the United States during the second half of the 20th century, moving it toward justice – is a story worth retelling, with the recent announcement of the death of Ellsberg at age 92.

A third person, Randy Kehler, also from Western Massachusetts, had played a critical if parallel role in both political movements. It was Kehler’s passionate talk at a War Resister’s League gathering that strongly influenced Ellsberg's decision to release the Pentagon Papers – a story that was retold in Ellsberg’s obituary printed in The Washington Post. [See link to story below.] Kehler later became a national leader of the Campaign for a Nuclear Freeze.

When nuance and context collide
Unlike Lovejoy, Ellsberg, and Kehler, my travails as a reporter intent on being a chronicler of the anti-nuclear movement are not well known. Sometimes, at family gatherings, I can be convinced to tell the stories of those adventures.

But, there is some nuance and context to share about the photograph that captured the meeting of Ellsberg and Lovejoy: Lovejoy was about to launch the Musicians United for Safe Energy, or MUSE, which would sell out Madison Square Garden later that fall 1979, featuring numerous rock ‘n’ roll legends.

Ellsberg, in turn, would turn his energies to support the anti-nuclear protesters at Rocky Flats, Colorado.

And I would return to Montague Center to launch a new television production company, the Western Massachusetts Media Workshop, in partnership with Barry Baskind, with a first documentary to focus on the separatist conflict in Quebec.

My lengthy story about the fight to halt the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station, built adjacent to an earthquake fault in San Luis Obispo, which I had spent two months in California researching and writing, on assignment from The New York Times Magazine, had just been killed by the magazine’s editor, Ed Klein. In turn, I handed a copy of the story to Sydney Gruson, vice-president at The New York Times, and then took a cab down to the Village Voice,, whose editor, David Schneiderman,  decided to run the piece as a cover story in the next edition of The Voice, under the headline “Quake ‘n’ Bake.”

Two days after the Saturday rally in San Francisco, I would put together an impromptu no-nukes Seder at the home of Chris Beaver and Judy Irving in Noe Valley, the filmmakers working on “Dark Circle.”

Reporting on Ellsberg
Here are some excerpts of my reporting on Ellsberg.

• From my story for Washington Newsworks, “Hearts and Minds: Our Sorrow and Pity,” which reported on a Congressional preview held at the Cerberus Theater in Georgetown, with a guest list that included 83 Congressmen, numerous Senators, Hollywood celebrities, and Daniel Ellsberg:

Daniel Ellsberg walked out of the theatre so distraught he couldn’t talk to anyone. He had seen himself on film, break into tears and choke back sobs, as he recalled meetings with Sen. Robert Kennedy that tragic day [Kennedy was shot] in Los Angeles. The camera did not break away, or cut, but held on to the close up of Ellsberg, sobbing.

The story continued: When the credits rolled at the end, no one moved. Producer Bert Schneider said [the reaction] was the same everywhere. “People are lost inside themselves when they leave. It’s like this everywhere,” he said. “The people sit through the credits. Look,” he said, as he pointed toward the audience. “Nobody’s moving.”

“It’s very encouraging,” Schneider said. “It really tells me that Congressmem are people. Sometimes we forget that, and sometimes I don’t believe it, but tonight, they are human.”

Schneider’s recurring fantasy about the film is that “Little kids, 10 years old now,will be able to go back to “Hearts and Minds” as a document, when they ask: ‘What happened in Vietnam?’

• In a cover story for In These Times, “Who’s Bugging the CIA? – Abbie Hoffman, Amy Carter, thirteen others and a Massachusetts jury,” I wrote: Six jurors – four women and two men, the youngest 34, the oldest 77 – recently did what Congress has never found the courage or backbone to do: find the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency guilty of violating national and international law in its covert activities supporting the contras in Nicaragua.

On April 15, after an eight-day trial, the jury acquitted 15 defendants – including Abbie Hoffman, the 50-year-old rabble-rouser, and Amy Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's 19-year-old daughter – of trespassing and disorderly conduct charges stemming from a Nov. 25, 1986, protest at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst attempting to halt CIA recruitment on campus.

The story detailed the numerous connections that had occurred at the trial, including the one involving Ellsberg and Kehler.

It was even more poignant when former Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg explained to the jury his reasons for copying the then-secret study of the Vietnam War that later became known as the Pentagon Papers. The catalyst, Ellsberg testified, had been his meeting in 1969 with Randall Kehler, a war resister on his way to prison, who had chosen to go to jail rather than cooperate with the draft board.

Kehler’s stance floored Ellsberg, making him ask this question of himself: “What can I do non-violently, truthfully, to help end this war? And “Do I, Daniel Ellsberg, have a right to be silent because I’ve been ordered to be silent?” A few weeks later Ellsberg decided to copy the Pentagon Papers and give them to Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), who was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, knowing full well that act might result in his spending the rest of his life in jail. [Kehler; who now lives in Colrain, Mass., 20 miles from Northampton, went on to become the founding director of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign.]

It is much longer story to tell. But it is an important story, a narrative that is often left out from the texts of American history.

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