Written by Neil Horsky, this column was originally published in the December 2016 issue of the Boston Compass
Art by Jennifer DeAngelis, “Lollipops Are Suckers and So Are You”
On Christmas Day 1978 four men dressed as Santa Claus broke into the Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, MA armed with a giant lollipop. Before their arrest, a television news crew documented Santa offering the oversized confection to the station manager as a gift, “In honor of the fact that Boston Edison thinks their ratepayers are a bunch of suckers.”
This theatrical protest is one of many conducted during the ‘70s and ‘80s by the Reindeer Alliance, an affinity group of the New England-based anti-nuclear activist organization Clamshell Alliance. The following Christmas, Santa, his reindeer (costumed actors) and a full-size sleigh blocked the entrance to Boston’s Somerset Club, where a private party for corporate elites with ties to Big Energy was about to begin. As guests arrived, Santa handed them stockings full of coal to remind them “what bad boys and girls they’d been this year.” This time two news networks covered the performance.
Employing humor and an appealing spectacle, thereby attracting press, these creative actions aimed to garner public sympathy for their anti-nuclear cause. Troubled by the volatility of nuclear power and the potentially devastating consequences for the New England Seacoast, the Clamshell Alliance sought to close New England’s nuclear plants and reform national energy policy.
The success of Clamshell’s efforts to inform and engage the public were evident following the 1979 Three-Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown accident in Pennsylvania. Nationwide public pressure to investigate the accident and the energy industry resulted in a moratorium on all new nuclear plant construction and more stringent regulations on equipment, operational safety, and nuclear waste management.
Despite this progress the existing plants remained open, and Clamshell and its offshoots continued to playfully provoke power. Other “reindeer games” included a Halloween mutant march through Boston, clown hopscotch on Route 1 near the Seabrook, NH plant, live-action Simpsons skits starring Monty Burns at Pilgrim, and more. To this day, symbolic no-nuke protest persists in New England. Four grandmothers were arrested on Mothers Day 2014 for planting flowers at Pilgrim and charged with trespassing. A later indictment of these horticulturalist seniors (time served) drew increased media attention, compounding the intervention’s impact by making even more strikingly clear the backwards logic of the status quo.