Diablo Canyon Blockade Tales

"I was there..."

Originally published in It's About Times, the Abalone Alliance newspaper, December 1981-January 1982.


30,000 people turn out for a June 30, 1979 No Nukes Rally in San Luis Obispo. Two years later, PG&E got the green light from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to start testing the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, leading to a mass blockade of the site.

Photo: Jessica Collett

Here are three separate first-hand accounts from people who took part in the September 1981 Abalone Alliance blockade of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant site near San Luis Obispo. Many of the participants hailed from San Francisco and the Bay Area, and this was a seminal event in the anti-nuclear movement that spanned California during the 1970s and 1980s.

Variations on towel and bandana

by Sharon Sponge, The Mutant Sponges

The cops surround us, scores of them, and we sit and make statements, read poems, snack and sing. Wavy Gravy unzips his green jumpsuit to reveal his Santa Claus outfit and whips on his beard and hat. He tells the cops they will get nothing in their stockings.

I am in my Sponge suit with giant clown sunglasses and a wind-powered propeller beanie. We look the cops in the eyes as we tell our reasons for being there. Many of them smile as we joke with them, but straighten up as the police when TV cameras pan their way.

They lift us up out of our circle one by one and book us, stripping us of our jackets and backpacks. "Take that thing off," mutters the officer, disdainfully perusing my Sponge's pores.

It's about 2 a.m. when we arrive at the California Men's (Penal) Colony. We are issued a blanket, a towel and a bag dinner, and processed like Velveeta cheese. One blanket is not enough in this gym and I wake up shivering in the night.

Over the next few days, our peak population is about 450. Each time a bus load of people comes in we line up and make a clapping, singing bridge to welcome the new arrivals. Myth California, dressed in, her evening gown and crown, feeds them each a sacramental bite of sweetroll. The welcoming committee holds a briefing.

Strategy meetings. I get clusterphobia. We chose a legal :liaison team. Our lawyers are refused entrance for a couple days.

Trying to wash the poison oak off our only clothes with bars of Safeguard (how apt) is a neat trick and Gucci would be impressed by the tres chic variations on the theme of towel and bandana. The yard adjoining the gym is good and sunny and an increasing number of women opt to go nude.

We start classes in juggling, sign language, co-counseling, nonviolence trainer's training. . . the witches even give magic classes.


Diablo Canyon protesters

Photo: Jessica Collett

“This is the way the sheriff talks to you”

by Freddie Moore

"Are you the one who asked about the doctor and the soap?" It was C.O. (correctional officer) Lt. Small.

"Doctor?--No. Soap?--Yes, I answered, interrupting my practice reading of my statement to the judge.

"Come with me. There are some people from the sheriff's office who want to talk to you."

I turned, whispered to, Arnie, "Keep track of me. I think they're going to beat me up." Lt. Small accompanied me through the hall between the gym where 250 women were being held and the bathrooms with their showers and single flush toilet. The sealed hall was lined with C.O.s. I began rolling my blanket (coat) up around my shoulders, figuring bruises were better than broken bones. I remembered what my dentist said about holding your jaw slightly ajar--for strength, and to keep your teeth from breaking. I tried to lock my jaw open. At the front door I swept my eyes around a circle of eight, armed/batoned "peace" officers. Eight. Whew, I thought, I don't have a chance.

Someone ripped the blanket off and threw it on the ground. "Turn around and put your hands up." I faced a brick wall. I thought about how my blood wouldn't show against the red brick. They pushed me against the wall and hooked their feet around my ankles which were swollen with poison oak and seeping. I was spread-eagled. They grabbed my wrists, more poison oak, and locked me into registered handcuffs. A man took my shoulders and turned me around. In a different movie, it could have been a gesture of love. He pinched my arm above the elbow, led me to an awaiting sheriff's car, and inserted me into the back. Apparently I was not going to get beat up--or, at least not here. I wondered where I was being taken.

This is the way the sheriff talks to you.

For, eight years Mothers for Peace had been trying to talk to Nuclear Regulatory commissioners and PG&E officials. The paper work probably cost a. small forest. And every so often, the rules changed. In the beginning, money, the Mothers were assured by the NRC, would not be an issue. In the end PG&E's $2.4 billion investment was the only issue.

I spent one night in the county jail, in solitary isolation, naked. Naked not so much because I didn't like the Sears bra and panties, the cotton flannel nightie, or the red polyester slacks and blouse--but because I'd been reading Bobby Sands, and I :didn't have anything for my poison oak except wet towels. I had to strip, squat, get checked for body lice and shower in front of a short-tempered, over made-up, over-weight matron.

"Hey, number two--who are you?" called out women in an invisible neighboring cell. (I'd been listening to them bitch about the “demonstrators.”)

"Jane," I volunteered. Of course they wanted to know Jane who?, and what I was in for? More curses.

"We've been locked down for two weeks because of you. We lost all our day privileges because of you."

"Go home!” yelled the ladies from the other side of the wall.

That night I listened. I couldn't formulate a lucid three sentence argument for winning their hearts and minds. But I said I would tell my sisters how these women were being manipulated and I was sorry.

I shut up and reread my charges: Failure to disperse, and trespass. Same thing everybody else had. I heard the women laughing. It was like catching a glimpse of a daisy growing out of a concrete slab out of my peripheral vision. The next morning when they heard my cough I got sympathy, and a cigarette from the trustee. I'd spent the night scratching my p.o. and. trying to figure out why I was where I was, and therefore, who I should be.

I re-requested a phone call. God damn you! the day guard. shrieked, jugulars erect. "We're not playing games here.


Affinity group meeting under a tree in discussion.

Photo: It's About Times

Backcountry blockading

by Crystal

The sun is rising over the Irish Hills. We're hidden on the side of the main road in two little groups, crouching under the low chaparral every time a helicopter stutters by. In a 'section of pipe on the other side of the canyon some of the Heliotropes from Palo Alto are listening to the play-by-play account of the blockade at the main gate on an AM radio. We want to make our move onto the road when the police break the blockade at the main gate, not before.

It holds. You'd think by now the police could just sweep them up but noooo. They proved slow learners at blockade busting. The minutes crawled by. Raven, a rock'n'roll singer in Love & Rage, crawls back and forth with reports . . . "arrests are being made . . . police are pretty rough. . . the workers haven't gotten through yet. . ."

The AM station switches to a commercial. I'm huddled with Jackrabbit the Poet, Snail, and Juana. We debate what to do. What if the workers get through during the commercial break? This is what we get for relying on capitalist media. But we do have a backup plan. Up the road a woman from the Zen Archers is hiding under a green packing cloth. I don't know her name. She's 20 or so, strong like she spent the summer biking alone in the Canadian Rockies.

In our little clump of a.g.'s we start discussing going now. Mother Earth, an affinity group made up mainly of women from San Luis Obispo, thinks maybe we should. Some Zen Archers want to wait. Love & Rage is confused as usual. It's a hard situation to make a decision in. The Handbook didn't say there would be days like this. Most of the Heliotropes are in the drain pipe and difficult to communicate with. "What should we do?" asks C. of Mother Earth. She is quite relaxed; this is a lot easier than being a camp resource person.

The woman from the Zen Archers ends the discussion.

"They're coming, they're coming!!!" she waves the cloth over her head. I feel like a soldier. "Thank the goddess this isn't a real war." I find myself thinking. Then I'm to the fence and over it.

Pouring from the canyon, a mother spider giving birth, the first cluster rushes the road. I run up to the woman Zen Archer. She and I have signs that say "STOP PLEASE BLOCKADE AHEAD". She's having trouble with the barbed-wire fence.

"Hurry Sister, we've got to stop the buses."

"I'm sorry brother, I've hurt my knee." It seemed absurdly polite' but that's how we felt: calm and full of consideration.

The Pacific Ocean, a deep rich blue, is just on the other side of the road. Just out of sight, a few miles down the road, the massive Diablo plant sits at the mouth of Diablo Canyon. The buses are a half-mile away on the other side of us coming, at 40 miles an hour or more, snaking down the coast. It is a very still morning, bright and clear. I feel like the :morning.

I help the Zen Archer woman through the fence and we slip and slide down onto the road from her lookout holding our signs high.

"Spirit of America" it says on the first big Greyhound. bus. The driver sees us, hesitates, sees the people ahead and slams on his brakes. The Greyhound swerves back and forth across the road, tires steaming, big body swaying, and so does the next one and the next and the next. As far as I can see down the road, it's buses and cars. The workers stay on their buses as they've been told and we sit and sing: "The earth, the fire, the water, the air;. returns, returns, returns. . ."

I make a sign "I'M A CONSTRUCTION WORKER AGAINST NUKES! CONVERT DIABLO." It. goes over moderately well. Shoshone writes: "I'M A TEACHER. STOP DIABLO FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN." The workers in the first bus lean forward to read it and several nod. One of them takes a polaroid of us. Raven and L. climb up on the front bumper to look at it.

Two police cars come up from behind, us and so does a PG&E truck. They get out and scratch their heads. An empty school bus comes from the same direction to be used in our arrest. The Narcolyptics, SAVE from Santa Cruz, and Solidarity from Oregon come out of their hideouts a little further up the road and block it. We cheer. The police are now surrounded. They turn in little circles as they talk about it. They are holding their hats in their hands and as they talk they are also turning their hats in little circles, working them like worry beads.

28 minutes pass How much time is that really? How much money for PG&E? What do the workers think sitting on their buses half-way between the main gate and Diablo, now one and a half hours late to work? (Later, after the bust when they rolled through on to their jobs we got more peace signs flipped at us than fingers. But mostly they just stared.)

Oh, the bust. It could have been worse. An army truck pulled up to our line, sirens screaming. A squad of San Luis Sheriffs in riot gear lept out on the run and piled into us without slowing. . . a few people get pretty juked around. Randi Heliotrope, an engineer for one of those companies in Silicon Valley is clubbed in the face and kicked in the groin for no reason. The Zen Archer woman goes limp and gets a badly twisted wrist for her principles. It could have been worse. The cops were pretty pissed.

But we talked to them: shouted when we had to.

"Officer Bowker, you're hurting him."

"Officer Bowls, she's not resisting, why so violent? . . . We're non-violent."

"We aren't your enemies. We do this for you and your children too."

"Officer Bowker we'll remember you!"

They throw us on the truck, they order us off the truck. The workers pass. The California Highway Patrol shows up. Some of them are wearing anti-nuke buttons under their jackets. We ask them what they think of the, fact that a lot of the SLO Sheriffs aren’t wearing badges or name tags. Several look embarrassed.

The Highway Patrol wants to let us go. The Sheriffs are against it. They argue. A PG&E official gives us an order to disperse. We try. The Sheriffs won't let us. Legally we are in the clear since the police are so confused they have completely blown the bust. But force is nine tenths of the law, as is soon to be made clear. Off we go to jail.

I traded my blockade button for a cup of coffee with a Chicano National Guardsman who drove the Sheriffs around in the army truck. He was OK. When we asked him why he was doing it he said: "You guys don't understand. I was ordered to. I'm not a cop. I'm in the army. We're on your side."

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