Guy Chichester, Clamshell Alliance Co-Founder, 1935-2009

Published on
by
the Concord Monitor (New Hampshire)

Guy Chichester, Clamshell Alliance Co-Founder, 1935-2009

Chichester, activist force, dies at age 73

by
Daniel Barrick

Guy Chichester, anti-nuclear leader, died Sunday at his home in Rye, New Hampshire. (Deb Cram file photo)

When Guy Chichester and three friends were arrested at the New Boston Air Force Station in 2003, the officer on duty had little experience processing political protesters. The person who normally handled bookings was gone for the day, and the officer didn't want the four non-violent activists spending the night in jail.

So Chichester did what he often did. He stepped forward and spoke up, this time to explain the booking process to the officer. Having been arrested at least a dozen times by that point, Chichester figured he should put his knowledge to good use.

"The officer was so puzzled, but Guy just walked him through the process, suggested what he might want to do," recalled Lynn Rudmin Chong, a longtime friend of Chichester who was arrested with him on two occasions.

Chichester, who died at the age of 73 on Sunday, was one of New Hampshire's most experienced and well-respected activists. He proudly noted that he had been arrested in every New England state and the Pentagon. But arrest records barely hint at the impact Chichester had on the environmental movement in New Hampshire and across the nation.

He was a founding member of the Clamshell Alliance, a group that led protests against Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in the 1970s and that helped awaken a broader environmental movement. He helped establish the national Green Party. And, through his charisma and his conviction, he inspired countless people to mobilize for environmental and political reform themselves. A carpenter by trade, Chichester was a rabble-rouser by vocation.

"You could call him one of the elders of the movement," said Arnie Alpert, program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee and an early member of the Clamshell Alliance. "He had such a presence and an ability to articulate, not just the grievances we had against nuclear power, but the values of the no-nukes movement and the growing environmental movement and the importance of 'small d' democracy."

Veterans of the Clamshell Alliance recall Chichester as a critical force in the movement: an articulate, impassioned and tireless organizer. The alliance's stated mission was to use nonviolent civil disobedience and grassroots organizing to block the construction of a nuclear plant that Public Service of New Hampshire had proposed for a saltmarsh in Seabrook. Chichester, as much as anyone else, helped take that fight to the public and, over time, shape public opinion against the construction of new nuclear plants. Even former opponents in that battle said he was enormously effective in both goals.

"He was a big gruff guy, but it came right through that he really believed what he was advocating for," said Nick Ashooh, who was spokesman for PSNH in the late 1970s. "Guy demonstrated the impact that one person could have if he stands up for his beliefs."

Renny Cushing, a close friend of Chichester since the 1970s, said Chichester helped connect local residents who were concerned about their own health and property with out-of-state activists who saw the Seabrook fight as part of a larger movement.

Chichester didn't have to go far to find his way to environmental activism.

He and his family lived in Rye, and, a few years before the Seabrook fight, he helped rally opposition to a plan by Aristotle Onassis to build an oil refinery on the Great Bay in Durham.

He was born and raised on Long Island, N.Y., but the suburbanization of the island drove him to look elsewhere to make a home. He moved with his wife and family to Rye in 1970, inspired by childhood memories of summers spent with an uncle on the Maine coast. Chichester didn't waste much time getting involved in politics. He was a local organizer for George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign. But it was with the Clamshell Alliance that he found his true passion: environmental activism.

Chichester hosted many of the alliance's early meetings in his home. Standing more than 6 feet tall, he was a commanding presence at town hall meetings and other forums where alliance members offered their arguments to the public. And he helped shape the group's ethos of nonviolent resistance.

Though the Seabrook power plant was eventually built, PSNH scrapped a planned second reactor at the site. And several acts of protest at Seabrook, including one massive demonstration that resulted in nearly 1,500 arrests, helped turn public opinion against nuclear power. Then-Gov. Mel Thomson, an outspoken supporter of the Seabrook plant, was defeated for re-election in 1978, in large part because of voter outrage over the rising cost of construction.

Friends say Chichester's influence extends far beyond the protests at Seabrook.

"He was a visionary," said Paul Gunter, a co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance who now works for the Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear. "Guy really saw that we could put more people to work through environmental and conservation measures. He was saying that in 1976, and it's still being debated today in this economic stimulus bill."

Roy Morrison, a friend of Chichester for more than 30 years, said Chichester was able to bring a broader perspective to the environmental movement's earliest days.

"He saw that the issue wasn't just Seabrook or nuclear power but the defense of the living world and that that affected so many aspects of society," Morrison said. "He saw that we needed a broad political expression to change things."

That realization led Chichester further afield in the years after Seabrook. He helped found the national Green Party, and in 1990, he was the party's nominee for New Hampshire governor. In recent years, Chichester protested logging operations in the White Mountain National Forest, the Iraq war and the dominance of the two-party political system. He was arrested in 2005, along with 13 other protesters, for staging a sit-in at the office of Sen. Judd Gregg. The protesters wanted to speak with Gregg about his support for the Iraq war.

One of Chichester's most infamous acts of protest came in 1990 when he cut down an emergency siren pole near the Seabrook power plant. According to Morrison, Chichester blocked off Route 1A with a couple of saw horses, used a rented chain saw to fell the tower and calmly waited for the police to come arrest him. After being released from the police station, Morrison said, Chichester invited his friends to his house for some homemade clam chowder.

Chichester was charged with criminal mischief for felling the siren tower. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. Chichester was acquitted at the second trial. Morrison recalled jury members approaching Chichester in the courthouse parking lot afterward, asking him how they could get involved in the anti-nuclear movement.

"He wasn't a great orator, but he was a truth teller," Morrison said. "No matter where he went, people could see that."

Chichester is survived by his wife of 51 years, Madeline, five children and eight grandchildren.

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Guy B. Chichester

RYE -- Guy B. Chichester, 73, died Feb. 8, 2009, at his home surrounded by family and friends.

He was born Feb. 11, 1935, in Freeport, L.I., N.Y., to Arthur B. and Elizabeth (Blake) Chichester.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War.

A carpenter by trade, he made his home in Rye since 1970.

A longtime political and social activist, he was a founding member of the Clamshell Alliance and over the years was consistently involved in working for social change, donating his energies to a wide variety of civic and community organizations, most recently as president of the Seacoast Anti Pollution League.

He shared 51 years of marriage with his wife, Madeline L. (Meyer) Chichester.

Other family members include five children, Blake Chichester, Dru Chichester, Ben Chichester, Jennifer Chichester, and Noelle Chichester; a sister, Eileen Beck; eight grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

SERVICES: The family will receive relatives and close friends Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at the home of Jane Holway, 647 Washington Road, Rye. A memorial service will be held in the spring.

Memorial donations may be made to New Hampshire Peace Action, 4 Park St., Suite 210, Concord 03301.

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