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Michael Mariotte at the historic People's Climate March in New York City September 21, 2014. (Photo: Courtesy Nuclear Information and Resource Service)

In Memory of Michael Mariotte—Activist, Journalist, Musician

Long-time anti-nuclear activist, journalist and punk rock drummer Michael Mariotte died May 16 at the age of 63 in his home in Kensington, Md., after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.  Mariotte was executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Takoma Park, Md., for 27 years.  Under Mariotte's leadership NIRS became a key information resource for anti-nuclear activists around the world.  

Mariotte was a leading figure in halting the construction of proposed nuclear facilities in Maryland and Louisiana, and was pivotal in the fight against efforts to repeal a federal ban on the interstate transport of nuclear waste, which Mariotte derided as "mobile Chernobyl."

A veteran journalist, Mariotte was founding editor, and later general manager, of the newspaper that went on to the become the Washington City Paper, and a year after joining NIRS in 1985 he began publishing Groundswell, the group's newsletter, later renamed Nuclear Monitor.

I met Mariotte at Antioch College, where he and I worked together on the weekly student newspaper, The Record, in the spring of 1978.  With us on the Record's staff were Laura Markham and Ron Williams, who together went on to found the Metro Times, a Detroit alternative newspaper, in 1980.

Along with the rest of the paper's staff, Michael and I spent many a sleepless night doing layout and last-minute edits.  

The nights would start with beer and end with coffee—a lot of coffee.  Michael was tireless and kind, and he always had time to help out younger, less experienced writers like me.  His wit was sharp as a scalpel, but he reserved his sharpest barbs for the rich and powerful, and I learned a lot from his analysis of power relationships.  He took to heart Finley Peter Dunne's words that "the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

It was an interesting time in Antioch's history, and Michael relished in the politics of it.  Financially the school was hanging by a thread, but somehow it found funds to hire the very expensive and notoriously anti-union Taft law firm of Cincinnati to play hardball in negotiations with the school's support staff, when it went out on strike.  Michael and the rest of The Record staff lined up solidly behind the union and were in the forefront of student support.  

Then Antioch President William Birenbaum wrote a sort of State of the College report in which he urged the school to move away from its innovative tradition and embrace a more traditional path.  With considerable help from Michael, I wrote a response, picking apart the Birenbaum report point by point.  Thirty-eight years later that still stands out as a defining moment for me as a writer, with Michael right there, front and center.

From Antioch, Mariotte moved to the Washington area, where he and some friends formed the punk band Tru Fax and the Insaniacs, which was a regular at the city's 9:30 Club and played other area venues.  In 1982 the band produced an album entitled "Mental Decay," and to the band's delight, it was named Washington's worst band by Washington magazine in 1980.  The band's second album, "ArtiFax," is slated to be released later this year.

Mariotte recruited celebrities to the anti-nuclear cause, and his work in the field was praised by musicians Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt, all of whom played at five 1979 No Nukes concerts in New York City's Madison Square Garden.  

In the wake of the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, Mariotte traveled to Ukraine and became a consultant to anti-nuclear groups in what were then the socialist Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe.

In 2014 a dozen environmental groups - including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Public Citizen - gave Mariotte a lifetime achievement award, which was presented by consumer advocate and two-time Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Mariotte is survived by his wife Tanya Murza of Kensington; four children, Richard and Nicole Mariotte, both of Olympia, Wash., and Zoryana and Kateryna Mariotte, both of Kensington; and a brother and sister.

© 2021 The Progressive

Lawrence Reichard

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance writer. He splits his time between Maine and Latin America.

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