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UMass talk reflects on Valley protests in the ’70s

In April 1977, nearly 2,000 protestors converged on the proposed site of a nuclear power plant in Seabrook. Three-quarters of them were arrested.

Today, at a talk at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, photojournalist Lionel Delevingne and activist and author Anna Gyorgy will reflect on the protests in Seabrook and the antinuclear movement that began in the 1970s.

“If you are pronuclear, antinuclear ... I think that the story there is about democracy,” said Delevingne, a native of France.

When he was a freelance photojournalist in the Pioneer Valley in the 1980s, he documented the antinuclear movement in Montague, where local activists were fighting the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant.

Today’s event, titled “To the Village Square: An Experiment in American Democracy,” is a closing reception for the university’s exhibit of Delevingne’s work documenting the protests, and a celebration of the acquisition of his photographs and Gyorgy’s papers by the Special Collections and University Archives at UMass.

In a recent interview, Delevingne talked about documenting the protests, saying he was surprised by how orderly and effective the activists were compared to protestors he had observed in France, where he “was used to a more brutal sense of democracy.”

“They were extremely organized, and they were helping themselves to historical examples and strategies,” said Delevingne, who now lives in Stockbridge.

While Delevingne prefers to be seen as a reporter rather than an activist, he said his goal was to give a voice to the protesters, who were being ignored by the media. He said he looked for unexpected subjects who did not fit stereotypes of activists — family members, older people and electricians.

“Maybe that’s activism,” said Delevingne.

Gyorgy has been more direct in her opposition to nuclear power, participating in the antinuclear organizing in Seabrook and writing a book about the dangers of nuclear power. In addition to discussing the movement in New England, Gyorgy will share her experiences with antinuclear and pro-solar activism in Germany.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held today from 4 to 7 p.m. in the lower level of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. It is the Eighth Annual Colloquium on Social Change.

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