Dusty Miller: In praise of grandmothers who are in no way retiring
BELCHERTOWN — I spent a recent day in a Brattleboro, Vt., court room, witnessing the trial of six white-haired grandmothers charged with trespassing at the gates of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. This is not the first time I’ve witnessed — or participated — in a courtroom where actions motivated by conscience were on trial.
This time, I was repeatedly moved to tears. I was inspired and challenged by the actions and the courage of the women I was there to support. Most important, I felt hope again, hope that ordinary citizens can take a stand against corporate powers who pollute our earth and water with impunity.
Three of the defendants live in Northampton, the town where I grew up. Frances Crowe, 93, Nancy First, 82, and Paki Wieland, 68, along with the other three defendants, are full-time activists for peace and justice. As I listened to the testimonies of these local heroes, I was filled with pride.
Crowe called upon older people to be the ones who step up, speak out and put our bodies on the line, risking arrest and imprisonment as we follow a higher law. “Everything Hitler did was legal,” she reminded us. As she and the other defendants spoke about the dangers, the illegality and the corporate greed at the foundation of Vermont Yankee’s continuing operation, I was not the only person in the courtroom blinking back tears.
Jurors were visibly moved, and the court officers stood at respectful attention.
Wieland asked Vernon Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert if, after the many times she had been called to Vermont Yankee to arrest these aging activists, “do you see us as unrepentant recidivists or persistent women?”
Hebert smiled warmly, answering in an unmistakably affectionate tone “you are persistent!” As the women masterfully conducted their own defense, spectators in the courtroom heard from police officers — and even Vermont Yankee’s head of security — that the protestors had been consistently respectful and nonviolent. Here was another lesson in the patience and courage it takes to act from conscience.
“When the grandmothers speak, the Earth heals,” Wieland said at the end of her testimony.
When these grandmothers spoke, I witnessed a kind of healing that we are sorely in need of at this time in our country. I am already thinking about who among my friends may join me as I follow in the beautiful footsteps of the women I am privileged to call neighbors.
Author Dusty J. Miller lives in Belchertown. Frances Crowe was the model for the character Alice Ott in Miller’s novel “Danger in the Air.”