Late organizer Al Giordano remembered for fiery spirit, devotion to the cause

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-23-2023 3:00 PM

From fighting against nuclear power plants to fighting for elected officials, Al Giordano was known for his love of stirring things up.

While his work went to much larger arenas, with Giordano ultimately being known internationally for his journalism and organizing efforts, his beginnings and much of his training can be traced back to western Massachusetts, where he was given the stage from 1978 to the early 1990s to make change. Giordano, 64, died of lung cancer on July 10, at his home in Mexico.

“He was not one to think about how terrible it was. He thought that it only meant you organize harder. You work harder. That was the lesson he taught with his life and it began in Franklin County,” said Tom Lesser, Northampton-based lawyer and friend who represented Giordano in several of his cases.

Lesser explained Giordano drew a distinction between being an activist and being an organizer. He felt activists only spoke with people with whom they agreed and organizers worked with a wide range of people with differing opinions to find common ground and create power. Giordano saw himself as an organizer.

“He was very impish; he loved to stir things up,” said Court Dorsey, Giordano’s friend who now lives in Wendell.

Fighting the power

Lesser explained that Giordano’s ability to have one foot in and out of the system was what led him to have such a long list of accomplishments.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Restaurateurs opening 2 businesses in Amherst face nearly $500K for violations at Eastern Mass. restaurants
Hadley considering removing deck from deteriorating and unused Dwyer’s Bridge
State ruling bottles up liquor license for Iron Horse revival in Northampton
Debate over cease-fire in Gaza heats up as four communities consider resolutions
UMass basketball: Winners of three of their last four, Minutemen look to keep momentum going against St. Bonaventure
High school basketball: Trio of local teams seek Western Mass titles on Championship Saturday

A native of the Bronx, Giordano joined the anti-nuclear group the Clamshell Alliance when he was 16 years old to protest the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire.

After this, Giordano’s journey took him to Franklin County, where he found a home with the left-wing social groups around the Montague Farm and communes. In his early years in western Massachusetts, he organized a local effort to shut down the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, which would eventually happen in 1992.

“He energized and led the movement to close down Yankee Rowe,” said Doug Wilson, retired president of The Rowe Center. “He definitely got things going, but they didn’t close it because of him.”

As part of their tactic to protest the nuclear plant in Rowe, Giordano and Joshua Jay Waffleman (formerly known as Joshua Jay Dostis) dressed up as characters Solarman and Doctor YourASchmuck, giving out “elixir of life atomic water pop” to children to make their message playfully heard.

“He understood that just an image speaks volumes,” Dorsey explained.

Giordano was known to follow his own set of values that challenged people to his right as well as those fighting with him. Dorsey explained Giordano insisted on bringing an American flag to protests across Franklin County.

“This drove people on the left nuts,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey explained Giordano was part of a core of activists in Franklin County that was at the center of creating movements across the country, with anti-nuclear protests a prime example of this work.

Lesser noted Giordano could be playful, using aspects of media and culture to get his point heard, but he was a hard worker and ran campaigns across the state by listening to people and organizing town hall meetings.

In 1982, he led and won a statewide referendum campaign to have new nuclear power plants vetted by the state Legislature and approved by local voters. He also was hired to lead the western Massachusetts branch of John Kerry’s election campaigns for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

In the 1980s, he met Abbie Hoffman, activist and founder of the Youth International Party (whose members were commonly called Yippies), at The Rowe Center.

“We got Abbie Hoffman to come and do a conference at the center,” Wilson said. “In the course of a couple of days, Abbie Hoffman recognized Al’s gifts and essentially they went to work together.”

After that, Hoffman hired him to run anti-nuclear campaigns outside of western Massachusetts.

“He stayed at the intersection of culture, politics and media,” Lesser said.

Battling via byline

Giordano wrote for the Valley Advocate, an alternative newspaper, and hosted the second most popular radio show coming out of Springfield. Dorsey said Giordano had his show canceled for holding interviews with a fake nuclear power CEO named Al Nukem, but he was invited back because of the program’s popularity.

From his writing locally, Giordano moved on to write for larger publications outside of western Massachusetts, including the Boston Phoenix and The Nation.

“What he learned in Franklin County taught him about big corporate interests and American imperialism, which informed his next steps,” Dorsey said.

This brought Giordano to Mexico and other places in Latin America, where he reported on the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. He created Narco News, where he reported on the war on drugs, and the School of Authentic Journalism, where he would train journalists from around the world.

In 2000 in New York City, Narco News was sued by the Mexican bank Banco Nacional de México over its reporting on drug sales. The case was closely followed by the media and resulted in the landmark decision that online journalists have the same First Amendment protection as traditional print journalists.

Giordano was also noted as one of the earliest identifiers and largest players in having Barack Obama elected president in 2008.

Lesser explained Giordano was a force against polarization and would have been helpful in these times.

“He believed in the humanity of people. He was brilliant,” Lesser said. “He was brave. He was a great writer and it will be a great loss.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.]]>