Confronting ‘Entergy Louisiana’ in New Orleans

On VY anniversary, longtime activist and seven others attempt to visit the CEO

PUTNEY — On March 22, well over 1,000 citizens descended on the Brattleboro offices of the Entergy Corporation, owner and operator of Vermont Yankee. This event did not happen spontaneously - the planning involved was intense and long-term.

In the midst of this preparation, one of my colleagues mentioned an action being planned by a small group of anti-nuclear activists, most of whom were from New Hampshire. This group needed someone from Vermont to join them in New Orleans (NOLA) in a visit to Entergy's corporate office tower.

I am not only a Vermonter, but I also live and work in the reactor's emergency evacuation zone.

As committed as I was to participate in the Brattleboro event, it was clear that we needed to send a message to Entergy's top management that we are willing to travel many miles to make our point: Vermont Yankee needs to close, and the sooner the better.

Forty years has taken its toll on a reactor design that had significant design flaws even at its inception. Entergy's management in Louisiana made the decision to try to overturn the will of the people of Vermont in federal court.

And its management had the deep pockets to hire the priciest attorneys to fight Vermont, knowing that a small state like ours does not have the huge cash reserves of a corporation like Entergy.

On March 20, I boarded a plane for New Orleans, knowing only one of the group of eight. One group drove from New Hampshire; others flew. We met for the first time as a group and planned our action in a local church.

We met the amazing lawyers Bill Quigley and Davida Finger, who seem to be involved in every social justice and environmental law case in the area. We also met our few other local contacts.

We decided to call our group the New England Natural Guard.

* * *

On Thursday morning, at the same time as the crowd was descending on the Town Common in Brattleboro, we sailed up the escalator at the Entergy building. (The large neon sign on the outside of the building said 'ent rgy'; does the company not do maintenance?)

We were dressed in our best imitation of business attire. All four men wore suits, and the women - well ... we tried!

We entered the reception area, and Renny Cushing, who dreamed up the trip to New Orleans, confidently walked up to the receptionists to ask to see the company's chief executive officer.

“Hello. We're here to see J. Wayne Leonard."

“Do you have an appointment?"

“No, but he will want to see us when he hears that we have traveled from New England to discuss closing Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant with him.”

When we were told that J. Wayne Leonard was not in the building, which might not have been true, we amiably agreed to wait in the comfortable and expensively furnished waiting area until he was ready to see us.

Security was called, and soon after, the New Orleans Police Department. Not wanting to waste our time in the glass-enclosed reception area, we taped yellow “crime scene” tape on two of the windows.

We unfurled banners: Our main message was “No business as usual at Entergy today.” We were visible to many in the building: Entergy workers, visitors to offices, and to the Hungry Hog Restaurant on the first floor.

The police and the company wanted to peel off our “leader” to meet with some Entergy middle-management figure. We have no leader, so a New Orleans police officer (“Captain G.”) began a litany of reasons why nice people like us did not want to get arrested, and why we really did not want to enter the New Orleans central lock-up, that it is dangerous, and that since we were good, sincere people, couldn't we please change our minds.

We were clear that we were not walking out.

Our local lawyers understood the city police system and had advised us what to expect. Jail time was unlikely, although most of the group was prepared for a jail stay if that was the outcome of the arrest.

Getting arrested would get our group hearing time in court, where justice might be served. A civil disobedience arrest would put Entergy on trial, too.

Captain G. was soon joined by more police as we were herded to the parking garage. He continued his entreaties many times, that we should please choose as a group to walk out without an arrest.

Finally, the handcuffing and the actual arrests of seven of our group took place.I stepped out, because at the last minute, I worried about missing the imminent birth of my daughter's first child if I got stuck in New Orleans.

The group was booked and released in about five hours and treated well by the police.

On my last night, we were invited to dinner and music at a conference for (mostly) law students doing social-justice law.

The Baby Boys Band, a young New Orleans style band-in-training, played in the hall for a short time, then began moving out of the building.

Without missing a beat, and with no breaks between songs, the band led us all in a dancing group for many blocks in the area of the church.

* * *

We plan to visit Entergy again in New Orleans. Entergy is a prominent player in the city. They are the electric company. The “Entergy IMAX Theater” is along the Mississippi River walk. As in Brattleboro, they give money and advertise, but are not a beloved corporate figure.

We plan to strengthen our ties with environmentalists and activists in New Orleans.

As long as Entergy fights democracy in the state of Vermont, the New England Natural Guard will be visiting them again.

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