The trip's over? Not yet!
Road weary, after rolling through the theme park cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, (Dollywood was just up the road), we climbed through the sunset in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the seventh and last park of the trip), and finally coasted down the homestretch through Cherokee, past Asheville, and into Tryon, North Carolina, with only one night to rest at Ellen's mountain home before heading out again.
The next morning, after unpacking the van and detaching the trailer, Jay and Ellen were headed to Aiken, South Carolina -- the closest town to the largest remaining pillar of the US Nuclear Weapons Complex -- the Savannah River Site (SRS). This is the government's preferred location for all sorts of diabolical schemes, like MOX fuel transported from all over the country for "reprocessing." See http://nirs.org for lots of information on MOX and Savannah River.
We were hosted by David Matos of Aiken Peace, who arranged events in both Aiken SC and Augusta GA. David has been organizing with his Unitarian Universalist Church congregation for several years, as well as the "Alternative New Year" at the Trident nuclear weapons base in St. Mary's, Georgia.
We spoke to a small group in the sanctuary, and fielded questions from several people who had family members who worked at SRS, one of whom is working there currently. As always we were struck by the compassion and commitment of the group we met -- especially those ladies who had been conducting weekly vigils against the ongoing Iraq/Afghanistan wars, deep in the heart of conservative country, for the past five years. They told us some good news, though--that back when the war(s) had started, their street corner vigiling brought jeers and raised middle fingers, but now they were mostly greeted with smiles and peace signs. Another testament to the power of consistent and peaceful public witness.
Kindly hosted by David in his home in Aiken, we got up the next morning and drove to the Savannah River Site. It's easy to find, just pick up Atomic Road in North Augusta and take it south. After you pass the little berg of Jackson, you'll know you're in the right place when you see the signs that say, "NO STOPPING NEXT 17 MILES."
Feel at home yet? Don't worry, there's one exception. About 10 miles down there's a little Historical Marker for the deceased town of Ellenton, SC -- which the government picked up and moved in 1950 when they decided to establish the Site. Now there's New Ellenton (just north of SRS, on the way back to Aiken), but if you want to pay your respects to where old Ellenton was, you'll have to pick yourself up a US Govt. issue security clearance.
Without that clearance there's not much to see along that road. . .mostly tall timber and a few well-guarded entry points, presumably to busy installations well out of sight. Apparently the mutant wildlife only comes out at night. . .we sure didn't see any. We did see, however, a large billboard explaining how many new jobs were added thanks to the Economic Stimulus Package. . . Leave no radioactive industry behind! Having seen quite enough (well -- nowhere near enough, but already too much), we left before local security could come and give us the old Department of Energy hassle.
Next stop: back north across the Savannah River into Augusta, Georgia, where we were due for a 1 pm interview on an AM talk radio show at a local sports bar. For the record, I have never seen so many TVs in one room. Maybe our host, Anthony Esposita, will still be there, digging into local issues like public transit hikes and nuclear disarmament activist visits to town. He was quite cordial with us, though talking a bit more than listening, but he announced our event (at the downtown Augusta library that night) several times, and, hey, it was amazing to see so many TVs. . . (Of course we are scouring the web for available downloads for your listening pleasure, but otherwise Ellen & Jay's first stint on AM talk radio may have been lost to posterity.)
We went downtown to scout the evening library location (meeting a very friendly and helpful lady at the tourism bureau/Augusta history center), then headed south again to see the local nuclear plant. This one, called Plant Vogtle (with a silent "t", like VOH-gul), is 20 miles south of town and right across the river from SRS. You can see the enormous twin cooling towers in the distance from the Augusta beltway, but it's a half-hour drive to reach them, and not much to see once you get there (again, those with security clearances probably have better luck). We arrived, took our snaps, and high-tailed it back to Augusta to meet our new friends at the library.
Our last event of the 2009 Summer Tour had about as big an audience as the first (back in the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley in May, in North Georgia, just about 90 minutes away!), and once again we probably learned as much from them as they did from us. Again, these folks were the arch-dedicated, bearing repeated witness to peace in their hometowns, deep in conservative country. It doesn't look like Georgia is going to have any initiatives or referenda against nuclear weapons any time soon. . .but it's great to know that people like David Matos and his friends are active, and we hope they visit us at the Peace House the next time they are in Washington, DC.
We thought about staying the night again in Aiken, but then figured that -- after 23,800 miles -- what's another 150? So Ellen Thomas pointed us north to Tryon and around midnight we arrived safe, ready to sleeeep, review the tour, and plan for the next leg(s) of the Proposition One in 2010 Campaign!
Thanks for joining us for part of the journey--we hope to see you in person soon!