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SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Thank You Peter Maniscalco


By Karl Grossman

Down the beach from the remains of the Shoreham nuclear power plant, a commemoration was held last week for Peter Maniscalco, a major figure in the three decades-long battle against Shoreham and the scheme of the now defunct Long Island Lighting Company to build seven to eleven nuclear plants in Suffolk.

Mr. Maniscalco of Manorville, a highly spiritual person and brilliant activist, died in November of prostate cancer—fighting it for 17 years, never giving up, like he fought nuclear power.  He was 77.

“My lovely Pete’s birthday,” said his wife, Stephanie Joyce, to the circle of 70 people.  “He wanted to have a party.”

There was the beating of drums and the haunting sound of a didgeridoo, the Aboriginal instrument of Australia. And there was speaker after speaker—of all different backgrounds—standing and giving testimony about Peter.

There was Gordian Raacke, executive director of East Hampton-based Renewable Energy Long Island, who described Mr. Maniscalco as “bright and bold and visionary.” He spoke of working with him for 10 years on an entity established by federal court order because of the Shoreham debacle, the Citizens Advisory Panel. A goal was working for renewable energy and it was Mr. Maniscalco, said Mr. Raacke, who advocated “putting us on a 100% renewable energy path” seen then as a huge leap. Now 160 communities in the U.S. and four of its states have 100% renewable energy goals, he said. Mr. Maniscalco not only successfully was involved in “shutting down Shoreham” but was a leader in pushing for a safe, green energy alternative to nuclear power.  “Thank you Peter,” said Mr. Raacke. 

Father Bill Brisotti of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Wyandanch, who worked closely with Peter in challenging Shoreham and LILCO’s nuclear scheme, said: “Peter was a person of the Earth. He taught all of us in different ways. What motivated his work against Shoreham and nuclear power was his love for the Earth.”

Dr. Scott Carlin of Hampton Bays who taught in the Environmental Studies Program at Southampton College with Peter spoke of the “wonderful things Pete did with the students,” how he was focused on “Earth-centered education….Pete was amazing, that’s why we are all here.” Among the courses Mr. Maniscalco taught was “Spirituality of the Environment.” He was also the college’s “green coordinator.” Professor Carlin, who since the closure of Southampton College has gone on to teach at the Post Campus of Long Island University, outlined plans to establish a scholarship in Mr. Maniscalco’s name at LIU. 

Lori Maher of Patchogue told of moving to Suffolk from Queens because of a shooting on the block on which she lived and fearing for her daughter’s life, and finding that cancer was widespread in Suffolk. Then she met Mr. Maniscalco who directed her toward Earth-based spirituality and action. “I feel we were comrades in a very important cause,” said Ms. Maher. “It was very powerful. He changed my whole life. “

Jonathan Hernandez of Bay Shore who treated Peter at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson said Peter taught him “not to follow some guru but to follow your own guru—that all the awareness is already inside you. He guided me to where I need to be.”

Dr. Charles Bevington, chair of the Sierra Club Long Island Group, a Rocky Point resident, said: “If not for Peter we may be in a nuclear wasteland.” His connection to Peter caused him to work on environmental issues, he said.

Mark Dougherty of East Islip, Peter’s student at Southampton College, said that Mr. Maniscalco “lived the truth” and for him is “still alive.”

The testimonies continued, punctuated by the circle of people chanting: “The Earth is Our Mother, We Must Take Care of Her.”

The commemoration over, Stephanie Joyce commented that “what really stood out were the many varieties of people here….and everybody loved Pete.”

Mr. Maniscalco, protesting a headline in Newsday a while back, “Shoreham’s Empty Legacy,” wrote in a letter published by the paper how it “misses the point. The legacy of the Shoreham nuclear plant battle is how it created a model for citizen-driven democracy. This inspiring, powerful model may be used by progressive activists during our present national political chaos. I began organizing against the nuclear plant in 1978 and was arrested with 571 others for taking part in peaceful civil disobedience on June 3, 1979. I was arrested four more times. In one instance, civil disobedience helped to keep Shoreham’s nuclear fuel rods from being reprocessed into nuclear weapons material….Anti-Shoreham activists became political activists, public speakers, plaintiffs in lawsuits and organizers of ad hoc groups to address pressing issues…The most powerful aspect of the anti-Shoreham movement was its diversity of people with wide-ranging skills working together.”

“Many Long Islanders thought it would be impossible to keep the nuclear plant from opening, because it was backed by powerful corporate and political interests. But with perseverance, anti-Shoreham activists stopped it,” declared Mr. Maniscalco.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.   

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