September 13, 1961: First Hill vs. I-5

Seattle: It didn't have to be this way.

Seattle: It didn’t have to be this way.

Once upon a time, Seattle was not dominated by the concrete monstrosity known as Interstate 5. In fact, citizen activists once tried to stop its location through the heart of our city. On the date in focus here, a coalition of First Hill residents and Seattle civic leaders spoke out against I-5 during a public hearing.

The hearing concerned the proposed route of what was then called the Seattle Freeway. It drew a crowd of some 200 First Hill residents, along with local architects and activists Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985) and Paul Thiry (1904-1993). Objections against the route were raised from both practical and aesthetic angles.

Steinbrueck, who represented the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects and who would later lead the movement to save Seattle’s Pike Place Market, cautioned that there was a need for further study of traffic patterns and pedestrian access before finalizing the proposed route.

The First Hill Improvement Club, assisted by Thiry, advocated a lid over the downtown portion of the freeway between Madison and University streets and between Pike Street and Olive Way for aesthetic reasons and to preserve economic development downtown. Best known as the primary architect of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, Thiry was also one of the first Seattle citizens to propose a lid over I-5 where new businesses and apartments could be built.

These activist efforts were part of an ongoing battle against the location of I-5 through the heart of Seattle. Earlier that year, on June 1, a march was held in downtown Seattle to demonstrate against the project, involving a group of roughly 100 Seattle residents, including Thiry. Since the new freeway was already a done deal at the time, the march was aimed at persuading the Seattle city government to construct a lid over the portion of I-5 that would run directly through downtown.

After close to a year of debate on the subject prior to the hearing, Washington State Governor Albert Rosellini demanded that the construction delays on the freeway cease, despite the fact that the lid issue was not yet resolved. The Seattle portion of I-5 would be completed in January 1967. Infinite traffic jams would eventually ensue there.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “2 Groups Challenge Freeway Hearing,” The Seattle Times, September 14, 1961, p. 1; Stub Nelson, “New Delay Looming On Freeway,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 15, 1961, p. 1; “Freeway Delay On Central Part Forecast,” The Seattle Times, September 15, 1961, p. 3; Unpublished report by Bureau of Public Roads Area Engineer R. M. Barron, Box 15, RG 30, National Archives, Pacific Northwest Region; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, “Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works” (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998).

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August 20, 1994: Real Change

Real Change founder and director Tim Harris outside the paper's original office in Belltown, May 2010 Kelly O / The Stranger

Real Change founder and director Tim Harris
outside the paper’s original office in Belltown, May 2010
Kelly O / The Stranger

When is a newspaper more than a newspaper?

Twenty years ago today, that question was answered in Seattle with the debut issue of Real Change, our city’s weekly progressive street newspaper. The answer: when the newspaper is also an activist organization.

Still unique today among Seattle’s regular print publications, while Real Change is written, edited, and published by a professional staff, it’s sold exclusively by self-employed vendors — many of whom are homeless — working in street locations all around the city.

Crucially, the paper provides its vendors with an alternative to panhandling as a source of regular income. Vendors pay 60 cents for each copy of Real Change, then resell the paper for the current $2 cover price plus tips. Journalistically, the paper covers a variety of local social justice-related topics, including homelessness, poverty, and gentrification.

Real Change is a hand up — not a hand out,” goes the paper’s motto.

Part of a national street-newspaper movement begun in 1989 by Street News in New York City, Real Change employs up to 400 vendors each month, and currently has a paid weekly circulation of up to 22,000 copies each week.

The paper’s founder and director, Tim Harris, previously founded the street newspaper Spare Change in the Boston area in 1992. After moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris started Real Change as a monthly newspaper with only one staff member, operating from a tiny storefront in the Belltown neighborhood. Attracted to Seattle due to our existing homeless advocacy organizations such as Operation Homestead and SHARE, Harris moved here with the specific intention of starting a new street paper similar to Spare Change.

The year 1994 was an ideal time to start such a project in Seattle. The city was then at the apex of its most economically prosperous decade to date — yet the city’s underclass was not benefiting from that prosperity. Rather than using that prosperity to help its underclass, the Seattle city government was then drafting and passing legislation — known as the “civility laws” — that essentially punished homeless people for being homeless. These laws were championed primarily by Mark Sidran, the notorious city attorney who held that office from 1990 to 2002.

Since its founding, Real Change has compensated greatly for Seattle’s ongoing neglect of its underclass, not only by providing the city’s homeless population with an alternative to panhandling, but also by providing them (and Seattle’s underclass in general) with a crucial voice in city affairs. In a 2010 profile in The Stranger, Harris mused on Real Change‘s uncanny influence in Seattle city politics, and the strategic leverage the paper has provided for the city’s underclass.

“The beautiful thing about Real Change,” Harris told The Stranger, “is that it isn’t a politically smart thing to do to hate on Real Change.”

In recent years, the Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project (an adjunct organization) has led several successful campaigns for economic justice in Seattle. Among these were campaigns to humanize Seattle’s urban campsite clearance policies, stop a proposed new jail from being built, and defeat aggressive panhandling legislation that was unanimously condemned by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

(The organization was also instrumental in the 2011 grassroots effort to stop the deep-bore tunnel option for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. That effort was obviously and unfortunately a failure.)

In general, Real Change has achieved increasing success in several ways during the past 20 years. In January 1999, the paper began publishing every other week. In February 2005, encouraged by increasing interest and sales, the paper began publishing weekly.

In April 2009, Real Change won national recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists for a story on the life and death of a man who jumped from the Aurora Bridge. In May 2010, the paper’s offices moved from Belltown to more spacious headquarters in Pioneer Square — despite an effort by certain neighboring business owners to prevent the move.

In April 2013, Real Change was finally able to translate the success of the paper into an increase in earned income for its vendors — the first in its history. When the paper began, the cover price was one dollar, out of which each vendor earned 65 cents for each copy they sold. They now earn $1.40 for each paper sold. The price change was the result of much research and feedback from Real Change vendors and readers, as well as other street newspapers in other cities.

Most recently, in November 2013, the paper expanded its distribution to Bellevue and Bremerton. Real Change currently plans to further expand throughout the Salish Sea region in the near future, and is also developing a phone app that will enable cashless transactions between vendors and customers.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Maureen O’Hagan, “Real Change newspaper wins national award, attracts readers,” The Seattle Times, April 18, 2009; Dominic Holden, “Honorary Political Genius: Tim Harris and Real Change,” The Stranger, September 16, 2010; Deanna Duff, “Most Influential: Real Change’s Tim Harris,” Seattle magazine, November 2010; Sara Lerner, “Seattle Street Newspaper Real Change Raises Price,” kuow.org, April 4, 2013; Danny Westneat, “Real Change comes to Bellevue as homeless sell, make news,” The Seattle Times, November 19, 2013; Hallie Golden, “Making Real Change,” City Living Seattle, December 12, 2013; Meghan Gelbach, “‘Real Change’ Goes Mobile,” Seattle magazine, February 2014.

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August 11, 1969: The Ave Riots

University Way NE and NE 43rd Street during the Ave riots Photo credit: Stan Stapp

University Way NE and NE 43rd Street during the Ave riots
Photo credit: Stan Stapp

The summer of 1969 was a time of infamous turmoil in several major American cities, including Seattle. On the date in focus here, a series of riots began in the University District that would shake University Way Northeast — a.k.a. “the Ave” — over several days. During that week, street people on the Ave would battle with Seattle police, leading to several arrests and injuries and much vandalism and looting. While the origin of the riots remains contentious today, the aftermath would lead to significant changes in the character of the U District, both as a neighborhood and as a community.

The Ave riots were preceded by an incident across town in West Seattle the previous evening, during a Sunday night rock concert at Alki Beach. Despite the concert being an officially permitted event, several Seattle Police Department officers on the scene began harassing attendees. In response, someone — allegedly a member of a local motorcycle gang — dumped a container of gasoline into the back seat of a police patrol car and threw in a lighted match, setting the car ablaze. The police, in response, abruptly declared the concert over, donned riot gear, and began throwing canisters of tear gas into the crowd — not ordinary tear gas, but rather the CS variety, which sickens its victims. The thick fumes drifted into the nearby neighborhood, thus transforming a peaceful rock concert into a major public disturbance.

The following day, in the U District, many regular denizens of the Ave shared news of the Alki fracas with disgust. Police harassment of youth — especially countercultural youth — was a regular fact of life in that neighborhood at that time. (It was also then a regular fact of life citywide, which partially explained the heavy police presence at the Alki concert.) In fact, the police presence in the U District had recently been doubled by Seattle Mayor Floyd Miller as part of a crackdown on drug traffic in the neighborhood. Thus, as the evening of August 11 arrived, many on the Ave were ready for a confrontation with the cops.

And thus, the first riot on the Ave that week began at approximately 9 p.m. that night, when a young man kicked over a trash can on the corner of Northeast 42nd Street and the Ave. According to witnesses, police officers standing nearby quickly grabbed and handcuffed him. His girlfriend objected, yelling at the officers and pleading for bystanders to intervene. When the cops grabbed her next, another bystander punched one of the cops, Officer Mike Bolger, in the jaw, and the scuffle quickly escalated into a riot. Spectators began throwing everything they could get their hands on. Bricks struck two other officers, Marvin Queen and Thomas Grabicki, and a stray object shattered the window of the Coffee Corral, a popular hippie hangout on the southeast section of that corner.

By 9:30 p.m., the crowd of rioters had grown to roughly 150. Witnesses later noted that many in the crowd had also been present at the Alki fracas. More police soon arrived, along with a TV news crew, but by 10:15 p.m. the rioters had drifted away and the police withdrew. All in all that night, seven rioters were arrested and three police officers were injured.

The next day, August 12, the U District was buzzing with news of the previous night’s incident. While the Ave was quiet that night, and the police then kept a low profile, the following night would be a different story entirely.

While the riot on August 11 may have been politically motivated — some attributed it to the antiwar activists who were a regular part of the Ave scene at the time — the rest of the week’s rioting was clearly the initiative of restless teenagers from across the city coming to the U District strictly for kicks, lured by news of Monday’s incident. The most intense and destructive of the riots occurred on the nights of August 13 and 14 — and most U District denizens who witnessed the riots later claimed they did not recognize most of the participants on those nights.

The evening of August 13 began with a spontaneous community meeting of about 50 people at 7:30 p.m. on “Hippie Hill” (the stretch of lawn on the University of Washington campus near 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 42nd Street, then a popular meeting place among Seattle’s countercultural community). The meeting was called to discuss the recent disorder in the U District. Much anger was vented there concerning police harassment, but the apparent consensus was that people should avoid further confrontations with the police.

Among the topics of discussion was a pair of flyers that had been circulating in the neighborhood since the morning of August 12. One urged calm in the name of “the New American Community”; the other was unsigned and much more militant, bearing a sketch of a pistol with the caption “We’re looking for people who like to draw,” an apparent parody of the matchbook ads for art school so common at the time — and an obvious attempt at violent provocation.

After the meeting on Hippie Hill adjourned around 8:30 p.m., several attendees headed towards the Ave and immediately noticed two strange things: there were no police visible anywhere; and the Ave was filled with hundreds of teenagers, both white and black, whom no one at the meeting had ever seen in the U District before. All was calm until around 9:30 p.m., when a group of the unfamiliar teenagers began looting Bluebeard’s, a hippie boutique on the 4200 block of the Ave. Several locals tried to intervene, proclaiming that Bluebeard’s wasn’t the enemy — but to no avail.

Meanwhile, no police appeared, despite the returning chaos. Someone dragged a trash can onto the Ave and lit it on fire — still, no police came.

Outside Bluebeard's boutique, August 13, 1969 Photographer unknown

Outside Bluebeard’s boutique, August 13, 1969
Photographer unknown

The cops finally appeared at precisely 10 p.m., when a banshee wail erupted from the roof of the Adams Forkner Funeral Home on the east side of the Ave, where police had installed a “howler,” a high-frequency noise generator designed to disorient crowds. Moments later, a loudspeaker announced, “You are ordered to disperse. If you do not disperse, you will be removed by force.”

Soon after, scores of Tactical Squad officers in full riot gear charged onto the Ave from nearby alleys, and CS gas grenades began exploding. The rioters, undeterred, began pelting the police once again. As the chaos quickly escalated, trash cans were ignited to bait the police, parking meters were smashed, and stores were looted. Meanwhile, on 15th Avenue Northeast, a mobile crane was set on fire, and when firemen arrived they had to withdraw under a hail of stones.

Around 11 p.m., the Neptune Theater’s showing of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet ended, and hundreds of moviegoers — many themselves young people, the film’s target audience — exited into the middle of the chaos. They were promptly attacked and gassed by police as they attempted to return to their cars. Amazingly, the police never blocked off traffic along the Ave, and scores of motorists at the intersection of the Ave and Northeast 45th Street found themselves trapped in clouds of tear gas and agitated hordes of teens and police.

The chaos that night continued until 3 a.m., and the night of August 13 ended with 21 rioters in jail and three police officers in the emergency room.

The night of August 14 was almost an exact replica of the previous night. As dusk fell, some 2,000 young people from outside the U District gathered on the Ave, obviously anticipating further violence. The events of the previous night began to replay promptly at 10 p.m., when a group of teenagers broke into a TV repair shop on the corner of the Ave and Northeast 43rd Street, and also began looting other stores nearby.

Squads of cops quickly appeared on that corner, coming from both north and south and surrounding a crowd of about 200, while a truck-mounted howler swept the street. The cops ordered the encircled mass to disperse — but when the officers moved in, there was nowhere to go. Finally the police opened a narrow gap onto 43rd Street, and people ran out through a gauntlet of clubs and fists.

Another crowd gathered at Northeast 45th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast and trashed the brand-new plate glass windows in the Pacific National Bank building before police chased them away. Eventually, the cops grew tired of the cat-and-mouse fracas and closed the Ave to traffic, then gassed the street from 42nd to 45th with foggers and grenades. All in all that night, the police arrested 21 rioters and roughed up five local news reporters, including KOMO-TV’s Don McGaffin and Brian Johnson. Order was restored just before 1 a.m.

On August 15, in the aftermath of the riots, police finally detoured traffic from the Ave while volunteers spread out to prevent any further unrest among teenagers. As the community discussed what to do next, everyone agreed that the police could neither prevent nor contain any further violence in the neighborhood. The city was considering ordering a curfew and summoning the National Guard when a delegation of community leaders from the U District met with acting mayor Floyd Miller and veteran Deputy Mayor Ed Devine. After that meeting, the police agreed to step back and let the community try to handle the situation.

The police closed the Ave to traffic at dusk and parked several hundred Tactical Squad members out of sight, while scores of volunteers wearing “peace” armbands spread out along the Ave. Whenever a significant number of teenagers gathered, street monitors stepped in to prevent any attempts at looting or vandalism. The tactic was repeated the following night with equal success. By Sunday, August 17, the Ave was back to normal and the police withdrew.

The success of the U District community’s response to the Ave riots led to months of negotiations among street people, merchants, residents, clergy, students, police, and city officials to reduce police harassment and to establish a community center. Not all of this coalition’s goals were realized, but the U District would become a much more close-knit neighborhood as a result of the catharsis.

Among the other aftermaths of the Ave riots, several of the women who participated later came together and formed the core of the Seattle Weathermen — including antiwar activist Susan Stern (1943-1976), later of the Seattle Seven, who would eventually present her radical interpretation of the Ave riots in her 1975 memoir With the Weathermen.

Helix, August 14, 1969

Helix, August 14, 1969

Who provoked the Ave riots? Some said it was political agitators; some said it was juvenile delinquents; some said it was the cops. For a few years prior, Seattle police had been constantly harassing countercultural youth, mostly at the behest of business owners in the U District and elsewhere in the city who loathed their presence. While SPD Chief Frank Ramon told The Seattle Times that the riots were simply “violence for the sake of violence,” members of the local countercultural press had a much different explanation. In a commentary on the riots published the following week in Helix — then Seattle’s reigning underground newspaper, founded in the U District — Helix editor Walt Crowley (1947-2007) explained the profoundly volatile situation which had likely set the stage for the riots.

“Since 1966 when the aberrant individuality of the Beatniks gave way [to] en-masse migration of middle-class youth from the suburbs, the University District has become the scene of ever-growing police harassment and internal conflict. Merchants and long-time residents, disturbed by the influx of unorthodox young people, loitering and drug traffic, have applied economic pressure against their long-haired tormentors and sought police cooperation. In the name of ‘cleaning up the District’ hippies have been discriminated against by retailers, restaurants, and realtors. They have been subjected to arbitrary law enforcement, harassment, and brutality and humiliation at the hands of the police. Thus over the past four years the tension has slowly grown and the antagonism between the various sectors sharing this same geographical area has deepened and entrenched.”

Despite the initial trauma of the Ave riots, positive and permanent outcomes resulted from the event, including and especially the University District Street Fair, Seattle’s first modern street fair, which continues today. Organized by the University District Chamber of Commerce as one means among many of healing the neighborhood in the wake of the riots and other tumultuous events in the U District during the previous year, the first University District Street Fair was held the weekend of May 23 and 24, 1970.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Lou Corsaletti, “Tear Gas at Alki Beach Justified, Says Ramon,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 1; Roger Yockey, “Gas Bomb Flies Into Home, Explodes,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 4; John Hinterberger, “Beach Residents Still Smarting From Leftover Tear Gas,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 9; Paul Henderson, “Police Study Damage, Complaints After Alki Disturbance,” The Seattle Times, August 11, 1969, p. 9; “Ramon Claims Alki Tear Gas ‘Best Alternative’ in Fray,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12, 1969, p. B; Lou Corsaletti, “U. District, Alki Disorders Planned, Says Chief Ramon,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 1; John Hinterberger, “Merchants Worried, Relieved After Fracas,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 15; Mike Wyne, “3 Officers Hurt In Youth Melee,” The Seattle Times, August 12, 1969, p. 41; “‘Fed Up,’ Says U Area Merchant,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 13, 1969, p. 1; “After Tear Gas, Child Fears Police” (letter to the editor), The Seattle Times, August 13, 1969, p. 11; Walt Crowley, “Power vs. People,” Helix, August 14, 1969, p. 2; “Police Battle Rock-Hurling, Looting Gangs in U District,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “U District Has Look of War,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 14, 1969, p. 12; John Hinterberger, “Police Showed Restraint Before Violence Erupted in U. District,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “Chief Ramon Calls Violence ‘Planned Attack on Police’,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 1; “University Area Merchants Urge ‘Reasonable Force’,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 3; Shelby Gilje, “‘Unbelievable': U. District Movie Treat Turns To Terror for Mother, 2 Girls,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 7; Mike Wyne, “21 Arrested, Three Injured as Youth, Police Battle,” The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 8; “Police Riot-Control Tactics” (editorial), The Seattle Times, August 14, 1969, p. 10; “Looting, Smashing Youths Run Wild On U Way Again,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. 1; “U District Merchants Support Police Action,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. B; James C. Lewis, “(Teary) Eyewitness at Riot,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 1969, p. B; “Mayor Studies Need For U. District Curfew,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 1; Mike Wyne, “23 Persons Arrested,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; “Injured,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; Susan Schwartz, “Some Watched, Others Acted,” The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 2; “Police-Baiting That Backfired” (editorial), The Seattle Times, August 15, 1969, p. 10; Mike Wyne, “Role-Switching Works to Cool U. District,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; Julie Emery, “U. District ‘Cool-It’ Movement Praised,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; “15 Plead Innocent To U. District Disturbance,” The Seattle Times, August 16, 1969, p. 8; “Police Force In U District To Be Cut,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 17, 1969, p. 6; “Helix Riot Report,” Helix, August 21, 1969, pp. 8-14; Susan Stern, “With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman” (Doubleday & Company, 1975; Rutgers University Press, 2007); Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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April 16, 1970: The Birth of the Seattle Seven

Several of the Seattle Seven and friends, circa November 1970. Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project

Several of the Seattle Seven and friends, circa November 1970.
Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project

The spring of 1970 was an intense time to be a radical in Seattle. The members of the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF) knew that all too well on the date in focus here, when eight of them were indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to incite a riot.

The SLF was a radical anti-Vietnam War organization formed in January 1970 at the University of Washington. The indictments were prompted by a demonstration in front of the United States Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle on February 17, 1970. The demonstration was organized by the SLF to protest the controversial Chicago Seven trial, the verdict of which was expected that day. During the demonstration, approximately 2,000 protesters clashed with Seattle police. Demonstrators pelted the courthouse and police with rocks and paint bombs, leading to 76 arrests and 20 injuries.

Charges were filed against Michael Lerner (b. 1943), Susan Stern (1943-1976), Charles “Chip” Marshall (b. 1945), Michael Abeles (b. 1951), Jeff Dowd (b. 1949), Joe Kelly (b. 1946), Roger Lippman (b. 1947), and Michael Justesen (b. 1950). These SLF members then became known as the Seattle Eight and, after Justesen disappeared, the Seattle Seven.

The SLF was comprised mostly of former members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which had collapsed the previous summer due to internal dissent at its national convention. It was deeply ironic that the February 17 demonstration was organized to protest the Chicago Seven trial, since the Chicago defendants had also been indicted for conspiracy in planning protests during the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago — an event which also turned violent. The Seattle event, along with several others nationwide that same day, was called “The Day After” (TDA) in anticipation of the verdict. The violence in Seattle occurred despite the SLF’s stated wishes for a peaceful demonstration. The SLF had in fact been created as a non-violent alternative to the Weathermen, the SDS-derived radical organization that openly advocated violent tactics against the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, the SLF was blamed for the February 17 riot, and the indictments thus followed.

Five of the Eight were arrested on the same day the indictments were issued: Lerner, Stern, Dowd, Abeles, and Kelly. Marshall was arrested two days later in a bar in the University District. Lippman was already in jail in Berkeley, California, having been arrested the day before in conjunction with an antiwar protest there, while Justesen immediately went into hiding to avoid arrest. All of the Seven were soon released on personal recognizance pending trial.

Some SLF members and supporters suspected that the timing of the indictments was meant to provoke a riot at an antiwar march in downtown Seattle planned for that weekend on April 18. Stephanie Coontz, then a leader of the UW’s Student Mobilization Committee, told The Seattle Times about that suspicion on April 17.

“The Student Mobilization Committee feels that yesterday’s arrests were timed in an attempt to provoke an incident,” Coontz said. “We are not going to fall into the trap that the Justice Department has set.”

Contrary to the charge of conspiracy, the Seattle Seven in fact only became acquainted with each other as a group after the indictments. Roger Lippman would later recall:

“While some of the defendants actively organized TDA, several of them didn’t like or didn’t even know each other. This conspiracy existed primarily in the minds of the U.S. Department of Justice. Chip Marshall, Jeff Dowd, Mike Abeles, and Joe Kelly were recent transplants from SDS in Ithaca, NY, but Kelly didn’t move to Seattle until after TDA. I didn’t meet Abeles until after the indictment. Susan Stern, who had been an activist in Seattle for several years, had differences with most of the defendants, as did I. Mike Lerner was a visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Washington. As far as I could tell none of the other defendants got along with him.”

The Seattle Eight, represented unflatteringly on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1970

The Seattle Eight, represented unflatteringly on the front page
of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1970

The Seattle Seven were tried in Tacoma before Federal District Judge George Boldt (1903-1984). The pre-trial hearing occurred on November 6, 1970. The trial was quickly sabotaged by the defendants’ vocal disruptions, a protest walkout, and their eventual refusal to enter the courtroom. Because of these antics, Boldt declared a mistrial on December 10, 1970, and cited all seven defendants for contempt of court. He summarily sentenced them all to six months in prison and refused to grant bail.

While most of the Seattle Seven eventually did serve time for Boldt’s contempt charges, the original conspiracy charges against them were unsuccessfully prosecuted. Most observers agreed that the prosecution’s case was weak, and the defense was aided greatly by the admission of federal agents testifying at the trial that they played a major role in instigating the violence at the February 17 demonstration. The contempt charges were settled out of court in 1972, and the Seattle Seven, save for Lerner, all served brief sentences in federal minimum security prison. The original conspiracy charges were quietly dropped in March 1973.

During the trial’s conclusion, the SLF succumbed to internal dissent and disbanded acrimoniously in late 1971. Stern died in 1976 at the age of 33 of heart and lung failure from an accidental drug overdose. Justesen was arrested in 1977 in California by the FBI as part of an infiltration of the Weather Underground. Lerner is currently an ordained rabbi and editor-in-chief of the progressive Jewish journal Tikkun. Dowd eventually became a cineaste and helped found the Seattle International Film Festival in 1976; he’s now most famous as the inspiration for “The Dude,” the celebrated fictional character from the Coen Brothers cult-film classic The Big Lebowski.

Among the many things the Seattle Seven and the Chicago Seven had in common, the most important historically is that both were ultimately examples of government intimidation of antiwar activists by way of the legal system. In both examples, a group of loosely affiliated activists was charged with conspiracy for a riot that was in fact beyond their control; in both examples, the prosecution’s case was ultimately too weak to withstand courtroom scrutiny. Today, history has proven much kinder to the memory of these two kindred groups than to the war that ultimately created them.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Don Carter and Larry McCarten, “Grand Jury Indicts 8; Lerner, 4 Others Held,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1970, p. 1; Don Carter and Larry McCarten, “Indicted 8 Linked to 2 Named in U Post Office Bombing,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1970, p. 1; “Half at Courthouse Melee Took Active Roles,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 1970, p. 1; Dee Norton, “8 Indicted for Conspiracy,” The Seattle Times, April 17, 1970, p. 1; “Officials Give Background Of Those Indicted,” The Seattle Times, April 17, 1970, p. A 14; “Indictments Here Termed Provocation,” The Seattle Times, April 17, 1970, p. A 14; Don Hannula, “New Cause at U.W.: ‘Free Seattle Eight’,” The Seattle Times, April 17, 1970, p. A 14; Don Hannula, “Seven plead no contest,” The Seattle Times, February 23, 1972, p. B 8; Dee Norton, “Some of conspiracy defendants sentenced,” The Seattle Times, March 28, 1972, p. A 4; “U.S. closes books on ‘Seattle 7′ case,” The Seattle Times, March 27, 1973, p. C 7; Susan Stern, “With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman” (Doubleday & Company, 1975; Rutgers University Press, 2007); Roger Lippman, “Looking Back on the Seattle Conspiracy Trial” (http://terrasol.home.igc.org/trial.htm, December 1990); Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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December 20, 1899: The Birth of the Seattle Union Record

Front page of the Seattle Union Record announcing the Seattle General Strike, February 3, 1919

Front page of the Seattle Union Record announcing the Seattle General Strike, February 3, 1919

Seattle’s history as a pro-labor town dates back well before the famous 1919 General Strike. It goes back in fact at least twenty years before that much-discussed event — specifically to the date in focus here, when the Seattle-based Western Central Labor Union (WCLU) voted to approve a proposal to publish a pro-labor newspaper in Seattle.

The first issue of the resulting paper, the Seattle Union Record, was published on February 20, 1900, under the ownership of the WCLU and the editorship of Gordon Rice, who had edited the short-lived Labor Gazette in 1894. The Union Record was originally published as a weekly paper, 6-8 pages in length, until April 1918, when it became a daily paper. Rice edited the paper until 1912, when Erwin Bratton “Harry” Ault (1883–1961) was chosen as its editor. Born in Newport, Kentucky, and raised in Washington state, Ault came to the Union Record from a long career working for newspapers, beginning as a newsboy at the age of five and working up to the positions of editor and publisher. Most of the papers Ault worked for were openly progressive in nature, including The Weekly People and The Socialist. He would go on to edit the Union Record until its final issue, dated February 28, 1928.

Erwin Bratton "Harry" Ault (1883–1961)

Erwin Bratton “Harry” Ault (1883–1961)

Ault, a passionate Socialist, was largely responsible for making the Union Record the force it would become in Seattle city politics by the time of the 1919 General Strike. In an editorial published in the Union Record on July 1, 1918, Ault expressed his vision of the paper’s mission, writing:

“The Union Record will help you win a greater prosperity…. the Union Record is the only paper in Seattle that dares to be consistent in its fight for the working man…. It gives you all the news the other papers give, and, in addition, the news the other papers will not print. It is the one paper that stands between you and industrial slavery.”

Under Ault’s editorship, the Union Record‘s daily circulation would steadily increase from 3,000 to 80,000 at its peak. Later, of course, the paper would become most famous for publishing Anna Louise Strong’s incendiary “No One Knows Where” editorial that would help foment the 1919 General Strike.

Despite its labor background and ownership, the Seattle Union Record was not merely a newsletter of the WCLU, but rather a full-coverage newspaper, covering local, national, and international events. While its core target audience always remained union members, it always aspired to compete with Seattle’s other daily newspapers for a general audience. Its ultimate achievement today remains its historical status as both America’s first labor-owned daily newspaper and the longest-running.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Murray Morgan, “Skid Road” (Viking Press, 1951; Ballantine Books, 1971; University of Washington Press, 1982); Mary Joan O’Connell, “The Seattle Union Record, 1918-1928: A Pioneer Labor Daily,” M.A. thesis, University of Washington, 1964; John J. Reddin, “The Union Record Recalled — First Hand,” The Seattle Times, November 8, 1967.

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May 29, 1940: Tyree Scott

Tyree Scott, 1940-2003

Tyree Scott, 1940-2003

Many of Seattle’s activist icons have been strongly identified with a particular event or era. Anna Louise Strong is most often mentioned in the same breath as the 1919 Seattle General Strike; Edwin T. Pratt with the 1960s Open Housing movement. By contrast, Tyree Scott — although he, too, first made a name for himself in the 1960s — is best identified with an activist career spanning decades.

Scott was best known as a civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry, both locally and nationally. Born in Hearne, Texas, on the date in focus here, Scott moved to Seattle in 1966 to help his father, an electrician in Seattle, build his construction business. At the time, the trade unions that controlled jobs in Seattle’s construction industry were off-limits to blacks.

In 1969, as Seattle was undergoing a building boom flush with federally-funded projects, Scott became the leader of the Central Contractors Association, a group of black contractors who sought equal opportunity in federal building projects. That summer, Scott led the CCA in shutting down every major federal construction site in Seattle to protest discrimination against black contractors and construction workers.

One protest shut down the construction of Red Square on the University of Washington campus, while another temporarily halted work on the construction of an airport runway at Sea-Tac Airport. Other such actions led or co-led by Scott included shutdowns at Harborview Medical Center, Medgar Evers Pool, and the King County Administration Building. These actions led to the first federal imposition of affirmative action upon local labor unions.

In the following decade, Scott would go on to lead other local labor struggles, crucially helping to found the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (LELO), which forged international ties among workers in the struggle to gain better job conditions for low-income workers through class-action lawsuits.

During the 1980s, Scott took his activism abroad and helped form organizations to assist laborers in developing countries. In 1997, he led a LELO-sponsored Seattle conference which drew delegates from a dozen countries to discuss leadership of labor and civil rights activism throughout the world. Two years later, in early 1999, Scott was among the activists who laid the early organizational groundwork for the WTO protests.

Scott died in Seattle on June 19, 2003, after a long battle with prostate cancer. His legacy lives on in LELO, which continues to do effective work on social justice and worker rights issues. In addition, the Tyree Scott Freedom School, a nine-day summer educational program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, teaches young people aged 15 to 21 about social justice issues and the history of community organizing in Seattle.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (www.civilrights.washington.edu); HistoryLink.org; Quintard Taylor, “The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era” (University of Washington Press, 1994).

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November 30, 1917: Louise Olivereau

Louise Olivereau, 1884-1963

Among the crucial decades in Seattle’s political history, the one that began in 1909 was arguably the most significant so far. This decade began with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and ended with the Seattle General Strike. In between, certain lesser-known events also helped define Seattle as a city where radical leftism has constantly been at odds with right-wing reactionary politics.

This was especially so during World War I, when pro-war conformism was at a fever pitch nationwide, and anti-sedition laws aimed at silencing antiwar activists were passed by Congress. In Seattle, where the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and anarchists had established a strong political presence, reactionary sentiment led to the Potlatch Riots of July 1913, one year before the war broke out. Four years later, on the date in focus here, the schism between Seattle’s respective progressive and reactionary populations reared its head publicly when antiwar activist Louise Olivereau (1884-1963) was convicted of sedition.

Olivereau, a schoolteacher, poet, and self-described anarchist, first became involved in Seattle’s political left in 1915, when she moved here from Illinois and began working as a stenographer for the IWW’s Seattle offices. The events that led to her arrest and conviction began in August 1917, when she printed and mailed out literature addressed to young men in the Pacific Northwest encouraging them to become conscientious objectors to avoid military service in the war, which the United States joined in April that year. Her activity violated the Espionage Act, passed by Congress that June, which made it a crime to cause insubordination in the armed forces, to obstruct the recruitment of soldiers, and to use the U.S. postal service to do so.

At the trial, Olivereau conducted her own defense. No other IWW members attended, and her only support came from Anna Louise Strong (1885-1970), the noted radical leader and Seattle School Board member, who sat in the front row during the trial. The IWW chose to distance itself from Olivereau due to her anarchist identity, which was considered dangerous even among the radical left during that politically-charged decade. In her defense, Olivereau recounted her version of the events that led to her arrest, provided the jury with an explanation of her political views, and argued her case for the injustice of the war in Europe.

On December 3, the jury convicted Olivereau, and the judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison. She served 28 months in the state penitentiary in Cañon City, Colorado, before being paroled. After her release from prison, she worked at various clerical and sales jobs in Oregon and California. She settled in San Francisco in 1929 and worked there as a stenographer until her death on March 11, 1963.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “Woman Anarchist Quickly Convicted for Attack on Military Draft Statute,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 1, 1917, p. 1; “Louise Olivereau Convicted Under Espionage Act,” The Seattle Daily Times, December 1, 1917, p. 12; “The Louise Olivereau Case” (pamphlet; New York: Minnie Parkhurst, 1918); Sally Flood, “The search for a cause: Louise Olivereau,” M.A. thesis (University of Washington 1979); Sarah Ellen Sharbach, “Louise Olivereau and the Seattle radical community 1917-1923,” M.A. thesis (University of Washington, 1986); Sarah E. Sharbach, “A Woman Acting Alone: Louise Olivereau and the First World War,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 78 (January-April 1987); Paul Avrich, “Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America” (Princeton University Press, 1994; AK Press, 2005); Harvey O’Connor, “Revolution in Seattle: A Memoir” (Monthly Review Press, 1964; Haymarket Books, 2009).

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