May 5, 1970: The UW Freeway March

UW students marching west down NE 45th towards I-5, May 5, 1970

Was the Kent State Massacre not a sufficient wake-up call for a complacent nation?

During that event, on May 4, 1970, four students at Ohio’s Kent State University were fatally shot by National Guardsmen during a protest against the previous week’s U.S. invasion of Cambodia. That tragedy should have served to sound an efficient alarm for any American still in denial about how our absurd military involvement in Southeast Asia had politically divided the nation during the otherwise prosperous 1960s. For the remaining still slumbering, the nationwide and passionate campus reaction the following day — namely, the date in focus here — was surely the test to separate the merely politically timid from the hopelessly complacent.

This was especially the case in Seattle, where several thousand University of Washington students, faculty, and staff members spontaneously marched from the UW campus onto Interstate 5 as part of a nationwide student strike against the Vietnam War — thus instigating the first antiwar freeway occupation in U.S. history.

As student strikes and campus building occupations ensued that day at over 100 universities and colleges across the U.S., nearly 7,000 UW students participated in a strike that would last throughout the month of May. The inaugural strike demonstration began at 10:30 a.m. in front of the UW’s Husky Union Building. There, striking students and faculty members overwhelmingly approved a list of demands to be presented to the UW administration, including a pledge by UW President Charles Odegaard to never call National Guard troops onto the UW campus, and an end to University complicity with the war effort, including military recruiting, ROTC, and “war-oriented” research.

After a long, serpentine march though campus, the strikers arrived at the UW Administration Building around noon. There, Odegaard, while expressing outrage over the Kent State killings, refused the strikers’ demands. In response, the students voted to begin marching en masse off campus and through the University District. Eventually, marching north on University Way Northeast, some 5,000 of the strikers reached Northeast 45th Street. When some of the strike leaders began chanting “Freeway!,” the march spontaneously but swiftly surged towards Interstate 5. Reaching the freeway around 1:50 p.m., still 3,000 strong, they spilled out onto I-5 from both sides and began marching south towards downtown, blocking southbound traffic for over an hour, and for several miles, in the process. By all accounts, there were no serious confrontations between marchers and motorists, with many motorists reportedly honking and flashing peace signs in approval.

Near the Roanoke Street exit, the march was confronted by about 30 riot-clad Washington State Patrol troopers. After voting to stage a freeway “sit-in” that lasted roughly one half-hour, the marchers then voted to leave the freeway and continue south on Eastlake Avenue. They eventually reached the King County Courthouse at about 4 p.m., where they were joined by striking students from several other local colleges and high schools for an hour-long rally.

The following day, a much larger group of strikers would again march from the UW campus to downtown, this time through the Montlake and Central Area neighborhoods. They would again occupy I-5, this time downtown, meeting with much more resistance from police, who used tear gas and clubs to move the strikers from the freeway. The remainder of that week would see outbreaks of violence in the U District related to the strike, including attacks on antiwar protesters by right-wing “vigilantes.” Overall, though, the strike was a largely peaceful affair — on campus, at least.

The 1970 UW student strike would continue throughout the month of May. The strike would eventually lose its momentum and power as the UW administration began to clamp down on both the strike itself and coverage of the strike in the UW Daily and on KUOW-FM, at the time still a student-run station and often host to radical journalistic voices.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Greg Albertson, “Morning Mass Meeting Called,” University of Washington Daily, May 5, 1970, p. 1; Don Hannula, “5,000 U.W. Protesters Block Traffic on Freeway,” The Seattle Times, May 5, 1970, p. 1; Julie Emery, “U.W. Tense as Students Strike Over War, Kent State Killings,” The Seattle Times, May 5, 1970, p. A 10; Bruce Johansen, “War Protests Begin,” University of Washington Daily, May 6, 1970, p. 1; Frank Herbert, Larry McCarten and George McDowell, “Thousands Block Freeway; UW Marchers Join U.S. College ‘Strike’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 6, 1970, p. 1; “UW War Protest ‘Loud but Peaceful’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 6, 1970, p. B; Frank Herbert, “‘My God–We’ve Got the Freeway’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 6, 1970, p. B; “Protesters March on City Hall; U.W. to Close On Friday,” The Seattle Times, May 6, 1970, p. 1; Mike Cassidy, “Peaceful Start: Gas & Clubs Mark Finale,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 2; Bruce Johansen, “‘Oh My God, Here They Come’,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 2; Kim Reich, “Student Strike: Some Went & Others Didn’t,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 8; Dan Greenberg, “Lower Campus:,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 8; Dave Rea, “‘They Make Excuses . . .,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 8; Eric Lacitis, “Confrontation on Interstate Five,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 9; Greg Albertson, “No Mass Blockade,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 9; George Arthur, “Northwest Region Schools Join Student War Protest,” University of Washington Daily, May 7, 1970, p. 10; Walt Crowley, “On Strike,” Helix, May 7, 1970, p. 3; “Shut It Down,” Helix, May 7, 1970, p. 4; “10,000 Block Freeway Again,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. 1; Richard Simmons, “Peace March Brings Them All Together,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. B; “‘Join Us!, Join Us!'; Student Strikers Move Into U.W. Classrooms,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. B1; “Odegaard Meets Demand Partially,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. B; “Lawyer’s Class at U.W. Invaded,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. B1; “Protest Groups Unite, Call Demonstration,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1970, p. B1; Don Hannula, “More Protests Due; 4,000 Rally at U.W.,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1970, p. 1; “Support Pledged By Mayor’s Office,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1970, p. 1; Marty Loken, “Some Hurt, 7 Held as Students Occupy Freeway,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1970, p. A 8; Don Hannula, “Students Skip Campus Buildings, Invade Freeway,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1970, p. A 9; John Hinterberger, “Students Clubbed Leaving Freeway,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1970, p. A 10; “Destructive Binge In U District,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 8, 1970, p. 1; “HELP Group Denies Using Force at U.W.,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 8, 1970, p. A4; Martin Works and John deYoung, “U District a ‘Fluid Battleground’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 8, 1970, p. B; Don Hannula, “Downtown Protest Peaceful; Freeway Again Disrupted,” The Seattle Times, May 8, 1970, p. 1; Don Hannula, “City Calm as Protests Subside,” The Seattle Times, May 9, 1970, p. 1; Greg Albertson, Dan Greenberg, Kim Reich, “Strike Still On, But Campus Open,” University of Washington Daily, May 12, 1970, p. 1; Greg Albertson, “Students Pause, Strike Fizzles,” University of Washington Daily, May 13, 1970, p. 1; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995), pp. 172-176.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “May 5, 1970: The UW Freeway March

  1. Heart Sees

    I love this blog! And I linked to this post on my FB page. I participated in this freeway march as a sophomore at the UW, I remember it so well. Thanks for creating this amazing spot on the internet!

    • J.S.W.

      Being born in ’72 makes alll of this just a bit before my time. But I’m very facinated w/ the history of the country(usa) during late 60s and spilling over into the 70s right now. I have incredible picture of this strike not shown here.if older id been there telling uncle sam to kiss it too! Anyone actually there at this one or any vietnam war protest in late 60s or early 70s id love to here your thoughts and memorys. Thanks,Jeff S.W. Jeffwhitfield1972@yahoo.com

    • I participated in this freeway march as well. I was a sophomore at Lincoln High School. I remember skipping that day so I could take part. What a blast I’ll never forget it.! So many stories to tell!

  2. Thanks!

    FYI, if you’re on FB, there’s a fan page you can “like”:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Radical-Seattle-Remembers/244069041044

    Best,

    Jeff

  3. I was a Radio/TV production student at the time, and KUOW was not student-run until about 50 of us occupied the station during the strike and turned it from a daytime mostly classical music station to a 24-hour news station. The station manager graciously did not pull the plug on us. Supporters kept us fed for the duration of the strike. We took over KUOW because all of the other broadcast station in the city had blacked out news coverage of the strike.

    • I was also a ‘Pinkie Hippo’, affiliated with SLF ‘Hydra Collective’. In cahoots with Pat Campbell, I ‘hosted’ the “Pat and Pat Show”, among other programs, we went all night. I generally started the show with a reading from Siddhartha.

  4. Al Young

    I was in the lead group of protesters marching West towards the freeway on 45th, but it wasn’t until we got to Roosevelt Ave that Becky Fox started yelling: “Let’s take the Freeway!!!” We joined in the chant: “the Freeway, the Freeway…….” and before we knew it, we were marching on the onramp, merging and stopping traffic Southbound on I-5. It was strictly spontaneous.. Al Young

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