Monthly Archives: February 2011

February 24, 1966: Hell No!

Demonstrators burning draft cards outside the Selective Service office in Seattle circa 1969. Copyright (c) Fred Lonidier.

Along with growing protests against the Vietnam War, resistance to involuntary conscription for U.S. military service gradually became a hot topic nationwide as combat operations began to escalate in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s. At first a brave few draft-age American males risked jail time and/or ostracism by openly refusing induction. By the end of the decade, many were brazenly burning their draft cards and seeking escape to Canada, among other popular draft resistance strategies.

Seattle’s formal introduction to the draft resistance movement occurred on the date in focus here, when Russel Wills, a University of Washington philosophy graduate student, became the first Seattle citizen to refuse induction in protest against the war. The consequences of his actions would become apparent the following autumn, as the U.S. government began to legally crack down on draft resisters in earnest. In Wills’s case, he would be sentenced to five years in prison that September.

Wills’s draft resistance actually began on October 16, 1965, when he wrote a letter to his draft board stating that he was so opposed to U.S. involvement in Vietnam on both legal and moral grounds that he had destroyed his draft card. One week later, he was given a 1-A draft classification (i.e., first choice for induction, thus canceling his student deferment), with no explanation. He did not receive a notice explaining the grounds for reclassification until January, after the date of possible legal appeal had expired. With conscientious objector status not available to him, he had no course but to refuse induction — a very bold decision to make at the time.

Eventually, Wills’s sentence would be reduced to two years. Meanwhile, the draft resistance movement grew to the point where, in 1969, the student body presidents of 253 U.S. universities wrote to the White House to say that they personally planned to refuse induction. By the war’s end, a half-million Americans had refused induction, along with many more who had evaded the draft by various means.

In Seattle, the draft resistance movement was represented by Draft Resistance-Seattle, the local chapter of a larger national network. DR-Seattle worked in tandem with the UW chapter of Students for a Democratic Society to create antiwar organizations at the UW and Seattle Central Community College, as well as many area high schools, including Queen Anne, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Rainier Beach, Ingraham, West Seattle, Shorecrest, Bellevue, Sammamish, and Sealth. DR-Seattle also organized support campaigns for draft resisters, solidarity protests at the Canadian border, and marches to Selective Service System offices throughout the course of the war.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Trudy Capell, “Grad Student To Fight Court Draft Ruling,” University of Washington Daily, November 8, 1967, p. 1; Melvin Rader, “No Anarchy” (letter to the editor), University of Washington Daily, November 16, 1967, p. 2; Melvin Rader, “Russel Wills Defense Fund” (letter to the editor), The New York Review of Books, December 7, 1967; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995); Jessie Kindig, “Draft Resistance in the Vietnam Era,” Pacific Northwest Antiwar and Radical History Project (http://depts.washington.edu/antiwar/vietnam_draft.shtml).

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February 9, 1971: The SCCC Oriental Student Union Sit-In

SCCC's Oriental Student Union and their "posse on Broadway," February 9, 1971
Photo credit: Ben Yorita

“The time of the quiet Asian has passed.”

With those words, spoken on the date in focus here by Mike Tagawa, a sophomore at Seattle Central Community College (SCCC), that school’s Oriental Student Union (OSU) commenced a sit-in protest at the SCCC administration offices. The protest was staged to support the OSU’s demands that the Seattle Community College system hire five Asian-American administrators.

The protest began at noon when a crowd of about 200 gathered outside the SCCC Administration Center on Broadway on Capitol Hill. Roughly half were Asian-American, while the rest were black, Latino/Latina, and white students who supported the OSU’s demands.

The OSU, founded at SCCC in 1970, was largely inspired by the school’s Black Student Union (BSU), which during the 1968-1969 school year had staged similar protests to demand black studies courses and the hiring of black administrators and faculty. Mike Tagawa, the OSU’s 1970-1971 vice-president, was in fact a member of the SCCC BSU prior to the OSU’s formation. The other crucial OSU leader involved in organizing the protest was Alan Sugiyama, the OSU’s 1970-1971 president.

It must be noted here that the OSU’s action was not completely supported at the time among Seattle’s communities of color. Older, more conservative representatives of the city’s Asian-American community reportedly took issue with the OSU’s militant, Black Panther-inspired tactics. Meanwhile, although the Seattle Black Panther Party publicly supported the action, much of Seattle’s black community, including the SCCC BSU, reportedly did not. Such was the fragmentation among the American Left, in Seattle and nationwide, in the year 1971.

The OSU would again take over the SCCC offices, this time more forcefully, on March 2, 1971, and the pressure generated by that protest action would eventually lead to acquiescence by the school’s administration. Following negotiations facilitated by leaders in the local Asian-American community, SCCC agreed to hire an Asian-American administrator for the 1971-1972 school year. Not long after, SCCC hired Frank Fujii as a Department Head and Peter Kosi as Minority Affairs Director. Eventually, in 1990, the district would also hire an Asian American, Peter Ku, as president of North Seattle Community College. In 1998, Ku was promoted to chancellor of the Seattle Community College District.

Next month, the 40th anniversary of the OSU sit-ins will be commemorated on March 2 with a public event at SCCC’s Broadway Performance Hall, with Alan Sugiyama and Mike Tagawa as keynote speakers. For more information, see the website of Seattle’s Japanese American Citizens League.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: John de Yonge, “SCC Trustees to Consider Oriental Student Demands,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 9, 1971, p. 7; John de Yonge, “SCC, Oriental Students to Negotiate,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 10, 1971, p. D; Stephen H. Dunphy, “No solution reached on Asians’ demands,” The Seattle Times, February 10, 1971, p. E 4; “Asian-Ancestry Community College Students Demand Official Voice,” The Facts, February 11, 1971, p. 1; Robert Marshall Wells, “Ku retires with legacy as steadfast promoter of community colleges,” The Seattle Times, June 13, 2003; “Oriental Student Union Sit-In,” Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/aa_osu.htm).

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