Never underestimate the impotency of a heckler — even when he, she, or it represents the majority. Such was unfortunately the case on the date in focus here, when roughly 400 protesters turned out for Seattle’s first major local demonstration against the Vietnam War, and were greeted with rather feral heckling from both counter-protesters and pro-war bystanders.
The event was organized by the Seattle Committee to End the War in Vietnam (SCEWV) and the University of Washington chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in solidarity with other, larger protest events in several major U.S. cities that same weekend, including a 13,000-strong march in New York City. The Seattle protest began with a march under police escort down Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle, from the Federal Courthouse at Fifth Avenue and Spring Street to a noon rally at Westlake Park. The heckling began at the courthouse, where the counter-slogans included such reactionary gems as “Keep Washington Green — not Red!” “For Sale Cheap — Ho Chi Minh Sandals!” and, amusingly representing the UW’s right-wing Greek community, “Sigma Chi says ‘USA — All The Way!'”
When the march arrived at Westlake Park, the counter-protesters, keeping their distance one block away from the rally, attempted to drown out the antiwar voices by singing the Mickey Mouse Club anthem, and the first speaker, UW Political Science professor Paul Brass, was doused with red paint by a certain self-identified “Joe Freedom,” who amusingly turned out to be a disgruntled former student of Brass’s.
To protest the Vietnam War at such an early stage, when American public opinion was still squarely (yes, that was a double-entendre) in its favor, was truly daring, especially in light of the news that the march in NYC hours earlier had been violently attacked by spectators, while in Oakland, California, 10,000 marchers were also attacked — some bludgeoned, even — by Hell’s Angels. According to eyewitness and radical Seattle icon Walt Crowley (1947-2007), then an 18-year-old UW freshman braving his first major protest event, all involved were understandably “nervous.” Nevertheless, the crewcutted heckling majority eventually ate their according crow: by mid-1970, in the wake of the Kent State massacre and the war’s increasing lack of direction and loss of American lives, nationwide antiwar protests had grown into massive events, with increasing empathy from the so-called “silent majority.”
One can only wonder what noted anti-radical Walt Disney (1901-1966) would, by that point in time, have done.
–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Richard Simmons, “Viet Protest Orderly Here; Violence Across Nation,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 17, 1965, p. 1; “Hell’s Angels Attack Berkeley Demonstrators,” The Seattle Daily Times, October 17, 1965, p. 1; “Viet-Nam Protesters Heckled In March to Westlake Mall,” The Seattle Daily Times, October 17, 1965, p. A; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 1995).