August 13, 1936: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Strike

The Heffernan Building at 6th and Pine in downtown Seattle, home to the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer during the 1936 newsroom strike. Photographed circa January 1936.
Museum of History & Industry

Seattle’s reputation as a pro-labor town has mostly been founded on the memory of the General Strike of 1919 and the WTO protests of 1999. However, many other such events have occurred here to strengthen that reputation. Chief among these was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newsroom strike of 1936. This event stands out especially for being among the first significant white-collar strikes in the United States.

The P-I strike began on the date in focus here, when 35 journalists employed by the P-I (half the paper’s newsroom staff at the time) walked off the job in response to the paper’s decision to fire two longtime newsroom employees as punishment for joining the American Newspaper Guild. The Guild, founded in 1933, was new and controversial at the time, since journalists were then considered white-collar workers, and thus not typical union material.

The strike was as much a protest against newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst as it was against the P-I management. The P-I had been owned since 1921 by Hearst, the nation’s most influential publisher, whose publishing empire included major newspapers and magazines across the United States. Hearst’s avid anti-communism, anti-unionism, and vocal opposition to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had made him widely despised by organized labor nationwide. Hearst was especially hostile towards the Guild, and was determined to prevent his employees in Seattle from unionizing his newspaper there. In fact, the striking P-I workers found encouragement from strikers at another Hearst newspaper, the Wisconsin News in Milwaukee, earlier that year.

When two key P-I employees — drama critic Everhardt Armstrong and lead photographer Frank “Slim” Lynch — joined the Guild, the P-I, under Hearst’s orders, manufactured reasons for firing the two journalists. Management accused them of inefficiency and insubordination, but the men claimed the action was taken because they had joined the Guild. At the time, Armstrong had worked at the P-I for 17 years, while Lynch had worked there for 15 years, and both were highly revered by their colleagues.

Other members of the P-I newsroom staff supported the two fired Guild members by walking off the job. The Seattle Central Labor Council then declared the P-I unfair to organized labor and called for a boycott. The strike quickly won the support of all the unions in Seattle, including the Teamsters, then led by the legendary Dave Beck. Longshore workers, lumber workers, metal workers, and Teamsters all joined the picket lines outside the P-I building. Beck provided additional support by threatening that Teamster drivers would refuse to deliver newsprint for the P-I to be printed on.

The firing of Armstrong and Lynch was merely the tip of the iceberg that fomented the strike. During the weeks preceding the strike, many P-I employees had become disgruntled over increasingly harsh management actions. So-called “efficiency” changes by management had resulted in the dismissal of experienced workers who were then replaced by workers who lacked experience but could be paid lower wages.

The strike resulted in the suspension of publication of the P-I for three-and-a-half months. The P-I attempted to get its editions published at The Seattle Daily Times, but the unionized typographers at the Times prevented that from happening. Thus, the P-I did not publish from August 19, 1936, until late that November. Meanwhile, the strikers published their own newspaper, The Guild Daily, staffed by striking P-I employees, which quickly became popular among Seattle citizens who supported the strike. By the end of the strike, that paper’s circulation had reached 60,000 copies per day.

The strike coincided with the 1936 national election season. President Roosevelt — Hearst’s ideological adversary — was re-elected on November 3, 1936. After the election, Hearst settled with the American Newspaper Guild, giving the Guild its first victory and cementing Washington state’s reputation as a state where labor had genuine political power. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer strike officially ended on November 25, 1936, and the P-I resumed publication on November 29. Having begun as an upstart fight by a small, local union, the strike ended as a major victory for white-collar labor nationwide.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “The Right To Publish,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Statement of P. I.,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Statement of Guild,” The Seattle Star, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “This Shameful Page” (editorial), The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “Violence Flares at News Plant as Guild Men Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “A Statement by the Post-Intelligencer,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 14, 1936, p. 1; “P.I.-Guild Strike Is ‘Coasting’,” The Seattle Star, August 15, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Gives Answer To Statement of P.-I.,” The Seattle Star, August 15, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Strikers Hold Blockade on P.-I. Building,” The Seattle Sunday Times, August 16, 1936, p. 1; “Publication Of P.-I. Still Is Blocked,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “P-I Blames Beck,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Says the Guild:,” The Seattle Star, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Newspaper Management Says Future Activities ‘Up To Community’,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Guild Issues Own Statement On Merits of Its P.-I. Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “One Picket Arrested as Drunk, One Hurt in Fight in Guild Strike,” The Seattle Daily Times, August 17, 1936, p. 1; “Guild, P.-I. Mediation Proposed,” The Seattle Star, August 18, 1936, p. 1; Archie Binns, Northwest Gateway: The Story of the Port of Seattle (Binfords & Mort, 1941); William E. Ames and Roger A. Simpson, Unionism or Hearst: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Strike of 1936 (Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, 1978).

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July 29, 1968: About That Typewriter . . .

The original Seattle Black Panther Party headquarters in Madrona

In the heavy political weather of the summer of 1968, a war between the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party was almost inevitable. Tensions between the SPD and the Seattle BPP — barely six months old and already making an openly activist mark on a profoundly passive-aggressive city — were already stark enough without the typewriter business. On the date in focus here, the SPD raided the BPP office at 1127½ 34th Avenue in Madrona and arrested Panther captain Aaron Dixon and defense minister Curtis Harris. While Harris was released the next day, Dixon was charged with alleged possession of — no, not drugs; no, not weapons; get this — a stolen typewriter.

It was a laughable pretext with terrible consequences. Occurring in the midst of tension between Seattle’s black youth and the city government over the latter’s failure to provide adequate social services for minorities — and a summer that had already seen riots break out in the Central Area — the raid and arrests sparked yet another such riot in the neighborhood. This time it was serious: the July 29 riot lasted three days and resulted in further arrests — at least 69, according to one account — along with the wounding of seven police officers and two civilians hit by gunfire and rocks, in addition to property damage throughout the Central Area.

The aftermath was political as well as physical: while the riot itself died down, the resulting war between the SPD and the Panthers would last another two years. The raid was — and still is — believed by many surviving Seattle BPP members and associates to have been part of a nationwide effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy the nationwide BPP, one of a number of FBI terror operations against citizen activist movements in effect at the time.

One last intriguing detail about the events described above deserves mention here. About that typewriter: it may or may not have found its way into the BPP office by means other than theft, judging from the later acquittal of Aaron Dixon in the matter of its possession. Funny how such things happen — especially when “law and order” are involved.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “4 Wounded In Outburst Of Gunfire,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 30, 1968, p. 1; Don Hannula, “Negroes Criticize Amount of Force In Police Search,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 2; “Panther Leader Charged in Theft,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 2; Mike Wyne, “9 Injured in Gunfire-Marked Outbreak in Central Area,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “Ramon Blames Disturbances on Arrests,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “30 Police-Action Protesters Crowd Into Chief’s Office,” The Seattle Times, July 30, 1968, p. 3; “Leader of Panthers Free on $3,000 Bail,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 31, 1968, p. 4; “Violence Must Be Curbed” (editorial), The Seattle Times, July 31, 1968, p. 10; “Aaron’s Trial,” Helix, August 1, 1968, p. 4; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 1995); Aaron Dixon, My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain (Haymarket Books, 2012); Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (

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June 1, 1961: “Block the Ditch”

Marchers against I-5 construction, downtown Seattle, June 1, 1961
Museum of History & Industry

What would Seattle look like today without Interstate 5 slicing straight through it?

It’s all too easy these days to take for granted the concrete monstrosity that runs through the heart of our city, dividing Seattle into two absurdly disconnected halves like the result of a brain operation gone horribly awry. But there was in fact early opposition to the unfortunate location of I-5 while it was still under construction.

One demonstration of that opposition occurred on the date in focus here, when a group of roughly one hundred Seattle residents staged a protest march against the impending construction of I-5 through the city. Since the new freeway was already a done deal at the time, having been previously approved by the Washington State Legislature, 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.

The protest group consisted mostly of First Hill and downtown neighborhood activists concerned about the negative impacts the freeway might have upon the quality of life in the area. Escorted by Seattle police, the group marched along the proposed route of the freeway through a seven-block-long stretch of downtown, with many carrying placards proclaiming, “Block the Ditch” and “Let’s Have a Lid on It,” among other noteworthy slogans.

Among the organizers of the protest were members of the First Hill Improvement Club and local architect Paul Thiry (1904-1993). Best known as the supervising architect of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, Thiry was also among the first Seattle citizens to propose a lid over I-5 where new businesses and residences could be built. Downtown interests also supported the proposed lid, due to their concerns about the loss of parking spaces and the increase in automobile traffic from the freeway. Among other significant local figures who had publicly opposed the freeway route was former Seattle mayor George F. Cotterill (1865-1958), who was concerned about the potential dangers of building the freeway through a slide-prone area.

This protest was actually an anomaly, and there was in fact minimal opposition to the I-5 route during the early planning stages, since the freeway was planned mostly through quiet bureaucratic process in Olympia until late in the game. The Seattle portion of I-5 began conceptually as the Everett-Seattle-Tacoma Superhighway in 1951, and was approved by the Washington State Legislature in 1953. Funds for construction were provided by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, signed by President Eisenhower on June 29 of that year. Why the very heart of Seattle, rather than an alternative route through the then-underdeveloped eastern side of Lake Washington, was chosen for the location of a major interstate freeway is a lengthy bureaucratic story in itself.

The Seattle portion of I-5 was completed near Tukwila on January 31, 1967. Although the opposition to its construction was minimal and moot, the damage done to Seattle’s quality of life by its location would soon motivate much more fervent efforts against future freeway construction within the city limits — specifically, against the R. H. Thomson Expressway. That story, told elsewhere at this blog, ended in success when Seattle voters rejected that project in 1972. The lid desired by the June 1, 1961, marchers was finally realized (albeit only in a limited area) when Freeway Park was dedicated on July 4, 1976.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Don Duncan, “100 Marchers Call For Freeway Lid,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 1, 1961, p. 1; Sam Angeloff, “Freeway Marchers Advocate Landscaping,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 2, 1961, p. 8; Dan Coughlin, “Council OKs Mall Cover On Freeway,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 6, 1961, p. 1; “Council Backs Mall Over Two Downtown Freeway Sections,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 6, 1961, p. 11; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Tartu Publications, 1998); Jeffrey Craig Sanders, Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010).

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November 24, 1985: The Colman School Occupation

The Northwest African American Museum, center left, with Beacon Hill
and Downtown Seattle in the background
Stuart Isett / The New York Times

Seattle’s Colman School, located in Rainier Valley and built in 1909, stood out for many years as a symbol for the city’s African-American community due to the distinction of being the first school in Seattle attended by black students, as well as having hired many black teachers. When it was closed by the Seattle School District in June 1985 due to the impending expansion of neighboring Interstate 90, many felt the building should have been converted into a black history museum — an idea which had first been proposed in 1981. When a city government task force formed to discuss the idea went in the direction such endeavors often go — namely, nowhere — a group of African-American community activists began, on the date in focus here, a direct-action occupation of the building as a means of forcing the issue forward.

The activists, numbering roughly forty, entered the building, located at 24th Avenue South and South Atlantic Street, through a window that had been broken earlier by vandals. The building had lights, but no heat and no running water. Charlie James, spokesman for the activists, said, “We understand it’s going to be cold and uncomfortable, but we have a mission to accomplish.”

The main roadblocks to the activists’ stated goal of claiming the Colman School for the proposed museum were much more bureaucratic than ideological in nature. While many in Seattle’s city government, including Mayor Charles Royer, openly supported the museum in principle, the Seattle School District was at the time negotiating with the Washington State Department of Transportation for the transfer of the property from the city to the state. Thus, the acquisition of the building was a much more complicated legal task than it would have been had the land still been simply owned by the city. The immediate goal of the occupation was to let the city know that the activists were serious about claiming the school as the ideal location for the museum.

While the school district warned the group about the illegality of the occupation, it refused to arrest or evict the activists for fear of bad publicity. Four of the activists — Charlie James, Earl Debnam, Michael Greenwood, and Omari Tahir — would continue to occupy the school for eight years, making their action the longest act of civil disobedience in U.S. history to date.

The occupation finally ended in 1993 when the Seattle city government at long last agreed to fund the museum. The dream soon became deferred when the activists found themselves at odds with a group of mainstream local black civic leaders who wanted to use their clout in city hall to carry the project forward. It would thus be another ten years of lawsuits and bad blood before Seattle’s Urban League was able to buy the building from the Seattle School District for $800,000. The final result of the Colman School occupation, the Northwest African American Museum, part of a complex that also contains 36 apartments dedicated as affordable housing, opened on March 8, 2008.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “African-American Museum Task Force Formed,” The Seattle Medium, February 13, 1985, p. 4; Kathleen Klein and Mary Rothschild, “Goal of sit-in: a black museum,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 26, 1985, p. D1; Charles E. Brown, “Activists move in at old school,” The Seattle Times, November 26, 1985, p. B1; Kathleen Klein, “Museum supporters plan to stay at school,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 27, 1985, p. D1; “Blacks refusing to vacate school,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 28, 1985, p. D1; Chris Bennett and Connie Cameron, “If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When? Says Activist,” The Seattle Medium, December 4, 1985, p. 1; Connie Cameron, “The Takeover At Colman: A Noble Idea And A Just Cause,” The Seattle Medium, December 4, 1985, p. 6; Jack Broom, “School is transformed into museum, housing,” The Seattle Times, January 11, 2008, p. B; Trevor Griffey, “A Dream Fulfilled,” Colors Northwest magazine, March 2008, p. 18; Charlie James, “The complete history of Seattle’s newest museum,” The Seattle Times, March 20, 2008, p. B9.

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July 17, 1913: The Potlatch Riot

IWW hall vandalized by patriotic rioters in Pioneer Square on July 18, 1913 Museum of History & Industry

IWW hall vandalized by patriotic rioters in Pioneer Square on July 18, 1913
Museum of History & Industry

Among significant events in Seattle during the 1910s, paramount was the Potlatch Riot. The story of the Potlatch Riot began on the date in focus here during the Potlatch Days festival, a precursor to the modern-day Seafair named after a traditional Pacific Northwest indigenous tribal ceremony dedicated to preserving ancestral stories through songs, dances, and ritual gifting. On that fateful night, during the opening day of the Potlatch, a street-corner fistfight and an allegedly provocative public speech combined to produce a major outbreak of violence in downtown Seattle — as well as an ugly glimpse of the early Red Scare that would engulf Seattle and the United States a few short years later. This event would also demonstrate the potential destructive consequences of irresponsible journalism, as it was ultimately provoked by a deceptive and inflammatory news article on the front page of The Seattle Daily Times.

The political context of the Potlatch Riot is vastly important for understanding why the riot occurred. Despite its modern reputation as one of America’s most fiercely liberal cities, Seattle has in fact always been ideologically complex. This was especially so in the year 1913, when the city hosted several daily newspapers, each one serving a different point of view on the ideological spectrum, from the pro-labor Seattle Union Record to the pro-management Seattle Daily Times. The various accounts of the Potlatch Riot that appeared in those newspapers differed significantly from one another, creating a daunting Rashomon effect for anyone attempting to construct a definitive historical account. Nevertheless, the disparities among the reports from the different papers now vividly illustrate the wide range of political opinion within the Seattle of 1913.

The fistfight in question began at approximately 9:30 p.m. when three U.S. Army soldiers and two U.S. Navy sailors in town for the Potlatch Days festival heckled Mrs. Annie Miller, a suffragist who was speaking on a stand to a small crowd gathered in Pioneer Square near the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, a.k.a. “the Wobblies”), near the intersection of South Washington Street and Occidental Avenue South. When one soldier threatened to strike Mrs. Miller, a well-dressed and very muscular man in the crowd objected — “You would strike a woman!” — and a fist-fueled melee quickly erupted.

Meanwhile, at the prestigious Rainier Club several blocks away, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels gave a patriotic speech for local political movers and shakers as part of the Potlatch festivities. Those two events, seemingly unrelated, would together set the stage for the Potlatch Riot.

The following day, The Seattle Daily Times disingenuously linked the fistfight and the speech in a front-page article titled “I.W.W., Denounced by Head of Navy, Attack Soldiers and Sailors.” The article, uncredited in the paper but in fact written by Times reporter M. M. Mattison, alleged that Daniels had denounced Seattle Mayor George F. Cotterill (1865-1958) in his speech for the latter’s tolerance of local leftists. (The IWW and anarchist groups had already begun to flourish in Seattle by 1913.) Alden J. Blethen (1845-1915), publisher of the Times, had previously been publicly critical of Cotterill for the latter’s alleged failure to crack down on Seattle’s radicals — including and especially the IWW, whom Blethen liked to cleverly call the “I Won’t Works.”

(Cotterill, although hardly “radical,” was definitely one of Seattle’s more genuinely progressive mayors. Among other causes, he fought for public ownership of Seattle’s utilities — yet another reason why the profoundly capitalist Blethen intensely abhorred him.)

The article also crucially alleged that Mrs. Miller was an IWW member, and that several Wobblies among her audience had attacked the soldiers and sailors without provocation. The Times also reported that Miller had “insulted [the servicemen’s] uniforms.”

Given historical hindsight, the article was also clearly based on fabrication. Eyewitness testimonies gathered by the Seattle Police Department and later published in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and subsequently in the Congressional Record) showed that no Wobblies or anarchists had been present during the fistfight in Pioneer Square, and that the soldiers and sailors had in fact instigated the melee. Secretary Josephus, meanwhile, denied having said any unkind words concerning Cotterill or the IWW that evening.

The inflammatory tone of the article — clearly critical of the IWW — led many visiting soldiers and sailors and local civilians to seek retaliation for the previous night’s apocryphal attack in Pioneer Square. Thus, on the evening of July 18, a large crowd of apoplectic revelers, numbering at least a thousand, drunkenly descended upon downtown Seattle and vandalized the IWW and Socialist Party offices located there — all in plain sight of the many festival-goers who were there to watch the Potlatch Days parade, scheduled that night.

The rioters began their assault while the police were busy managing the Potlatch parade crowd. The headquarters of the Socialists at Fifth Avenue and Virginia Street and those of the IWW at South Washington Street and Occidental Avenue South were both ransacked, the IWW hall was torched inside, and a bonfire was made of the Wobblies’ belongings outside in Occidental Park. The rioters also began to trash a Pioneer Square mission in the mistaken belief that it was an IWW office. The mob entered the mission on Occidental Avenue South and began to vandalize it until someone among them realized that it was not IWW-affiliated and thus called off the attack.

While no one was gravely harmed that night, the political aftermath for local leftists would be damaging indeed, as anti-IWW and pro-war sentiment would ominously increase within Seattle’s mainstream media and politics over the next several years — especially during World War I.

The morning of July 19 found Seattle under martial law. Meanwhile, a different kind of conflict escalated between Blethen and Cotterill. During the following week, the front pages of the Times would be filled with inflammatory headlines denouncing both Cotterill and the IWW. Such was merely the latest episode of a long-running animosity between those two titans of Seattle city politics.

Adding fuel to Blethen’s fire, Cotterill had attempted to stop the Times from publishing during the remainder of Potlatch Days in order to prevent any further conservative riots that might have been provoked by the sort of escalatory rhetoric that Seattleites had then long come to expect on its front pages. In response, the Times flamboyantly and repeatedly attacked Cotterill — one exemplary headline on July 20 read, “Mayor Cotterill Attempts the Role of Czar.”

While the conflict between Cotterill and the Times would eventually cool down, the Times would continue to misrepresent the politics of Seattle for many decades afterwards. The Potlatch Days festival, stained by the memory of the 1913 riot, would be discontinued after 1914. It would then be revived in 1934, canceled again in 1941, and eventually replaced by the annual Seafair festival, which was launched in 1950 and continues to the present day.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: John H. Raftery, “Entire Navy May Soon Pay Seattle Visit,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 18, 1913, p. 1; “Three Soldiers Assailed by Mob, Saved by Police,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 18, 1913, p. 1; “I.W.W., Denounced by Head of Navy, Attack Soldiers and Sailors,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 18, 1913, p. 1; “Soldiers and Sailors Mob and Sack Offices of Socialists and I.W.W.,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 19, 1913, p. 1; “Police No Match for Such a Mob,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 19, 1913, p. 2; “Socialist’s Views of Riot’s Origin,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 19, 1913, p. 2; “Cotterill Attempts to Suppress Times,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 1; “I.W.W. Talks as Mayor Suppresses Times,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 2; “Anarchy in Seattle Stamped Out When Sailors Get Busy,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 2; “Union Man Plants Stars and Stripes Over Hall of Reds,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 3; “Officers and Men of Fleet Jubilant Over Trouncing of I.W.W.,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 7; “Cotterill Harangues I.W.W. and Socialist Mob from City Auto,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 7; “Tilikum Police Keep Hands Off Strictly Throughout Rioting,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 19, 1913, p. 7; “Mayor Cotterill Attempts the Role of Czar,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 1; “Effort to Throttle Times Causes Court to Score Cotterill,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 1; C. B. Blethen, “I Believe in Free Speech and a Free Press as the Bulwarks of Our Liberty,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 5; “Dearth of Petitions Alone Saves I.W.W. Mayor from Recall,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 5; “500 Men Patrol City Streets, But Citizens Will Not Start Riots,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 5; “Bannick, Humiliated by Executive Order, Threatens to Resign,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 5; “Secretary Daniels Denounces the Red Flag,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 6; “Cotterill Assumes the Part of Autocrat,” The Seattle Sunday Times, July 20, 1913, p. 6; “Night Throngs Cheer Soldiers and Sailors in Closing Carnival,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 20, 1913, p. 1; Edwin J. Brown, “Seattle’s Riot,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 20, 1913, p. 7; “Mayor Cotterill Will Abide by Court’s Orders,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 20, 1913, p. 11; “Open Forum to Hear Witnesses of Riotous Outbreak of Sailors,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 20, 1913, p. 11; “Sailor Tried to Strike a Woman,” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 20, 1913, p. 11; “Cotterill’s Swollen Notions Detriment to Northwest: News Says,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1913, p. 1; M. M. Mattison, “Agencies Combine to Oust Red Flag Mayor from Disgraced Seat,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1913, p. 1; “No Man Great Enough to Insult American Flag, Daniels Says,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1913, p. 1; William A. Simonds, “Discredited Direct Actionists Attack Secretary of Navy,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1913, p. 1; Horace McClure, “Cotterill’s Frail Craft: With Flag of Red, on Stormy Sea,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 21, 1913, p. 1; “The Rioters Punished,” Seattle Union Record, July 23, 1913, p. 4; “A Disgraceful Riot,” Seattle Union Record, July 26, 1913, p. 1; Murray Morgan, Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle (Viking Press, 1951; Ballantine Books, 1971; University of Washington Press, 1982); Roger Sale, Seattle, Past to Present (University of Washington Press, 1976, 2019); Richard C. Berner, Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration (Charles Press, 1991, 2009); Sharon A. Boswell and Lorraine McConaghy, Raise Hell and Sell Newspapers: Alden J. Blethen & The Seattle Times (Washington State University Press, 1996); Nick Bauroth, “Belltown History: A May Tribute to Anarchy in Seattle,” Belltown’s Regrade Dispatch, May 5, 2000, p. 5.

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June 27, 1995: Operation Homestead Gets the SWAT Treatment

Operation Homestead activists occupying the Pacific Hotel, downtown Seattle, September 1992. Photo credit: Dana Schuerholz

The garishly über-megalithic commercial complex in the heart of downtown Seattle that currently houses NikeTown, along with other similar corporate chain stores, has long been a deceptively dazzling civic eyesore. You might not think so from looking at it now, but not long ago that spot was the site of an affordable housing complex — one of the last then remaining downtown. On the date in focus here, a pair of activists attempted to save it — symbolically, at least — from the impending wrecking ball.

Before there was NikeTown, et cetera, there was the Payne Apartments, a 43-unit low-income apartment building located at 1521 Seventh Avenue. The building was then scheduled for demolition the following week to make way for the highly-publicized $25 million project that would house NikeTown, along with a Planet Hollywood outlet and other such upscale tenants. The project was one of several such pricey redevelopment deals resulting from the mid-1990s local economic boom then vastly transforming (or neutering, depending on whom you ask) the character of downtown Seattle.

Not everyone welcomed that drastic downtown change. Operation Homestead, a grassroots activist organization founded in 1988 with the mission of saving low-income housing in Seattle, had already staged, as of the summer of 1995, a number of occupations of buildings threatened by development. Those buildings were either abandoned or had been bought out by developers (and, in some cases, the developers had unlawfully evicted the buildings’ low-income tenants). In the early morning of June 26, 1995, Bob Kubiniec and Dana Schuerholz, representing Operation Homestead, scaled the side of the Payne by the fire escape all the way up to the roof, with the intention, fully publicized in advance, of staging a nonviolent protest action against the loss of affordable housing downtown.

That evening at 5 p.m., while several supporters rallied in the street below, Kubiniec and Schuerholz hung several banners from the building as part of the protest action. Among the slogans displayed were “Nike Stomps Housing,” “Save Existing Housing,” and “43 Homes. Here Today. Gone Tomorrow.” The Payne had been home to 43 low-income residents, many of whom were newly homeless at the time of the protest.

The Seattle Police Department handled the protest with characteristic restraint — in other words, by sending a full Special Patrol Unit (then Seattle’s equivalent of a SWAT team) into the building, with weapons drawn and wearing gas masks, shortly after midnight, to arrest Kubiniec and Schuerholz. After bringing the two activists down to the street, the police then drenched them with water hoses in order, according to the police, to prevent possible asbestos contamination (demolition of the building had already begun). The two were then left to sit in wet clothes for several hours in King County Jail while under investigation for trespassing charges.

“The police were really heavy-handed with us,” said Kubiniec. “They turned a peaceful demonstration into a really dangerous scene.”

Before the police arrived, supporters of the protest who had gathered across the street from the Payne explained the motivations for the action to the press. They lamented the city government’s failure to adequately address the ongoing loss of affordable housing in the midst of Seattle’s then-booming economy. They also lamented the city government’s eagerness to coddle the many real-estate developers responsible for that loss.

“The housing situation in this city continues to be a crisis,” said Joe Martin, one of the protest supporters.

Kubiniec and Schuerholz were later acquitted of the trespassing charges. The gentrification of downtown Seattle would continue unchecked for several years after.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Jennifer Bjorhus and Dee Norton, “2 housing advocates arrested for sit-in,” The Seattle Times, June 27, 1995, p. B3; Jennifer Bjorhus, “Peaceful protesters get SWAT treatment,” The Seattle Times, June 29, 1995, p. B4; “The Payne Goes Down: City Over-reacts to Peaceful Demonstration,” Real Change newspaper, July 1995, p. 7.

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June 1, 1981: Domingo and Viernes

Newsletter reporting the link between the murders of Domingo and Viernes
and the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, June 1981
Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes

Seattle has long been a haven for both trade unionism and immigrants from troubled countries across the Pacific Ocean — especially Filipinos. Both of these elements of our city’s unique history came together on the date in focus here in a fascinatingly tragic event that demonstrated the deep roots that Filipinos have planted here during many decades.

Two noteworthy local Filipino Americans, Silme Domingo (b. 1952) and Gene Viernes (b. 1951), were living in Seattle circa 1981 and working as organizers for Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), which was then focused on improving conditions for Filipinos working seasonally in Alaskan fish canneries. While working to reform Local 37 — then rife with corruption and bribery — Domingo and Viernes were both shot by intruders inside the Local 37 offices in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle.

Viernes died immediately, but Domingo was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he spent 24 hours before dying — long enough to provide clues to medics about the identities of the gunmen, which led to the arrests of two suspects the following day. The suspects, Pompeyo Benito Guloy and Jimmy Bulosan Ramil, were acquaintances of both Domingo and Viernes and had previously been dispatched by Local 37 to work in Alaska. They were both found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder on September 24, 1981, and sentenced to life in prison. A third suspect, Fortunato “Tony” Dictado, was convicted on May 12, 1982, of ordering the murders and he was also sentenced to life in prison. Dictado was the leader of a local Filipino street gang named Tulisan whose members were often hired by Local 37.

While it was immediately assumed that the murders were motived by a local dispute within Local 37 (possibly involving disgruntled members of Tulisan), the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV) eventually determined that it was Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda who had ordered the murders in retaliation for the victims’ anti-Marcos activities in Seattle during the 1970s, and a federal jury agreed with the CJDV in December 1989. On March 8, 1991, a King County Superior Court jury found the former president of Local 37, Constantine “Tony” Baruso (1928-2008) — a supporter of the Marcos regime — guilty of aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Viernes. Baruso was acquitted of a similar charge in the death of Domingo.

Using the awards won from both the Marcos family and the four convicted murderers, the Domingo/Viernes Justice Fund was created through Seattle’s Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (now known as LELO) in memory of Domingo and Viernes.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Larry Lange, “Union aides fall in hail of gunfire,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 2, 1981, p. A1; Tomas Guillen and Dave Birkland, “Union official slain, another hurt; hiring dispute probed,” The Seattle Times, June 2, 1981, p. A1; Gil Bailey, “Dying man’s clues lead to union slaying arrests,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1981, p. A1; Gil Bailey, “Union reform — and then gunfire,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1981, p. A9; Tomas Guillen and Dave Birkland, “2 arrested in union shooting; second man dies of wounds,” The Seattle Times, June 3, 1981, p. A1; William Gough, “Job dispatching hinted as death motive,” The Seattle Times, June 3, 1981, p. D1; “Union killings are more than ‘routine’ homicides” (editorial), The Seattle Times, June 4, 1981, p. A14; “Marcos Linked to Seattle Slayings,” Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes newsletter, June 1981; Chong-suk Han, “Unknown Heroes,” ColorLines magazine, Summer 2001.

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May 4, 1969: Hit the Highway, Freeway

Marchers in the Arboretum, May 4, 1969 Museum of History & Industry

Marchers in the Arboretum, May 4, 1969
Museum of History & Industry

The concrete monstrosity that has long divided Seattle into two absurdly disconnected halves like the result of a brain operation gone horribly awry — a.k.a. Interstate 5 — was never a civic inevitability. Long before its official completion here on January 31, 1967, citizen activists and elected public officials alike fought for a better solution to the city’s emerging need for a major transportation corridor that would connect Seattle with the other major port cities along the American West Coast. Unfortunately, in 1953 the Washington State Legislature trumped local desires for a sane solution — such as locating the Seattle segment of I-5 on the eastern side of Lake Washington, still underdeveloped at the time — and we’re still stuck with the garish results of that dreadful lack of foresight today.

Fortunately, thirteen years later, a group of local citizen activists, appalled by the results of the decision to build I-5 through the heart of the city, organized a series of protests against what could have been an equally atrocious local infrastructure disaster: namely, the R. H. Thomson Expressway. At the time still under proposal, the Thomson Expressway, if completed, would have stretched along the full length of Seattle’s eastern edge, from Interstate 90 in South Seattle through the Central Area, Montlake, and the Washington Park Arboretum, and onward through Lake City towards a northern interchange with an also-proposed Bothell Freeway.

The first of these protests occurred on the date in focus here, when several thousand Seattleites marched through the Arboretum to protest the expressway’s impending construction. The initial expressway proposal — named for Seattle’s erstwhile city engineer Reginald Heber Thomson (1856-1949) — was approved by Seattle voters on March 8, 1960. However, when inevitable changes of plan — in which much of the Central Area and Montlake would have been bulldozed — were revealed in 1966, Citizens Against the R. H. Thomson organized to oppose the project.

These protests were part of a broader nationwide activist movement against major freeway construction projects that emerged during the 1960s, commonly called the Freeway Revolts. Citizens concerned about the negative impact such projects would have upon the quality of urban life organized to stop such projects in several major U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and, last but not least, Seattle.

Unlike the earlier, much less passionate opposition to I-5’s location through Seattle, these protests were eventually successful, benefiting greatly from the local environmental movement that had recently emerged circa 1969. Wisely recognizing grassroots pressure, Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman and the Seattle City Council effectively abandoned the R. H. Thomson Expressway in June 1970 and submitted the project’s final fate to a referendum. That referendum was finally presented to Seattle voters in a special municipal election on February 8, 1972. It passed overwhelmingly by a two-to-one margin, thus revoking authorization for $11.1 million in bonds for the project.

Construction of the Thomson Expressway was already in the starting stages when it was canceled, whence the “ramps to nowhere” that circa 2011 still remained in the northern end of the Arboretum, making a most curious local landmark — as well as a lasting local testament to the power of grassroots citizen activism.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Maynard Arsove, “Concrete Dragons,” Helix, April 3, 1969, p. 16; Clayton Van Lydegraf, “CART . . . Dragonslayer?” Helix, April 3, 1969, p. 18; Charles Russell, “‘Save, Don’t Pave’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 5, 1969, p. B; Roger Sale, Seattle, Past to Present (University of Washington Press, 1976, 2019); Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 1995); Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington: A History of Washington State Public Works (Tartu Publications, 1998).

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April 28, 1987: Benjamin Linder

Benjamin Ernest Linder
(July 7, 1959 – April 28, 1987)

The University of Washington has a long tradition of students and alumni who have bravely traveled to Central America to help improve the lives of ordinary people there. A great many of these have returned to their alma mater to tell the stories of the work they’ve done in that long-troubled region. For Benjamin Linder, such a sweet return was not to be so. In his case, his work in the 1980s on behalf of the people of Nicaragua — then in the thick of the Sandinista revolution — led directly to his assassination, at the tragic age of twenty-seven, by U.S.-supported Contra rebels.

Linder (b. July 7, 1959), a native of California raised in Portland, Oregon, came to Seattle in 1977 to attend the UW, where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1983. That summer, Linder moved to Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, with the intention of participating in the Sandinista revolution, which he had followed in the news since its beginning in 1979. His aim was to use his engineering skills to help the Sandinista government in its goal of promoting economic self-sufficiency among Nicaragua’s underclass.

The United States federal government under then-president Ronald Reagan, meanwhile, saw the Sandinistas as a “communist threat” much too close to home, and in 1981, the Reagan administration launched a secret program, carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency, to train, arm, and support the Contra rebels, a right-wing paramilitary group that sought to overthrow the Sandinistas.

It was Benjamin Linder’s tragic fate to get caught in the crossfire between the Sandinistas and the Contras. In 1986, he moved from Managua to El Cuá, a village in northern Nicaragua, deep in the country’s war zone. There, he helped form a team that sought to build a hydroelectric dam to bring electricity to the village. It was on the date in focus here that Linder, along with two Nicaraguans, was ambushed by Contras while working on the dam project. The Contras first attacked the three men with hand grenades, then shot Linder in the head at point-blank range. The two Nicaraguans were also shot dead at close range. (Linder may also have been tortured before he was killed, according to a controversial report by a Sandinista military doctor.)

It became quickly evident in the wake of Linder’s death that he was specifically targeted by the Contras in order to intimidate other foreign volunteers who had also come to Nicaragua to aid the Sandinistas. A woman who was kidnapped by the Contras around that time and later escaped claimed to have seen a Contra “hit list” with Linder’s name on it during the time of her capture. Meanwhile, Reagan administration officials, speaking to the press, downplayed the possibility of U.S. government complicity in Linder’s death, denying that he was specifically targeted and arguing that Linder should have known the risks involved in working in a war zone in a volatile foreign country.

In the United States, the incident ignited a national controversy over the use of U.S. taxpayer funds to support the Contras, already a contentious topic in the U.S. news media well before Linder’s death. On the UW Seattle campus, it ignited a series of protests aimed at barring CIA recruiters from operating on campus, including a march through the University District that briefly blockaded the crucial car-traffic intersection of Northeast 45th Street and University Way Northeast. These protests were ultimately unsuccessful since UW President William Gerberding flatly refused all student activist demands to bar the CIA from campus.

During Ben Linder’s time in Seattle, he became well known within the UW community for his outgoing and gregarious personality. He was well skilled in the arts of juggling, unicycling, and clowning, and he could often be seen displaying these talents on the UW campus and elsewhere in the city. By many accounts, he was much more an idealist than an ideologue, and his decision to travel to war-torn Nicaragua was motivated by humanitarian concerns much more than political ones. His death, as tragic as it was, did have the tangible effect of turning U.S. public opinion against the Contra rebels, who were up until that point often lauded in the mainstream U.S. media as “freedom fighters.” There once was talk among a small group of UW student activists about the possibility of renaming the UW’s Engineering Library in his honor, but those efforts never got past the talking stage.

Given the recent historical whitewashing of Ronald Reagan’s political legacy in the wake of his 100th birthday earlier this year, such a public monument to Benjamin Linder would serve well as a corrective reminder of the U.S. government’s darker escapades in Central America in the 1980s.

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: “Contras kill Portland man,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 29, 1987, p. A1; “Associates call death of engineer a contra warning,” The Seattle Times, April 29, 1987, p. A1; “UW grad killed by Contras,” University of Washington Daily, April 29, 1987, p. 1; Bruce Sherman and Gil Bailey, “Ben Linder: ‘He became an engineer to help 3rd World’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 30, 1987, p. A1; Duff Wilson, “Garage sales and citizen donations helped to finance Linder,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 30, 1987, p. A13; Richard Seven, “Pragmatic engineer working in Nicaragua ‘wasn’t there to die’,” The Seattle Times, April 30, 1987, p. A3; Sally Macdonald, “12 students ask UW to bar CIA recruiters,” The Seattle Times, April 30, 1987, p. A3; Kurt Jensen, “A death in the hills,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 1; Jeff Bond, “‘We hold the Reagan administration responsible’,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 1; “‘He did what he thought was necessary’,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 4; Sally J. Clark, “Benjamin Linder: Politics wasn’t his motivation, he wanted to help,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 10; Andrew Himes, “Students mourn a death of a friend,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 10; Evan Callahan, “A different kind of class,” University of Washington Daily, April 30, 1987, p. 11; Andrew Himes, “Gerb rejects STOP’s anti-CIA proposal,” University of Washington Daily, May 1, 1987, p. 3; Stephen Farr and Mark Jewell, “Students march on campus, block traffic in effort to get CIA off campus,” University of Washington Daily, May 5, 1987, p. 1; Joan Kruckewitt, The Death of Ben Linder: The Story of a North American in Sandinista Nicaragua (Seven Stories Press, 1999).

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April 1, 1974: The Kidnapping of Patricia Davis

Up against the wall, motherfuckers!

She used to be such a nice girl.

Even though she still lived at home at age 38, and enjoyed the privileged life of a Washington state apple-growing magnate’s heiress, people close to her have always described the young Patricia Davis as humble, shy, slow to anger, and quick with a laugh. All that changed, and radically indeed, on the date in focus here, when Ms. Davis was suddenly kidnapped by a shadowy group of political and/or theatrical extremists who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army of Washington — SLAW, for short.

Led by a mysterious figure known only as Ottoman, SLAW demanded as ransom that Davis’s father give away his entire spring harvest that year to the hungry children of Eastern Washington’s migrant workers, along with one million peanut-butter sandwiches and a Cadillac for Ottoman. When Mr. Davis refused, SLAW promptly began brainwashing little Patricia by reading Soul on Ice to her backwards and subjecting her to the music of Blue Cheer played at deafening volume. The fruits of SLAW’s efforts were soon seen on national television when several members of SLAW — including Ms. Davis, who had now been renamed “Tania” by the group — staged a robbery at the Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant on Seattle’s downtown waterfront. The sight of the formerly fresh-faced Patricia Davis, caught on tape by a security camera, wearing a beret, brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle, and shouting, “Up against the wall, motherfuckers!” was apparently too much for many. According to urban legend, on the day the tape of Tania was broadcast, all across Ballard grumpy old Scandinavians could be seen and heard knocking lutefisk off their TV trays as they leapt towards their TV sets with the intent of kicking in the screens.

One year later, Davis officially left SLAW, repented of her radical sins, and began running for Port of Seattle Commissioner. She was finally elected ten years and five elections later, and held the office until her resignation in 2009, often appearing on the front pages of both of Seattle’s daily newspapers with a self-victimizing look on her face. What most history books don’t reveal is that Pat Davis never actually left SLAW, but in fact went “deep underground” in order to infiltrate the Establishment and do as much damage as possible to the credibility of Seattle’s municipal government.

And oh, what a job she’s done. From helping give the infamously corrupt Mic Dinsmore free reign at the Port in 1994 to helping bring the World Trade Organization to Seattle in 1999 to her role in the more recent scandalous Port shenanigans revealed in a damning state audit report in 2008, Pat Davis has done more genuinely radical damage to Seattle City Hall than any run-of-the-mill bank heist or courthouse bombing ever could. Well done, Tania! Well done, comrade!

–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Pat Davis with James Frey, “A Million Little Sweetheart Deals: My True Life Story, and Then Some” (Hamburger University Press, 2007); Ivar Haglund with Margaret Seltzer and Louis Malle, “My Steakhouse Dinner With Tania” (Clam Chowder Community College Press, 1985); Onion archives.

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