Book Review: Protest on Trial: The Seattle 7 Conspiracy

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 6/14/2018
  • Essay 20588

By Kit Bakke
Washington State University Press, 2018
Paperback, 252 pages
ISBN 978-0-87422-356-9
Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index

Some came from the east, well-educated and idealistic young people. They came to Seattle because it was a long distance from home and they were inspired by the city's radical history. They joined other young activists and eventually they became known as the Seattle 7 for their daring and, to some, confrontational challenge to Seattle's political status quo. Their direct action culminated in a mass mobilization and demonstration at Seattle's downtown federal courthouse in February 1970. As a result of this protest and surveillance by the government, they were indicted for conspiring to commit offenses against the United States. This entailed spending time in jail and in courtroom drama.

In Protest on Trial, Kay Bakke, once active in the Weatherman group and later a nurse in Seattle, recounts that dramatic court proceeding in Tacoma.

Eight members of the Seattle Liberation Front were charged in connection with the courthouse demonstration:

Susan Stern, who came to Seattle with her husband Robby Stern. They were both Syracuse graduates planning to enroll in the University of Washington graduate school.

Michael Lerner, who was a UW professor of philosophy and son of a New Jersey judge. He wanted to try out his grassroots organizing ideas and successfully built a base of students for them.

Roger Lippman, a Seattle native and Reed College dropout, who worked full time on antiwar activities.

Michael Justesen, also a Seattle native, who was part of the group facing charges, known initially as the "Seattle 8," but who went underground rather than stand trial.

These four were joined by four students from Cornell, Jeff Dowd, Joe Kelly, Michael Abeles and Chip Marshall, who all protested the war and racism and chose Seattle to promote their activities, which diverged from the Weatherman group's promotion of violence and terrorism.

The Seattle Liberation Front was formed after a meeting organized by Michael Lerner on the UW campus with Jerry Rubin, one of the Chicago 7 defendants, as speaker. Group members outlined a 15-point program for the people of Seattle, who they thought desired human solidarity, cultural freedom, and peace. They were successful in establishing collectives around the city, groups of people sympathetic to their goals.

In February 1970 the Chicago 7 were charged with 159 counts of criminal contempt arising out of antiwar protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago. Across the country TDA ("The Day After") protests were mounted and the Seattle Liberation Front staged a demonstration at the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle.

The SLF sent this message to Mayor Wes Uhlman and Governor Dan Evans:

"We intend to enter the courthouse and focus the attention of the Federal Courts on the suppression of blacks and the anti-war movement ... we have no intention of introducing violence into the demonstration ... we hope we are allowed to enter the courthouse to exercise our rights as citizens"

The crowd that massed in front of the courthouse numbered about 2,000 and many were arrested, although not one of the SLF members were. No one gained entry to the courthouse. The Seattle 7, however, were indicted for conspiracy, as well as a number of other charges, and arrested months later. The trial began in November 1970 in Tacoma.

Half of the the book is devoted to the transcripts and descriptions of the trial. The author does a splendid job of presenting an interesting and sometimes humorous account of the proceedings.

The trial was held in federal court in Tacoma with Judge George Boldt presiding in a circus-like atmosphere because of the shouting of supporters and the defendants' unruly behavior. Boldt declared a mistrial because of the misconduct of the defendants and ruling that the trial could not continue with an unbiased jury. When the defendants received copies of their contempt citations, they tore them up and threw the paper bits toward Boldt's desk. Nevertheless, they served jail time in prisons on the West Coast, but in 1973 all charges against them were dropped.

The author notes, "One of the errors of the 1960s antiwar movement was the dissenters' unrealistic expectation that they could quickly convince the U.S. government to the end the war. In fact, progress often comes in tiny increments."

This is a stellar addition to the shelves of Seattle and Washington state history books.

By Mary T. Henry, June 14, 2018

Submitted: 6/14/2018

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