1917: Pacifist Women Thwart the WWI Draft
In August 1917, months after the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered World War I, 33-year-old Louise Olivereau, a stenographer for the Industrial Workers of the World, aka, the Wobblies, executed a lone act of antiwar activism: She spent $40 on postage and paper, wrote up a circular, and mailed it to young men around Seattle to encourage them to become “conscientious objectors.” (Back then, Seattle was a breeding ground for socialists and pacifists. Journalist and radical Anna Louise Strong also spoke out against the draft, with the support of the Parent-Teacher Association, then a feminist organization.) Olivereau was arrested for her subversive pamphleteering in September—and convicted later that fall of sedition.
1919: 65,000 Workers Strike
In boomtown Seattle of the early twentieth century, reasonable working conditions were largely won through union organizing. Every trade and many jobs had their unions, and the city’s labor movement was so vigorous that it had its own daily newspaper. So the stage was set for Seattle’s general strike of 1919, a display of labor muscle that made news around the globe.
During World War I, Seattle was well placed to meet the demand for new ships, and shipyard workers put their shoulders to the war effort, accepting a government wage cap in exchange for a raise after the war. That promise wasn’t made good, and 35,000 shipyard workers went on strike. Then a leak in the form of a misdelivered telegram gave proof of government-industry double-dealing: Any shipyard that raised wages would lose its government contracts. The Metal Trades Council asked Seattle’s other unions for support, and with that a general strike of 65,000 workers, the first in the United States, launched with nearly unanimous agreement.
Captains of industry, already in a state of alarm over Russia’s recent revolution, generated a wave of anti-Red hysteria in the weeks before the strike, aided by Seattle mayor Ole Hanson, who quickly restyled himself as a defender of American values over “bolshevism.”
Worse than rhetoric was an antistrike force armed with clubs, firearms, and machine guns. Army troops were stationed in the city, and Mayor Hanson also recruited 600 extra police and 2,400 deputized citizens and soldiers to keep a peace that the striking workers never threatened. In fact, the city fell silent on the first day of the strike, as workers followed union advice to stay at home and avoid public gatherings that might “provoke” a response.
The general strike was called off after six days, but not before Seattle’s unions showed how to work for the common good: Milk wagon drivers and firefighters remained on duty, and volunteers served meals to the masses. Reactionary pushback to the strike had consequences down the decades, but so did Seattle’s show of worker solidarity, strengthening the city’s cooperative movement and nurturing the common people who picked up tools and went back to work building a city.
1924: Voters rebuff the KKK
In 1924, Washington voters rejected an initiative promoted by the Ku Klux Klan that aimed to shut down Catholic schools. J. J. Donovan, a Bellingham railroad engineer who fought the initiative, predicted to The Seattle Daily Times, “Two years from now, the Ku Klux Klan will be an ugly memory.”