100 Years of Activism

1970: Anti-Vietnam Protests Break Out—But the Dude Abides

Plus, protests at Fort Lawton make way for the Day Break Star Indian Cultural Center.

By Madeline Ostrander and Valerie Schloredt November 21, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Seattle Met

1970: Anti–Vietnam War march blocks Interstate 5 and the Federal Building

The University of Washington was a center of radical thought and activism during the Vietnam War, when pacifist groups as well as The Daily and the student body association demanded that the school sever its ties with the military. Then student-led protests exploded across the city in response to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard shooting of four students in Ohio. On May 5, 1970, when 7,000 protesters marched off campus, up 45th Street, and onto I-5, they blocked traffic all the way to Everett. Later that week, marches of 10,000 and 15,000 from campus to downtown showed the growing strength—and outrage—of the antiwar movement. 

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Federal agents escort Jeff Dowd (inspiration for “the Dude”) to the Federal Courthouse downtown for arraignment, April 17, 1970.

The Dude abides in Seattle

On February 17, 1970, antiwar protesters pelted the federal courthouse with rocks and paint bombs. The melee gave the Nixon-era federal government an opportunity to charge a handful of young radicals—known as the Seattle Seven—with conspiracy to plan a riot. But when the prosecution’s star witness admitted to being an FBI informant, a provocateur, and willing to lie, the case against the Seven fell apart. So did courtroom decorum. The Seattle Seven included Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for Jeff Bridges’s character (the Dude) in The Big Lebowski, and their display of satirical counterculture antics—including unfurling a Nazi flag—made a mockery of what they saw as a mockery of justice. They did time for contempt, but scored points in the court of public opinion.

Native Americans occupy Fort Lawton 

After The U.S. Army decided to vacate portions of Seattle’s Fort Lawton, activists from Northwest tribes and their supporters claimed some of it back “by right of discovery.” On March 8, 1970, the modern warriors climbed over fences and up Magnolia Bluff into the base. Military police ultimately beat and arrested them, but the monthlong occupation of Fort Lawton led by Bob Satiacum, Bernie Whitebear, and Leonard Peltier captured worldwide media attention. (Vocal support from Hollywood activist Jane Fonda may have helped.) The government was forced to compromise with the activists, granting them 20 acres of what is now Discovery Park and eventually funding the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, run by United Indians of All Tribes since its 1977 establishment.

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Tribal members protest at Fort Lawton, March 1970.

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