Letter to the Washington Free Press
July 1996

Response to Walt Crowley's "Seattle in the Sixties"


After reading Mark Worth's review of Walt Crowley's book on Seattle in the Sixties (in WFP issue 21), I wondered if he had actually read the book. It seems a fair question - after reading a couple chapters, I was too disgusted to continue. The reviewer appreciates the principled activism of that era. But unfortunately, Crowley cloaks himself in the glory of the Sixties while trashing those who acted out of principle.

I still remember the day I first met Walt Crowley. It was the summer of 1966, and I was handing out leaflets at the Safeway on Brooklyn, in support of striking farm workers in California. He walked up to me and said, "I'm an anarchist. I support any strike." Unfortunately, the clarity of his political thinking has not improved since those days. Now, he counts the likes of Jim Ellis and Phyllis Lamphere as the "real radicals." 

His book on the Sixties provides many interesting anecdotes, some of them accurate. But he misrepresents himself as well as the nature of the progressive movements of those times. 

After the Ave. riots of 1969, the city created the University District Center as a buy-off. Crowley parlayed his visibility into the directorship of the UDC. Meanwhile, precious little was done by the city to deal with police harassment and other real problems that had instigated people to riot.

While Crowley was on the sidelines making snide remarks, Students for a Democratic Society was organizing a solid anti-Vietnam War movement at the University of Washington. A core group of several dozen organized campus anti-war demonstrations of up to 10,000 people. When SDS faltered, other organizers founded the Seattle Liberation Front, which brought in even larger numbers of activists and mobilized thousands against the war, Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, and in support of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial defendants.

The SLF ran its course also, victim of its own internal contradictions. Most movements have these. But the various anti-war organizations in Seattle had a powerful impact as part of a national movement that restrained LBJ and Nixon in their war on Indo-China. In addition, many activists developed a lasting commitment to making this country live up to ideals of equality and justice.

In the manner that is currently fashionable, Walt Crowley distorts the accomplishments of the anti-war movement. A lot of Sixties veterans have better ways of continuing to supporting progressive causes.

  Roger Lippman

[Editor's Note: The writer was an anti-war organizer in the '60s and a defendant in the Seattle 7 Conspiracy Trial. He now works in energy conservation.]

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Originally published at http://wafreepress.org/22/Mail.html