The Seattle 7 embodied late 1960s counterculture—young, idealistic, active organizers against racism and the Vietnam War, and fond of long hair, rock’n’roll, sex, drugs, and parties. In January 1970 they founded the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF). Nationally, the FBI was practicing secret and illegal tactics such as wiretapping, warrantless break-ins, and the placing of informers and provocateurs to destroy organizations like the SLF. But in Seattle, it went a step further.
Months after a February 1970 protest at Seattle’s downtown federal building turned violent, seven SLF leaders were arrested. Michael Abeles, Jeff Dowd, Joe Kelly, Michael Lerner, Roger Lippman, Chip Marshall, and Susan Stern faced federal conspiracy and intent to riot indictments. During their chaotic trial in nearby Tacoma, they received a twelve-day crash course in the real American judicial system. Celebrated Spokane lawyer Carl Maxey and nationally known attorney Michael Tigar led the defense team; the U.S. prosecuting attorney was Stan Pitkin, a young and upcoming Nixon appointee. When Pitkin’s key witness faltered and the government’s case appeared doomed, the presiding judge issued a surprise ruling to end the trial and send the defendants to prison.
For this solidly researched oral history, the author conducted dozens of interviews with six defendants, their attorneys, FBI agents, journalists, jurors, the U.S. Marshal, and SLF members, supporters, and critics. She also accessed the trial transcript, appeals briefs and depositions, newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, and other ephemera of the times, as well as memoirs and books.
Kit Bakke strongly believes that the freedom to organize and protest are crucial to American democracy. Bakke herself was active in Students for a Democratic Society and later Weatherman, participating in antiwar and anti-capitalism actions around the country. Born and raised in Seattle, she returned to work as a pediatric oncology nurse. She currently works as an independent writer and consultant, and supports local philanthropic organizations focused on human services and education. Learn more about her at her website, kitbakke.com.
Listen to Kit Bakke’s interview on Author2Author.
Illustrations / notes / bibliography / index / 252 pages (2018)
“Bakke’s focus is the 1970 trial of a group of leftist activists known as the Seattle 7. She serves up this slice of history with delicious let-me-tell-you-a-story gusto.”—Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
“Bakke strategically frames her book within the context of political dissent and the U.S. federal government’s myriad historical attacks upon that fundamental American right — a topic as urgent here in Trumptime as it was in Nixontime. A worthy and necessary addition to the existing canon, Protest on Trial is a compelling book about a compelling chapter in Seattle’s political history.”—Jeff Stevens, Seattle Star
“Protest on Trial chronicles a significant, real-life slice of history, but it reads more like a well-crafted novel—a compelling narrative that feels completely contemporary, and reminds us that dissent—now no less than then—is the essence of democracy.—Bill Ayers, author of Fugitive Days, Public Enemy, and Demand the Impossible!
“Using impressive interviews as well as the revealing trial transcript, this excellent narrative of the Seattle 7 conspiracy trial makes contributions to the history of the Northwest, Seattle, radicalism, and activism. The book performs a valuable service in preserving both the memories and contemporary evidence about the long overlooked 1970 trial.”—William Rorabaugh, University of Washington Professor of History, author of American Hippies
“A handful of activists were put on trial, not for organizing one of the largest demonstrations Seattle had ever experienced, but rather for the more radical activities they achieved through their Seattle Liberation Front…Thanks to Bakke, their impact on Seattle and the nation…will live on to inspire every new generation to demand that we live in a real, accountable democracy.”—Nick Licata, author of Becoming a Citizen Activist and five-term Seattle City Councilmember
“Kit Bakke captures the Northwest’s most raucous anti-war trial in all of its drama, humor, angst and irony. In her deeply sympathetic account, we learn about the movement that spawned the Seattle Liberation Front, the chaotic events that led up to the trial, and, most vividly, the outsized personalities who went to trial as the Seattle 7. This is the definitive version of a powerful Northwest story, loaded with lessons for today.”—Jim Kershner, Spokesman-Review journalist, historian, and author, Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life