Protest on Trial cover

Kit Bakke

WSU Press: 2018


It’s December 1970, and surprise witness Horace “Red” Parker is mumbling his way through his testimony. The prosecutor has to keep telling the self-made activist infiltrator to speak up. The defense attorney keeps objecting to Parker’s constant inferrals of what the defendants must have been thinking as they organized the anti-Vietnam War protest they’re on trial for. Which, as Kit Bakke points out, is ironic, because “that’s what defines the crime of conspiracy—people assuming they know what other people are thinking.”

But the trial of the Seattle 7 never really was about conspiracy. As defendant Chip Marshall said, “The judicial system has to be aware that justice and obedience are not the same thing.” And what the group of activists had done was essentially civil disobedience, protesting an increasingly unpopular war. Seattle in 1970 did not welcome disobedience.

Bakke’s recounting of the trial of the Seattle 7 is fascinating and eminently readable, and thoroughly fills a gap in the history of anti-war activism. Bakke does a fine job of sketching characters and the milieu of anti-war activism in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The Seattle 7 were ultimately acquitted of conspiracy (though they were thrown in jail for a few months for contempt of court for their theatrical courtroom antics) and several of the defendants continued to be social activists. A surprise cultural bonus is discovering that defendant Jeff Dowd was the model for The Dude, the main character in the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski.