Bellevue student activism in the 60s

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, leading activist for the Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. He even received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work combating racial injustices using methods of nonviolence. Considering all the work he did for the country in progressing the rights of African Americans, people disregarded his preachings about nonviolence and took to angry resolutions. An African American student at Seattle Community College was arrested for telling his fellow students to burn the American flag at a human rights assembly.

During the 1950s and 60s, the United States government helped the South Vietnamese army fight a war against their northern counterparts in a civil war they would determine whether or not Vietnam would become a communist state. The war used a lot of controversial techniques in an attempt to pursue victory, including a chemical called Agent Orange that they would douse the forests in to kill plant life, also killing or injuring any of the people in its radius. However, the Tet Offensive in January 1969 was the spark that would really place unrest in America as the government could not play it off as a victory. However, even before then the people of Bellevue College had things to say about the war. In March of 1968, a story was released depicting Americans in the war, talking about things like Americans walking into an ambush and distributing press releases stating that they won before the fight was actually over. In May of the same year, the Ad Hoc Vietnam Committee of Bellevue College honored those who protested the war and were strong enough to stand against it, notably praising Stimson Bullitt, president of the only broadcasting committee that openly opposed the war in Vietnam.

In November of 1968, the Tacoma city government passed Ordinance No. 18669, which stated that should any person willfully publish or distribute any written document meant to incite crime or disturb the peace in any way could be prosecuted. Because of what was called “an abridgement of free speech,” local students protested by boycotting their classes and 150 of them showed up at a Tacoma City Council meeting to get the ordinance repealed. According to two Bellevue College students who attended the meeting at Tacoma Community College, the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments stood behind the students in their protest against the ordinance. However, despite the mass protest, the city mayor stated that he would not push to repeal it.

Eugene McCarthy was a Senator for Minnesota who challenged Lyndon B. Johnson’s run for the Democratic nomination for United States presidency in 1968. McCarthy was popular because he managed narrow vote margins against the current President. However, with his anti-Vietnam war stance, it also showed that within the Democratic voters there existed a division among the citizens’ stance on the Vietnam War. In April of 1968, Louis Khan, Director of College Planning at Bellevue College hosted students in his home to help think up ways to support McCarthy’s presidential campaign. Kahn stated that this in itself was a form of protest to the war simply by supporting somebody they believed could end it. Unlike other forms of protest, this had a positive influence and together they organized events to help fundraise the campaign.

In February of 1969, 110 students representing all of the Community Colleges in the state of Washington hosted a funeral march that started in Tacoma and ended in Olympia. They would make the trip in a caravan of cars with funeral music playing via loudspeakers on top of the cars to protest the lack of funding for community colleges. Once in Olympia, they planned on presenting the Governor with statements on how each college would be affected by the budget cuts. One of the colleges involved, Green River Community College, shut down their gym, library and student lounge for a day to show what might have happened if the budget cuts were to take place.