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Oral Histories: Megan Cornish

At high school in the early 1960s, Megan (pronounced MEG-on) Cornish started to become aware of the civil rights and antiwar movements but it was later, at Cornell University in upstate New York, that she became committed herself to activism. After graduation in 1970, she moved with a radical collective to Seattle to aid “movement organizing” on the West Coast. Upon their arrival, the collective was recruited by the staff of the GI coffeehouse in Tacoma, the Shelter Half, to take over the coffeehouse’s staffing, and Cornish was introduced to the burgeoning GI antiwar movement.

The Shelter Half was one of a number of coffeehouses near civilian bases staffed largely by civilian activists that sought to provide a space for soldiers to socialize off-base and serve as centers for antiwar activism. The project of the Shelter Half proved difficult, as Cornish remembers trying to establish ties to the rapidly rotating population of soldiers on base as well as dealing with police harassment and the coffeehouse collective’s internal politics. However, the space provided by the Shelter Half, the leafleting staff did on base, and the newspaper they helped put out (called Fed Up!) aided soldiers in building an antiwar movement that debilitated the military. Cornish remembers in particular the case of the “Fort Lewis 26,” who refused to deploy to Vietnam.

After two years at the coffeehouse, Cornish became disenchanted with the decentralized New Left politics ofthe coffeehouse collective, and moved to Seattle to join Radical Women. Click here to watch a 2005 oral history where she describes her work with Radical Women and her time working as one of the first women in the Electrical Trades Trainee Program at Seattle City Light.

Click here to go to a special section on the GI Movement and the Shelter Half coffeehouse.

Megan Cornish was interviewed in Seattle on August 7, 2008, by Jessie Kindig and Steve Beda.