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Oral Histories: Steve Ludwig

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Steve Ludwig grew up in the San Juan Islands and in Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle. He was raised in a family committed to social justice and nonviolence: his father was a conscientious objector during World War II and his mother was active with the American Friends Service Committee in helping relocated Japanese-Americans. While in high school in Bellingham, Ludwig was inspired by neighbors and friends who had gone to the South to work in the civil rights movement, and petitioned for civil rights initiatives in the Northwest. While still in high school, Ludwig drew on his pacifist background to successfully declare himself a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.

Arriving at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1965, Ludwig found a campus at odds between the new counterculture, the rising antiwar and civil rights movements, and the conservative fraternities. He joined the UW chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) the following year, a national student organization founded in 1960 which, inspired by the civil rights movement, rapidly became one of the most active and well-known organizations of the New Left. At UW, the SDS chapter worked primarily around the Vietnam War, combining forces with other student groups to support draft resisters, the active-duty GI movement, and AWOL soldiers, as well as lead demonstrations against the ROTC, recruiters from Dow Chemical (the maker of napalm), and University contracts with the department of defense. A section of SDS, including Ludwig, also attempted to expand SDS’ organizing to reach campus and student workers.

As a student activist, Ludwig took part in many of the mass demonstrations on campus during the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Black Student Union strike and the May 1970 student strike against the war. After leaving the University in the early 1970s, Ludwig looked to other opportunities for social activism as the student and antiwar movements waned, and became involved in 1980s campaigns around nuclear weapons, targeting Bangor Naval Base on Hood Canal. As he says, “I’m just one of those people that like to be involved in whatever’s possible,” and is still active with Jobs With Justice and the antiwar group Sound Non-violent Opponents of War.

Click here to go to a special section on antiwar and student activism during the Vietnam War.

Interviewed by Jessie Kindig on August 12, 2008.