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From an anti-Trident protest held at Ground Zero, a center founded next door to the nuclear submarine base on Hood Canal as a resource center for anti-nuclear activists. Click image to go to a special section on anti-nuclear activism. (Courtesy of the Ground Zero Center Records, Special Collections Library, University of Washington)

Pacific NW Antiwar History

This page is one part of a multi-part illustrated history, written by Jessie Kindig, that provides an overview of regional and national antiwar experiences. Click the link below to be taken to each section.

Anti-Reagan demonstration in downtown Seattle, November 15, 1986. (Photo by Michael Melgemre, courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry and UW Digital Collections)

Northwest Antiwar History: Ch 5


Anti-Nuclear Organizing in the 1970s and 1980s, and Beyond

by Jessie Kindig

During the 1970s and 80s, many activists from the civil rights and Vietnam antiwar movements—particularly the pacifist, religious, and civil disobedience wings--reinvested their political energy into anti-nuclear work. As distinguished from the radical politics of the GI movement or the self-defense tactics of the Black Panther Party, anti-nuclear activists drew on a host of pacifist, non-violent, and civil disobedience tactics to bear. Many had backgrounds in progressive religious work, and pacifism was both a protest tactic and a personal philosophy.

The flashpoint in the Northwest was the Navy’s proposed Trident nuclear submarine project, based at Bangor Navy Base on Hood Canal. When the project was first proposed in 1973, local environmental groups, property owners, and county officials worried about funding the base were opposed, but the protests spread by the mid-1970s to more radical activists opposed to nuclear weapons on moral and political grounds. A network of groups staged civil disobedience demonstrations, cutting fences, planting “peace gardens” inside the facility, and, in 1977, purchasing a parcel of land near Bangor to serve as a base for protest activities (nicknamed “Ground Zero for nonviolence”). The first missile was successfully brought to the base in 1982, despite a small flotilla of activists trying to block the ship’s passage, but the anti-nuclear movement was the center of Seattle’s antiwar and peace activism in the 1970s and 80s, and continued the rupture between society and the military that had begun during the Vietnam War.[1]

Though the 1980s were certainly a retreat from the protest movements and radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, campaigns against nuclear weapons, military interventions in other countries, Reagan's "Star Wars" defense system, and for divestment from South Africa's apartheid regime formed small currents of protest against militarism and aggressive American foreign policy. These currents crystallized in protest around the 1991 Gulf War in the Middle East.

American foreign policy in the 1990s changed from outright war to a series of small, swift, "humanitarian interventions," and backed global neoliberal policies that led to what many termed "economic warfare" against people in developing countries. The late 1990s saw the Global Justice Movement take up the question of global corporations and social and economic justice, and Seattle became an expression of the strength of the movement during the 1999 anti-WTO protests in the heart of the city.

Back to:
Northwest Antiwar Activism: A Brief History

Copyright (c) 2008 Jessie Kindig


Explore the Anti-Nuclear Special Section:
Anti-Nuke Section Home | Oral Histories


[1] Brian Casserly, “Confronting the US Navy at Bangor, 1973-1982) Pacific Northwest Quarterly 95:3 (Summer 2004): 130-139.