If you google Target Seattle today, what you get is the location of the Target department store nearest you. In 1982-1984 Target Seattle had another meaning altogether. Try to imagine just how frightened US citizens were of the possibility of nuclear war and of the Soviets from the McCarthy communist witch hunt, the Cuban missile crisis to the shooting down of the Korean airliner in 1983. People were building bomb shelters. Children were practicing duck and cover drills in their school class rooms.
The threat became real to us in the Pacific NW when the first nuclear submarine, the USS Ohio, arrived at Bangor in August 1982.
People started asking if Seattle is a target, what could we do to keep bombs from falling? Leaders in this discussion emerged from the International YMCA in downtown Seattle, the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Ploughshares (former Peace Corps volunteers), KING-5 TV, University of Washington professors and lawyers from the progressive firm of McDonald Hogue and Bayless. Kay Bullitt, long time social justice activist and the name you see at the top of the list of sponsors of this exhibit, invited people to her house to discuss what could be done about Seattle’s position as a target. This group conceived of a ten-day series of educational events called Target Seattle: Preventing Nuclear War. The organizers chose my husband Aldon Duane Bell to chair the public events of the ten-day program.
I want to pause here to tell you that my early involvement was solely as Don’s wife. I followed along in the supportive role typical of women born before the Second World War. Many other women and men stepped into leadership positions immediately. Many would be more qualified to tell you all about the creation of Target Seattle and the important role this short-lived organization played in waking people up all across the country. My own leadership came later.
The central idea of Target Seattle is about waking up and taking action. We need to do that now, in 2018. In 1982 these were the stated goals.
- The apocalyptic effects of nuclear war, to wake people up to the fact that nuclear war would be the end of everything we know and love. 750,000 people in the Puget Sound region were exposed to this reality through the press.
- An awakening from lethargy, from apathy. Target Seattle would be the tool to rouse people to action, the front edge of a growing wave of anti-war activities across the world. Target Seattle wanted to turn fear into a sharp sense of concern, an awakening to the fact that we had entrusted our future to a small group of cold warriors who be intention or by accident could incinerate the whole earth.
- An exploration of the alternatives: the Peace Through Strength position accompanied by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was the Reagan administration’s position; Unilateral Disarmament, the largest peace movement in the UK; the Nuclear Freeze Campaign, adopted by many faith based organizations and the Democratic Party. David Brower reminded us that love is a resource we will love if we forget to use it.
- Target Seattle strove to inspire people, ordinary citizens, to take action. First by becoming informed. Study the situation. Then, armed with facts, talk to our elected officials and ultimately require them to take action which reflects the views of the American people.
Major players in each of these movements from the government to opinion makers were invited to speak at large public forums, the first of which was held in the Paramount Theater on Sept. 24th, 1982. Then came a week of teach-ins at noon-day brown bag lunches held in a downtown church and evening lectures in Meany Hall at the University of Washington. We were learning.
The week-long program ended with a King Dome events involving thousands of spectators, many speakers and dramatic presentations, a kind of anti-nuclear circus heavy with purpose. Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the International Physicians for Social Responsibility, a pediatrician from Australia was the key note speaker. Her description of what nuclear annihilation looks like was graphic and painful.
While all this planning was going on, four women, Ann Stadler, Virginia McDermott, Lucy Dougall and Kathleen Braden decided to write a love letter asking people in Seattle’s sister city, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, to join us in working to prevent nuclear war. The peace letter said:
The people of Seattle and Tashkent are united through the Sister City Program, through our love for our cities, and through the hopes we share for our children’s futures. Yet if there is a nuclear war, all that we value would be destroyed. . .. We must work together to create peaceful means of resolving conflicts and take steps to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
This letter was printed in English and Russian, the Cyrillic script below the English. The 8 ½ x 14 inche sheets had room for signatures in the manner of a petition. Committee members, friends and family carried copies of this letter to the various events, to churches, to schools and most of all to the final King Dome event. In all 42,000 signatures were gathered on about 3000 pieces of paper.
At the bottom of each letter was printed the promise This letter will be sent to Seattle’s Russian sister city, Tashkent, and to government officials of the Soviet Union and the United States.
After the public events of Target Seattle, the committee met to consider two objectives:
1. How to get the letters to our Sister City in Uzbekistan?
2. What about the Russians?
The teach-ins and talks had covered the American approach but left everyone with the question, what did Russia want? What was their position?
The letters were a voluminous problem Virginia McDermott tried to get them on a plane with a group of travelers heading to Tashkent, but missed that opportunity. As a lark, really, it was decided that we would go as tourists. The itinerary was Moscow, Tashkent, Samarkand and Leningrad as St. Petersburg was called in those days. We engaged a travel agency and thirty-two people signed up.
At this point we connected with Rosanne Royer, wife of mayor Charles Royer and president of the Seattle Tashkent Sister City committee. We wanted to ask if the trip could be sponsored by them and we could officially represent the sister city organization.
The story of this trip will be published soon by Epicenter Press in Kenmore, WA. It is called Open Borders, A personal story of love, loss and anti-war activism. It is my memoir set during the decade of 1982-1992 and traces our trip. The story follows the creation and dissemination of a multimedia slide show after the trip and the promotion of the Seattle style anti-nuclear movement.
Virginia and Don were the official leaders of the trip. Marlow Boyer was the photographer. Our daughter Ruth and I both went along. There were four other young people, a journalist, two doctors, a lawyer, an insurance salesman, a clergyman, wives and husbands, single women, all paid their own way. We prepared for the trip by inviting Soviet experts to coach us on how to behave, what to say when engaged in conversation. We all took the peace petitions in our suitcases and took our responsibilities as advocates for friendship and love very seriously.
In Moscow we met the chair of the Soviet Peace Committee, Yuri Zhukov. In Tashkent the mayor and his staff spread the red carpet of welcome for us. There were speeches, concerts, school visits and a peace rally. Virginia remembers the conversation she had with the deputy mayor who said to her, “For years we’ve been waiting for you to come. I lost both of my sons and my husband in the war. I don’t want to lose my grandchildren.”
Trying to understand where the Russians were coming from inspired the 2nd Target Seattle: Soviet Realities. The program opened and closed with events televised by KING 5 TV. Over 500 small group gatherings reaching hundreds of people watched the shows and talked about the questions raised during the programs. Interest spread around the state as other towns felt themselves to be targets of Soviet aggression. Congressman Foley and US Senator Dan Evans co-chaired Target Washington, a signal day event held simultaneously in Yakima, Spokane and Vancouver.
The slide show helped stimulate the October 24th 1984 Target Washington events. The 27 minute multimedia slide show is now on DVD and You tube. Please find the earlier post on my web site and watch the full video there. It portrays our message of mutual concern with the people of Tashkent. The pictures and sound track blend the voices of Americans, Russians, and Uzbeks. As the faces blend one into another, by the end you are not sure who is American and who is Russian or Uzbek.
What we did here in Washington inspired cities around the country to stage their own Target events, involving their own citizens in an effort to learn about nuclear war and then work to prevent the unthinkable.
After the October conferences, the steering committee discussed their future purpose, took stock of the three Target Seattle events designed to educate and mobilize that occurred from 1982 to 1984 and the plethora of new organizations forming to continue peace-building through cultural exchanges. They decided to disband. The mission was accomplished—hundreds of people were involved in creating a future without nuclear war, a future of friendships across the continents.
By the end of the 1980s, dozens of cities across the United States would line up to request sister cities in the USSR. They saw Seattle as a model primarily because our connection with Tashkent never wavered in spite of the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR, the Korean airliner incident, and local pressure by Russian and Baltic Americans to exit the relationship. Many newly-organized Seattle groups—the Peace Chorus, the Peace Park builders, amputee soccer players, to name a few—traveled to or were planning trips to the USSR. In 1985 Seattleites and Soviet citizens saw and heard each other over a Space Bridge established by KING 5 and a Glastelradio TV hosted in Leningrad. Citizen diplomacy involving hundreds of people was taking off from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The warlike rhetoric coming from the Kremlin and the White House softened. By 1988 Gorbachev was in power. He and Reagan communicated in the conciliatory terms of glasnost.
Target Seattle had done its job. 1990 saw the Goodwill games here in Seattle. We need this again, perhaps more than ever. As I say in my book Through the latter half of the 20th century, as much as the Kremlin in Russia and the White House disagreed with how our world should be organized, one felt the leaders grasped their sober responsibility for the future of the whole world and genuinely did not want to put all that fire power to use.
Today, I am not so sure.