Fifty Years ago, there was a successful populist revolt in Seattle!

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Sign-carrying members of the Friends of the Market picketed City Hall in February 1971 to protest the proposed Pike Plaza urban-renewal project for Pike Place Market. (Richard S. Heyza / The Seattle Times, 1971)

There is a lesson for progressives to learn from the past successful effort to save the Pike Place Market from being torn down.

Seattle’s initiative 1 in 1971 to save the Pike Place Farmers Market from a redevelopment plan that would have replaced 90 percent of the Market with offices, hotels, and a parking garage. The initiative collected 25,000 signatures in just three weeks. And this was done without any paid signature gatherer; it was accomplished with volunteers!

The initiative passed with 59% of the votes cast. Despite the city council having voted unanimously for the redevelopment plan, both daily newspapers endorsing the plan, and the federal government offering millions of dollars in urban renewal funds to tear down the old buildings.

This was a populist revolt against an elitist attitude of modernizing Seattle that ignored the city’s heritage. Yet, at its core, the initiative could be considered a conservative movement to improve the present conditions that allowed open access to everyone rather than to tear down the open forum of the Pike Place Market and replace it with a soulless market that would constrain public access.

Should progressives consider that populists will support change when it preserves a democratic condition that doesn’t threaten to tear it apart.


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