September 11, 1970: Sabot

Sabot, Volume 1, Number 1
Sabot, Volume 1, Number 1

Apparently, 1970 was the year when the American New Left imploded. After the Kent State massacre on May 4 of that year, the nascent sectarian turbulence among leftist activists nationwide became openly internecine ideological conflict.

In Seattle, the implosion provoked the premature demise of Helix, the now-legendary underground newspaper that was founded in March 1967 and abruptly ceased publication in June 1970. Helix editor and illustrator Walt Crowley (1947-2007) would later confirm the implosion’s role in Helix‘s demise.

“After Kent State, the left had gone totally wiggy,” Crowley told Seattle Weekly in 1989. “And the drug scene was brutal.” Within the wake of Helix, the local media needs of Seattle’s counterculture would be served — albeit only temporarily — by the more overtly political and brazenly militant newspaper Sabot, whose debut issue was published on the date in focus here. The new paper was founded by the Seattle Liberation Front to fill the alt-journalistic void left in Seattle after Helix.

Sabot‘s collective staff crucially included local radical feminists among its leadership, and thus its pages featured critiques of male chauvinism within the contemporary antiwar and Black liberation movements. The new paper also reported on the then-ongoing Seattle Seven conspiracy trial as witnessed by trial defendant and Sabot staffer Susan Stern (1943-1976), among others.

The militant rhetoric typically employed within the pages of Sabot was evident on the very first page of the debut issue, where the collective staff introduced itself with the following words, which also explained the alleged etymology of the word “sabotage”:

“Sabot means wooden shoe. People in Europe, where strikes were outlawed, used to throw their wooden shoes in factory machinery during periods of union organizing. The shoes stopped the works. Those of us who produce Sabot are antagonistic to those who manage the machinery of the United States. We too do what we can to destroy the works. . . . All the money for this issue came out of the pockets of our people who are very poor. If you do not like the paper, remember the message of Wicked John, ‘Here — take a chunk of fire and go start your own hell.'”

Sabot, Volume 1, Number 15, December 30, 1970, which covered the Seattle Seven conspiracy trial
Sabot, Volume 1, Number 15, December 30, 1970, which covered the Seattle Seven conspiracy trial

Noteworthy contributors to Sabot included local underground cartoonist Shary Flenniken and the aforementioned Susan Stern, who would later publish a candid and controversial memoir of her experiences as a radical activist, With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman, prior to her tragic death in 1976. Other women involved in the Sabot collective included Py Bateman, who would later found Seattle’s Feminist Karate Union, and Kathy Ingalls, later known as Kathy Severn.

Just like the fragmented left from which it emerged, Sabot was immediately troubled by political dissonance within its editorial collective, due mainly to an internal power struggle involving feminists over the issues of male chauvinism and editorial control and direction. After just a few months, the dysfunctional staff was no longer able to assemble a complete issue together, and the newspaper abruptly ceased publication in January 1971. Nevertheless, some renegade members of the collective would continue to publish sporadic issues for several weeks afterwards.

Several former Sabot staff members would later form the Weatherman-influenced George Jackson Brigade collective, which met its violent demise in a bank robbery and shootout in Tukwila, Washington, on January 23, 1976, during which former staffer Bruce Seidel was killed and the remaining members of the collective were captured.

Twenty-four issues of Sabot were published in all. The final issue was published on April 20, 1971. A complete set of Sabot is available for viewing at University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Sources: “Sabot means wooden shoe,” Sabot, September 11, 1970, p. 2; Susan Stern, With the Weathermen: The Personal Journal of a Revolutionary Woman (Doubleday & Company, 1975; Rutgers University Press, 2007); Bart Becker, “The Beats Go On,” Seattle Weekly, November 29, 1989, p. 34; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 1995).

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