In recognition of its 50 years as an educational institution and hotspot for social activism, Seattle Central College held a civil march around its Capitol Hill campus on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The first community college in Seattle, the school opened in September 1966, with faculty and staff camping out in the building the night before the first day of class, “perhaps knowing that they were making history,” said Seattle Central president Sheila Edwards Lange on Thursday. 

“Thousands of students had registered for classes and were ready to begin their education,” she said. “No longer would they have to go elsewhere in the Puget Sound region for affordable, accessible higher education.”

Edwards Lange was joined by current and former faculty in marching up East Pine Street and crossing the campus along Broadway on Thursday, adding protest to the college’s commemoration day, which was just the start of a yearlong celebration.

Falling in line with the school’s history of activism, this year the associate of arts program is adding a social justice emphasis, Edwards Lange said. 

“Part of protest is moving from the streets to the boardroom to the policymakers, to actually make change happen,” she said, “and so we’re going to make sure our students have the opportunity in the classroom to learn how to move from protest to change.”

Manning the megaphone during Thursday’s march was Carl Livingston, a 27-year political science professor at Seattle Central, who is no stranger to protest. He told the Capitol Hill Times about his experience during the Rodney King march in 1990, which started at Seattle Central and ended downtown; protesters demanded a retrial of the Los Angeles officers who beat the black taxi driver following a high-speed chase.

“They came up with a list of demands for our mayor, and they wanted to march those demands downtown,” he said.

Livingston said the equality movement made great strides from 1965 to 1975, but activism slowed after that and slowed that progress. 

“If we had kept going, this would be a truly equal society now,” he said.

The political science professor also became involved in the Occupy movement, which started on Wall Street in 2011. It was the most grassroots movement he’d seen since the 1960s, Livingston said. For him, that included a few rallies on campus and marches, including one to shut down the University Bridge. 

The Seattle Central president at that time was not as open to protests, said Livingston, who credits Edwards Lange as being more inclusive.
In remarks following the first half of Thursday’s march, Edwards Lange said racial divides, social justice and inequality continue to be important issues for protest, and Seattle Central is a place where movements can grow and spread.

“One of the most challenging issues that we face in our city today is this growing prosperity divide,” she said. “We are witnessing this dramatic transformation in our city. Everywhere we look, there are signs of progress and cranes line the skyline and  an incredible amount of opportunity, but, and I know a lot of you join me in this audience in saying, ‘Our community is prospering, but prosperity for whom and opportunity for whom?’”