After 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, students all over the country walked out of their classrooms to demand political action against gun violence. A one-girl protest in Sweden sparked a global strike among youth worried for their future and pushing for action against climate change. After the 2007-2009 recession, hundreds of thousands of people camped out on public lands all over the country to protest wealth inequality.

Some of the most impactful movements of the 2010s had roots in activism that came before. But this decade — with its advances in technology, the organizing power of social media and a unique political climate — has endowed movements with new energy and ideas.

Just as the civil-rights movement fought back against racist segregation, disenfranchisement, and lynchings of Black people, the 2010s have seen people come together to address some of the most pressing social issues of our time.

In the 2010s, Washington found itself at the center of some of these national social shifts.  Voters here approved same-sex marriage well before it became the law of the land. Amid the rising trend of anti-immigrant sentiment nationally, Seattle has adamantly remained a “sanctuary city.” Before Black Lives Matter drew national attention to the issue of police brutality, Washington had already been shocked into action and eventually became the first state in the U.S. to pass a police-accountability and -training measure.

With a national increase in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric that has emboldened white supremacist and white nationalist groups this decade, Seattle saw a 400% increase in reported hate crimes since 2012. In 2018, Washington had the fourth-highest number of reported hate crimes in the U.S.

It has been a decade of great turmoil and great change, a time of extreme divisions and of people coming together to take action.


What was Seattle’s role in some of the biggest changes of the past 10 years? We looked back at some of the most impactful movements of the 2010s to explore what they’ve meant for a changing Seattle.

Criminal-justice reform | Occupy | LGBTQ+ rightsMarijuana legalization/decriminalizationGun control & gun rights | Black Lives MatterStanding Rock, Mauna Kea, MMIW & Indigenous Rights |New populism| #MeToo | Climate strike

Criminal-justice reform

Emergence: 2010

Significant local events: No New Youth Jail protests, Block the Bunker protests

Although the number of children under confinement in King County is at a 20-year low, the county incarcerates youth of color at 5.6 times the rate of white youth, according to county data. Organizations like No New Youth Jail (NNYJ), which grew out of opposition to a 2012 tax levy to build a new youth jail and family court buildings in King County, believe children shouldn’t be detained at all, that the country should invest in preventive measures and alternatives to youth detention instead.

The $232 million Children and Family Justice Center opposed by NNYJ is almost built now, but King County has rolled out a “Zero Youth Detention” plan.

And in 2016, a “Block the Bunker” campaign successfully blocked plans to build a $149 million police station in North Seattle while the SPD was still undergoing significant reforms as part of a Department of Justice (DOJ) consent decree.


Though prison abolition has roots in the 1970s, Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book “The New Jim Crow” brought the topic back to the national conscience by drawing a compelling parallel between today’s mass-incarceration system and the Jim Crow laws that segregated and disenfranchised Black people.

In November, Florida voters approved a measure that restores voting rights to millions of ex-felons in the state. In Seattle, organizers continue to push for prevention and alternatives to jail.


Emergence: 2011, New York

Significant local events: May Day protests 2012

When 84-year-old Dorli Rainey was pepper-sprayed by a Seattle police officer at an Occupy Seattle march in November 2011, no one imagined she’d become a symbol of the movement. But the image of a senior woman drenched in milk to neutralize the effects of the chemical became a symbol of the movement’s power to mobilize hundreds of thousands across generations and across the country to take to streets and encampments.

The Occupy movement kicked off the decade when more than a thousand protesters took over Zuccotti Park in New York’s Financial District on Sept. 17, 2011, to express discontent over wealth inequality in the U.S. and demand accountability for the investment bankers responsible for the financial crisis that began in late 2007.

Protesters at encampments across the nation insisted, “We are the 99%,” a rallying cry that highlighted that the majority of wealth in the U.S. is concentrated among the top 1% of income earners. The leaderless movement demanded that the capitalist status quo be completely altered. Critics felt the movement lacked clarity in its goals. It ultimately failed after the camps were cleared, but many of its central grievances and messages have informed current candidates’ political platforms.

The ties forged through Occupy Seattle created networks among the city’s organizers. Many actions and movements — like the Food For Everyone program in Capitol Hill — were born out of those connections and continue in the city’s organizing efforts today.


LGBTQ+ rights 

Re-emergence: 2011, national

Significant local events: Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and Ingersoll vs. Arlene’s Flowers

They married in one of the 38 states in which same-sex marriage was legal in 2012. Prior to the 2015 Supreme Court case that ended the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which had defined marriage as between a man and a woman — Witt’s marriage was not recognized in the eyes of her employer, the U.S. government. But that wasn’t the only battle Witt faced as a lesbian woman.

U.S. Air Force Major Margaret Witt, who grew up in Tacoma, had been suspended from duty in 2004 for being lesbian. Although she’d never disclosed her sexual orientation to anyone in the military, she was discharged in 2006 under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people from serving openly. In 2011, after five years in the federal court system, Witt won the right to be fully reinstated. DADT was repealed.

In 2012, Washington state began allowing LGBTQ+ marriage, and Witt and her partner married in Spokane. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, federally recognizing LGBTQ+ marriage nationwide.

In 2017, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against a Richland florist who refused to sell flowers for the wedding of two men. More openly LGBTQ+ celebrities are in the spotlight, and broader acceptance has been reflected in the media and popular culture.

This decade has also seen setbacks for LGBTQ+ people. President Donald Trump’s stance against transgender people in the military took effect in April. In October, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job at a funeral home when she came out as trans, brought the first transgender-rights case to the Supreme Court. The case will decide whether transgender people are entitled to sex-based protections under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected in 2020.


Marijuana legalization/decriminalization

Emergence: 2012

Significant local events: Washington Initiative 502 legalizes marijuana

On Nov. 6, 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states nationally to legalize marijuana for recreational use. As of 2019, 11 states have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

This comes after decades of fighting for the decriminalization of marijuana and after several states passed legislation allowing its medical use. In November this year, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level; however, the bill needs approval by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-dominant Senate.

The bill would give states the right to enact their own policies and incentivize states to clear the criminal records of people with low-level marijuana offenses. As marijuana arrests disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color, this could have a significant impact in criminal-justice reform.

Gun control & gun rights

Emergence: 2012

Significant local events: Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting

Lasting local impacts: Initiative 1639 passed in Washington in 2018

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot through the doors of Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School bearing loaded semi-automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He killed 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, six staff members, his mother and eventually himself.

Sandy Hook shook the nation at a level perhaps untouched since the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, when two shooters killed 13 students and teachers. Twenty years later, mass shootings at schools and in public places are terrifyingly common, but the mass murder of 20 first graders was a more horrifying reality than many could believe.

The movements for gun control and gun rights have long moved in lockstep, battling for ground, but Sandy Hook propelled a new burst of energy in both movements. Very little changed in response. Several states made small changes to local laws in favor of gun control, particularly on assault-style weapons, but in April 2013, a proposed federal ban failed to pass.


In the seven years since Sandy Hook, many more school shootings have occurred, including a shooting at Washington’s Marysville Pilchuck High School that killed four students. There’s also been an increase in hate-motivated mass shootings in public places.

The 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, ignited another burst of action. With 17 of their classmates and teachers dead, student survivors of the shooting protested outside the White House, and Emma González became the face of student outrage when she gave a speech condemning the common refrain of “thoughts and prayers” from politicians.

The Parkland students’ protests launched many more gun-violence protests in 2018, including the 2 million-strong March for Our Lives and the National School Walkout on the anniversary of Columbine. Gun-rights activists counterprotested, pushing back against calls for stricter gun laws.

In November, Washington state passed Initiative 1639, which defined the term “semiautomatic assault rifle” to include all semi-automatic rifles, raised the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, imposed a 10-day waiting period to claim a rifle from a dealer, and expanded background checks to include medical records.

But there have been no significant federal measures in favor of gun control in the last decade. As of Dec. 27, the Gun Violence Archive reported 410 mass-shooting incidents in the U.S. in 2019.

Black Lives Matter

Emergence: 2013, online

Significant local events: Police shootings of John T. Williams, Che Taylor and Charleena Lyles; Marissa Johnson interrupts Bernie Sanders rally, BLM protests at holiday tree-lightings, passage of Initiative 940

In 2010 First Nations woodcarver John T. Williams was walking down the street with a block of cedar wood and a pocket knife when Seattle police Officer Ian Birk shouted for Williams to put the knife down. Four seconds later, Birk fired four shots. Williams died at the scene.


The shooting shocked Seattle, launching widespread calls for reform and accountability for a police department that had often been accused of brutality and bias. Later, a DOJ investigation of the Seattle Police Department found evidence of excessive force and biased policing.

Across the nation, police killings of several unarmed Black men drew similar outrage. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood-watch leader George Zimmerman; Eric Garner cried out “I can’t breathe” as an officer used an illegal chokehold to subdue him; and when 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, monthlong demonstrations and the police’s militarized response galvanized the nation.

When Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013, activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi described their hurt with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media. With the power of social media and advances in cellphone video technology, “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) was poised to become a powerful movement.

In Seattle, BLM activist Marissa Johnson famously took over the stage at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally and brought concerns about police brutality to the 2016 presidential race. Transcending politics, the movement inspired San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to sit or kneel during the national anthem in personal protest of police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S. Many prominent athletes, including several Seahawks players and soccer star Megan Rapinoe, followed suit.

In Seattle, the movement against police brutality drove legislative change. Initiative 940 removed a state law that made it practically impossible to criminally charge police officers who wrongfully use deadly force.

Standing Rock, Mauna Kea, MMIW & Indigenous Rights

Emergence: 2014, Sioux lands in North and South Dakota, Mauna Kea in Hawai’i


Significant local events: Lummi Nation successfully blocked coal port at Cherry Point, House of Tears Carvers of Lummi Nation tour to raise awareness of indigenous land rights; Seattle Urban Indian Health Institute’s report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The red handprint painted across Rosalie Fish’s mouth drew everyone’s attention at the Washington State 1B high-school track championships in Cheney, Spokane County, this year. The Muckleshoot Tribal School senior and member of the Cowlitz Tribe made national headlines as the handprint and the letters “MMIW” painted on her leg drew attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in the U.S. and Canada and the 30-year movement demanding action. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice found that indigenous women in parts of the U.S. are being murdered at rates more than 10 times the national average.

MMIW is one of several prominent indigenous-rights issues that captured national attention this decade, including opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a 1,100-mile oil pipeline passing under the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux, and Native Hawaiians’ opposition to building the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, a sacred site.

Washington tribes supported the #NoDAPL movement with donations, cash and by journeying to the encampment, bringing firewood from their forests and fish from their rivers and songs from their families.

In February 2017, Seattle became the first major city to divest from Wells Fargo due to its ties to DAPL. The Lummi Nation’s success in blocking the coal port at Cherry Point helped inspire leaders of the DAPL opposition. To raise awareness about proposed oil and coal projects on indigenous lands, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation drove a 22-foot totem pole 5,000 miles through the U.S. and Canada in 2017, including a stop at Standing Rock.


Although the pipeline became operational in June 2017 after President Donald Trump signed an executive order for its approval, the fight for indigenous sovereignty and protection of lands and waters continues. Protesters remain active at Mauna Kea. In Tacoma, the Puyallup Tribe is leading resistance to proposed construction of a liquefied natural-gas facility on the waterfront.

New populism

Emergence: 2015

Significant local events: Several clashes between anti-fascists and the Proud Boys

When New York businessman and reality-TV star Donald Trump announced that he was running for president in 2015, few took it seriously. However, when Trump unfurled his campaign to “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) he tapped into a feeling among voters who’d felt neglected and mischaracterized by mainstream media and disenfranchised by rural “brain drain,” demographic shifts and policies enacted under the Obama administration.

The Tea Party tapped into similar frustrations in the previous decade, and Trump’s slogan hearkens back to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign that declared “Let’s make America great again.” Like Reagan’s campaign, Trump’s promises to be a president for the people came while the memory of economic insecurity during the Great Recession was still fresh, although unemployment decreased and the economy improved during Barack Obama’s second presidential term. Still, many voters connected with Trump’s promises to create jobs, cut taxes and build a wall to keep out immigrants.

Meanwhile, 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign more closely resembled the populism of the 1890s — advocating against corporate influence and for a more equitable society, a message that resonated with the Occupy movement and with many voters in Seattle.

The 2016 presidential election showed the deep divides that have grown within the electorate. Trump won the election, yet only 8% of Seattle voters backed him. While Trump’s campaign message resonated with voters worried about jobs, it also attracted white supremacists and white nationalists. Counties that hosted Trump rallies saw a 226% increase in hate crimes, The Washington Post reported. Several white supremacists who committed deadly crimes this decade specifically declared support for Trump or used talking points from Trump’s speeches.


However, Josh Peacock, a Washingtonian and member of a group that attends MAGA events, says the conservative movement disavows hate groups and is no longer just about MAGA or Trump. “We’re self-proclaimed patriots,” he said, adding that the goal of his group, which he asked not be named, is to get the U.S. “back to the constitutional republic that we are.”

Trump was recently impeached by the House and faces trial in the Senate, but his campaign for reelection remains strongly supported with a new slogan: “Keep America Great.”


Emergence: 2017, online

Significant local events: Seattle Silence Breakers speak out about sexual harassment at Seattle City Light, 11 women accuse David Meinert of sexual assault including rape

In 2006, activist Tarana Burke created a “Me Too” Myspace page for women to share their experiences with sexual assault. With social media and celebrity power behind it, Burke’s “Me Too” idea took off in 2017 after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by several women.

After the allegations, actress Alyssa Milano sent out a call on Twitter for sexual-assault survivors to tweet in solidarity; the hashtag “#MeToo” went viral. Catalyzing a global conversation, #MeToo emboldened survivors who had been silenced by fear or shame to tell their stories. 

In July 2018, five women accused Seattle nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert of sexual misconduct, including rape. A month later, six more women came forward. Meinert denied accusations of rape, only admitting to being “handsy” with women in the past. Some of the women who accused Meinert said the #MeToo movement inspired them to come forward.


By the end of 2018, The New York Times reported that 201 powerful men accused of sexual harassment had lost their jobs or major roles after survivors came forward, including Washington state representatives David Sawyer and Matt Manweller.

In the meantime, the Seattle Silence Breakers — forged after a former Seattle City Light employee spoke out about sexual harassment in February 2018 — continue to inspire and push for reform around sexual assault. Their work helped push the Seattle City Council to create an Office of Employee Ombud to support employees and oversee the city’s handling of workplace misconduct.

Climate strike 

Emergence: 2019

Significant local events: Gov. Jay Inslee runs for president on a campaign of climate change, the Lummi nation successfully blocks construction of the coal port at Cherry Point.

Scientists have shown that we’re already seeing the harmful effects of climate change, yet many government officials continue to deny climate change is happening at all.

Earlier this month, Time magazine named a teenage girl its Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg, 16, a Swedish environmental activist who skipped school to camp outside the Swedish Parliament to protest government officials’ inaction around climate change. Thunberg’s one-person protest inspired a global climate strike that saw over 4 million people demonstrating to catalyze government action on climate change.

Although he has dropped out of the presidential race, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign was singularly focused on climate change. Back at home, citing the “accelerating threat of climate change,” Inslee recently pulled support for two Washington natural-gas projects.