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Part 5 of a series on the broadest and most militant student uprising in US history, reposted from last year here and at Fire on the Mountain.

May 5th, 1970. As Tuesday dawned, the whole country, the whole world, knew about the Kent State massacre. The famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio on one knee, keening over the body of Jeffrey Miller, snapped by a Kent undergrad seconds after the National Guard ceased firing on Monday, went on the Associated Press newswire that afternoon and was seared into the nation’s consciousness the next morning.

Chip Young, one of several friends who volunteered memories when I started this project, recalls:

I would have been 11. I remember my older brother informing my mom about the killings. Her response: "Oh no, not in America." Perfect moment of shattered idealism.

Nan Faessler blipped me a single sentence:
Because of the killings at Kent State, I made a decision to drop out of graduate school and devote my time to working with the anti-war movement full time.

John Kaye’s response:

I never went to college, but at the time was living near Marquette U in Milwaukee, working in a Movement bookstore. What the right wing at the time used to call an "outside agitator." Even before the invasion of Cambodia, at that point in my life activism was everything.

When the news hit, especially about Kent State, and shortly after, about Jackson State, things sort of...exploded. I didn't sleep for 3 days, up all night at meetings, silk-screening clenched fists on t-shirts, etc. Demonstrations and whatever else we could think of all day and evening. The only time in my life I ever gave an impromptu speech, to a smallish group of students gathered just south of the campus, about the Panthers, I think.

In these three brief recollections, we see events as they actually unfolded--shock, individual commitment to resist, escalation of the struggle.

In retrospect, because what happened happened, it seems inevitable. But things could conceivably have gone another way. Some students fled the campuses and more were pulled out by terrified parents. Ohio wasn’t the only state where the National Guard had been called up--before the end of May, something like 16 governors had mobilized a total of over 35,000 troops. Police forces coast to coast were on high alert.

In a comment when I reposted yesterday’s May ‘70 article at the left-liberal Daily Kos website, a blogger who goes by Empower Ink wrote:

For me, and many other college students, Kent State had a chilling effect in our participation in protests, following so closely to King's and Bobby's assassinations and Chicago '68.

While I remained very actively politically after Kent State, through Nixon's impeachment and Raygun's administration, I did not go to a massive anti-war protest until the day after the 1st Gulf War started.

While Empower Ink continued her activism, many didn’t or never started because of Kent State. The Beach Boys, a group whose greatness I normally defend to the bitter end, echoed this approach in 1971's disgraceful "Student Demonstration Time" (lyrics by Mike Love, natch) which proclaimed:

    I know we're all fed up with useless wars and racial strife
    But next time there's a riot, well, you'd best stay out of sight.

We had just seen the iron fist behind the mask of American democracy and we had learned that it didn’t smite only Black people in ghettos and the differently pigmented inhabitants of small countries half a world away. Challenge the system hard enough, and even college campuses could become free-fire zones. If it had happened at half a dozen other campuses, might the movement have been stopped in its tracks?

Maybe not, because millions of us were not intimidated but outraged--and driven to act.

In the event, what did happen was that we escalated--and the other side blinked! California Governor Ronald Reagan, who had only a month earlier blustered about having “a bloodbath” on campuses, ordered all of the schools in California’s vast higher education system closed until May 11. College administrators around the country suspended classes, convened campus meetings, issued public statements condemning the invasion of Cambodia and the shootings at Kent State.

Meanwhile, strikes and protests broke out from Portland East to Portland West--and Alaska and Hawai’i too. At least 100 more schools went on strike on the 5th, with hundreds and hundreds more to follow in the coming days. And enraged protesters took the struggle off the campus, like the thousands at the University of Washington who surged onto Interstate 5 and took it over, marching into Seattle.

At NYU, where I was based, the already shutdown campus saw a dramatic escalation when a couple of hundred of us burst into Warren Weaver hall on the Washington Square campus and occupied it. The whole second floor of this unattractive and (it turned out) uncomfortable building was the Courant Institute, which housed a heavily refrigerated, multi-million dollar, state of the art CDC 6600 computer. This monster (whose functions could be performed today by a decent pocket calculator) was funded by the Atomic Energy Commission and crunched numbers to build up the US nuclear arsenal.

The next day, the NYU administration got a telegram reading, in full:

We, as members of the N.Y.U. community occupying the Courant Institute, are holding as ransom the Atomic Energy Commission's CDC 6600 computer. At a general meeting in Loeb Student Center, the people put forth the following demands: the University must pay 100 Thousand Dollars to the Black Panther Defense Committee for bail for one Panther presently held as political prisoner in New York City. Failure to meet this demand by 11 a.m. Thursday, May 7, will force the people to take appropriate action. In addition, if the University Administration should call in police or other authorities, the above action will be taken immediately. In the meantime, no private property will be destroyed.
    (Signed) N.Y.U. Community on Strike

No, we were definitely not blinking.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We should only be (3+ / 0-)

    so unblinking today. Collectively, America allowed fear, in the wake of 9/11, to rule the day and became complacent while the warhawks jumped all over this "opportunity". We turned a blind eye as our military sent our youth to kill and be killed to make the world safe for oil companies. Patriotism lost its meaning and became a code word for revenge and intolerance of all sorts.

    While this and other like-minded "unpatriotic" communities were protesting these actions, our voices were drowned out by cheerleaders of the effort. Far too many saw this response as not only justified, but "blessed" by the almighty creator. The CIC Bush/Cheney and the Pentagon were the unblinking ones as they rode roughshod over a country that was not threat to us.

    A sad chapter in American history.

  •  Portland West (3+ / 0-)

    From the PSU Vanguard
    News: 1970: Memories of confrontation

    News: 1970: Memories of confrontation
    Melissa Steineger; Photos from the 1970 Viking yearbook.
    June 10, 2010

    Portland police crack down on protesters in the Park BlocksSMITH CENTER COMMANDEERED by protestors. Demonstrators barricading the Park Blocks. Outraged citizens demanding that PSU "shut those kids up." An unexpected eruption of violence.

    May 1970 was a tumultuous time for Portland State. For many, emotions still run high about the week that students clashed with each other and police.

    The events began as part of a great national spasm of emotion following the Ohio National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State University.

    At Portland State, classes were cancelled for two days and protesters barricaded the Park Blocks (still open to car traffic at the time) for speeches and demonstrations. After a week of "rap" sessions with Portland State administrators, the protestors agreed to dismantle the barricades.

    News: 1970: Memories of confrontation (Supplement)

    Many Portland State alumni wrote and called to share their memories of the violent clash between Portland Police and student demonstrators on May 11, 1970. Protests against the Vietnam War, the shipping of nerve gas through Oregon, the imprisonment of Black Panther Bobby Seale, and most notably, the infamous shooting deaths of four students at Kent State, came to a head that spring day. Here are accounts sent by e-mail that did not appear in the print version of the spring 2010 issue of Portland State Magazine.

    My Story:Portland State University -May 11, 1970. by Tom Geil
    March, 2010

    Wilma Morrison, professor of Journalism at Portland State in the 70’s emphatically taught us not to become emotionally involved in our stories.  “These are serious times with serious issues, but you need to remain an observer and record history accurately,” she extolled us.

    Blood drenched clothing, severe gashes, screaming, crying – that morning had it all.  And how could I not help but get involved in my story.  I may have been a reporter/photographer for the Portland State University Vanguard student paper, but these were my classmates, my constituents, and abruptly those who had been strangers were now my friends.

    PTSD, don't leave 'Nam without it.

    by BOHICA on Thu May 05, 2011 at 05:38:14 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for writing this series........ (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han

    History is indeed important.

    Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

    by princesspat on Thu May 05, 2011 at 08:06:30 AM PDT

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