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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.

[To track the whole series from the start, click here, then scroll down. Or you can read ahead (and see some nifty illustrations) here, by following the chain links at the bottom of each article.]

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Comment Preferences

  •  "In these three brief recollections, we see (5+ / 0-)

    events as they actually unfolded--shock, individual commitment to resist, escalation of the struggle."

    Yes. We see what people look like when they truly give a damn about outrageous, violent, totalitarianism visibly supplanting a democracy of, by and for the people.

    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.

    [snip]

    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?

    Unfortunately, Occupy has been repelled in the same manner--by State intimidation, brutality, and brazen injustice.

    This is why, IMHO, the requirements of a successful movement, have been dramatically escalated: because it was halted on the public square, which, again, IMHO, is the only place it can actually ultimately win.

    The State has demonstrated what it can and will do, and has made no secret of its preparations and resolve for doing so on a much larger scale if need be in the future.

    This is why, IMHO, the stakes now require that the State cannot be forced to back down and respond to the public unless millions "show up" on a daily basis on Lower Manhattan and in D.C., to shut those places down by simply standing there.

    The State has no problem putting the people's business in gridlock while expediting that of the plutocrats and themselves.

    The people can only succeed on any basis that doesn't require multiple generations if it is willing and capable of putting the plutocracy in gridlock until grievances are thoroughly addressed on the plutocracy's inter-locking Class, Climate and Terror Wars.

    The singularity we are witnessing is the passing of the last wave of people who had the luxury to behave as if the past 30 years did not happen.

    by Words In Action on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:20:23 AM PDT

    •  Yes the continual harassment (3+ / 0-)

      intimidation, surveillance and brutality has disrupted the Occupy movement. And yes the state has all but abdicated to the plutocracy.

      But I don't understand this paragraph of yours:

      The people can only succeed on any basis that doesn't require multiple generations if it is willing and capable of putting the plutocracy in gridlock until grievances are thoroughly addressed on the plutocracy's inter-locking Class, Climate and Terror Wars.

      American Television is a vast sea of stupid. -xxdr zombiexx

      by glitterscale on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:29:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  To clarify, let me take another stab at that. (3+ / 0-)

        In the subsequent remark I describe the two main long-term strategies that the Left is currently destined to employ in lieu of "putting in gridlock."

        Putting in the plutocracy in gridlock, IMHO, is a more expedient method, a short-term method. It requires, as I said,

        ... millions [to] "show up" on a daily basis on Lower Manhattan and in D.C., to shut those places down by simply standing there.
        Camping overnight is not a requirement; in fact, it places burdens on the striking community that distract it, assuming, of course, that the goal is to simply bring business as usual to a complete halt. And that requires millions to simply stand and organize in place in public in these areas, including hubs of commerce, transportation and governance, which alone will prevent business as usual from continuing. Because the plutocracy is fed by business as usual, and the plutocracy needs to be starved and then exterminated through a combination of "reforms" and replacements of various components of the established order.

        The singularity we are witnessing is the passing of the last wave of people who had the luxury to behave as if the past 30 years did not happen.

        by Words In Action on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:51:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  "putting [the plutocracy] in gridlock" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lao hong han, oldpotsmuggler

          sheesh.

          So much for clarification.

          Also, as for

          "the plutocracy needs to be starved and then exterminated through a combination of 'reforms' and replacements of various components of the established order."
          Halting business as usual will starve the beast of plutocracy. Instituting participatory democracy--will exterminate it.

          The singularity we are witnessing is the passing of the last wave of people who had the luxury to behave as if the past 30 years did not happen.

          by Words In Action on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:58:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  The idea being that while there are rules to (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lao hong han, oldpotsmuggler

          prevent unscheduled, unsanctioned mass gathering to protest and demand redress of grievances, there are no laws for "being there," being in the way. Leave the signs and buttons and T-shirts at home. We are everyone. We are legion.

          Chant or conduct street theater intermittently in small, dispersed groups to occasionally spread a message.

          Efforts to enforce loitering laws, if any, would necessarily ensnare the general public, which should be a barrier, though, if not, it could be circumvented by continuously circulating...

          Eventually, the State will reach out to cope.

          The singularity we are witnessing is the passing of the last wave of people who had the luxury to behave as if the past 30 years did not happen.

          by Words In Action on Sun May 05, 2013 at 07:05:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Longer-term resistance, of course, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lao hong han, oldpotsmuggler

      will involve small, independent groups ("cells," if you will) following their own inclinations or some broad set of generically implementable "instructions," in an effort to de-stabilize if not topple the pillars supporting the plutocracy, AND much larger, intentional communities attempting to supplant the cancerous mainstream culture, and thereby the plutocracy, with parallel, alternative, democratic cultures and economies.

      Of the former, there will be both non-violent and violent efforts, I would expect.

      At the same time, elements on the Right will continue to mobilize, and there is a real threat that they will indirectly or directly bring more overt State fascism about.

      The efforts from the Left will undoubtedly take much longer than a mass strike (in the non-violent sense of resistance, in the sense of a unrelenting public demonstration of solidarity and a refusal to go on with business as usual); if they are given the time and opportunity to develop at all. Of course, the question remains and the answer is by no means certain that the people, in the aftermath of such a strike, would be successful in supplanting the established order with "reforms" or overcome by incoming Right-wing militants.

      In the midst of long-term approaches, of course, Climate Change effects will be broadsiding all efforts, weakening the most vulnerable first. And that would include both prongs of the Left's strategy.

      Which speaks highly of the need for a mass strike, which seems virtually impossible without the cooperation of at least some people in the middle, who show no signs of doing so.

      The singularity we are witnessing is the passing of the last wave of people who had the luxury to behave as if the past 30 years did not happen.

      by Words In Action on Sun May 05, 2013 at 06:39:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  OMG, John Kaye is still alive? Thank you John (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han, oldpotsmuggler

    & David...n/t

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