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[The introduction to my effort to help reclaim the revolutionary events of May, 1970 from the Great American Memory Hole. A repost, but I think it actually holds up under a second reading (not because of my brilliant writing, lorry nose, but because of the drama, the majesty of the events it describes).

I originally posted it at Fire on the Mountain in 2010 in an attempt to reclaim the history of the great campus eruption of May, 1970, forty years earlier--the most massive wave of student protest this country has ever seen. It turned out to be the first of 19 (!) diaries following events as they unfolded then. If you don't suffer from tl;dr syndrome, you can read the whole series there right now. It's chainlinked (and illustrated) at that site.]


Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own...

Forty-two years ago today, on Thursday, April 30, 1970, Richard Milhouse Nixon, the president of the United States, appeared on television for a special announcement about the Vietnam War. He told us that US troops, tens of thousands of them, had moved into Cambodia, expanding an already prolonged and costly war into another country. He claimed it was a necessary step toward ending the war, and toward insuring that the US would not be perceived in the world as "a pitiful helpless giant."

Today that incredible upsurge, which pretty much shut down the 1969-70 school year throughout much of the American higher education system, is remembered mainly through one of its most dramatic events--the killing of four students at Kent State University by a sustained fusillade of gunfire from Ohio National Guard troops occupying their campus.

For forty years, the veterans of those days and younger activists have struggled to keep alive the memories of Kent State and of the subsequent police murders of two more students, this time at a traditionally Black college in Mississippi, Jackson State. We have succeeded in this, helped in part by that amazing mnemonic, Neil Young’s heartbreaking song, "Ohio," which opens with the couplet at the start of this piece.

But we have, in significant ways, lost the memory of the vast eruption which Kent State and Jackson State were a part of, and whose flames the killings provided so much fuel for.

Nixon's announcement kicked off the most intense wave of campus struggle this country has ever seen, a month of bitter and exhilarating clashes which triggered huge changes that echo to this day. May, 1970 also changed forever the lives of some significant number of the hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of students and others who took part.

Over the course of next month, I hope to recall--in a series of posts under the heading May '70--some of that legacy, for OGs like myself who were there and for younger folk who may never have learned much at all about the events in question. I will draw on my own memories and those of friends, along with some Internet surfing, especially in the early posts. Ideally, others whose lives were shaped during that heady month will come forward to weigh in with their own thoughts and memories.

There is one final thing I’ll spell out in this first post. You can consider it a reminder for the veterans of those days. Or call it context for young folks who may find it hard to believe that, for instance, in the first week of May 1970, more than 30 ROTC buildings around the country burned or were bombed. 30. More than four a day.

The Vietnam War had created a deep, deep fissure in the American body politic, deeper than anything since the Civil War. And this time the divide was not sectional. It ran through every part of the country, divided communities, split classes, sundered families. If anything it was generational (though that itself is a big overgeneralization). As we sang along with Phil Ochs:

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
And it was that split--between the young and the America we had grown up in--that made us sense, in May of 1970, that we were finally on our own..
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Comment Preferences

  •  Since folk seem to reading (and even (4+ / 0-)

    reccing) this, I'd be interested to know what you remember of May. '70--"Vass you dere, Sharlie?"--and if you are too young, how and what you learned about it...

  •  Yes I do remember (6+ / 0-)

    I've posted here before but of course that was last year, and the year before, and the year before.

    For the benefit of those who weren't around this time a year ago...

    The events of May 1970 have a personal side for me. I was not quite 19 years old; a full-time student on Long Island at a very progressive state university. There was outrage of course; I know that classes were canceled at least once during the month though I no longer recall the exact details.

    On the afternoon of May 4 I was not in class, whether because of cancellations or because I didn't happen to have any classes that afternoon (again, it was a long time ago and memory is not perfect). I was with a group of friends, traveling the side roads of what was then a semi-rural area near our campus (now converted into one of the far suburbs of NYC); the radio was on. A news report announced that there had been killings at Kent State and gave the names of those killed, including Jeffrey Miller. I noted that I had a cousin named Jeff Miller who happened to be a visiting student at Kent State that year. I was certain this was merely coincidental until I got back to campus and called home. My sister (who was a sophomore in high school at the time) answered the phone which was noteworthy in and of itself. I asked her where my mom was. She told me she was at my aunt's apartment, around the corner. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    This was the sort of thing you did not expect to happen. It was incomprehensible to me. It was incomprehensible to my family. If there were any Republicans left in my family up to that point, nobody was admitting it that afternoon or ever again.

    For most of the rest of the nation this was a tragedy; for my family it was a surreal event leading to a ludicrous media circus that continued on and off for years afterwards. Although some of the details have faded over the years others are indelible. The events surrounding Kent State made me more convinced than ever that if our nation was ever going to go to war we'd better have damned good reasons for doing so.

  •  Fewer and fewer of us remember now (6+ / 0-)

    Mimeograph machines, Posters, and just plain old word of mouth brought us out in the millions. Even the media would cover us. Movies were made. There really was a movement.
    Free Bobby, Moratorium, May Day, I was there for many of them. Soaked bandanason faces, and teeshirts wrapped around hands, throwing tear gas cannisters back into the blue lines. But even with all that, we lost to our Reptile Overlords. They were, and are even more so today, most powerful.
     Longhair meant something once. I'm one of the few still wearing my freak flag.
     I'm not sure why things haven't changed for the better, but Phil Och's was a man with a clue.

    "The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced." -Zappa My Site

    by meagert on Wed May 01, 2013 at 10:51:11 AM PDT

  •  I'd already been suspended from school (6+ / 0-)

    the previous fall for selling the local radical paper on the junior high school campus. I'd been to the hospital after being jumped from behind in a classroom for being a "communist."

    That month of May I was expelled for trying to lead a student strike.

    When I heard about the killings at Kent State and Jackson State I felt it confirmed that some of the adults in charge of my life would rather see me and kids like me dead than continuing to protest their goddamn war and the screwed up racist society that produced it.

    So yeah, I was 11 and that was a formative time. And no, I haven't forgotten.

  •  I was on campus at Youngstown State, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han, Yasuragi

    40 or 50 miles from Kent State.  Not that far...
    It seemed far in a way, much less so now, but I knew former high school classmates that were going to KSU.  It is hard to remember details anymore; I've never been good at some kinds of memory and as I age, it gets worse.  Or the distance in time worsens it.  

    But how well I remember the absolute horror.  The fear that our own country could do this to us - their kids - as we protested what our country was doing to us - their kids - sons in particular - sending them to a pointless and unwinnable war.  When we didn't even have the right to vote for the people who sent them there.

    If you are an 18-year old, THIS is how you got that right to vote.  And I feel that every 18 - 21 year old owes not us, who helped get the voting age laws changed, but themselves.  To help us make sure we don't have more Viet Nams, or Iraqs, sending youth to pointless and unwinnable wars.

    I wish voting was more effective than it appears to be, and yet I insist to everyone I know that it is the most important part of being a citizen.  We have to keep fighting for what we believe in.

    Horror.  And fear.  And immense anger.  That's what I remember.

    Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts. -Leo Rosten, author (1908-1997)

    by Spirit of Life on Wed May 01, 2013 at 11:29:37 AM PDT

  •  I was 8 months into a 13-month term... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yasuragi

    ...in a federal prison camp in Arizona for refusing to accept the draft and my induction into the Army.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Wed May 01, 2013 at 07:52:44 PM PDT

  •  I remember. (0+ / 0-)

    I'd grown up being taught that the government was not always our friend, having parents affected by the McCarthy years and a brother regularly tailed for his activism in SDS.  But Kent and Jackson States showed me the government would just as soon see me die as voice my protest.  I'd been at anti-war protests since I was six years old on my brother's shoulders, and no, this didn't slow me down.  But it sure did give me a sharper perspective on my country.

    "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox." -- Willie Stargell

    by Yasuragi on Thu May 02, 2013 at 06:23:21 AM PDT

  •  Awesome thread. My compliments for (0+ / 0-)

    your efforts here and in other posts in the series.

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