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[What it was like as the largest student strike in US history picked up steam, 43 years ago today...]

May the Third, 1970 was a Sunday.

The main thing about it was that we still really didn't quite have a handle on what was happening. Not did we know what was about to happen. Those who had spent years fighting campus battles--or who felt ourselves part of the broader multifaceted forces of social justice generally known as The Movement--were pretty much as full of excitement and uncertainty as the high school sophomore who had suddenly decided that she would cut school on Monday and head on over to see what was happening at the local college.

With the benefit of hindsight, of course, we now know that forces were gathering which would only one day in the future recast everything that had happened so far and intensify it by an order of magnitude.

What were we doing on May 3?

Though Students for a Democratic Society was gone, and with it any chance of real national leadership and coordination, it would be wrong to overestimate our isolation. Local successor groups and semi-formal regional networks were solidly in place in many parts of the country.

The first thing we did was share information. That was harder in the pre-Internet days, but every nugget plucked from a high school classmate or sib who had gone to a different school halfway across the country, every report from the radio, the teevee or the newspaper, circulated immediately.

And we networked. 20 campuses in the mid-Atlantic area had representatives at an emergency meeting at the University of Pennsylvania to coordinate strike activity.

And we organized. In the Boston area alone, organizers at M. I. T., Harvard. Tufts and Boston University were building for mass meetings on Monday to vote on strike proposals, while students at Brandeis met in their dormitories on the 3rd to decide what action to take. More than a dozen campus newspapers around the country endorsed the demands coming out from New Haven rally two days before.

[Interestingly the article from the Harvard Crimson issue of May 4th where I found some of this info reported 1. that a "National Strike Committee" had come out of the May Day rally in New Haven and 2. that there was a fourth demand, Impeach Nixon.  A good call, history would prove, but I don't remember it myself, and for sure it was not on the semi-canonical 11x17 black on yellow strike poster.]

What were they doing on May 3?

Around the country, school administrators, government officials and cops were also feverishly sharing information and trying to plan their response to something they had never expected--a deeply militant and locally-centered national student strike.

Newspaper editorials ran the whole gamut, from full-throated denunciations to timid declarations that we were right to be concerned and it was too bad that we were going about things in the wrong way.

On May 3, Governor Rhodes of Ohio, raging after the National Guard contingent he deployed to Kent State failed to stop the burning of the campus ROTC building the night before, said of student protesters in a table-pounding radio broadcast:

They're worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the night riders and vigilantes. They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America. And I want to say this: They're not going to take over a campus.
Now we today we are used to hearing rhetoric on this order from yahoos like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh directed at protesters, movie stars, Democratic elected officials and miscellaneous other targets whose sin is having a political outlook to the left of, say, Vlad the Impaler.

The difference is that these clowns are media figures, entertainers. Governor Rhodes held political power in the state of Ohio. He had a state police force and tens of thousands of National Guard troops to back up his big talk. So did California governor Ronald Reagan, who had had threatened campus demonstrators only a month earlier, on April 7, saying "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with." So did President Nixon, whose Cambodia speech (which I quoted in the second of these May '70 posts) conjured up the threat of anarchy and warned that "Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed."

Let me repeat, these people exercised state power, to use a fine old Marxist term. They ran the government. And while we knew that they were potentially capable of using the force at their disposal, we were also wrapped in a cocoon of privilege, white privilege for most of us and the class privilege that comes from being college students, being in a transitional class location en route, many of us, to professional and managerial careers.

Yes, white folks had been killed in protests--James Rector was gunned off a roof by Berkeley cops during the People's Park riot the year before. Yes, students at traditionally Black college campuses had been shot in cold blood by police--three had been killed just two years before at South Carolina State in Orangeburg.

So we knew they could kill us, but we didn't quite believe they would.

[You can read the four preceding diaries by clicking here and scrolling down a bit. Or you can cheat and read ahead by going to the Fire on the Mountain blog where this was originally published and follow the chain links at the bottom of each installment.]

Originally posted to lao hong han on Fri May 03, 2013 at 08:26 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

    •  3 miles from me, my friend was thrown to th ground (8+ / 0-)

      in the parking lot to avoid being hit. First saw the scene just last summer.

      I have mixed emotions having faced the Ohio National Guard in rioting a couple hours south, days before the rest of the country blew up. I'm not seeing an America that can any longer be informed by those events, important as they were to it at the time.

      I'm inclined to think that the possibly first megachurch also about 3 miles from KSU, pastored by the eventual officiant of Elvis' funeral the late Rex Humbard, may be more relevant to the directing of America's future.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri May 03, 2013 at 08:44:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for bearing witness. (4+ / 0-)

    I had moved to California by 1970, but I was on the Ohio State Campus oval when the travesty at Kent State occurred. It is indelibly inscribed in my memory, my thoughts and my understandings and my reactions to those events.

    Thank you for bringing my focus back to that time, those events.

  •  I was there on Telly when Rector was shot (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han, BOHICA, RiveroftheWest

    It was during the People's Park riot, the first one, anyway. He ws just standing on the roof of the old Moe's, got hit with a wild shot. Berkeley cops started sweeping the whole place with shotgun fire. (and you think you have it rough now!)
    I was down the street at Telly at Dwight

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Sat May 04, 2013 at 04:42:33 AM PDT

  •  T&R (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lao hong han, RiveroftheWest

    Republished to History For Kossacks

    Help me to be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster

    by BOHICA on Sat May 04, 2013 at 05:11:28 AM PDT

  •  first aerial assault on American citizens (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BOHICA, lao hong han, RiveroftheWest

    was said to be Gov. Reagan bringing helicopters to tear gas People's Park demonstrators. Gas drifted into local hospital rooms (warm day, windows open). Demonstrators were 'kettled', although the term wasn't used, before gassed.
    All the tv news  said the cops acted in self defense,  until the photos of shotgun firing police -mostly Alameda County brought in for the purpose- were printed.

    Important history indeed.

  •  then and now (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    i missed out on those early seventies protests by a few years and by being out of the country but have been in somewhere between 50 and 100 since then.

    it became clear to me in the last ten years that they have the antidote to protests now. protests now have much less media impact than they used to and at the same time less impact on politicians. the difference is radio and it was very apparent during and after the OWS protests.

    while OWS was getting attention the politicians that wanted to ignore them could easily- the local and national talk raido gods were distorting ows protests aims, attacking the protestors, intimidating and enabling local govt reaction to them, and then, perhaps as important as anything, had months of freedom from the loudest megaphones in every state to manage the aftermath.

    politicians no longer have to worry about protestors. some of it is neutralized automatically by the ignorant toadies doing their usual thing on the local RW stations and if it's worrisome to the right the think tanks can get involved to feed those stations with appropriate material and talking points and guests.

    so five hundred people at the state capitol are up against one local blowhard with a few chamber of commerce talking points and a giant megaphone plastered with sports logos, reaching tens of thousands.

    today any major issue can be appropriately protested at the RW radio megastations. they are the real power centers and voice of the 1%, doing the groundwork repetition for their attacks on all candidates and ideas liberal and progressive, but they're getting a free speech free ride.  they do the heavy lifting of the swiftboating of progressive candidates. while the left expects its reps to reflect their values the 'left' cannot collectively say it is getting their candidates 'backs'.

    many suggest ignore the radio because of the internet... why? it is still their best weapon and it's a hell of a lot more efficient and targeted with a 50 mil a week semi-captive audience. and there's no effective real time competition. the left is essentially suggesting to ignore their AR15 because it sucks.

    i was in CO during those denver OWS protests- the local RW radio blowhards was on it all day long, egging on and intimidating local govt and law enforcement. and the loudest of those (limbaugh) stations is the denver broncos, colo rockies and  CU buffs station- in between calling the protestors lice infested hippies that need to be run over they get to announce "850 KOA, home of the buffs and rush limbaugh"! and how many of those protestors were CU students?

    i have stopped giving to progressive/dem causes and candidates and find protests a useless waste of time.  what's the use while the left ignores RW radio? the next time i wave a sign it will probably have to be at a radio station.

    Now we today we are used to hearing rhetoric on this order from yahoos like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh directed at protesters, movie stars, Democratic elected officials and miscellaneous other targets whose sin is having a political outlook to the left of, say, Vlad the Impaler.
    The difference is that these clowns are media figures, entertainers. Governor Rhodes held political power in the state of Ohio. He had a state police force and tens of thousands of National Guard troops to back up his big talk.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Sun May 05, 2013 at 08:04:42 AM PDT

    •  A couple other things have changed: one, the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      certainot

      ruling elite have turned the military into a latter-day Praetorian Guard, composed in its enlisted ranks of hapless victims of the poverty draft and in its officer corps by mid-level functionaries of the new mandarin state.

      The concentrations of wealth have reached what can only be called by any sober-minded observer 'obscene': 1% of the population controls 40% of its wealth and 10% controls 80% of its wealth.

      Talk radio is a powerful tool of the ruling elite but I can tell you that Occupy Los Angeles at least initially scared the shit out of that same ruling elite. Even when the camp was finally busted up on Nov. 30, 2011, Villaraigosa and his various Eichmanns used over 1500 law enforcement types against a mere 300 or so OLA occupiers. (That was a template for what would go down in Boston after the Marathon bombing.)

      •  i love what happened but they get months and years (0+ / 0-)

        of unchallenged carnival barking to rewrite that history and it only happens because the left ignores RW radio.

        WABC, a limbaugh RW mother-megastation, is located at union square NYC. the anti OWS crap that was blasting out of there and every one of 1000+ stations across the country should have been protested there at the same time as the NYC OWS. same with every other major OWS protest.

        This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

        by certainot on Tue May 07, 2013 at 08:53:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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