‘Remembering A Tragic & Shocking Day For The Peace Movement
Posted May 4th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
As Canadian native and rock legend Neil Young once reflected – It was “probably the biggest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning.”
At the same time, said Young – “It’s still hard to believe I had to write this song.”
The song, for those of us old enough to remember or for younger people who care enough to study the history of some of the earlier years of the civil rights and anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s, is ‘Ohio’.
And at least part of the lesson that was learned on that spring day 46 years ago, on a university campus that looks like many others across the continent, is that not everyone is going to look favorably upon you or think you are a nice person if you are out there demonstrating for civil rights or the environment or for the end of war. In fact, many may dislike you and at least some may hate you enough that you could get killed!
That is what happened on the grassy hills of Kent State University in Ohio during a week of on-campus protests against an ever more unpopular War in Vietnam when students William Schroeder, Sandra Scheuer, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause – two of them 19 and two of them 20 years old, and two of them not even participating in the protests, but walking between classes with books in their hands – were cut down in a sudden volley of fire from an army composed of the state’s National Guard.
As someone looking forward to my first year of university here in Niagara and was already engaged in the political and social issues of the day when the Kent State shootings happened, news of them jarred me in the same as seismical force as the news two years earlier of the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King and U.S. senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
One of the students killed that day, Allison Krause, was seen a day or two earlier approaching some of the Guardsmen and placing the stems of flowers down the barrels of their guns. At one point, she reportedly looked one of the young Guardsmen in the eyes and said; “Flowers are better than bullets.” – a line stamped on a button I still wear like a poppy on my lapel every year on this day.
Twenty five years after he shootings, I attended a commemoration on the Kent State campus where Allison’s family (including her sister Laurel who, with support from documentary film-maker Michael Moore, singer/songwriter David Crosby and others is still searching for “truth and justice” over what happened) and the families of the other killed and wounded students gathered while old classmates read moving testimonials to the victims and Peter, Paul & Mary sang ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’.
It was then that I learned that Allison was born on April 23rd, 1951, just two days before I was, meaning that she would have turned 65 years old this April. What a lot of life these four students have missed – all over a clash turned violent over a war that killed tens-of-thousands of young Americans drafted to fight it and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and one that most people now agree should never have been fought.
The Kent State shootings live in history as another in a series of monster events that seemed to swallow the hopes and ideals of a generation of young people who grew up in the 1960s thinking maybe we could live in a counterculture of peace and sharing where ‘Woodstock Nation’ would become more than one of the counterculture’s leading activists, Abbie Hoffman, called “a state of mind.”
In the spirit of the 1960s eventually morphed into the “Me Decade” of the 1970s and many of us who grew up singing songs about love and peace and sharing went on to careers in business and politics and other areas, and became members of the greatest generation conspicuous consumers that ever lived on this planet. And we spent the last 20 or 30 years electing governments that promised to cut taxes and spending for public services.
I called Kent State University a day ago and got a few people on the phone that weren’t even born when the students were cut down that day 46 years ago. Yet those young people are working at a May4h Center on the campus that is dedicated to keeping the memory of what happened as well as the spirit of citizen activism in the name of peace and social justice alive.
Many of the young people I meet today – members of the millennial generation – remind me of the generation of young people I came of age in the 1960s. I find in many of them the same sense of wanting to do something for the common good and a healthier, more compassionate place to live than any generation in between.
One can only hope that they don’t allow themselves to become as beaten down, burned out and jaded as so many in my generation did, and that they have the wisdom and determination to keep their dream for a better more just and peaceful future for all alive.
On a day when people are once again gathered on the campus of Kent State University to reflect on what happened there on that tragic spring day in 1970, heeding the call of progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders for millions of us to stand up for a better future may be the best way of honouring the memory of young activists like Allison Krause.
In the words of Robert Kennedy; Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and justice.”
There are at least a few old Sixties relics around like me still believe very much in the truth of those words.
For information on the Kent State May 4 Visitors Centre at Kent State University in Ohio click on http://www.kent.edu/may4 .
For information on Laurel Krause’s Kent State Truth Tribunal click on – http://www.truthtribunal.org/about .
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