Remembering Kent State

For those of us who were young adults or near adults, it should be a bit of a somber day. Fifty years ago, today, four Kent State students were shot, nine others wounded, one paralyzed.  Twenty-eight Ohio National Guardsmen fired approximately seventy rounds in less than fifteen seconds into students, some protesting President Nixon’s “Cambodian Incursion” by the US military, others who were simply watching from a distance, one was walking from one class to another.  Nixon had promised the day before to get us out of the war.

It had been a contentious period in our history, “The Kent State Massacre” was neither the beginning of the violence nor would it be the concluding chapter.  Three protesting students were killed and some thirty injured during a protest at South Carolina State in Orangeburg, SC in February.  Several days after Kent State, two students were killed, and a dozen injured at Jackson State.  Both were confrontations with the police and on a small scale exemplified the student unrest over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights.

Kent State had been a hot spot for student protest beginning in the middle Sixties.  Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Student Organization and the Youth International Party, (Yippies) all staged sit-ins, marches and other protests, including an attempted take over of the Administrative Offices by the SDS that led to fifty-eight students being arrested by the Ohio Highway Patrol.  There had been scattered violence, including the burning of the ROTC building, but no deaths until May 4, 1970.

Monday, May Fourth. was the culmination of four days of unrest that began the previous Friday after President Nixon announced the Cambodian Incursion on the previous Thursday.  From the aforementioned fire, a protest march, beer bottles and rocks being thrown at police, bonfires in the street, and numerous arrests, violence reared its ugly head, violence from the students, and from groups sworn to protect them.

Unconfirmed rumors of students with caches of arms, spiking the local water supply with LSD, and of students building tunnels for the purpose of blowing up the town’s main buildings added gasoline to an already volatile cocktail.  The city mayor requested National Guard Troops from the governor and the request was granted.  They came armed with loaded M-1 Garands, bayonets, tear gas, and smoke grenades.

The National Guard first became entangled on the Third, breaking up a rally and a sit-in, using tear gas and even bayoneting students.  A noon rally of some 2000 students on the Fourth became the catalyst for the shooting.  Again, rocks and tear gas were involved until the shots rang out.  It became a they said-they said situation after the gunpowder had cleared.

I was a struggling sophomore in college, less than a month past my twentieth birthday when news of the massacre flashed across the community tv screen in the basement of Brokaw Hall.  I remember the silence that followed and the debate that issued later.  Despite being a Southern liberal arts college, Newberry was not a fertile ground for liberal thoughts.

Near the end of the semester, I was more concerned about the effect exams might have on my grades than what had taken place in faraway Ohio or nearby Orangeburg.  I was also mourning the end of my first serious relationship, one I characterized as a hurricane waiting to happen.  You knew you were in for a big storm you just didn’t know when or where it would happen.  It had happened.  A hurricane that had turned my grades into a shambles.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, I was.  A male, I had just participated in the first draft lottery and hadn’t won but I hadn’t lost either…April 9th came up 219…kinda in the middle.  My awareness was focused on my poor but improving grades and fear.

I had no desire to die in a rice paddy in a Southeast Asian country but like many of the young men surrounding me, I would have gone to my death rather than disappointing my family and friends.  I would do what was expected.

As I look back, I am both proud and ashamed.  Happy I wasn’t called while feeling I missed something by not being called to serve.  Ashamed for not taking a more active interest in protesting the war.  Confliction but I am a conflicted person.

There were several veterans on third floor Brokaw my freshman year taking advantage of the GI Bill.  They were good guys, damaged good guys.  Few returned for our sophomore year, fewer still graduated.   They were just too damaged.

I wondered which was worse, dying in a jungle or leaving a part of your soul there.  They all participated in the activities of college life, but it seemed they only participated from the periphery.  All still had the “Thousand Yard Stare.”

One vet, of Marine Force Recon, had been our protector during our freshman year.  I didn’t know what Force Recon was, I just knew from the whispers he was a badass dude.  He was much older and became a buffer against Rat Week and later the fraternity bull pledges whose grades were so low they had been moved out of fraternity housing and onto the freshman halls.  They weren’t happy and wanted to take it out on the ‘rats’.  Force Recon would have none of it and the bull pledges left us alone.

He sat next to me as Walter told us about Kent State.  A man of few words, he leaned over and asked, “Who gives fucking National Guardsmen live ammo against students?”  I wondered myself.  Several friends were National Guardsmen and I wouldn’t have trusted them with a pea shooter.  Thankfully, they were members of the SC National Guard Band.  They blew into their instruments instead of blowing things up.

Later, Force Recon would suggest in a bit of a drunken stupor, “If you get drafted, run to Canada.  It ain’t worth dying for.”  This from the same man who ‘liberated’ a Christmas tree from the Winn Dixie parking lot late one night so we could decorate with toilet paper and beer cans in our community restroom…good times.  Coming from a veteran I began to rethink the war.

Violence begets violence and the violence didn’t end in May of 1970.  Many more Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians would die before that little policing action was over.

The shootings at Kent State would trigger more protests, one in Washington estimated at a hundred thousand that caused President Nixon to be whisked away to Camp David.  Hundreds of college campuses would close involving over four million students due to student protest.  Eleven students were bayoneted at the University of New Mexico during a peace rally and peace protesters battled pro-Nixon construction workers in what became known as the Hard Hat Riots.

1968 was bad, ‘69 was a bit of reprieve if you didn’t look past the moon landing to the Manson Murders and Mai Lai.  ‘70 was a return to the bad but as some smart someone said, “it gets darkest just before the dawn.”  It would be five long years before dawn and the Vietnam War ended but the US had been out of the warzone for the last two.  I must believe Kent State and the protests that followed helped get us out of a war we should never have been involved in.  Helped to stop the killing.

***

I drew from a lot of sources but since I am not selling this I’m not going to footnote.   If you question something other than my sanity I will go back and do so.

The featured image is the iconic photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of student Jeffrey Miller, who was killed by Ohio National Guard troops during an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

Don Miller writes on various subjects and various genres.  His authors page is at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2Iyegsi5CjQ4ZNPU2nA9C1e3q7jekDZ6e3T8qw5QUgwNhM9Yj_-dKOag4

 

For What It’s Worth

 

The song has been running in my head since I heard it early this morning as I tromped up and down the hills around my foothills home. The pain of the steep hills has been replaced by the pain of my broken mind. I’m not depressed, am I? “Children what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down” reminds me of a flushed toilet with its contents circling before disappearing. Maybe I am depressed.  Thank you, Buffalo Springfield and my playlist.

The song became an anthem for the anti-war crowd in the late Sixties and early Seventies but was not written as such. It was written to protest a curfew put into place around the famed Whiskey a Go-Go, a West Hollywood music venue. The status quo (read conservative adults) had become upset about the noise, loitering and traffic congestion caused by crazy kids high on life, “Young people speakin’ their minds, are getting so much resistance far behind.” The culture clash became known as the Sunset Strip curfew riots and featured counterculture clashes with the Los Angeles Police.

My thoughts, my thoughts…. In the late Sixties, I was not a member of the counterculture. I was still the proud, flat-top sporting, John Wayne adoring, “my country right or wrong” conservative.  I’m still proud just not as conservative as I once was.  My country can be and has been wrong.

I grew out of my flat-top during my high school and college years but no one would have confused me with a long-haired hippie freak.  I ignored protest music for the soulful sounds of rhythm and blues and Beach Music, and bells and Jesus sandles for Weegins and stifly starched khakis.  Afterall if it didn’t effect me why should I worry…well, I’m worried.

Because of my worry I have become the aging, white-bearded, balding hippie, embracing those things I should have embraced fifty years ago, although I still toke on cigars rather than weed and find the conservative drug of choice, beer, and Jack Daniels, more palatable…beer and Jack Daniels separately, not mixed. Certain libations transcend social and political orientations.

I had flirted with the left but hadn’t gone ape-shit liberal until my Autumn years when I found Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin more in line with my musical and political taste than Florida-Georgia Line. Country?  That ain’t country.

It always begins with the devil’s music…even if it was from the Sixties.  Having ignored it in my youth it was as if I had discovered Coronado’s Seven Cities of Gold.  First, it’s Rock-n-Roll and before you know it, sex and drugs along with a good dose of liberalism are rearing their radical heads.

I’m a little long of tooth for “free love” and “psychedelics” but my middle of the road liberalism seemed to fit better with what I believe are the ills facing our world; global climate change, hunger, lack of clean water, wage inequality, unchecked capitalism, and a government that reminds me more of a Russian oligarchy.  Funny…my change coincided with the birth of grand children.

My thoughts ramble, I am astounded.  “Something’s happin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Those people I considered liberal in my childhood and my early adulthood have become the status quo of today, the conservative adults wondering what has happened to the youth of today…or their aging hippie teacher.

This from the former blue jean, mini-skirted, halter topped or John Travolta “catch me, f@#$ me” leisure suited crowd, now nattily dressed in their dark blue suits and red ties. They are now the conservatives resisting social and political change, many to the point of embracing any conspiracy related to the evils hiding under their beds.

My “outlaw”, dope-smoking brother even became the paragon of the conservative status quo, forgoing Seventies drug use and briefly flirting with Tea Party politics.  Well, he is still a tee shirt, cargo pants kind of guy.  At least he wears his UNC cap “fore and aft.”  I believe it might have something to do with marriage and business ownership.  Settling down?

My characterization is unfair, my brother is the epitome of the too-often quoted, “social liberal, fiscal conservative.” He helped start and continues to support a food kitchen and other social programs.

The give away is his musical tastes.  They are “neo-hippie” and “Americana”…kind of like mine. He doesn’t think modern country is country either.  It seems his square pegs won’t fit in my round holes…maybe I should take a look at my own square pegs.

Truth?  We don’t stray far from each other’s political or social beliefs. We enjoy many of the same things, and share a live and let live attitude.  I just find it necessary to give grief to my younger brother.

What amazes…and concerns me are the protests popping up.  I should say the types of protests.  Stanchly conservative, dare I say right-wing reactionaries…protestors dressed in camo and battle gear, sporting assault-style weapons have replaced hippies putting flowers down the barrel of rifles.  What?

Make Love, not War does not seem to be their mantra. I think the lyrics from Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, might fit them better.“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view.  While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.”  It seems they want to keep the masses in view…and under their thumb.Based on Isaiah, I like the Hendrix version the best.

It was just a few years, months ago, the same folk were shaming “liberal” teachers for walking out of their classes for more pay and smaller class sizes, global climate change idiots led by a sixteen year old, railing against Black Lives Matter, and cheering when Native Americans were arrested or water blasted for protesting an oil pipeline through their native lands. Oil pipe…peace pipe…hum…water pipe.

The hippie legions from fifty years ago are either rolling in their graves or wondering what kind of bad shit was in those edibles or ‘srooms.

“What a field day for the heat.  A thousand people in the street.  Singing songs and a carryin’ signs.  Mostly say, “hooray for our side.” 

It’s time we stopped.  Hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.”

Stephen Stills was quoted saying, “It (For What it’s Worth) turned out to be indicative of what was about to happen.” And I would add, “Continues to happen.” The only changes are the participants and the battlefields they argue over.

“There’s battle lines being drawn and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”

***

Added note:  I don’t want to be  accused of viewing history through rose colored granny glasses.  Not all left led protest were peaceful and the violence was not necessarily prompted by the minions of the status quo.  At least the police didn’t face protestors with AR-15s.

I decided to include All Along the Watchtower….

YouTube.  Jimi Hendrix live in Munster, 1/14/69

Buffalo Springfield, YouTube Vid of them at the Hollywood Palace in 1967.

The Flower Power photograph is by Bernie Boston, taken during “March on The Pentagon”, 21 October 1967.

Featured image is of protesters of the Michagin shelter in place order.

 

A Question of Education

 

I apologize ahead of time.  This may be meandering pig trail, but I feel the need to speak out.  Sorry for the ramble.

My state capital, Columbia, SC, will host a rally for educational reform on May 1st.  A similar rally is being held on the same date in North Carolina and will mirror other rallies that have been held in other states.  I am a retired teacher and feel I should go.  But I can’t.  It is a debate I have had with myself for the past week but I just can’t go.

I’m not the only one debating but at least my debate is with myself.  The Governor has made his feelings known as has the Superintendent of Education.  They are not fans of #ALLOUT…and they will not receive my vote next time around.  Various local superintendents and district spokesmen have made their feelings known and I am not a fan of them either but being retired means I don’t have to work for them or play nice.

What really bothers me is the attitude of everyday South Carolinians.  The rally has been characterized as a “walkout” for better pay by its opponents and maligned by them.  I’ve seen all the arguments.  My favorites are “You knew what you were getting into and if you don’t like it get some other job” and the biggest lie in the world, “You get three months off in the summer and still get paid for it.”

First of all, it’s not a walkout.  You know how South Carolina dislikes anything suggesting a strike.  Teachers are using their personal days or paying for their own subs, and while better pay is an issue, the issues go much deeper than pay…although having to take on a second job to pay for the day you’re taking to go protest is an issue…there I said it.  A protest…but I’ll keep calling it a rally.

The rally is about reducing class sizes, reducing standardized testing and having to teach to the test, not being allowed to teach to anything but standards, not feeling safe or supported in their classrooms, not having the materials to do the job teachers are called to do…not that I really know what that is anymore.  So…keep thinking it is just about pay.

Most importantly, it’s a rally about respect and support, something teachers have lost through no fault of their own.  Something our politicians have given no more than lip service to recently…if ever and which statements like “You knew what you were getting into…” exemplifies.

I am a product of the South Carolina public school system, a product of in-state colleges. I taught in the South Carolina public school systems for forty-five years.  I never considered it a job.  I knew I had been called to teach.

I have been fully retired for four years and it seems a lifetime ago that I last set foot in a classroom.  I saw many changes through the years, a few were good and those that were were fostered by actual educators, even if it was at the request of a politician.

“No Child Left Behind” was not one of the good changes.  The decline in teacher moral escalated with “No Child Left Behind” and the constant testing, teaching to the test, and meeting about the test “ad nauseam.”

Not that “No Child Left Behind” is the only culprit.  South Carolina ranks near the bottom of a bunch of national statistics, education is just one of them.  We rank forty-eighth out of fifty-one in education by pretty much everyone’s ratings.  Fifty states plus the District of Columbia for those who wonder about my own education.

I hang my head wondering how we got that way…oh yeah, we’ve been that way.  I blame it on what I call our “Cotton Mill Mentality” and our Southern desire to maintain a cheap and uneducated workforce.  Too harsh?  Sometimes the truth is just that.

I began attending school in the Fifties, during the hay day of cotton textiles.  Unfortunately, I began teaching as cotton textiles were in decline, finally lost to cheaper foreign labor.

Cotton textiles were a great educational tool for the Carolinas and other Southern states.  Fine people who were not academically inclined could graduate, or not, and still find a position at one of the local cotton mills; make a living, provide for their families and most importantly it seemed, pay taxes.

Unfortunately, those opportunities fled the South and our political leaders were slow to realize that our educational system had to change to meet modern job descriptions.  This was despite warnings issued from educators  I heard as far back as the early Eighties.  I believe we are still paying for that mindset and waiting for cotton textiles to come back.

We have yet to recognize the effect of an educational system hamstrung by backward thinking.   An educational system crippled by politicians and a tax base that refuses to pay for any meaningful change.  A system that is politically driven and slow to involve educators in the process.

An educational system injured by a belief that education is really not important and why do I have to pay when I don’t have a child in school…or why should I worry about what is happening in the I-95 corridor if I live in the upstate.

Recently it seems another fear has emerged from our strongly conservative base, a fear that teachers are teaching liberalism and socialism, turning all our students into little communists.  It seems that to protest or rather rally helps to stoke those fears.

Teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less.  More testing, more planning for testing, more collaboration about testing.  More time pouring over statistics trying to analyze test results you are not allowed to see.

Less time to prepare for the actual class.  Paying for materials out of their own pockets or doing without.  Open disrespect and a lack of support.  This what the rally is about and if it inconveniences someone…well good.

More teachers are leaving the profession and fewer students are picking education as a life’s work.  Why would they?  Fewer teachers mean more students per class which means less time.  If you believe the student per teacher ratio means anything, I’ve got some land I’d like to sell you.

Curriculum requirements have changed but the time to teach all that is needed has decreased.  Fewer resources, less time to do their jobs. Less time for teachers to make a meaningful dent in the problems facing our youth in a modern world…a world they didn’t create but will have to pay for.

Who suffers in all this…besides the teacher?  The one most significant change I suffered as class sizes crept up was a loss of contact with students.  I didn’t get as close to my students because I didn’t have the time to get close to my classes.  I didn’t get to find out what was bothering Bobbi Jo or Tyrek.  I tried, but it just isn’t possible.  Someone slides through the cracks.  That might be the greatest loss of all.

Okay, I guess I have ranted enough.  I pray for positive change.  Our children are our futures…they are our legacies.  They deserve our best efforts and teachers deserve the tools to make those efforts…they deserve the respect.

I should be there, marching, “rallying”, channeling my inner hippie…my inner liberal…my inner communist. LOL.

The picture is from the Post and Courier, Charleston, SC

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