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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

"We must try to radicalize the American people..."

It was the most significant day of all of our lives because in 48 hours more young people were radicalized, revolutionized and yippieized than in any single time in American history

- Jerry Rubin on the aftermath of Kent State

Four dead 46 years ago, including Allison Krause.  As her younger sister, Laurel, wrote back in 2009 (emphasis mine):

To Allison, it was an obligation to show dissension to the government invading Cambodia. She made her decision, and we all know the outcome.
Allison’s death symbolizes the importance of our right to protest and speak our truths freely.
Looking back, did the Kent State protest and killings make a difference? Well, there was a huge response by Americans.

The Kent State shooting single-handedly created the only nationwide student strike with over 8 million students from high schools to universities speaking out and holding rallies afterwards.

Indeed, it turns out that violent repression often results in greater mobilization of the masses, and Kent State is a good example (emphasis again mine):

[T]he majority of Americans supported the Guard's actions at Kent State. Many parents viewed the shootings as the tragic lot of a generation weaned on permissiveness. This view directly contradicted student reaction and resulted in further division between generations. The country experienced its first national student strike, in which over one third of the Nation's campuses were involved. There were approximately one hundred strikes per day for the four days following the deaths, as universities throughout the nation were besieged by protesting students. One hundred thousand marched in Washington to protest the war and the killings at Kent. 

What's more, in the wake of Kent and the Jackson State killings later that month, we saw "nearly a million marchers on both coasts in April, 1971; 12,000 activists performing civil disobedience in Washington in May; and 100,000 marching in 1972 against the mining of North Vietnam's harbors, and at the January, 1973, 'counter-inaugural' against the bombing of Hanoi."

Interestingly enough, Kent State happened in the midst of the first rumblings of student strikes, and the massacre appears to have galvanized the movement and became a rallying event as much as the Maine, Pearl Harbor or even 9/11 (emphasis mine once more):

The slight hope and deep frustration on which the Movement had been floating was transformed to pure despair and pure rage. There was nothing to talk about, only sides to be taken. After Nixon's speech announcing the invasion, scores of campuses had gone out on strike in a contagious competition. After Kent State, it was hundreds, and it was untenable for students opposed to the war to cooperate with the part of the System with which they had the most contact and the most control, their universities.

Not just for students but for their parents, who were part of the Silent Majority Nixon needed, Kent State was a stunning event. A gasp of recognition rippled through mainstream America: these were their kids being shot down! The madness of the war, if not the war itself, had finally come home. These "average Americans" could accept the use of state power to draft lower and middle-class kids...They could accept the unleashing of the raw power of the state against unruly and disdainful foreigners. They could even accept police killings of black activists...What they could not accept was the state turning on their own kind, and when parents of Kent State's dead went on television, bitterly denouncing the attack, the Silent Majority listened.
When I and two other strikers began leafleting in an advanced science class, the professor recovered from his astonishment at the sight of these hairy barbarians and politely asked us to wait a few minutes until class ended. We complied equally politely, but after Kent State, bands of raging strikers roamed the campus in search of offending classes, and Chicago went down for the count.
Now America's ruling elite worried less about how to win the war and more about how to avoid losing the country. The young were gone, the troops were unreliable, and unions were starting to break ranks with the hawkish AFL-CIO. America's house was becoming divided, and the owners' strongest instinct was to tone down the war as much as was needed to save their power at home.
By the fall of 1970, America's elite, unrepentant but pragmatic, had moved to a new consensus, in essence telling Nixon and congress to cut the necessary deal: the end of the war for the end of the Movement. Now the war was really over...The Movement dwindled and died from 1970 to 1973 as all US forces came home...After the US air and ground combat role ended with the signing of the 1973 peace accords, the Movement could only watch the slaughter from the sidelines. It had become a Sword of Damocles, as the SWP's Fred Halstead said, hanging over Nixon and then Ford should they try to increase aid or reintroduce US forces, but the sword stayed in its sheath.

Kent State didn't shut down protest.  It did scare folks, but it wasn't The Movement: it was the very people we were resisting who had a vested interest in the status quo.  When did The Movement fade away?  After they'd essentially won.

Lesson for today's Berners, who don't know/have forgotten: win or lose, we must keep fighting, radically.


May 4, 2016 in PaxLives | Permalink


"Stand up, keep fighting!" Sen. Paul Wellstone

Posted by: mnkid | May 4, 2016 5:03:59 PM

So, maybe if we kill some innocent bystanders and then let the shooters off scot-free?

Posted by: Rmj | May 5, 2016 7:43:46 PM

Crazy enough, it just might work.

Posted by: NTodd | May 5, 2016 8:09:46 PM

No, wait...that happens pretty much every day in America now.

Posted by: NTodd | May 5, 2016 8:10:02 PM

The big shock of Kent State was white college students, people who aspired to be the upwardly mobile elite, found out that the National Guard would kill them and they would get away with it. Something that black students certainly knew could happen to them.

It's depressing to consider how little has changed for most people.

Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | May 6, 2016 4:57:06 AM

Disrupting privilege is hard, and necessary.

Posted by: NTodd | May 6, 2016 8:24:03 PM

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