William Moses Kunstler
May 4, 1988
Thank you very much. I have come here many times before, 5or 6 I think, in rain and in sunshine, in gymnasiums and out of gymnasiums. Tom (William Kunstler is referring to Tom Grace who had just introduced him and who had been shot by the National Guard at Kent State on May 4, 1970) only spoke of me, but there were many lawyers and the latest ones tried desperately to stop the building of that gymnasium on Blanket Hill and to have Blanket Hill turned into a national monument, as it should be. We went to Federal Court in Cleveland. We had a sympathetic Federal Judge but he could not bend the law to force the government to make this a national monument.
And so we lost and when I left the Federal Courthouse in Cleveland, the judge said to me, "If I had it in my power." , he said to, "I would grant the relief you wanted, but I don't." But he said Blanket Hill should be a national monument. And so we came out of his chambers feeling, though while we had lost to the powers of darkness, we had at least shown one Federal Judge what the right path would have been.
Now a gymnasium covers part of that hill and it is a shame. There should be a monument there. It was a place where American patriots lived and died on May 4th nineteen hundred and seventy. It was a place where young blood was shed by people no older then themselves (sic). It was a place of tragedy, and yet, out of it sprang a revulsion around this country that caused the closing of most of the institutions of higher education, that really brought an end to that ghastly war, if you can call it a war, in Southeast Asia.
The four who died here, the nine who were wounded here, the many who faced a Portage County Grand Jury and Petit Jury, they did more for their country than all the Nixons and the Agnews and the Reagans could possibly do. And they did it without consulting Astrology or any other science.
They did what they did because they believed in what they were doing. They learned the hard way what was happening to their brothers and sisters abroad, to themselves here and to their society. May 4th is a particularly memorable day in American history because 84 years to the day before May 4, 1970, there was another demonstration at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. And so similar to what happened here because on May 3rd, 1886, strikers at the McCormick Harvester Plant outside of Chicago had demonstrated. The Mayor had called out the police, The police broke up the demonstration outside the Harvester Works killing one striker, wounding many others. And so, just as here, a demonstration was planned for the next day, the next evening at the Haymarket Square in Chicago.
And at that demonstration a provocateur exploded a bomb. The bomb killed seven police officers and two members of the audience and wounded many others. And, as many of you know, the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago retaliated by trying eight of the demonstrators who were present at that rally, convicting them of murder and executing four of them by hanging at Joliet Prison. The remaining four were commuted by a true American, although he wasn't born here, John Peter Altgeld, who had the courage to jeopardize and eventually ruin his own career by commuting the death sentences of four of the eight. And as Clarence Darrow said at his funeral, "He freed the captives. He freed the captives." So May 4th in the labor movement has always been an important date. And interestingly enough, the city of Chicago erected, on the site of the Haymarket explosion, a statue of a police officer with a commemorative sign in bronze and I was happy to be present after May 4th, 1970 to see students from the University of Chicago and elsewhere topple that sign as a sign of solidarity with another May 4th in their own lifetime.
Some of you are here who will remember that in 1977 we came back on May 4th and it was a bad day as far as the weather was concerned. It rained heavily and so we move inside to Memorial Gymnasium and on the platform sat two men, each in a wheelchair. There was Ron Kovic [links to Ron Kovic- one, two, three], a Vietnam Veteran who was paralyzed from the waist down after stepping on a mine in Vietnam. And there was Dean Kahler, a student of this University who was paralyzed for life by a National Guardsman's bullet. And toward the end of the services, Ron Kovic wheeled his wheelchair over to that of Dean Kahler and these two men embraced each other then with tears rolling down their cheeks. And Ron Kovic said, and I will never forget the words, and there are people here who will remember them too, "Today at last Kent State and Vietnam are united as one." It was a moment that I have never forgotten and each year I hope that I am invited back because I relive it in my own mind. It is the stuff of which human emotions are made. Dean Kahler is not here today and Ron Kovic is not here today but if you close your eyes and think of two paralyzed young men in a wheelchair, one having his legs destroyed by a mine in that useless, senseless, immoral conflict in Southeast Asia and another having the same thing happen to him so many miles away on what should have been a peaceful American campus. And just visualize those two wheelchairs rolling towards each other and those two paralyzed human beings, paralyzed by the same war, the same conflict, embracing each other and saying, as it is true, Vietnam and Kent State are and were as one.
I would conclude with a sonnet that I wrote after Alan Canfora invited me to come here. I was sitting in a courtroom in New York going through the endless process of jury selection where I write all my sonnets. It saves your own sanity sometimes. You turn to other means of expression other than objection or overruled or what have you. And the sonnet came out almost as if it had been written already in my brain. And I wanted to end with reading it to you.
As sonnet is a form of expression, a political form of expression that has been used since the early 17th Century by writers in English, Italian, German and many other languages. And I decided to write sonnets after reading one by Edna St. Vincent Millay about the murders of Sacco and Vanzetti by the Massachusetts judicial system in nineteen hundred and twenty-seven. This is called "Kent State Revisited."
Can it be true that it's been eighteen years
They are united now who fell upon this hill
Today they perish still around the world.
So now as then, impatiently we yearn
Justice Denied in Massachusetts by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Let us abandon then our gardens and go home