|"Kent State is the white man's
Wounded Knee, "
American Indian Movement
heard the other analogies: It would be like putting a bowling alley at Gettysburg, a Pizza
Hut at Bunker Hill, or a K-Mart at Valley Forge. But this one fit the best: "the
white man's Wounded Knee."
I was crying as I left Blanket Hill. Seven years of injustice flashed
before me-. Seven years of murder, court cases, appeals, insensitivity and now the
ultimate injustice of putting a building over it all. I was leaving Tent City behind me,
too. It was a place where we had lived together
for 62 days. Instead of letting them build a gym on that site, we simply occupied the land
for two months with our tents and our bodies.
Now that was all behind me. The State had issued a Restraining order making
our encampment illegal. But, instead of going obediently and meekly-turning the other
cheek-we were going to make a stand, with arms and legs locked in an act of defiant civil
I was crying uncontrollably now. I sat with 193 other protestors on the edge
of Tent City. In front of me sat Albert and Ann Canfora, whose son, Alan, was wounded in
1970 and Martin and Sarah Scheuer, whose daughter, Sandy, was killed. Behind me sat the
May 4th Coalition-193 of the hundreds of people-some of whom
had given up jobs, school, and now their legal record to preserve this site. Among them
were two paraplegics in wheel chairs, Ron Kovic and Bill Schultz. In their vulnerability
was manifested the fear and the courage to overcome that fear that we all shared.
I was going to jail for the right to remember- the drive to preserve
my own history, the Gettysburg of the student movement, the white man's Wounded Knee.
There was a
note of finality as the police disentangled us to drag us off to jail. The courts had
acted against us-ironically making the land we had fought so hard for, illegal for us to
occupy. This seemed our finest hour, the climax of our resistance.
There seemed no recourse after our Civil Disobedience. We had fought the good fight but
were beaten by a system that wanted to literally cover up its crimes. If Nixon had
covered up with lies, then Kent State was covering up with a building and we were the
final victims of that cover up.
The 194 arrests of July 12, 1977, were not the first time Kent State was a
battlefield. Seven years earlier Kent State gained infamy as the place
||where it happened: The place
where America turned its guns on its own children, the place where the war came home.
This time, the war came home not as it usually did, to the black, the poor, the
disenfranchised, but to its own children-white, middle class college students.
Despite the heinous results of 1970, it was a more
innocent time than 1977. On July 12, 1977, we knew what the result would be and we were
going to jail for our beliefs. In 1970 we couldn't predict the results-we didn't even know
the guns were loaded.
Never to be forgotten is the mood on campus after Nixon announced his
"incursion" into Cambodia. The moment when all hell would break loose hung only
by a string. On May 1, 1970, the string broke. Protests swept the campus for four days.
Despite the anger and destruction there was a prevailing innocence, a lack of
sophistication in gut-level rebellion. If the May 4th Coalition was as organized and
disciplined protest movement, May 4th, 1970, was a disorganized outpouring of human
emotion. Either way, things pointed to a noon rally on the Commons on May 4th.
I went to that first rally with the same innocence, or perhaps naivete, that most
students had. I was angry about the "incursion" of Cambodia, angry about the
invasion of KSU by the Ohio National Guard, angry about the bayoneting of II students the
night before. Two or three thousand other students seemed to share my anger as they
assembled on the Commons.
Although it was Governor Rhodes who sent in the National Guard and approved
of their live ammunition, it was the University that ordered the rally to be broke
up-peacefully or otherwise. The rally was peaceful; but the Guard acted otherwise. They
moved on the crowd with tear gas and fixed bayonets. We were forced over Blanket Hill onto
the practice football field. The Guard followed. They huddled on the football field (where
the proposed gym would be). When they broke the huddle, they went back up Blanket Hill
and, reaching the crest, they turned in unison and poured their bullets into the crowd for
When the smoke cleared, four lay dead and 9 were wounded .
These painful memories had pretty well faded by July 12, 1977, and our group was
overwhelmed with high spirits as the police booked 194 of us in the Portage County jail.
It was beginning to look like a moral victory; political commitment and nonviolence pitted
against gross insensitivity and a lack of respect for history. Perhaps the finality I felt
earlier in the day wasn't so final. The decision to stay at Tent City and force our arrest
had been the right one. Our morale had never been higher. We were