by Carol Cartwright, the KSU administration, the KSU Board of Trustees and the State of
The inclusion of a 3 and a half minute tape of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the over 30 hours of May 4 Task Force Programming for this year's 30th Annual Commemoration has been seized upon by the local media (including the Daily Kent Stater) and especially the Kent State Administration to attack and vilify the hard working and dedicated students of the May 4 Task Force. This attack has nothing whatsoever to do with Mumia Abu-Jamal. Rather it is just more of the same from a University Administration that has been trying to bury the truth of May 4, 1970 or control it since the ambulances took our brothers and sisters away on May 4, 1970.
The May 4 Task Force is putting on its 25th consecutive May 4, 1970 Commemoration on May 4 of this year. The Task Force has faced some amazing challenges to its mission over this span of time. No one expected the group to last as long and no one entity is as disappointed of this fact as the administration of Kent State University as represented in year 2000 by its president, Carol Cartwright. Lest we forget, the university never took responsibility for its role in the murders and shootings on May 4, 1970. Indeed, they have attempted to steer a course that would either have us forget May 4, 1970 or they have attempted to chart a course that would render themselves, in essence, the owners and sole proprietors of May 4, 1970.
From 1971 until 1975 the KSU administration sponsored its own official commemoration each year on May 4. I was a student here at Kent on May 4, 1971 but I didn't attend the university's program. The university had spent most of its time after May 4, 1970 in assisting the state look for student scapegoats to the tragedy. Rumors of spies in every classroom were made to seem real by the university's refusal to dispel them as well as the overt presence of criminal investigators on campus. The administration's big public relations project was "Keep Kent Open." The Center for Peaceful Change was invented and staffed by administration-friendly individuals who would be sure to concentrate on keeping the peace (not in Vietnam or in the OhioNationalGuard) on campus. Why would I want to attend a commemoration sponsored by that same university? Instead I attended the alternative program which allowed me the opportunity to learn about the still-waging war in Vietnam, the draft, and the repression of the student movement on this campus, including the movement to achieve justice in the murders of our four brothers and sisters.
In 1976 the university figured that there was no need to hold any additional May 4, 1970 commemorations and withdrew its sponsorship. This gave birth to the May 4 Task Force and in 1976 it sponsored the first of its commemorations. The Task Force has been around for 25 years and is the only organization based on democratic principles and run completely by students providing education about May 4, 1970 and advocating a just resolution to the tragedy and murders of that day.. For twenty-five years it has been the voice of the families of the wounded and murdered students on the Kent State Campus. It has supported all efforts to discover the truth about what really happened on campus on May 4, 1970 and dutifully reported them on campus. It has advocated and achieved though difficult struggle the recognition on the Kent State campus of the tragedy of May 4, 1970 with the construction of the May 4 Memorial, the adjoining plaque with the victims names and the Prentice Lot Markers.
The May 4 Task Force has not forgotten why the students where on the Commons on May 4,1970 and the historical context surrounding the murders and its commemoration programming reflects that same dedication to social justice. Whereas, the KSU administration has always and will always continue to represent the interests of a very small number of people, itself, the Board of Trustees and the Governor of Ohio. There have and always will be differences between the powerful and the governed on how to interpret history and how to commemorate it. In a truly democratic atmosphere neither group will try to prevent the other from presenting its point of view. Apparently, this has never been the case at Kent State and the year 2000 is no different.
In 1990 after pressure from the Task Force and its supporters the KSU administration decided to build a memorial on campus. The memorial is only 7% of its original design and is dedicated to the "events" of that era and not specifically towards the events of May 4, 1970. The inscription, "Inquire, Learn, and Reflect" is very clear in its message by what it omits. Do not act on what you learn from your inquiries, merely reflect. The plaque with the names of the student victims was added only 1 week before the dedication of the memorial and its physical separation from the memorial is emblematic of the KSU administration's intentions for the memorial and its views on May 4. Even the concrete box that contains an explanatory brochure, written by the university, is fairly camouflaged aside from the memorial and is easy to miss for what it is. There are no directions to the memorial on or off campus and there is no parking when you finally get there.
The parking lot markers in Prentice lot where the four murdered students fell and bled were finally closed off to parking due to the pressures of the May 4 Task Force and its supporters. Yet the ceremony to dedicate the markers was scripted by the university and made no mention of the events of May 4, 1970, including who shot and killed these four young students and why they were in that lot that day in May.
In 1990, with the dedication of the May 4 Memorial, the KSU administration has put on its own memorial program every five years. The May 4 Task Force and its supporters while, welcoming the university's renewed interest and acknowledgement of the importance of the commemoration process felt that it should not interfere nor replace the efforts of others to commemorate the May 4 events.
However, it has become apparent since 1990 that this is exactly what the KSU administration wants to do. The tenacity of the Task Force and its efforts have not gone unnoticed by the national and international media, especially in years divisible by five. We live in an era that is ruled by public relations and image. Despite the commercial that stresses the opposite, image IS everything and the university and the state of Ohio know that.
The May 4 Task Force, comprised of students and supporters has outmaneuvered the forces of the university and the state of Ohio for the hearts and minds of the public. And that has got to really irk the powerful who are very used to getting their own way whenever they want. So we see efforts by the KSU administration to compete with the May 4 Task Force in 1990 and 1995 with programs of their own. However the world still recognizes the May 4 Task Force program replete with its call for justice in the murders and all their "left-wing", "radical", speakers and causes. And the state of Ohio and the KSU administration still cannot stand it.
So as we approach the millennium we have the formation of the "May 4, 1970, 30th Commemoration Committee" by Carol Cartwright and the KSU administration. At first it seemed like the KSU administration was finally acknowledging its proper role as one of many in the commemoration process which would include its acknowledgment of the historic role of the May 4 Task Force. Despite containing some very honest individuals who had sincere feelings about May 4, 1970, it was obvious that the committee's main purpose for existence was to overwhelm and supplant the efforts of the May 4 Task Force in the media, thus rendering the Task Force's efforts superfluous and invisible.
And to a certain extent it was working. Although the May 4 Task Force had a token membership in the committee, the committee's control of information through the university's powerful public relations department enabled it to marginalize and/or ignore the May 4 Task Force's role in the 30th commemoration as well as its historic roll. Newspaper coverage of this year's commemoration either ignored the Task Force's program altogether or sublimated it to that of Cartwright's committee. To the media and the public it seemed as though it were an "enlightened" KSU university administration and NOT the students of the May 4 Task Force and their supporters who were responsible for courageously preserving the truth about the events of May 4, 1970 and boldly commemorating them each year. I was reminded of the process of historic amnesia so often used by Soviet Russia when it wanted to forget an unsavory and embarrassing past.
In essence, what we were witnessing was a calculated distortion or rewriting of history by the KSU administration. It is my opinion that their plan was to so marginalize the May 4 Task Force that it would just disappear due to irrelevance (now that the"responsible" people were in charge.) or that that they would use the 30th Commemoration process (or the next, if need be) to bureaucratically eliminate the May 4 Task Force from campus through their ultimate control over the student press and student funding. Thus, the administration would assume ownership over the memorial process and be able to limit and control its content and what the nation and world would witness coming from the Kent State campus each May 4.
Of course it is highly unlikely that this would have happened or will ever happen. The May 4 Task Force is not just the students at Kent State who attend meetings every Thursday to plan the annual commemoration and other educational programs. They are the collective strength of every person who has come to Kent over the past thirty years to remember May 4, 1970, including past Task Force members, including the members of the families of the wounded and murdered students and including the millions of people who protested the war in Vietnam and still seek social justice in the new millennium. They are the May 4 Family and they support a just commemoration and they are everywhere Carol Cartwright.
The true colors of the administration became rather obvious when the Task Force announced that it would have a taped speech from Mumia Abu-Jamal at the Commemoration. All of sudden the KSU administration had to publicly separate itself and its program from that of the May 4 Task Force. All that time and effort spent on trying to make the Task Force irrelevant gone to waste. Although the mainstream press (and I include KSU's student newspaper in this group) has been trashing the Task Force for that decision and although the KSU administration has been putting pressure on the May 4 Task Force to eliminate the speech from its program and although the KSU administration has been trying to cause a division among the students wounded at Kent and the mothers of the murdered students (who are all scheduled to be here this May 4) and the May 4 Task Force, and although the Governor of Ohio and certain state legislatures and even a NY congesemnan have put pressure on the KSU administration to put pressure on the May 4 Task force to dump Mumia's speech, IT ISN'T GOING TO HAPPEN! The May 4 Task Force has received incredible support for its decision to not buckle under to the pressure of the state and the university administration. After all, in 1970, the university and the state of Ohio decided to ignore the constitution and limit the right of the students at Kent State to express their opinions in a legal and peaceful manner and they murdered them when they did it anyway. How much has really changed in 30 years? How much has the state of Ohio and the university learned? Apparently nothing. The KSU university administration and the state of Ohio must never be able to assume ownership of May 4,1970 and thus prevent all other opinions from being voiced. Democracy is inclusive, not exclusive. If the KSU administration and the state of Ohio fear 3 and one half minutes of the spoken word by a person whose politics they disagree with and actively try to suppress it, what does that say of the way they would deal with the commemoration process in the future if they had sole ownership?
I did not mention the University's desecration of the May 4, 1970 site which prompted a 2 year protest against the universtiy administration in the late 1970s. Link here for Bill Arthrell's excellent article on the gym struggle and check out our pages on this site dealing with the gym struggle and the university's attempt to bury the truth about May 4,1970 over two decades ago.
There has also been controversy surrounding a taped speech by Mumia Abu-Jamal to be given at this year's Antioch College (in Ohio) commencement. Click here to read statements by the presidents of both KSU and Antioch in response to criticism on having Mumia's spoken words aired publically on their campuses.
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