KENT STATE — 40 YEARS LATER
by Jim Dorenkott
May 4th 1970 I am sitting in my classroom at college after getting out of the Navy. Students come running in up to my desk and almost whisper: “They just shot 4 students at Kent State.” Our voices become louder and the teacher interrupts us. We start telling the class and he lets us go on for a few minutes. Then he says we can either get back to the lessons or take it out in the hall. Of course we couldn’t think of anything else. They had just shot 4 American kids, our generation at Kent State, gunned them down in broad daylight and they were unarmed. No way were we going to go back to “lessons.”
A group of us went into the hall and started interacting with the growing number of students who had heard. We agreed to go back into our classes and lead discussions about it. If the teachers stopped us we would lead a walkout and meet outside and continue the discussion. So it continued till the school was at a standstill about 2 periods later. Many teachers not much older than us had just dismissed their classes or changed it to focus on the war and the shootings.
The next move was to tie into the rapidly growing network of colleges and schools reacting. Our college radio stations were keeping us informed of growing walkouts and resistance across the country. Within a couple of days this was organized into a network of several hundred radio stations which broadcast updates and status reports on various walkouts, shutdowns and protests against the shootings, the war and the escalation into Cambodia and Laos.
We organized demonstrations to the local town, but most of our activity was setting up a parallel university with our own campus. Some were taught by teachers and others by students. They were relevant to the struggles of the war and of the better world we constantly talked about wanting to build. Instead of sticking to the textbooks we used more current and more radical pamphlets and books. Those who participated were getting a rare opportunity to develop critical thinking which was strongly encouraged, and which was rarely allowed in the usual courses. Many of these parallel institutions continued on as free universities some of which continued in the major cities for several decades. It was also the beginning of students grading teachers at many schools.
Our school shut down till our graduation ceremony which I as a senior and many others participated in wearing black armbands. Once the school year ended and we left the campus it was much more difficult to continue the movement; it had to reorganize itself by hometowns and not having the mutual support took its toll. When students returned in the Fall some of the sting was gone but many of the reforms were continued. It was 5 years later that Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces took over Saigon and the Americans left.
Who could forget the picture which flashed around the world and united a generation.