JIM DORENKOTT

Photograph by John Filo that united our rage and fueled our resolve.

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.

–Jim Dorenkott


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3 Responses to JIM DORENKOTT

  1. Anne Collingwood says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I hadn’t heard the story about what was happening inside the classrooms that day.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for posting this. Just wanted to add that out of tragedy at Kent State, many positive struggles came forth. One of them was the Progressive Student Network (PSN) in the midwest. The PSN was founded on the 10th anniversary of the National Guard’s killing of student at Kent State. The PSN successfully mobilized against the U.S. government’s promotion of the wars in Central America, apartheid in S. Africa, etc. It may sound corny, but it is true: the struggles of the past spur, inspire, and lay the foundation for the future.

  3. E.M. Schorb says:

    I appreciated your piece, Jim. I thought you might be interested in my poem. “Dirge for the Dead Students” was published as a broadside by SANE at the time of the event and was later included in Peace is Our Profession, edited by Jan Barry, 1981. It was set to music by the composer Daniel Jahn and included in his NOON/AFTERNOON: American Poetry in Song.

    DIRGE FOR THE DEAD STUDENTS
    (Kent State University, Ohio, 1970)

    She’d only come to look
    when bullets broke her flesh
    A frosh, she held a book
    when bullets broke her flesh
    with almost wistful sighs
    Her face was round and fresh
    With almost wistful sighs
    the bullets raped her body
    with almost wistful sighs
    they pierced her gentle body
    and her book dropped open to
    a page all torn and bloody
    her book dropped open to
    a torn and bloody page
    containing nothing new
    a torn and bloody page
    each child must learn to read
    a “History of Our Age”
    each child must learn to read
    O study, students, study
    this “History of Greed”
    O study, students, study
    learn what they want from you
    another age as bloody
    is what they want from you
    another age befouled
    and nothing else will do
    another age befouled
    by Great-Granddaddy’s Greed
    (no wonder Ginsberg Howled!)
    O Great-Granddaddy’s Greed
    sucks, like a Vampire Bat,
    the blood of his living seed
    sucks, like a Vampire Bat
    the blood of our youth away
    sucks, like a cornered rat,
    the Pestilence of Our Day
    and spits into our faces
    the horrors of Our Day
    and spits into our faces
    spreading disease and death
    that virus among the races
    spreading disease and death
    destruction throughout the world
    with its maddening murderous breath
    destruction throughout the world
    that Malthusian explanation
    Picture the bombs being hurled
    that Malthusian explanation
    and a baby crying for shelter
    while the Senate is on vacation
    and a baby crying for shelter
    and her mother and father dead
    and the bombs dropping helter-skelter
    and her mother and father dead
    and the President making decisions
    (who will his daughter wed?)
    and the President making decisions
    Search and Destroy is the way
    and the President making revisions
    destroy all their crops on the way
    and the baby is blown to pieces
    while the President goes to pray
    and the baby is blown to pieces
    while the President speaks to God
    and the rich collect rent on their leases
    while the President speaks to God
    and the students are shot for complaining
    and the Haves of the world think it odd
    that the students (who Have) are complaining
    (these children have so much to learn!)
    and the government’s busy explaining
    for these children have so much to learn
    in double-talk tripled twice over
    how we keep what we get when we earn
    in double-talk tripled twice over
    how Ends do all Means justify
    in News-Speak all wrapped up in clover
    how Ends do all Means justify
    and death to the man who denies it
    so, hush up, dear students, or die!
    For death comes to him who denies it
    as many dead children could tell
    and praise to the bastard who buys it
    as many dead children could tell
    and four dead students provided
    a proof in the sun when they fell
    these four dead students provided
    us all with a living example
    that day in the sun when they tried it
    gave us proof and a living example
    of what the “Great” in their greed are about
    and four dead students are ample
    to show what the State is about
    (Christ, any one baby who died
    should have left us no shadow of doubt!)
    Now four young students have died
    shot dead in the name of the law
    (but in fact for the lies they denied)
    SHOT DEAD IN THE NAME OF THE LAW
    FOR THE TERRIBLE TRUTH THAT THEY SAW.

    Peace,
    Ed

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