I listen to what young progressives and activists say about the U.S., I listen to their anger and frustration, and I empathize. At the same time, I am often struck by their indignation, their sense that the movement in the direction of fascism in the United States is something new. There is really nothing new about it. It’s always been this way. Those of us who lived through the 60s and 70s, who were part of the political militance of those days, saw our country for what it was and for what it is and especially, for how it hated. We can never forget those days, what we saw.
This month, May, in 1970, 36 years ago, the U.S. bombed Cambodia on the orders of Richard Nixon, expanding the Vietnam War. Students on college campuses across the country demonstrated. At Kent State in Ohio, a few windows had been broken in the ROTC building and someone had attempted to start a fire. The National Guard was called in. For reasons we will never know, the National Guard fired into the crowd of protesting students, hitting 13, and killing four of them. No weapons or guns of any kind were found, except those belonging to the Guard. Nobody knows what provoked the Guard to shoot, and shoot, and shoot, for a full 13 seconds into a crowd of unarmed college kids. There was never an investigation, and no National Guardsman was punished, civilly, administratively, or criminally. The only student who got an apology from Nixon was a bystander, a ROTC kid, who wasn’t demonstrating. When the Nixon White House tapes were released, Nixon was heard calling the protesters “bums” and saying they deserved whatever they got, including being murdered in cold blood.
I was a college freshman at the University of Washington when the Kent State massacre occurred. For the first time, I took to the streets. We met on campus first, about 10, 000 of us. I was here, in this meeting:
For the next two days, we marched, 7-10,000 of us, from the U.W. campus, down 45th Street, onto the I-5 onramp, and towards downtown Seattle.
The National Guard was called and we were teargassed, chased and hit with billy clubs.
A week or so later, as the protests continued, Seattle Black Panther captain Elmer Dixon, in front in the Panther demonstration at the Washington state capitol below, took the Fifth Amendment 17 times when being questioned by the House Internal Security committee.
A week later, at Jackson State in Mississippi, police again opened fire into a crowd of protesters, hitting 12 of them, killing two of them, 17-year-old James Earl Green and 18-year-old Phillip Gibbs:
A Jackson State dormitory was riddled with 460 rounds of bullets. There were never any arrests, there were never any prosecutions.
Those of us who came of age during these years know full well what America is. We watched, we learned, we screamed and grieved as our friends died in Vietnam, or were imprisoned or otherwise prosecuted for burning their draft cards, or were murdered by National Guardsmen or police, or jailed on trumped-up, bogus charges, sometimes for decades. What is happening now in this country is horrible, but it is nothing new and nothing different. Our nation has always been a nationalistic, brutal, colonizing, imperialist, racist nation, lusting after power, money, and control of the earth and its people. For a minute there, those of us who saw things clearly tried — and seemed to — make a difference. Today, it feels as though, looks as though, the clock has turned back, and we are losing everything we won, everything we fought for. I can only hope and pray that many many more of us resist than are currently resisting, in ways that make a difference, before it’s too late.
So that they are never forgotten, these are the names of the children America murdered in May of 1970:
Jeffrey Glenn Miller
William K. Schroeder
murdered by National Guardsmen at Kent State;
James Earl Green
murdered by police at Jackson State.
For peace and dreaming of a better world,