Monsters 1832, 1970 and 2011

by Brad Cotton

 ( published in The Circleville Herald 4 May 2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daughter Lauren and I saw Les Miserables  this past March at the Ohio Theatre. I was proud simply to have finished all 1,463 unabridged pages of Hugo’s historical novel, even reading up on French 19th Century history to further appreciate the work. I was especially moved by the students and workers at the barricades of the June 1832 uprising against the restored monarchy waving the flag of protest singing :

 

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

who will not slaves again!

 

I thought of my friend Alan Canfora waving  a protest flag at the National Guard at Kent State 4 May 1970 moments before he was shot, four other  students killed, 9 wounded.  Unlike the Paris uprisings, the students at Kent were unarmed . Like the Paris 1832 students, the Kent 1970 students had good reason to be angry.

John F. Kennedy inspired us Sixties activists to work for the larger good with “Ask not what your Country can do for you, ask  what you can do for your Country.” Reverend Martin Luther King’s dream of a better nation became ours. We believed we could stop the war in Vietnam, a war wherein we were the Redcoats oppressing  a war for independence, a war that killed Martin Luther King’s dream of justice by wasting billions needed for education and combating poverty. The War made us slaves, drafted, killed and wounded mentally and physically. Dow Chemical made millions manufacturing napalm, corporate America became rich from war contracts. So little has changed now from 1968. War and corporate profits are up, wages, healthcare and education are down. There is no draft, that is true, except  for many in poor socio-economic circumstances who find the Army the only way out. 

1968 saw Martin Luther King murdered supporting a Memphis sanitation workers strike. How ironic given today’s attacks on unions in Wisconsin and Ohio. Robert F. Kennedy,  the likely anti-war winner of the Democratic nomination for President was murdered. Pro-war Hubert Humphrey was nominated while we were clubbed in the streets of Chicago chanting “The Whole World is Watching.” 

1969 saw a desperation. Many gave up on changing the soul of the country, others became radicalized and violent. Some of those who joined the violent Weathermen had been the most altruistic. John Kay, himself a veteran , now leader of the band “Steppenwolf” wrote of our sense of aloneness and abandonment  in the lyrics for “Monster”:

 

America where are you now?

Don’t you care about your sons and daughters?

Don’t you know,  we  need you now?

We can’t fight alone against the monster.

 

1970: Nixon called us “bums”. Governor Rhodes of Ohio on sending the National Guard to Kent State, trying to look tough as the primary election approached promised to “use every weapon possible to eradicate the problem.”  Ronald Reagan, the “saint” of today’s political right said of student protestors in his state “If the students want a bloodbath, let’s get it over with .” Reagan was true to his words. James Rector was shot to death, another student blinded. Rhodes kept his word also. 

Steppenwolf's monster breathed foully  through Nixon, doubling down on the war 30 April 1970 and through the orders than can now clearly be heard on audiotape ordering the Guard to fire on unarmed students a hundred downhill yards away 4 May 1970. The monster wholly owned George W. Bush , lying and ordering the invasion of Iraq, certainly one of the darker and immoral moments in our history. The monster  threatens Barack Obama, who although he spoke like Franklin D. Roosevelt and  Rev. King, has not left Iraq and Afghanistan and who compromises when he should fight the wealthy, the corporations and the bankers who would break unions, break Social Security and Medicare, deny you healthcare unless you can ante up the cash first. The monster speaks through what we shall experience as perhaps the most dangerous threat to democracy we have yet seen: The Citizens United Supreme Court decision February 2010 allowing corporations to buy any election, any candidate, in any race, anytime, anywhere in the U.S.

It is time to fight for the soul of our nation, in honor of Kent students Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, William Schroeder , Jackson State students Phillip Gibbs and James Green, slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, Black Panther Fred Hampton, the 29 miners killed in the unsafe Massey Energy mine last year, the 45,000 who died without health insurance last year, everyone who has suffered  because profit,  privilege and prejudice were more important than persons. But we must fight like Jean Valjean, the  saintly hero of Les Miserables, who would only save lives, taking none.

 

Brad Cotton

Kent State Alumnus