Remembering May 4th, 1970

(Circleville Herald, May 4, 2009)

This May 4th I will return again to my alma mater , Kent State University. 32 years ago I was arrested there with 192 others protesting Kent State’s decision to build a gym on the site on the May 4th 1970 fatal shootings of Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer, as well as the wounding of Dean Kahler, Alan Canfora, Joe Lewis, Robert Stamps, John Cleary, Tom Grace, Donald MacKenzie, Jim Russell, Doug Wrentmore. Since that time has Jim and Robert have died. When we are all gone, the experience of May 4th must not be forgotten.

This May 4th we shall ask ourselves what we have done with our lives, what have we done with the idealism we held in those days? Due in great part to the untiring efforts of Canfora, Stamps, Kahler and the students of the May 4th Task Force the university has now erected markers at the spots where Miller, Krause, Schroeder, Scheuer died in the Prentice hall parking lot, a hundred yards or more, downhill, from the Guardsmen’s M-1 rifles that killed them. A May 4th Memorial sculpture is now on site, as well as an Ohio Historical Society marker. A visitor/interpretive center in adjacent Taylor Hall, seen in the backdrop of so many photos of May 4th , is in progress.

It seemed to the 192 of us arrested 12 July 1977 that the university was trying to literally cover up the shootings with gymnasium concrete and brick. At that time there was only one small marker, a foot high, donated by a citizens group. Cars parked and dripped oil on the sites of Allison’s, Sandra’s, William’s death. Nixon had called us “bums” for opposing an immoral war. So many of the public thought it was about time we were shot, that more of us should have been killed. They told us so, taunting us through the tear gas later that Summer/Fall of 1977.

Many of the wounded on Blanket Hill May 4th as well as those arrested in 1977 have gone on to socially responsible careers: teacher, social worker, ACLU attorney, drug and alcohol counselor, water treatment plant operator. I became an EMT/Firefighter knowing that taking care of injured folks did not promote the inhumane values of leaders who brought us the Vietnam War and the May 4th shootings. 

1960s civil rights leader and student activist Mario Savio perhaps best voiced our concerns then:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

The un-Christian Iraq War is odious. The deaths of 5,000 Americans as well as the deaths of well over a million Iraqi and Afghanistani civilians are odious. Torture is odious. Palestinian children burned in Gaza with U.S.-supplied white phosphorus is odious. The redistribution of wealth upwards to the richest 5% , the impoverishment of the middle class under Republican “trickle down” economics is odious. Huge profit margins for the health insurance/pharmaceutical companies while one out of every six of our citizens is denied health care is odious.

The war makers, the corporate profiteers, and they are so often one and the same, have never voluntarily given up power. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton was handed billions of dollars of blood money. Dow Chemical profited greatly from napalm used to burn Vietnamese villages. From abolitionists who hid escaped slaves after the Supreme Court ruled that slaves where just chattel, like an escaped cow or sheep that had to forcibly returned to the slave owner, to 19th and 20th century labor strikers violently attacked by corporate goons spilling blood, to civil rights freedom riders to Iraq Veterans Against the War, our greatest patriots have been these righteous prophets who throw their bodies upon the machine. This is the lesson of May 4th, 1970.

Brad Cotton
Kent State Alumnus