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Protests: The Legacy of Kent State


The headline reads: Decades after the Kent State shooting, the tragic legacy shapes its activism. This Washington Post article was a balm to my soul this morning. And sparked a response while sharing it on Twitter. I’ve not used Twitter much for long, connected posts which turns out is a premium only feature. Still don’t know what that’s called but the last time I did it with no issue. I guess it’s been a while. I digress as I copy all the 12 tweets into full blog post. At least this way I can really write. Back to it then.

I was warning friends prior to the rally in Charlottesville. In that case, the highest danger was having opposing sides. The cops protected the crazies, but the biggest danger turned out to be the guy who broke thru the barriers on the road.

There was a lot of planning (not enough) because it was a planned rally. These protests today are dangerous for three reasons. First, the inability and lack of real training for this type of protests by law enforcement. Secondly, the lack of law enforcement experience with college-based dissent – and not on the road as the George Floyd protests were. Thirdly, what I consider to be a failure of the college administrations.

My view of the Kent State massacre (tell it like it was) in 1970 was simply then youthful naivete. We never thought something like that could happen. It had never happened to college students (and predominately white and probably privileged) before. I remember the shock to my world 700 miles away. I was a freshman at a woman’s college in Decatur, Georgia. We were completely cushioned, living amongst extremely privileged, smart young woman (boy, did I not fit in!)

I never would have risked arrest, damage property or clash even verbally and still wouldn’t today. I wasn’t raised that way. (I frequently talk about what it was like in Georgia in the 50s and 60s.) At 72 and disabled, now I can’t participate, except as I did online with the Womens’ March in 2017.

As journalist, former editor, reporter and columnist, up until 15 years ago I always had a platform when I desired to write. Now I have little reach on social media. I have things I want to say from a perspective of living through the college years as anti-war protester. (I did participate in person, but it was minor and completely safe with only 8 others.)

So here goes again, the warnings. I did try to warn folks via social media in Charlottesville. My tenant in the basement had two biracial kids. She “had” to go downtown to protest the crazies. She told me some claimed to be antifa from out of town. I still tend to snort at that because she stood with them throughout her time downtown and they were quite passive. She did say there was heckling and someone even threw a water bottle. For those young people they were standing there in opposition and it was enough for them.

I understand civil disobedience. Nonviolent sit-ins reduce the danger. I looked for information about Martin Luther King and his approach:

“Like Gandhi, King used civil disobedience as a means of effectuating government change. It took the form of large-scale, non-violent refusals to obey government commands. There were sit-ins and marches, all carried out against the wishes of local authorities.

In King’s mind, the purpose was to “create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” Civil disobedience, if on a grand enough scale, forces the government to negotiate change.” (link)

The presence of “outside agitators” (the ones who started the rally and attended were not local nor even mostly Virginian) raises the stakes whatever the reason why they are there. After the rally the whole town had PTSD. The anger was palpable. It took me a few years to be able to talk about it all.

Sometimes though that anger was present before the rally. I was just diagnosed with PTSD at 72. I’ve been in and out of counseling for much of my adult life and for the last 8 years in weekly sessions. I’ve always been an angry person (for heaven’s sake, I’m a fourth Irish and a fourth Scottish, give me a break!). My anger could stem from childhood abuse I don’t even remember. If you can’t remember, you don’t deal with it. I was raised by a passive aggressive mother and always told to shut up if I expressed anger. (Ew, what an internal stew!)

And there’s the state of law enforcement. My husband is a former cop on campus at the University of Georgia and locally off campus. He has good memories and loves to talk about being present at the 19741 record streak-in. So I have notions of what the cops are going through from his perspective. He and his now retired cop buddies moan about leadership. One led a police acadamy for decades and he is disturbed. He says he teaches the correct approaches and then has to watch them do the opposite. He says it’s all about leadership. This increases the danger as we saw during the George Floyd protests. At least there weren’t people massacred but they were “trained” cops, not national guard.

I can identify with the drive to protest and the anger driving the protests. I’m angry about Gaza and the suffering and horrible attacks that clashed with generational trauma – a collective PTSD on the part of Jews and Israel. I tell you I protest the ongoing slaughter of civilians and deliberate conditions leading to starvation and probable torture. I’m not pro either side. I am anti-war still. The hallmarks war are starving, torture and killing. And war is usually by politicos in modern times. I see no difference between Vietnam and war on Gaza except Vietnam never stepped foot on this continent and therefore we should never have been there at all.

These protests?  Understandable anger. Inappropriate response by the powers that be (like my college years) only heightens that anger. It increases the risk of another Kent State.

Collectively, we don’t learn from history. Those too young to have lived it can’t grasp it. They are not taught it.

Except at Kent State.