Kent and Jackson State: Protest and Death; Hope and Defeat

I was 17 and a college dropout in May,
1970, the month of the Kent and Jackson State killings of protesting
For me these events came at the end of two years of active engagement in
many years of passive support for the antiwar and other social movements
of the
time. I had attended innumerable demonstrations, been chased by police
batons at the ready, handed out leaflets, read nearly every radical
I could get my hands on, and believed that radical social change was on

In Vietnam, millions were being butchered
by our county's desperate attempt to hold onto every outpost of its
empire, no matter what the imperial subjects wanted. At the end of
April, 1970,
I watched with hundreds of others in an MIT lecture hall as President
announced that he was further exporting U.S.-sponsored death and
destruction as
he radically expanded the U.S. attacks on Vietnam's neighbor, Cambodia.
Then, on May 4th the bullets flew at Kent State, killing four students.

The killings brought home to millions
across the country that our country's violence overseas would not spare
the citizens at home. Across the country, students went on strike in
millions. These included students at traditional radical centers like
Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin, Madison. But it also included
attending community colleges and thousands of high schools.

In Boston we planned for a citywide
demonstration. One faction wanted to invade and occupy the Massachusetts
House, seeking to broaden the confrontation with the forces of
authority. I was
in the faction that resisted that action, a position I've wondered about
ever since.

As we planned for the rally, it was not
just students who expressed support. We met with delegations from many
places - I can no longer remember precisely which workplaces these were
- where workers, who still had unions in those days, expressed
to the war and support of our protest. Some unknown thousands joined our
protests, as did many professionals.

The demonstration came. There were 100,000
people out on a weekday, protesting the murder of U.S. citizens and the
of Vietnamese and Cambodian citizens. Across the country there were
demonstrations. It seemed that the Southeast Asian war could not survive
militant rejection by an aroused and active citizenry.

But then the next day came. Gradually
students returned to their classrooms. After all, there were final exams
to be
prepared for. And the workers returned to work; there were paychecks
needing to
be brought home. When, 10 days after the Kent State shootings, two
were killed at Jackson State, there was little expression of outrage.
For one
thing, the dead were poor black - "African-America"
didn't exist yet - students in the south where murders of
protesting blacks was no stranger, who did not arouse quite as much
identification as did the white students of Kent State. But, alas, the
had already died over that week and half. When school resumed in the
fall, the
movement was but a shadow of its former self, gradually fizzling out
over the
next several years.

We did not realize it yet, but the Kent State
protests were the beginning of the end of the sixties' protest
In the national student and worker strikes encompassing millions, we
had exceeded many of our dreams. Yet, the empire didn't stop. It
didn't even hiccup. The bombs continued raining death and destruction on
Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for another five long years. The protests
And there was no accountability for the deaths in Kent State, at Jackson
or in Southeast Asia.

We didn't know it yet, but the lesson
learned by all too many of the post-Kent State protesters was that the
of people in our country hardly matter, that the forces of law and order
continue on regardless. Protest movements lost their force and power.
ultimately reigned supreme. Political and civic engagement became
largely a
spectator sport, as we watched the Watergate hearings on TV. We saw the
culmination of this defanging of social movements when, in 1981, the
newly-elected Ronald Reagan easily crushed the PATCO air traffic
strike with mass firings of thousands of strikers, dealing the labor
in the U.S. a blow from which it has never recovered.

In the decades since, there have been
important social movements, such as the nuclear freeze movement, the
against U.S. intervention in support of murderous regimes in Latin
America, or
that against the reckless expansion of nuclear power. There have been
successes. But the basic disempowerment of ordinary people has continued
reinforced as it was so recently by a corporatist politician claiming
that a
vote for him was a vote for a vacuous "hope," a hope that became
synonymous with business as usual once the election was over.

In the decades since the Kent and Jackson
State killings, the message that the rich and powerful can rule as they
has become ever stronger as we have seen the most rapid expansion in
ever seen in this country, with the wealthy waging unceasing class
against the majority. Millions of poor, largely people of color, have
thrown into horrific prisons resembling those in the most infamous human
offenders in the world, with systematic brutality, beatings, and rapes
hardly any outrage. The American empire continues to inflict death and
destruction to those in poor countries around the world. And the
impunity with
which traditional taboos against openly-expressed support for torture
disappeared as its organizers and supporters flood the air waves with
defenses shows that there is no longer much of a pretense of civility to
ruling powers.

But the protests after Kent State also
remind us that there are times when millions of people become fed up
with the
lies, the deceit, and the brutality of the powerful forces that rule.
as it is to believe that these voices will overcome their lethargy and
become aroused and challenge the powerful, we cannot give in to the
which those powerful rely upon.

We may not know when, but we can be assured
that moments of radical social protest will again sweep our country,
sooner than we think as we enter a long period of massive unemployment
that may
eventually shake the sense that the status quo, however bad, is good
When that moment comes we must do what we can to help the movements
and transform the forces which are brining misery to millions. As Joe
said before his firing squad death, "Don't mourn. Organize!"

Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst,
psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston
Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society
blog. He is a
founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the
working to change American Psychological Association
policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President-Elect
of Psychologists for Social

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