Kent State and the Frisbee Revolution

was a freshman at Georgetown University when it happened, 40 years ago
on May 4. Most of us didn't know what had taken place until late in the
day. We were in class or studying for finals, so hours went by until my
friends and I heard the news. On that warm spring Monday, the Ohio
National Guard had opened fire on an antiwar demonstration at Kent
State University and four students lay dead. Nine others were wounded.

It took a while to sink in. This was the sort of thing that happened in
South American dictatorships -- student protesters gunned down for
speaking out against the government. Not here.

Then I remembered that some of my high school classmates were at Kent
State, a campus fewer than 250 miles from my western New York hometown.
But I had no phone numbers for them; there was no immediate way to find
out if they were safe (they were).

In those faraway days before 24-hour cable news, the details were hazy
and slow in coming. That night, friends huddled around the tiny TV I
had in my room -- one of those early Sony portables with a fuzzy, black
and white picture the size of your palm. With each sketchy report,
anger and frustration grew in the room but didn't start to go over the
top until, believe it or not, The Tonight Show came on after the 11 o'clock news.

Johnny Carson's guest was Bob Hope, and when the sexagenarian comedian
launched into what was his standard routine those days -- lots of jokes
about long-haired hippies and smelly antiwar protesters -- the kids
crowded into my tiny dorm room were furious. On this of all nights how
could he be so crass as to trot out those tired one-liners about, well,

By the next morning, groups of students gathered around the campus
taking about Kent State and the events leading up to the killings. A
few days before, President Nixon had announced the invasion of
Cambodia, justifying the so-called "incursion" as necessary to protect
our troops in Vietnam. Protests had broken out at schools all over
America. With the Kent State deaths, we wondered what to do -- and what
would happen -- next.

A crowded meeting in the school's main assembly hall lasted late into
the night, filled with the earnest bombast of callow youth and plans of
action that ranged from Do Nothing 101 to Advanced Anarchy. The
bookstore's stock of Georgetown t-shirts sold out as kids scooped them
up and stenciled defiant red fists on the backs. My friend Romolo
Martemucci trimmed his red fist in green, a gesture of Italian-American

By midweek, two parallel strategies emerged: a national strike that
would shut down the country's colleges and universities -- both as a
protest and to give students the freedom to devote all their time to
mobilizing against the war -- and a massive rally in Washington, DC on
Saturday, May 9.

As did approximately 450 American schools, the Georgetown
administration yielded to the strike. We were given the option to
finish finals or take the grades we already had for the semester. We
went to Capitol Hill and tried to see our hometown members of Congress
to let our opposition to the war be known, then turned our attention to
the big Saturday rally. Because we were already in DC, much of the
logistics fell to us and the other colleges in town.

I volunteered to be a rally marshal, directing crowds and hoping to
prevent violence. On the main campus lawn, we were given a crash
medical course in how to cope with dehydration, tear gas attacks and
gunshot wounds.

At breakfast Saturday morning, with macho-laced concern, we told our
girlfriends to stay away from the rally; there might be trouble.
Instead, we suggested they go to the protest headquarters to help out.
As it turned out, they wound up more in danger than we were -- a small
group of neo-Nazis attacked the rally offices. Luckily, no one was
seriously hurt.

As for me, I was given a powder blue armband and stood with other
marshals on the periphery of the 100,000 person rally, enjoying a
lovely sunny day. For its protection, the White House had been ringed
with DC Transit buses parked nose to tail.

Nothing happened until late in the day, when an army water truck came
barreling toward us and we linked hands, as if that somehow would ward
it off. In fact, the truck veered away just before it reached our
paltry line of defense. In the next day's paper, I read that the
vehicle had been hijacked by Yippies and was last seen barreling across
a Potomac River bridge into the wilds of Virginia.

And then it was over. That night, rumors spread that police were going
to clear out groups of out-of-town demonstrators who were camped out in
Potomac Park near the monuments and that they would flee to the college
campuses. We stayed up all night waiting to take them in but it never

On May 15, two more students were killed and 12 wounded at Jackson
State University in Mississippi, with nowhere near the attention Kent
State received. The Jackson State students were African-American.

The mobilization that was supposed to continue with the close of school
fizzled out. Most Georgetown students took advantage of the early end
of the semester to bask in the sun and play on the lawn or simply go
home. A friend wrote an editorial in one of the campus newspapers
headlined, "The Frisbee Revolution." Those of us who were trying to
keep the protests alive were annoyed at the time, but he was right.
Once the impetus of the big rally was over, motivation vanished and
kids went back to being kids. The war retreated, out of sight, out of
mind. But it went on for another five, bloody, futile years.

Despite all the anger and worry today -- an economy in shambles; the
loss of jobs and security; wars continuing in Afghanistan and Iraq; and
a dysfunctional government hobbled by the stranglehold of campaign cash
and political hackery -- there's a similar lack of interest afflicting
many of those of those who rallied to the cause of Barack Obama in
2008, knocking on doors, contributing money -- voting.

With that exciting and historic election over and done, the attention
of many of them wandered elsewhere, consumed by self-interest or
distracted by media's oxymoron, reality TV, where ex-astronauts dance
with chorus girls and parents juggle eight children under the
omniscient gaze of the camera.

Friday's edition of the Financial Times
was headlined, "US shares tumble amid fears over debt," but also
featured a glossy magazine insert titled, "How to spend it." Options
include a Kevlar racing kayak, a game darting safari in Kenya and a
white gold lace bracelet with diamonds and rubies, a steal at $220,000.
On the same day came word that US unemployment for April hit 9.9
percent, despite a reported 290,000 new jobs.

Last week, thousands marched on Wall Street to protest the cynical
abuse for profit perpetrated by banks and corporate America. On May 17,
others will march on Washington's K Street, where lobbyists roam, not
free, but in pursuit of princely paychecks from those who seek
influence and clout.

All well and good. But in the great American elsewhere, the Frisbees are flying.

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