Today I made a detour up to Kent on my way to Akron as the Kent State Memorial is something I feel we all should see if we are in the area, sort of like Pearl Harbor and Ground Zero. Granted some people who don't believe in activism or in the quote often misattribued to Thomas Jefferson, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" would not agree with me, but to me the Kent State Massacre which occurred on May 4, 1970 is as an important of an event in our country's history as Pearl Harbor and 9-11. Although far less people were killed at Kent State, the belief that citizens of a free country were free to assemble at any time and in any place died along with those four students. Granted violence had proceeded the events of May 4 and violence should never, ever have a place in civil disobedience. The burning of buildings and cars and the throwing of bottles and rocks do not endear to others one's political beliefs.
Many right wing zealots today say that to question the government is unpatriotic. Some have gone as far as to say that if you don't like what is occurring in this country, leave. But would any of these Tea party activists question the patriotism of Thomas Jefferson? And Thomas Jefferson DID say, “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” as well as "Every generation needs a new revolution". The Vietnam War protests during the early 70s were that generation's revolution and the war divided the country much as the ever widening philosophical differences between the right wing Tea Party and the left leaning liberals today are again sharply dividing it.
I entered the memorial area and immediately felt an inexplicable tension. The hair on my arms stood up and although the memorial area was designed to be peaceful, I was anything but. Questions ran through my mind and I began to wonder what it feels like to be so committed to a cause that you are willing to die for it. Not that those students were expecting to die, more like expecting to possibly go to jail. No one in that day and age would have ever thought that a branch of the United States military would fire on relatively unarmed citizens. What is a bottle or a rock against the firing of an M-16?
I also wondered why we are not seeing more protests in this day and age when atrocities and corruption are occurring to this very day. It seems like today no one wants an arrest on their record even for something as noble as a civil disobedience. Are people more worried about their own interests to care about fighting for something bigger than themselves? Do we just not care about the loggerhead turtles and the millions of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf or the hundreds of soldiers who are the same age as the Kent State students who are being killed in a war we can't win? Are we just too busy, too wrapped up in our own little world to even think beyond our circle, our lifetimes? In the world of today that can be understandable -- it is a struggle to just survive and not lose everything you own even if how much you own is TOO much. But during the 80s and 90s -- where was the activism then? Maybe my uneasiness at the memorial had to do with the fact that I consider myself an activist -- for animal welfare, for the environment, against unjust governments. So I know that if I had been at Kent State on the morning of May 4, 1970, I no doubt would have been in the middle of the fray.
The famous picture of Mary Ann Vecchio over Jeffrey Miller's body taken by John Filo to me seems to demonstrate the apathy that many people have today....in the photo it seems that no one besides Vecchio is even upset that a student has just been shot. In fact, the girl on the left appears to be looking at Miller's body like it were an everyday occurrence and is simply strolling on to her next class. The other students are looking away and not rendering any aid to Miller at all. How many of us today are those students? Ignoring what is occurring in the world, minding our own business, keeping a low profile and staying with our own agenda no matter what happens in the rest of the world.
There are three inscribed slabs of granite near a walkway at the memorial which I found to be extremely relevant to not only this tragedy but to all situations we may encounter in life :
Nearly ten years later the President's Commission on Campus Violence would issue a report that concluded that the shootings were "unneccessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable". Unfortunately the statement was ten years too late for Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheur. But if we all obey the mandate inscribed in those stones and continually ask questions when something is not right, learn what we can do to stand up to injustice and wrongs, and finally reflect on what has happened in the past so that such acts do not and cannot occur in the future then maybe the these students have made a difference with in the world with their memorial and they did not die in vain.