Kent State: Review of a New History by a Participant in the Struggle

by Paul Garver

grace on kent state

Thomas Grace.  Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties.  Univ. of Massachusetts Press, Amherst and Boston, 2016, 384pp.

Tom Grace was one of the nine Kent State University students seriously wounded by a fusillade of gunshots from the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970, when he joined a student rally after leaving his university classroom.

Four other students were killed, two of whom were not even attending the protest rally.

In the aftermath of the shooting, numerous student leaders were prosecuted and imprisoned.  None of the officers who had issued order for the guardsmen to fire and even themselves joined in the shooting were ever prosecuted for their arguably criminal actions.

More than forty years later Tom Grace authored this temperate, well considered, and thoroughly researched history of the Kent State struggle.  It is  much more than a personal memoir.   A succinct account of how he came to be shot on that day is included in a prologue and in sidebars to the description of the day of the shootings, but this is not why he wrote this history.

Grace writes with commitment or passion, but with remarkable equanimity.  Neither he nor his fellow student activists appear as victims, but rather as combatants in a desperate struggle.  Their adversaries are not portrayed as villains, but as combatants on the other side with their own views and goals.

Tom Grace conducted interviews with some 47 Ohio student activists, meticulously scoured the campus and local newspapers, and placed their stories in the context of the national student antiwar movement.   He also compiled portraits of dozens of individual national guardsmen and officers involved in the shooting, drawing on records of their testimony before various investigative panels and tribunals.

Eighty pages of endnotes show how thoroughly Grace pored over the decades of local activist struggle and repression, while firmly situating it in the history of the national antiwar movement and its organizational structures.

The result of Grace’s study is a systematic deconstruction of many media-generated myths that were immediately projected onto the Kent State shootings and persist as a battle over the memory and meaning of May 4 that continues to the present day.  The events were not a tragic anomaly but were grounded in a tradition of student political activism that extended back to Ohio’s labor battles of the 1950s and to a decade of antiwar and black liberation struggles in the nation and on the campus itself.

As a public university in the American heartland, far from the coastal epicenters often associated with the 1960s movement,  Kent State proves in Grace’s account to be a microcosm of the national student antiwar movement of the “long sixties.”

The expansion of the university after World War II brought in growing numbers of working-class students from the industrial centers of northeast Ohio. Most of the Kent State activists  retained many of the core labor and New Deal values of their parents, despite disagreements about the Vietnam War.  They came from the same generational cohort as the American combat forces in Vietnam and the Ohio national guardsmen.

As the war’s rising costs came to be felt acutely in the home communities of Kent’s students, the growing antiwar movement on campus faced repression from the university administration and the political conservatives who dominated Portage County and the Ohio state government.

The deadly effort to suppress antiwar activism by gunfire on the campus was a logical stage of the cycle of radicalization and repression that began earlier in the 1960s and continued  well into the 1970s at Kent State. In the years that followed the shootings, contrary to myth, the antiwar movement continued to strengthen on campus, bolstered by an influx of returning Vietnam veterans.

One of the most original and useful features of this history  Grace provides us are updates on the life histories of the Kent State activists he studied. The vast majority of Kent State New Left activists remained actively committed to the social causes of their movement and incorporated these into their future life paths and careers.

Being somewhat older member of the same New Left generation as Thomas Grace, I appreciate how his detailed history focused on Kent State brings alive our shared history while demolishing many of the distortions perpetrated upon it.  It is no accident that many from our activist generation are helping to organize the Sanders democratic socialist candidacy that is proving attractive to  young people today.

Thomas M. Grace is adjunct professor of history at Erie Community College. A 1972 graduate of Kent State University, he earned a PhD in history from SUNY Buffalo after many years as a social worker and union representative.

 

 

Labor Movement’s May Day Promise

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1MAY06 -  Copyright David Bacon

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1MAY06 –
Copyright David Bacon

Erica Smiley May 1, 2016
The American Prospect

Some cast the labor movement as dying or even dead, but even amid attacks on collective bargaining workers are finding innovative ways to organize.

General view of the great crowds of organized and unorganized workers who took part in the May Day demonstration in Union Square, New York, May 1, 1929. , AP,

On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of railroad, mine, and factory workers in the United States put their livelihoods on the line and participated in a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. They were attacked by strikebreakers and police, but their uprising led to the creation of a holiday to honor workers—May Day—now known as International Workers Memorial Day in many countries around the world. Continue reading

Several Large NY Unions Stop Funding Working Families Party

Big N.Y. Unions Stop Funding Working Families Party — a Backer of Bernie Sanders

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-big-n-y-unions-stop-funding-working-families-party-article-1.2604723
Kenneth Lovett, Daily News

The Working Families Party, which is supporting Bernie Sanders for president, has lost the financial backing of several of the state’s biggest unions.

The rifts mostly began in 2014 over disagreements regarding Gov. Cuomo’s reelection and have continued through this year’s presidential primaries. Most of the state’s big unions are supporting Hillary Clinton.

“There were breaks that happened in the relationship between the unions and the WFP that still have not been repaired,” said one Democratic activist.

Many of the unions kept their disinvestment from the Working Families Party quiet for more than a year.

The powerful Service Employees International Union Local 1199 withdrew its funding and membership in late 2014. Continue reading

Verizon and Sanders: Bernie’s Remarks

iowa-berniesander_600x400Bernie Sanders for President
Yesterday the CEO of Verizon said that I was “contemptible.” He doesn’t like that yesterday I walked the picket line with striking Verizon workers, or that I think Verizon needs to pay its fair share in taxes.

Verizon’s attack reminded me of what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in New York City in 1936:

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Like FDR, I welcome the contempt of Verizon’s CEO. I welcome the hatred and contempt of every Wall Street banker, hedge fund manager, pharmaceutical lobbyist and fracking executive trying to stop our campaign.

Joslyn Williams and the Metro DC Labor Council

by Kurt Stand

Reposted from the Washington Socialist, April 2016

joslyn williams

After nearly 30 years, Joslyn Williams is stepping down as president of Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO.  He is succeeded by two people – Jackie Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 689, will serve as Council President (the first woman elected to that position), and Carlos Jimenez, most recently field organizer for Jobs with Justice, will take on the new position of Executive Director.  Each embraces the social unionism – unionism that connects workplace rights to workers’ democratic and civic rights – Williams espoused.

In order to fully appreciate the meaning of this moment when the torch is being passed to a new generation of leaders, it is worthwhile to look back upon the tradition of struggle within which Williams played such an important role.

Continue reading

Labor Leader Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez Today, March 31 is Cesar Chavez’ birthday. On this day throughout the nation there are many observances honoring Cesar’s work. We are grateful for all these recognitions, which continue to grow 23 years after Cesar’s passing in 1993. But Cesar said that if the union he helped build didn’t survive his death, then his life’s work would have been in vain. The UFW takes this responsibility seriously and carries on Cesar’s work of making the lives of farm workers better by aggressively helping farm workers organize, negotiate union contracts and win new legal protections.

A big focus of the UFW right now is helping farm workers get the same overtime pay as almost every other worker. Workers plan to commemorate Cesar Chavez month (the time between Cesar’s March 31 birthday and April 23 passing) by marching for fair overtime pay in support of the bill we told you about, AB 2757 “The Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016.” The bill would phase in paying California’s farm workers overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week by the year 2020.

Starting this Sunday, April 3, more than 10,000 farm workers up and down the west coast will take to the streets and march in 5 key agricultural areas. To do this is very expensive, but it’s time for worker’s voices to be heard. As Cesar told us, “I’m not going to ask for anything unless the workers want it. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.” Well, the workers are asking now. Will you help? Continue reading

California Teachers’ Unions Oppose Vergara

Huerta-SliderCalifornia Unions Appeal Decision in Meritless Vergara Lawsuit
Civil Rights Icon Dolores Huerta Joins Educators and Community Supporters in Urging Court to Overturn Flawed Decision for the Sake of All Students

LOS ANGELES — Attorneys representing more than 400,000 members of the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers appeared in the California Court of Appeal today in downtown Los Angeles, to ask that the June 2014 ruling in the deceptive and meritless Vergara v. State of California be overturned for the sake of California’s six million students.

At a press conference before arguments were presented to the Court, Attorney Michael Rubin laid out the case for reversing the faulty opinion of Judge Rolf M. Treu. Appearing with Rubin were longtime union and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta ( A DSA Honorary Chair), southern California elementary school teacher Gaby Ibarra, and Martha Sanchez, a concerned parent who believes current laws work best for students.

Stating that Judge Treu’s decision striking down five California Education Code provisions “is without support in law or fact,” the speakers predicted that Treu’s numerous errors will be clearly visible to the appeals court, and the earlier Superior Court judgment will be overturned. Treu’s decision was stayed pending appeal. But if upheld, it would cause great harm to public education. Continue reading

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