Forty Six years ago today I was in my dorm room at Boston University, with my roommate, Cynthia Hillmann. It was another Spring day in Boston, and we had come back from classes and had lunch. We got the news that there had been shootings on the Kent State campus in Ohio. Somehow we borrowed a television set and started watching. What I saw shocked and frightened me. I was nineteen years old, and I was watching kids my age being shot by the Ohio National Guard.
By now, I had attended lots of rallies, Peace Marches, and anti-war events. I had run from tear gas, seen kids marching next to me hauled off by the Boston Police force, and witnessed all types of protest. But this was different; these were kids, and they had been killed for standing up against the War.
Things escalated quickly. People all over America started actively protesting the shootings by rioting and looting. It felt like the end of the world. Honestly. I was absolutely terrified. I started thinking that no place would be safe anymore; if students could get shot while attending a rally on their campus, what next? It seemed to me that none of us were going to be able to feel safe voicing our opinions ever again. Our Government had turned a corner and was now supporting execution of dissidents. What was going on? How could anyone justify killing students?
It was a complicated series of events that led to the Ohio killings. It was horrible, tragic, and a waste of young lives. But the Kent State killings galvanized a huge number of us into a stronger and more dedicated protest movement. Soon after what came to be known as “Kent State Day”, one hundred and twenty-five students and faculty members took over the top three floors of a dorm at 700 Commonwealth Avenue. I was one of those students.
Our intention was to create something positive out of this chaos. At first it was day and night long meetings and discussions with other activists who came from all over the Country to talk to us. We had to figure out how to feed everyone, clean the common areas, and keep everyone working and focused. We were all exhausted from the strain, emotion, and lack of sleep.I am sure there were some who tagged along in this venture for the ride; they may not have been too productive or honest in their motives. But there were some very bright, very dedicated young people who really wanted to change our society and end the Vietnam War. I saw this from the inside. I saw what it took on a teeny, tiny scale to stand up for what you believe in and make some small contribution to change.
Several good and positive things came out of the “occupation” of May, 1970. There was a series of free classes , called the “Communiversity”, offered to the public. There was a heightened awareness that non-violent protest could affect change. And for those of us who held tight on the top three floors of that dorm, there was a camaraderie and connection unlike anything any of us had ever known before. It was intense and thrilling and awful, all at the same time.
I still remember the feelings of May 4, 1970. They are always with me.
It was a really bad day.