Kent State and Student Activism

So as a lot of our readership might know, a few days ago was the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University. As a lot of our readership also knows, this blog and the authors who write on it are also concerned with issues relating to student activism, and are frequently disillusioned by the common perceptions that students these days, overwhelmingly, are too lazy (or preoccupied) to deal with the pressing issues of their day.

This article at Salon, while similarly lambasting the current state of affairs, got me thinking about our notions of activism and the past, especially around the time of the Vietnam War. You often hear about people saying that “back then,” students stood up for things, often in the face of guns and popular disdain (we heard much of that at the Remembering Ford Hall event). And they did stand up in response to the shootings, to the tune of a national student strike and a huge rally in Washington, DC. But, apparently, right after the initial buzz, people were just as content then to sit around in the sun or play frisbee as we are now to sit around watching reality TV and talking about how much the situation sucks.

Quick Edit: I sound like I’m saying a national student strike, involving 4 million students and campuses across the country, is no big deal. Which I’m not. But I am saying that after the initial strong start, people started to lose their sense of urgency and went back to their daily lives (which, after all, is only to be expected, right?)


3 thoughts on “Kent State and Student Activism”

  1. I think a rereading of the chapter on “means and ends” in Rules for Radicals may be in order. The type of activism we do ought not to be what we think of as ‘real’ activism or nostalgic ‘this is what they did back in the day’ but rather what is most effective given our goals with the means available.

    I really hate when people look to what students did in the 60s and lament that students don’t do the same today. Mass protests of vietnam was a tactic in a larger strategy. If that was the most effective tactic today, the war in Iraq wouldn’t have happened because we had even bigger protests beforehand. We have to focus on finding things that work, not on finding things that satisfy our feelings that we are student activists by gum and we like marching.

    This doesn’t mean we give up the streets–for decades it has been a great tool, and it is part of student heritage. And to some degree its the power students have. I am just saying that the smart organizer isn’t nostalgic for the tactics of the past, but surprises the people representing the status quo with something new.

  2. It’s important to hear both sides of Kent State. From the linked wiki,” The protesters responded by throwing rocks, striking one campus Patrolman and forcing the Jeep to retreat.[7]”
    Did this merit lethal force? Nah, but the students involved were perhaps not the angelic innocents many make them out to be.
    This is *somewhat* near to me-one of the victims went to my high school

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