At the May 1st rally assembly at City Hall in Montpelier, Vermont, there was a trio who performed social equality protest songs from the 1800s. It was a reminder of how long this fight for equal opportunity and equal rights has been going on. But there was also a man who sang a Woody Guthrie-type song of his own composition and later, at the State House, there was a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing.” Both hit me in an unexpected way. I found myself having flashbacks to the protest rallies of my youth and the picture that came to mind was not the rallies themselves, not the ones I attended during college, but the front page of the news papers on the morning of May 5, 1970, John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Mary Ann Vecchio, a fourteen-year-old runaway who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This Friday, May 4, is the 42nd anniversary of the shooting of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Students were protesting the invasion of Cambodia that had been announced by President Nixon on April 30. The National Guard was called in. There is still no clear explanation for what an audio tape of that day suggests, that there were four pistol shots. All that is known is that a minute later the Guardsmen, scared young men who were totally unprepared for what they were doing, opened fire. Four students, Jeffrey Miller, 20 (who is the victim in the Filo photo), Allison Krause, 19, William Schroeder, 19, and Sandra Scheuer, 20, died on the scene or at the hospital. Nine other students were wounded, one permanently paralyzed. The following day, four million college students went on strike and colleges and universities all over the country were closed. Then, the whole movement seemed to peter out.
Kent State scared the crap out of us. It still scares the crap out of me, more today than it did then.
I would love to say that I felt 100% safe yesterday, but that would be a lie. Even my beloved Vermont has a history of politically driven violence. The day after the bombing of the U. S. Marine barracks in Beirut, October 24, 1983, Billy Harvey walked into a country store in Pittsfield, Vermont, and shot Tania Zelensky in the face. In his mind, he had mashed up Reagan’s rhetoric about the Soviet “evil empire” with the Palestinian-Islamist terrorists who had never hit an American target before. Tania was the American-born daughter of Russian immigrants. She was 31 years old.
There are 200 more anti-government militias in this country today than on the day Tim McVeigh blew up the Murrah office building in Oklahoma City.
Maybe it was the timing of the “Put People First” rally that was effecting me – between the anniversaries of Oklahoma City and Kent State. It was just too many reminders of what is out there…..
The security personnel at our rally were there to assist more than anything else, evidenced by the way they cared for a gentleman who needed an ambulance to transport him to the hospital (more about him in Pat’s article about the rally.) But in Oakland, California, the police attacked the rally attendees, just as they attacked the Occupy rallies last fall. Oakland was not alone in the attacks on Occupiers. There was so much pepper spray used last fall, it’s a wonder there wasn’t a supply crisis.
None of this is making much sense, is it? Fear doesn’t make sense, especially fear that creeps up from nowhere the way it did yesterday.
As paranoid as Richard Nixon was, as much as the Republicans built a culture of fear and hatred around Bill Clinton, it was mild compared to the hatred and fear created around President Obama. And the 99%ers, all the disparate groups that joined together yesterday to raise their voices in protest over all the disparate inequalities and losses of rights and opportunities and power, they are associated with President Obama because they are protesting the very same things that President Obama promised to reverse and correct. The right wing is characterizing union members as “thugs” even when the unions they are talking about represent their kids’ kindergarten teachers. The right wing is calling pro-choice advocates “baby killers” and claiming that we all want to kill our babies in the womb. Those who want to impose their version of Christianity on the nation are calling those of us who really believe in freedom of religion “anti-God” and say we are “waging war on religion.” Those who want to curry votes from the NRA insist that Democrats will come into homes and seize our guns. The Republican Party has encouraged every fringe groups and conspiracy theorist out there. Their media shills talk about The New World Order and the conspiracy of Jewish bankers and build up lies about organizations like the Bilderberg Group to counter real concerns about conservative “think tanks” writing laws and buying elections. Go on any comment stream on the web and read how all liberals are allegedly sucking at the welfare teat, living off the hard work of others, have never held jobs or paid taxes. Liberals and progressives, Democrats and Independents have been dehumanized as Libtards and Libturds, baby-killers and thugs, lazy and non-productive….and dehumanization of the enemy is essential to making soldiers capable of taking human life.
That is what scares me. We are talking about policies and laws, they are dehumanizing anyone who stands in the way of the Republican dream of a one-party nation. The right wing is excusing the brutal treatment of protesters as justifiable to protect America from socialists and communists. Will they still be excusing the actions taken by fanatics to protect America when the bombs go off or the bullets are fired?
They talk about taking back their country, but this is our country, too, and we should not be afraid to exercise our Constitutional right to free assembly and free speech. The sad part is, the Constitution is not bullet-proof or bomb-proof and we’ve already learned that lesson.
To all the rally attendees, to the Occupiers, to the marchers, to the protesters everywhere in this country…you have my deepest respect for a courage you may not even know you possess.