Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« Make That Change | Main | Moyers on America: Capitol Crimes »

Michael Winship: Kent State and the Frisbee Revolution

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Kent State and the Frisbee Revolution"
By Michael Winship

I was a freshman at Georgetown University when it happened, 40 years ago on May 4. Most of us didn't know what had taken place until late in the day. We were in class or studying for finals, so hours went by until my friends and I heard the news. On that warm spring Monday, the Ohio National Guard had opened fire on an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University and four students lay dead. Nine others were wounded.

It took a while to sink in. This was the sort of thing that happened in South American dictatorships - student protestors gunned down for speaking out against the government. Not here.

Then I remembered that some of my high school classmates were at Kent State, a campus fewer than 250 miles from my western New York hometown. But I had no phone numbers for them; there was no immediate way to find out if they were safe (they were).

In those faraway days before 24-hour cable news, the details were hazy and slow in coming. That night, friends huddled around the tiny TV I had in my room - one of those early Sony tummy tubes with a fuzzy, black and white picture the size of your palm. With each sketchy report, anger and frustration grew in the room but didn't start to go over the top until, believe it or not, THE TONIGHT SHOW came on after the 11 o'clock news.

Johnny Carson's guest was Bob Hope, and when the sexagenarian comedian launched into what was his standard routine those days - lots of jokes about long-haired hippies and smelly anti-war protesters - the kids crowded into my tiny dorm room were furious. On this of all nights how could he be so crass as to trot out those tired one-liners about, well, us?

By the next morning, groups of students gathered around the campus taking about Kent State and the events leading up to the killings. A few days before, President Nixon had announced the invasion of Cambodia, justifying the so-called "incursion" as necessary to protect our troops in Vietnam. Protests had broken out at schools all over America. With the Kent State deaths, we wondered what to do - and what would happen - next.

A crowded meeting in the school's main assembly hall lasted late into the night, filled with the earnest bombast of callow youth and plans of action that ranged from Do Nothing 101 to Advanced Anarchy. The bookstore's stock of Georgetown t-shirts sold out as kids scooped them up and stenciled defiant red fists on the backs. My friend Romolo Martemucci trimmed his red fist in green, a gesture of Italian-American solidarity.

By mid-week, two parallel strategies emerged: a national strike that would shut down the country's colleges and universities - both as a protest and to give students the freedom to devote all their time to mobilizing against the war - and a massive rally in Washington, DC on Saturday, May 9.

As did approximately 450 American schools, the Georgetown administration yielded to the strike. We were given the option to finish finals or take the grades we already had for the semester. We went to Capitol Hill and tried to see our hometown members of Congress to let our opposition to the war be known, then turned our attention to the big Saturday rally. Because we were already in DC, much of the logistics fell to us and the other colleges in town.

I volunteered to be a rally marshal, directing crowds and hoping to prevent violence. On the main campus lawn, we were given a crash medical course in how to cope with dehydration, tear gas attacks and gunshot wounds.

At breakfast Saturday morning, with macho-laced concern, we told our girlfriends to stay away from the rally; there might be trouble. Instead, we suggested they go to the protest headquarters to help out. As it turned out, they wound up more in danger than we were - a small group of neo-Nazis attacked the rally offices. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.

As for me, I was given a powder blue armband and stood with other marshals on the periphery of the 100,000 person rally, enjoying a lovely sunny day. For its protection, the White House had been ringed with DC Transit buses parked nose to tail.

Nothing happened until late in the day, when an army water truck came barreling toward us and we linked hands, as if that somehow would ward it off. In fact, the truck veered away just before it reached our paltry line of defense. In the next day's paper, I read that the vehicle had been hijacked by Yippies and was last seen barreling across a Potomac River bridge into the wilds of Virginia.

And then it was over. That night, rumors spread that police were going to clear out groups of out-of-town demonstrators who were camped out in Potomac Park near the monuments and that they would flee to the college campuses. We stayed up all night waiting to take them in but it never happened.

On May 15, two more students were killed and 12 wounded at Jackson State University in Mississippi, with nowhere near the attention Kent State received. The Jackson State students were African-American.

The mobilization that was supposed to continue with the close of school fizzled out. Most Georgetown students took advantage of the early end of the semester to bask in the sun and play on the lawn or simply go home. A friend wrote an editorial in one of the campus newspapers headlined, "The Frisbee Revolution." Those of us who were trying to keep the protests alive were annoyed at the time, but he was right. Once the impetus of the big rally was over, motivation vanished and kids went back to being kids. The war retreated, out of sight, out of mind. But it went on for another five, bloody, futile years.

Despite all the anger and worry today: an economy in shambles; the loss of jobs and security; wars continuing in Afghanistan and Iraq; and a dysfunctional government hobbled by the stranglehold of campaign cash and political hackery, there's a similar lack of interest afflicting many of those of those who rallied to the cause of Barack Obama in 2008, knocking on doors, contributing money - voting.

With that exciting and historic election over and done, the attention of many of them wandered elsewhere, consumed by self-interest or distracted by media's oxymoron, reality TV, where ex-astronauts dance with chorus girls and parents juggle eight children under the omniscient gaze of the camera.

Friday's edition of the FINANCIAL TIMES was headlined, "US shares tumble amid fears over debt," but also featured a glossy magazine insert titled, "How to spend it." Options include a Kevlar racing kayak, a game darting safari in Kenya and a white gold lace bracelet with diamonds and rubies, a steal at $220,000. On the same day came word that US unemployment for April hit 9.9 percent, despite a reported 290,000 new jobs.

Last week, thousands marched on Wall Street to protest the cynical abuse for profit perpetrated by banks and corporate America. On May 17, others will march on Washington's K Street, where lobbyists roam, not free, but in pursuit of princely paychecks from those who seek influence and clout.

All well and good. But in the great American elsewhere, the Frisbees are flying.


Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/1983

Comments

I hope that you will keep in touch with your former viewers on your BLOG. Your program was absolutely the very best of all TV/radio "shows." No voice was better atuned to the realities of the U.S. political-economical system than that of Bill Moyers. Thank you! Do keep in touch with your former viewers.

Jack Martin opined, in part, "If one harms the profits, stock price or good name of a corporate entity, that "dissident" could face a crippling civil suit judgment even after jail time is done."

Got in the mail today a Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class action and Final Settlement Hearing in the case heard at United States District Court, Southern District of New York. It was The American medical association et al., against United HealthCare Corporation et al.

The American medical Association allege that United HealthCare provided insufficient reimbursement - and the case included:

"Using flawed databases...and inadequately disclosing the use of flawed databases..and designingpolicies to reduce reimbursement improperly...

Yesiree bob

You can't give yourself a 1.8 BILLION dollar CEO "package"

WITHOUT a "flawed database"...

Intelligence failure?

Nope.

DESIGNED to fail.

They ruined themselves.

Now, everyone knows about those places in such a BIG country like USA that are so "...backwater that the sun don't shine there..."

And no one expects that backwater contingent to understand

the pet peeves of other kinds of people

when it comes to DATA.

United Health Group has already lined up another company to create another "flawed database"...

There is no rational explanation for iniquity.

Living in a country where tree-huggers and animal rights plotters are prosecuted under national security laws designed to charge terrorists, over-prices civil disobedience. If one harms the profits, stock price or good name of a corporate entity, that "dissident" could face a crippling civil suit judgment even after jail time is done. Law is now written to protect the corporate mega-citizen even when the majority is being hurt, and if Congress members are bought, judges are often worse, as they are also bribed and hand-picked.

Rational arguments are distorted by threats of mass job loss, even when the employees in question are performing harmful tasks in behalf of the oligarchy. Selective enforcement is the prevalent practice as police moonlight on the clock and perform special favors for the wealthy at taxpayer expense. The outcome of these injustices of structural violence is anarchy and insecurity for those without the wherewithal to pay extra for formerly guaranteed human rights. It's not so much that people are litigious, but that they are screwed over at every turn and demoralized by open and obvious corruption. Students had ten times more political power in 1969 than now because most parents were really middle class then, and not the deluded debtors so ubiquitous today. (My son was told yesterday at work that if he did not drop his company sponsored health insurance that his job was at risk. Such is the current condition of most skilled American workers. I'm sure he would be unemployed were he to take May 17th off for a fruitless protest.) We are a lesser people than the Greeks. Will we soon envy the Mexican political demographic? (Please Master, let me wet my beak.)

Hey Michael,
The Guard turned and fired at students as everyone was leaving, no student was even close. Methodist Publications at Gen. Bd. of Church & Society has a chronological paperback with photos and narrative that clears misinformation that was publicized.

The tumult in Greece, and has everyone forgotten Iran already...?

are they also "frisbee revolutions"...?

The groundwork needs to be laid

BEFORE the presence of throngs in the street

as the all-important "visual" signature.

Meaning that you march only once as a symbolic punctuation to a "Declaration of Independence."

The Declaration of Independence was a CIVILIZED document that followed the ancient rules of Europe's "Just War" "doctrine.

It's a balancing act - the more ground "taken" in the war by PEACEFUL activity - like frisbee contests :-)

the greater possibility to win the violent "battles" that crop up...

If the individual person as a membe of the military

and all other home ground organization of upholders of the peace (police et al)

first and foremost are ALLOWED to choose whether to participate in the mission, or not, then we'll have something resembling a REAL "government"...

And that can't be done (decisions) unless the 4th estate's DUTY (the free press)

to supply the TRUTH "facts" is honorably fulfilled.

But we are in the big bowl of crazy now where "intelligence failure" is the only "fact" being provided

and always AFTER the fact of police shooting on protestors...

The rationalizations for pre-emptive strikes are getting stranger and stranger...

"Need to Know" will fail because it is not a "free press" and people need to know stuff like this:

check out Lake Havasu City News Herald on the internet - the recent killing of a citizen bearing arms in a state that ALLOWS everybody to bear arms

by a SWAT team...and DO read between the lines...

People,

a war HAS BEEN already declared by local governments.

They are endagering lives and working on QUICKLY sucking out any equity people may have left in their home property

by shutting off electricity and water BEFORE due dates

charging a "fee" to re-establish service

and KNOWNING that such disruptions tend to ruin plumbing and circuits when turned back on...

What other PROOF do we need that this economic mess

IS

bringing down the infrastructure of the USA - from the bottom up.

It is ILLEGAL for municiple "authorities" to depend on local "budgets"

in such a way that turning OFF the services before due dates is the only way that they can operate???!!!

The Federal Reserve Board

KNOWS

that the $$$ is NOT in the system at the "consumer" level...NEVER WAS...

So is it NOT a declaration of war against the citizens by the FRB

to continue to RUIN what property people may have

and/or throw them out in the street altogether...?

Unfortunately, the historical epic unfolding in Nevada and Arizona will be called:

How the West Was LOST


I was a little older than you, Mr. Winship, when Kent State occurred. Thank you for reminding us that students also died at Jackson State University.

As these present wars began, I thought of our generation as Cassandras, doomed ever to predict their tragic consequences without being believed by those around us and those in power.

Perhaps instead we more resemble Tiresias, slave to the same god but older far, and blind. His truths, sought by Oedipus, bring as an immediate consequence scorn and rage, while the chorus, frisbee throwers all, as Sophocles has it in his play, sing:

"I do not approve what was said

nor can I deny it.

I do not know what to say;

I am in a flutter of foreboding...

One man may pass another in wisdom but I would never agree

with those who find fault with the king

till I should see the word proved right beyond doubt..."

By the end of the play, those who had supported Oedipus now banish him from the city, and in the words now of Stravinsky's opera, they sing;

"Farewell, Oedipus; we loved you."

Post a comment

THE MOYERS BLOG is our forum for viewers' comments intended for discussing and debating ideas and issues raised on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. THE MOYERS BLOG invites you to share your thoughts. We are committed to keeping an open discussion; in order to preserve a civil, respectful dialogue, our editors reserve the right to remove or alter any comments that we find unacceptable, for any reason. For more information, please click here.

THE MOYERS BLOG
A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

Your Comments

Podcasts

THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

Click to subscribe in iTunes

Subscribe with another reader

Get the vodcast (help)

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ