I have several small pet peeves that tend to rear their ugly heads at various points, but seriously, who doesn’t? Besides loud chewers and defining a word with the word being defined, this whole Star Wars Day nonsense irks me. “Why?!” you ask, “Aren’t you a red-blooded American who appreciates the cultural legacy that Star Wars has left?!” And the answer is, yes, I appreciate the cultural significance of the movie franchise, but for me, May 4th is a much more salient and potent day.
I grew up in a small community in Northeast Ohio, down the street from a college which was pretty much where the majority of my high school graduating class found themselves after high school. My mom grew up here and attended the same university, and while my dad grew up 20 minutes south of here, he also attended the university. And so because of this school’s proximity to my hometown and its importance in my life, the Kent State shootings have a profound impact on me, a girl who never went to Kent and a full-fledged millennial (who as you know don’t typically care about “old people things”). Furthermore, one of my uncles was in the Ohio National Guard, and has a connection to Kent (he wasn’t there), but I would’ve loved to hear his stories about the events. I had no idea he was connected until after his death; it’s funny the things we never say.
So why then do I care so much about the May 4th, 1970 shootings? So what, I’m a “townie” with parents who remember the road to town being closed that day, with people fearing that the protesters would soon be at the door? I care because as human being I know this story is important to our lives. I watched a PBS documentary a few weeks ago about 1970, and I was shocked at the tension that was conveyed through the film. The summer of love that defined the 1960s seemed to come crashing down in mere months. In the first third of the year the country saw the escalation of Vietnam into Cambodia, at a time when people thought that things were winding down…add to that students who felt that the war was wrong and that there was no need for teenagers and young adults to be sent into this conflict, and you get a powder keg of a situation. I think (from my millennial perspective) that this was one of those defining moments for a generation- people were protesting and 4 college students were killed. There was a teacher at my middle school who knew one of those killed; she was on her way to class, and was in no way involved in the situation. From reading the old Newsweek piece from 1970, neither were the other 3.
We talk about “safe places” from protesting and events that “mean something to people,” but by the same token, these past events should mean something too. May 4th meant something 46 years ago; today we should continue to remember it, and hope for peace. Marcus Cicero (yes, the great Roman orator) once said “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” This is no different. If we fail to remember a day when 4 college students were shot while others assembled and protested, we disgrace their memories and we run the risk of repeating ourselves. If we call it “irrelevant” or “for old people” and scoff at it because we just “can’t relate” then we miss the connections that are inherent among us all. History has always been intriguing to me because when you cut to the core, people have always been similar throughout the ages.
I wandered the grounds of Taylor Hall today, looking at the Victory Bell, the parking lot, the memorials, the Pagoda, and I can’t imagine. I’ve seen the pictures; I’ve read the stories, but I can’t imagine what those people felt, whether students or National Guardsmen. All I know is that these people and this event signaled the shift, heralded that the world was never going to be the same. Awful things could happen in the middle of nowhere America. The significance is real to me, and I was happy to see that still, 46 years later, students and people are visiting the sites where the students fell and leaving messages:
(I couldn’t resist the picture of the famous black squirrel coming to survey the site too)
To insert my linguistics-self in here, the second chalk message struck me as interesting with its use of #onceaflashalwaysaflash. Through this simple chalk message, the writer (a student I’d imagine) connects the world of today with the world of yesterday, both within the hashtag itself, but also through using the hashtag to show support, solidarity, and remembrance for humans in a world before mass media of the scale we know today. In our world where large protests are a relic of the past, the simple extension of our conventions to the stories of the past serve to pull them towards us, continuing their salience and relevance to our lives today.
If you want to hear interviews with people who were there, who saw the events unfold, Kent State has some archival material.