A day that should ‘live in infamy’

Many people today are celebrating May 4 as the lisping salutation of Star Wars’ “May the 4th be with you.” I’m a big fan, don’t get me wrong–I’m all for celebrating George Lucas’ creation.

ksu1But in my mind always is the “other” May 4. That would be May 4, 1970, 50 years ago today. I was in high school, and my stepmother was attending college–at Kent State University.  She came home from school that afternoon in tears. By the time the news was on that night, we all saw what she’d escaped from. National Guard members had shot and killed four students and wounded nine more in the middle of a protest against the expansion of Vietnam War into Cambodia.

From Kent State University records: Four Kent State students died as a result of the firing by the Guard. The closest student was Jeffrey Miller, who was shot in the mouth while standing in an access road leading into the Prentice Hall parking lot, a distance of approximately 270 feet from the Guard. Allison Krause was in the Prentice Hall parking lot; she was 330 feet from the Guardsmen and was shot in the left side of her body. William Schroeder was 390 feet from the Guard in the Prentice Hall parking lot when he was shot in the left side of his back. Sandra Scheuer was also about 390 feet from the Guard in the Prentice Hall parking lot when a bullet pierced the left front side of her neck.

KSU2Nine Kent State students were wounded in the 13-second fusillade. Most of the students were in the Prentice Hall parking lot, but a few were on the Blanket Hill area. Joseph Lewis was the student closest to the Guard at a distance of about 60 feet; he was standing still with his middle finger extended when bullets struck him in the right abdomen and left lower leg. Thomas Grace was also approximately 60 feet from the Guardsmen and was wounded in the left ankle. John Cleary was over 100 feet from the Guardsmen when he was hit in the upper left chest. Alan Canfora was 225 feet from the Guard and was struck in the right wrist. Dean Kahler was the most seriously wounded of the nine students. He was struck in the small of his back from approximately 300 feet and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Douglas Wrentmore was wounded in the right knee from a distance of 330 feet. James Russell was struck in the right thigh and right forehead at a distance of 375 feet. Robert Stamps was almost 500 feet from the line of fire when he was wounded in the right buttock. Donald Mackenzie was the student the farthest from the Guardsmen at a distance of almost 750 feet when he was hit in the neck.

I attended KSU from 1974-1978, and the presence of the Guard was still felt there. You could walk from the Victory Bell on the Commons up Blanket Hill in the footsteps of those who had rallied that day, protesting the War, protesting the government, protesting the presence of the Guard at all. You could walk around the journalism building to the parking lot at Prentice Hall (the place I lived freshman year) and see the tributes left for the dead. The bullet hole in the big black sculpture remained. Each year, students and staff  of the May 4th Task Force held a ceremony, remembering what had happened.

In 1977, the University proposed to build an expansion of Memorial Gym. The plans extended the building onto a section of the campus in front of the journalism building that was part of the area where the shooting had taken place. The Task Force and others protested this construction, saying it would change the space where the shootings had taken place. In May 1977, protesters began setting up a Tent City on the hill, and it soon was populated by many, many people sympathetic to the cause.

I met several of these folks while I was finishing my last semester there. Tent City had whole families who cooked meals together, jam sessions, political discussions. It was a glimpse back into the Sixties, for those of us who had been too young, people who’d gathered to express themselves and weren’t afraid to be arrested if they got to make their non-violent point. Because there was no violence, this go-round–Joan Baez and others came to sing of peace, and Dick Gregory and Ron Kovic urged the protesters to continuing sitting-in. Arrests occurred several times through July and August as the university attempted to clear the campers off the property, as hundreds watched, chanting “Long live the spirit of Kent and Jackson State!”

I don’t intend to get into the discussion of whether the May 4 shooting was justified–the court says it wasn’t. The ROTC building had been burnt by the protesters, true. The fact that some of the protestors were throwing rocks at the National Guard is also true. No one was blameless here (except for victim Sandra Scheuer, who was apparently just on her way to class and not involved at all).

But I believe it’s something worth revisiting in this day and age as protests ramp up over the orders meant to protect life and limb against coronavirus. Will there come a time when it’s less about politics and more about life and death? When it will be considered “justified” to shoot young people? Black people? White people? What kind of society do we want to have?


The cost of free speech; don’t forget it!

Scary-looking scene, isn’t it? Tear gas flying, protesters running in fear? Soon after this would come the shooting that killed innocent bystanders. But this didn’t happen in some crazy dictator-run country abroad. This happened in a small town in Ohio, on the campus of a state university.

Forty-one years later, we find the world is still full of unrest, people wanting to express themselves over the acts of their government…still being shot for their demonstration.

May 4, 1970 is a day that has a special meaning to those of us who attended Kent State University, even if we weren’t there on that day, as my stepmother was. The picture above is from the May 4 Archive of J. Gregory Payne, who has collected video and other information about the events of that time. Take a moment on his site and familiarize yourselves with the history of a turbulent time in American culture when young people felt empowered to speak out about a government that was not serving their needs.

 Then look at today’s news of countries around the world where young people are feeling brave enough to express themselves and demonstrate against their governments. Keep them in your prayers.

Then look at the young men and women who are serving in our armed forces to help not only Americans, but people everywhere, to be able to hope for democratic movement in their lands. Keep them in your prayers, too.

We should all be able to safely speak our own truths and work toward a free government. Pray that it will be so.

I’d have a tea party, but I can’t afford the pot

So it’s been a week since my last post. One might hypothesize that I’ve been relaxing in the glow of my writer’s indulgences, and I sure wish that had been it.

Instead, I’ve been working. For nothing.

But I’m not alone in that.  All across the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania people are working every day, and not getting paid. Into the third month of the Pennsylvania budget crisis, it’s starting to hit the fan, my friends.

I remember budget holdups in recent years, and how you’d hear about this program or that getting a ding, but this time around, with the federal economic issues on top of the state folk running around yelling “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”  things just aren’t happening.

The crunch is hitting everyone. I have clients who have pulled out because they aren’t getting paid. My daughter just got her day care license, got it all up and running two weeks before the funding got put on hold for the program that paid her 2/3 of her income. I get county checks each month for the appointed cases I have–no pay. But I have to appear at scheduled court dates anyway. We’re required. Foster parents–no pay. Student grants for kids starting in September– no pay. Service providers–no pay.  Anyone who has a contract with a county agency–no pay. No pay. For three months so far and no end in sight.

Lenders and creditors are, of course, aware of the situation, but they’re all hurting from people hit by the first economic wave. It sure makes them a little nervous when you can’t send in a mortgage payment. Explaining that you may be able to send in three when your check finally does come through– not so priceless.

Of course, the legislators made sure to vote their OWN pay in, first thing. So they can sit down in Harrisburg and take their time because they’re not losing their homes and their incomes. Ridiculous! I vote that they have to share their pay among the constituents in their districts.  Make them have something at stake! I’m not alone on this one, apparently.

So meanwhile we juggle and pray a lot. I know there are a lot of folk worse off than I am, and I hope they get help soon.  But sadly, this is a case of who’s going to help the helpers?

Dancing along the walk

As the children trooped dutifully back to school today, I realized some of my very first posts in this blog were about the return to routine and the comforts inherent therein when your family deals with autism.

That means I’ve been on this blog journey for a year. Unbelievable.

This walkabout has taken me many places, both physical and figurative. We’ve seen all three children make strides forward over the passing days. We sang, we danced–some of us were spinning, more than dancing–we visited new vacation spots and museums. We won ribbons at the fair. We were burgled. We came in dead last betting on March Madness and won some great T-shirts.

Ditto Boy saw his school half torn down–the repair’s still not finished.  We’ve been evacuated from our home because of deadly gases. We’ve experienced numbered diseases , lost a handful of teeth, and ended up in the emergency room twice.

We’ve worked through some rough times and enjoyed wonderful family gatherings .

I’ve made a whole group of new friends, people I never would have met if it wasn’t for this vehicle, like daisyfae and birgitte and dee, who watched her Jamaican compatriot reach victory in the Beijing Olympics. I’ve been humbled by other parents of children with autism, whose struggle is more difficult than ours, and I’ve met some adults who don’t consider their autism a disability, but something that sets them apart. I’ve learned from them all. Thank you, friends, for your companionship and your willingness to walk with me along this path, some for a short time, some for longer.

I’ve sold some of my writing, and bonded with other writers through their blogs, through my local writer’s groups, through Pennwriters. I’ve placed work with several agents for the first time this year. I’ve become a writer about technology (says the woman who doesn’t even know how to text from a cell phone!), and taught myself a number of things.

The election impacted all of us in one way or another, and I had the opportunity to get personally involved for the first time in years.  Yes, even old dogs can experience change! They can apparently teach the new generation a lesson too, as we found with the Women in Black protests. Go Ann!

As I review this year and see so many interesting stops on the journey, I’m grateful for this written documentation. I hope some of what I’ve shared has been as helpful to those who’ve read it, as others’ words have been for me, and I’m looking forward to another year together on the trek. As the writer Marcel Proust says,”The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  Take a fresh look, and really see your world.

Oh where, oh where has America gone?

Sometimes I wonder what America our military members are fighting for. I thought it was the one where we value the rights provided to us by the Constitution, such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. But then we have incidents like this.

Over the past few years, the Women in Black and Veterans for Peace have grown in our little town, as they have around the world, protesting the war in Iraq. Last I looked, we were allowed to do that– assemble peacefully and express our opinions. I personally know a number of the women of our local Women in Black group, which includes the minister of my church as well as several local women in the social forefront of institutional and educational agencies. They gathered, at first in the public square downtown, to bear silent witness, signs and solidarity for those who want to bring the troops home and end the war. They can’t meet there any more. The pro-war people harass, film and taunt them and make their vigils miserable. In the You Tube clips I’ve seen, where they accuse our local Women in Black of practicing witchcraft among other things, the taunters send their children to verbally assault the protesters. They aren’t even brave enough to do it themselves. And the police won’t do anything about it.

This, they’ll do something about. They charged an 82-year-old woman for allegedly kicking a veteran in his padded behind after he supposedly cursed her for stating her opinion. Yep, this is the America we have now.

(I’m even going to withhold comment on the kind of Iraq veteran who would whine about being “beat up” by an 82-year-old woman. For shame.) (Okay, withhold most of my comment.)

I know Ann DeWalt. We were cast together in the community theatre’s production of Steel Magnolias, myself as Ouiser and Ann as Clairee, and we spent months together. She is a fine lady in every sense of the word. Her sense of humor is sharp as her wit, and she certainly has many weapons at her disposal to fend off the usual sort of mockers. Clearly this went above and beyond.

There is no reason those protesting the war and those supporting the war can’t peacefully express their opinions. There is no reason those protesting the war have to be hounded by those determined to silence them, forced to continue moving the location of their protest to avoid being harassed. It’s in the Constitution, people. Everyone gets their chance to speak. None of us has the right to shut down opposing opinion. Not as far as I read the document.

Ann is hanging in there, bless her. As Clairee said so many nights, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

It makes me sad. This isn’t the America I learned about when I grew up, the country we’re supposed to be so proud of. I’ll go back to Ouiser for my final word: “This is it, I’ve found it, I’m in hell.”

Footnote, 3/25: outcome of hearing, Ann’s found guilty, pays $25 for the privilege.