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Op Ed: When looking at history, Generation Z need not look at Generation X, but the Baby Boomers

by Kurt Hurner

When you look at a generation in contemporary history that had it good, it would have to be Generation X. Think about it, we did not have to practice duck and cover drills like our Baby Boomer parents. We did not grow up in a world full of terror like our Millennial siblings. And we NEVER had to practice active shooter drills in school like our Generation Z children are doing today. Basically, Generation X could be for the most part a complacent generation, and as a result of current events we are scared because we were never taught to prepare for dramatic change and revolution like we are having today.

ROTCWhen you think about it, we Generation X Americans had Roe vs Wade for all but eight years of our lives until 2022. There was never an issue of voting because of the Voting Rights Act until the Supreme Court under John Roberts declared that America doesn't have a race problem because we elected Barack Obama president. Key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have been gutted in the 2010s.

Generation Z is not having any of it and they're not going to take it. This is the most liberal and tolerant generation and as they are reaching the age of 26 they're not showing signs of turning conservative. They see angry old white people turning their backs on an environment that Generation Z will live with the consequences due to the devotion to not listen to Al Gore in the 1980s, first as a member of Congress and the 1990s as Vice President. Generation Z is tired of being shot up in their schools and getting nothing offered but thoughts and prayers. That is why leaders of that generation are activists like recent Harvard graduate and Parkland, Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg is so active to reach out to Congress, and newly elected Maxwell Frost of Florida is in Congress. They want to offer more than thoughts and prayers every time the United States experiences a mass shooting. They want to offer and help pass solutions because they believe unlike some members of Congress say that there is nothing that they can do, they are taking on special interests and saying that there is something that can be done and doesn't do away with the Second Amendment.

If Generation Z wants to learn about how things change by getting involved they need look no further than their grandparents' generation; the Baby Boomers.

OTRCat has a great chronicle of this with the history of the Kent State Shootings of May 1970. This is an audio collection that prefaces the politics of the late 1960s of law and order by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and Ronald Reagan. Hubert Humphrey is featured as well where he was speaking to the student body at Kent State University, ironically on May 3, 1968. Listen to the Draft Lottery Special Report from 1969 when American boys as young as 19 years of age could be drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1970.

Nixon Announces CambodianSo, then we get into 1970. President Nixon announces that the end of the war was in sight and was going to begin troop withdrawals of 150,000 American troops from Vietnam by spring 1971. Then, ten days later, the President addressed the nation on his decision to expand the war into Cambodia with the reason of taking out privileged sanctuaries of the North Vietnamese.

This expansion resulted in what the President feared in that April 30th speech, eruption of dissent and protests on the college and university campuses around the United States; most notably in Kent, Ohio at Kent State University.

If you listen to the local WKSU reports of May 2, 1970 about the Downtown Riots of May 1, 1970, local businesses had windows smashed started by a student, who according to Alan Canfora years later supported Donald Trump, threw a Stroh's beer bottle at a Kent City Police car. All of the businesses who represented the establishment were victims of smashed windows on Water Street. Many towniex felt that it was professional agitators from the east Coast. Mayor LeRoy Satrom would impose a curfew for the town set for 8PM on May 2, 1970. Kent State University had no curfew that night.

As a result, several hundred students gathered on the Commons of Kent State protesting the war. They felt that there was a symbol on campus that represented the war and that was ROTC. Students began throwing rocks at the building, smashing windows. Then, some unknown people started a fire that burned the ROTC building to the ground. Kent and Ravenna Fire came only to have the students at this time hack the fire hoses forcing the fire departments to leave.

Kent State ProtestAs ROTC was burning to the ground, the Ohio National Guard, requested by Mayor Satrom came rolling onto campus. Kent State University was now under military occupation.

The next day, Governor James Rhodes, a candidate in the Ohio Republican Primary for the US Senate, who was trailing his opponent, Bob Taft by eight percent came to Kent State. From his press conference that afternoon at the Kent Firehouse; Rhodes, the law and order candidate spoke of outside agitators and that no one was safe in Portage County. Rhodes seemed to be much more worried about the property that tax payers paid for and being burned to the ground rather than the safety of the students. He spoke of the destruction of higher education in Ohio and that any demonstrations outside from that moment forward was now illegal. Kent State University was unofficially under martial law.

By Sunday evening the student body was now protesting the occupation of the National Guard on campus. They staged a sit in 30 feet into town, just off of campus singing songs. The problem is that they were violating the city's 8PM curfew and the clock was ticking to 11PM. The students moved onto campus thinking that the campus curfew was 1AM, not knowing that the curfew was pushed up to 11PM. The Guard promised to give the students five minutes to get off of the street and back onto campus only to rush the students after a minute. Then, the helicopters came from overhead dropping teargas on the students.

That night, WKSU was hosting a live call in program called Operation Quell, only to be changed at Midnight, May 4, 1970 to Operation Information by a student activist who called in. During this program that lasted from 11:11PM on May 3, 1970 to 2:00AM on May 4, 1970 (per the recording), there were calls from townspeople showing resentment for the Saturday curfew and the University not having it. There were students calling in expressing their support of the protests that were going on. One even predicted that there would not be violence during the noon rally on May 4th. A woman from Hudson, Ohio called talking of Joe the revolution was a beautiful and good thing.

But two memorable ones would have to be the wife of an Ohio National Guardsman who has not been home since April 29th as he was in Akron, Ohio controlling the truckers' strike only to go down the road on May 2nd to Kent State. The other was a Kent State faculty member calling and expressing his disgust of President Robert I. White being in his words, "derelict in his duties." This same caller broadcast that he had heard from the Ravenna Police Department when he went to get a pass Sunday night to go to his office on campus that a National Guardsman had been killed. Right away, the student panel declared that a rumor and addressed that people call the rumor hotline to determine if it was true or not. In other words; while that sounded like an if it bleeds it leads story, the students running that radio program cared more about being ethical and not cause chaos over a story that may or may not be true at that time.

Then that takes us to May 4, 1970. We start off with a political science lecture just 90 minutes before the shooting. Questions of possible shootings are raised in this class to which the professor warns to disseminate said rumors.

Glenn FrankSo then we hear two points of view of the same event, one from WKNT and one from WKSU of the noon rally that ultimately led to the shooting by the Ohio National Guard resulting in the killing of four students and the wounding of nine more. Thank goodness for Geology professor Glenn Frank for using his power as a faculty marshall and as a popular teacher on campus to get the rest of the students to leave before more students were killed.

As for the May 5, 1970 Ohio Republican Primary, I mentioned earlier that Governor Rhodes was running as the law and order candidate and was trailing Bob Taft by eight percent in the polls. He ended up losing that race, but only by 1.5 percent. The day after Kent State, many Republicans in Ohio supported him enough to tighten the race but not enough to win.

Music of the era also helped make the movement go forward, most notably to this event; OHIO by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young which you will hear in this collection along with lesser known songs about Kent State and May 4, 1970. These songs would be part of a soundtrack of a generation that helped with the change.

Just early in May 2023 I attended my first May 4 Commemoration since 1997 when I was a freshman living on campus. That was when Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed a free concert.

Anyway, to hear the students of the Generation Z generation speak of activism, I can see why Dr. Chic Canfora stated that she feels comfortable passing the torch of May 4 to the young. As a member of Generation X, that complacent generation that came of age under a strong, but now outdated neoliberal policy that helps the few while hurting the many; those two student activists give me hope for our country's future.

This collection that OTRCat compiled of the Kent State Shootings is a great historic tool that high school and college students today can reference to. If a middle American university that primarily educated the children of the rubber and steel workers of northeast Ohio can stop a war, as troops would have orders changed from going to Cambodia as was the case of my father, who was a marine at the time on leave before going to Cambodia only to end up in Guam; just think of what great changes these young people today can make happen in the first forty years of this current Fourth Turning.

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