Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Remembering the SDS or, How I got Tear Gassed in 1970

I'm going to take a walk back in time....my time, my life, my history. Maybe it will mean something to some of you. Maybe it will shake up some epiphany in some younger minds. I hope so.

Dateline: Columbus, Ohio 1970

I was 21, living with six other young women in a large, old, brick house just off campus. I was working at Ohio State University Hospital and fresh out of small town life. I worked as a "ward clerk," which, at that time, was a secretarial position that involved assisting the nurses and doctors at the nurses' station, transcribing Dr.'s orders to patients files and coordinating the hospital services for the patients. Columbus was "the big city" to me. I didn't have a car, so I walked to and from work each day. I was dating my future husband at the time. He was fresh out of college and waiting for his Air Force assignment after getting through on a ROTC scholarship. He had about two months to wait and no where to go in the interim, so he stayed at the house with us. Waiting to see what the military was going to do with him. Off to war or not. We didn't know.

The Vietnam War was a total mess. Richard Nixon had been elected the year before and had run on a platform of getting us out of Vietnam. I remember a song I loved from those days. It was a Buffalo Springfield song called, "Something's Happening Here."

"There's something happening here.
What it is ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware.
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down.

There's battle lines being drawn.
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind.
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down.

What a field day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street,
Singing songs and carrying signs,
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side.”
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down.

Paranoia strikes deep:
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you're always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come and take you away."

I still love that song......but it strikes chills into my heart now because of the days I remember.

Columbus is about 40 miles from Kent State. I had one friend who was going to college there. Other than that, I didn't have much of a connection and didn't have much reference for the college there. Every day for over a year, by this time, the news was constantly full of horrific pictures of college students all over the country rioting and causing havoc in the streets against anything and everything that was normal or civil. These riots were instigated by a group called "Students for a Democratic Society," otherwise known as SDS. In case you haven't heard, Bill Ayers who is Obama's Chicago buddy, was a founder of SDS.

If you have never heard of SDS before now, you are young, or unaware of this history. Here is a snippet about them:

" Many key SDS members were "red-diaper babies," children of parents who were Communist Party members or Communist activists in the 1930s. In 1966, when President Lyndon Johnson abolished student draft deferments, some 300 new SDS chapters were formed. Among the organization's activities were: disrupting ROTC classes, staging draft card burnings, and harassing campus recruiters for the CIA and for firms that conducted research tied in some way to national defense. SDS also occupied buildings at universities such as Columbia and destroyed draft records."

Monday, May 4: There we were, just going about our everyday youthful existence, getting through life, when I had my first and only brush with SDS activists. It was a beautiful spring day. I got off work at 3:00pm and started walking across a green area on my way home, wearing my little white hospital uniform with my little white tennis shoes. Ahead in the street was a crowd of students yelling, throwing rocks, carrying bats and pipes. There in front of me was the SDS, violently wrecking cars and yelling at people with a small group of police trying to control the riot. The SDS activists were hitting the cops. The cops were outnumbered. The cops were doing their best to restrain them. I kept walking, fast, not toward them, trying to make my way home....but just far enough away that I could see and hear what was going on. The next thing I knew, the breeze came my way with a full blast of tear gas. Shocked, I had no idea what it was or what had hit me. My eyes started burning and tearing up, my throat was burning, I choked and coughed, and, believe me...I took off as fast as I could to get the heck home and out of there. I could hardly see my way home, but I did get there. It took quite a while for the tear gas to wear off. I was totally incredulous at what I had witnessed and experienced.

That night we watched the news about what had happened at Kent State the very same day. We wondered how innocent people could have been shot on that campus. The students who were killed were not involved in the SDS protest, but were bystanders. I remember thinking it could have just as easily happened to me. A stray bullet could have come my way if I had been at Kent State. I had seen first hand what the SDS (Bill Ayer's group of citizen thugs) was doing to our colleges and how dangerous they were. Witnessing that kind of violence and getting tear gassed on your way home from work is not the sort of thing you ever forget. Dead students at Kent State is not the sort of thing you ever forget either.

Later when we went to bed, we lay there listening to the radio. There were helicopters flying over us all night long with their spotlights shining down into the streets to try to keep the peace. The song I remember playing on the radio that night was not the Buffalo Springfield song, but it was Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." I still can't hear that song without a lump in my throat and feeling overwhelming sadness.

As time went on and as we got out of Vietnam, the SDS lost its appeal on college campuses. I think the Kent State shootings made people realize the group was fringe, radical, dangerous, and fewer students were interested in their violent activities. This left Bill Ayer's and his radical buddies no where to go but underground. And that is exactly where they went. They created a new group of incendiary criminals, The Weather Underground, who planned and carried out bombings of government buildings and were responsible for a lot of fear and pain in our country.

Next chapter: The Weather Underground goes Maintstream

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