Remember the past, continue the struggle

Kelly Pickerel

Alan Canfora speaks in the Kiva last night during the program marking the 30th anniversary of the protests against the construction of the Gym Annex. LESLIE L. CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Thirty years ago, 193 people were arrested after a two-month protest of the construction of the Gym Annex over the site of the May 4, 1970 shootings.

The event was revisited last night in the Kiva with first-hand accounts from various sources.

The May 4 Task Force presented six people and their opinions of what happened in 1977: John Peach, Kent State Chief of Police; Dennis Carey, former Center for Peaceful Change director; George Janik, former Kent State Trustee; Attorney Bill Whitaker; Attorney and activist Nancy Grimm; and Activist Greg Rambo.

The discussion began with a photo presentation by Alan Canfora, one of the nine wounded on May 4, 1970. He said he would give his “own, very biased opinion” of what happened during the summer of ’77.

That May, the university approved a plan to begin building the Gym Annex, then proposed to be the largest building on campus, on a portion of the site of the 1970 shootings.

The building is built over the site where Jim Russell was shot and wounded and also over the area where the National Guard huddled before advancing up the hill and firing.

On May 4, 1977, during memorial services, many speakers condemned the building of the gym, which led to an awakening around campus.

Students fired back at the administration with protests and, eventually, a two-month sit-in near the current building site and along Blanket Hill called “Tent City.”

The tents appeared on May 12, and Rambo, a witness to the 1970 shootings, was one of the first 60 to stay the night.

“Tent City was pretty remarkable,” he said “It’s important to stand up to authority when they make mistakes. It’s our First Amendment right.”

During the protest, the university, on a quarter-based year, was still in session. Students attended classes during the day and slept outside during the night.

Peach was a member of the Kent State Police and managed the protesters throughout the summer of ’77.

He said he developed a relationship with many people, and as a result, there was a trust established.

“They were generally good people,” he said. “Although, I didn’t always agree with them, but that’s life.”

Peach said the police officers knew what the law said, and they were trying to ensure that the university got to do what it wanted to.

“I still believe that if the university wants to build a building, they can and should,” he said.

Peach said the police approached the situation with caution.

“No one wanted any surprises, knowing that a tragedy could come out of it,” he said. “We were playing a game of chess. We weren’t sure what was going to happen.

“The chess moves became more deliberate once the stakes were higher.”

On July 12, those living in Tent City were ordered to disperse. Unarmed police made 193 confirmed arrests. Protesters linked arms and legs and resisted nonviolently. It took police more than four hours to separate the students in the 90 degree heat, Canfora said.

As the ’77-’78 school year began, construction on the Gym Annex swiftly began.

Canfora said a desperation phase was entered after Tent City was destroyed. Radical students from across the United States came by buses as often as they could.

The fence surrounding the construction site was torn down on multiple occasions.

“Young people are very emotional,” he said. “These are the things they do when they’re pushed.”

Oct. 22 was the last confrontation. Tear gas was fired and Canfora said it was very difficult to breathe. The Gym Annex was completed and opened in July 1979.

Rambo said he’s very disappointed with the outcome.

After not being in the Kent area for more than 20 years, Rambo toured campus and was surprised to see the Recreation and Wellness Center and the lack of use of the Gym Annex.

“It’s unbelievable how the old Gym Annex is a warehouse,” he said. “It cost the university millions to oppose us in court, and 10 years later it didn’t matter.

Could another Tent City sized protest happen at Kent State again?

Most of those involved in the original say no.

“Protests of today are but an echo of the ’70s,” Canfora said.

Peach agreed.

“I couldn’t imagine a scenario of events happening like in ’77,” he said. “There’s not such an outside concern as there was then. A lot of those protesting were not part of the university.”

The one positive thing gained from the Gym Annex protests, all agreed, was the great support behind remembering the events that happened on May 4, 1970.

“Even though the gym was built, everyone should feel proud of their courageous actions,” Rambo said. “I commend the May 4 Task Force for their efforts and achievements to secure May 4’s memory.”

Contact student politics reporter Kelly Pickerel at [email protected]