The long lost spirit of 1970

David Zarefsky has a point — students today don’t understand the significance of May 4.

The Northwestern University professor made that argument Tuesday during the Symposium on Democracy as he discussed the importance of open debate in today’s world.

Freshmen orientation classes dedicate a significant amount of time to May 4. We hear about it in virtually every class, and we’re sure every Kent State student knows at least what happened on May 4, 1970.

But we’ve lost an understanding of how it happened.

You may have just rolled your eyes at that statement, but keep this in mind.

In 1970, Kent State students were involved in democratic debate, Zarefsky said. They left the classrooms to speak out. They ignored finals. They went to the protest to persuade and do what they could.

When was the last time you saw that type of action at Kent State, let alone even heard about it happening at other campuses?

It’s not happening.

Now, we can’t speak for other universities, but this is where we’ve lost the sense of significance of May 4.

We know what happened on that day; many students even joke that we’re from that university where the national guard killed four people 36 years ago.

Students today have enough to be vocal about — a continuing war in Iraq, a botched Katrina relief effort and other modern day problems.

But they aren’t being vocal.

The public forum is not as strong as it must be to meet the needs of our time, Zarefsky said in his speech. He defined a public forum as an organized disagreement, which states what we believe or what we think.

“(People have) an increasing opportunity to express themselves today than in the 1960s. If we don’t come together in public forum, we do it through force and violence, ” Zarefsky said.

There was no Internet, let alone Facebook, decades ago. We have ways to communicate and debate that our parents couldn’t have dreamed of when they were our age.

Now think about how little it seems students care or even speak out about today’s issues. We’re not talking about the handful of people in the Kent State Anti-War Committee. We know they aren’t afraid to speak out. We’re talking about the guy in front of you in class wearing the Bud Light hat.

The significance of May 4 is in the action a number of people took decades ago. They had opinions and they voiced them.

Democratic rhetoric plays an important role in preserving the balance between a healthy public forum and active democratic debate, as Zarefsky.

And we’re glad this year’s symposium hit so strongly on this point.

Let’s have that rhetoric here, at Kent State. Because, to put it simply, apathy is lame. And of all people, we at Kent State — where May 4 happened — should understand that.

Let’s prove Zarefsky’s point wrong.

The above editorial is the general consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.