SDS members reunited to discuss current events, remember the past

Bryan Wroten

Treated as celebrities and criminals and seen as gurus and troublemakers, the former members of the Kent Students for a Democratic Society held their reunion Sunday to discuss memories and present views.

The May 4 Task Force hosted the event at the Kiva. The reunion began with the introduction of Daniel Miller, former Kent SDS member and now assistant professor of electronic media at the University of Oregon.

“You can call me Danny,” he said, smiling.

Miller explained the film he was about to show, Fire in the Heartland: Kent 1960 – 1980. He said the filming was finished, but he had to re-edit because of a hard drive crash weeks before.

He said though he started thinking about making the film in the early ’90s, the film started in 1968. He said those watching should consider this the “people’s history.”

The second part of the reunion was a panel discussion of former SDS members moderated by Tom Grace. The panel members were Carolyn “Candy” Knox, Richie Hess, Jeff “Donovan” Powell, Mark Lencl and Bill Whitaker.

Whitaker began his part by asking, “Did we win?”

He explained his question by explaining his fears of the Patriot Act and other threats to civil liberties and right to privacy. He said these problems exist partly because of the media, bringing up the recent White House media scandal of James Guckert. He said if the current media existed during the early 1970s, there would have been no Watergate.

Lencl answered Whitaker’s question with “the Vietnamese won.”

He said if their goal, as student activists, was to end the war in Vietnam, they won. If their goal was to end the fundamental relationships leading up to the war, he said, then they lost.

However, he said he does not like to think of it as being so finite. Instead, he said it’s an ongoing process.

Powell is better known as Donovan because an SDS traveler looked up at him after he finished speaking and, not remembering his name, said he agreed with what Donovan said because he looked like the singer.

In his speech, Donovan focused on the concept of working with people instead of fighting with them. He said members of any group should ignore the 5 percent they disagree on and use the rest of accomplish their goals.

He also stressed the importance of continuing family values. He said his grandmother grew up when lynching was commonplace. She taught his mother racism was wrong. His mother, he said, upon hearing anyone calling a black person a derogatory term, would go up to them and tell them never to use that word in front of her children.

The kindest thing you could say about a racist person, he said she told him, was that they were ignorant.

As a member of the Weathermen, Donovan said he had to live underground. Though he couldn’t see his family in hiding, he said his mother would understand his actions. He said she taught him to follow his conscience, “stick to what it says is right.”

Hess, who still carries his SDS card in his wallet, said he grew up with the civil rights movement in New York, participating when he was only 8 years old. At Kent State, however, he said he didn’t know much about the anti-war movement. He laughed when he said he joined a fraternity.

While walking on campus back then, he said he saw students handing out anti-war leaflets. Their table was knocked over and the police nearby just laughed.

“It pissed me off,” Hess said.

Talking to them, he said they got him involved in something he loves because he loves them.

“It was a fight and a struggle,” he said. “We laughed, cried, got high, whatever.”

Candy explained that as a child, she felt powerless during the civil rights movement.

“I knew it was wrong (racism), and I was powerless,” she said. “It hurt.”

After coming to Kent State, she said she didn’t feel powerless anymore because she wasn’t alone.

Following the panel members’ speeches, Sarah Lund-Goldstein, co-chair of the May 4 Task Force, opened up the question-and-answer session.

Bill Arthrell, a former SDS member in the audience and one of the Kent 25, stood up and thanked the panel members, calling them “political Beatles.”

A Kent State student in the audience asked how to mobilize present activists.

“Have fun, throw parties,” Donovan answered. “We’d go to dorms, show them what happened in Vietnam and talk till 2 in the morning. Then we’d invite them to a party … and a demonstration.”

Miller said his full film would cover Kent State’s role in the civil rights and anti-war movements.

“Kent State was as important as any other university like Berkeley or Columbia,” he said. “It was very different from the elite schools.”

He said he plans on submitting the film to the Sundance Film Festival and PBS.

The film began with an introduction to Kent and the Kent State campus. Folk music played through scenes of an old stone bridge, train tracks, Blanket Hill and Taylor Hall. Then interviews with student activists from the 1960s started, explaining how they came to Kent State and their initial reactions to the scenic university. Audience members would sometimes whisper some of their names, Howie Emmer, Ken Hammond, Roseanne “Chic” Canfora, as they appeared on screen, occasionally cheering.

The scenes changed to those of activists and soldiers in Vietnam. Then came the Oakland Police Department recruiters and the Black United Students and SDS sit-in and subsequent walk out. Soon came the story of the police trapping the SDS members in the third floor of the Music and Speech Building.

Creedance Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” played during footage of the burning ROTC building on May 2, 1970. The audience clapped and cheered. Someone yelled out, “Burn baby!” The audience cheered louder.

The audience went silent when Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” played. They knew what would come next.

Pictures of the Ohio National Guard were intermixed with those of the protesters of May 4, 1970. Protesters ran from clouds of tear gas, guardsmen in gas masks knelt, aiming. The audience cheered again at the picture of Alan Canfora standing in the field, waving a black flag.

Hammond, Chic, Alan and Tom Grace then told what happened to them that day. Grace said he began running from the guardsmen once they started firing and then fell — his foot was numb. Later, in the ambulance, Grace discovered the other person riding with him was Sandy Scheuer, whom he met only once. He said he watched as the ambulance attendants pulled the sheet over her head.

Chic told of her search for her brother after the guardsmen stopped shooting, originally thinking the dead body of Jeffrey Miller was Alan.

The film jumped to several years later, to the construction of the gym annex and what became known as Tent City. Students protesting the building of the gym over part of the field the shootings took place set up tents and occupied the area.

Those in the film then reflected on their time at Kent State, calling it an inspiring experience that remains with them.

The film ended with a scene of a sunset through the trees and a dedication to those wounded and killed at Kent State and Jackson State.

The audience of about 150 gave the film a standing ovation.

In reaction to the audience’s response, Miller said, “I was tearing up.”

Contact news correspondent Bryan Wroten at [email protected].