Open Letter Calling for an ANTI-WAR COMMEMORATION of the KENT MASSACRE, May 4, 2021

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An Open Letter of Dissent to Kent State University President Todd Diacon Regarding the 50th Kent State Massacre Commemoration

[Please note: Former top CIA official Stephanie Danes Smith, the original planner of the commemoration, resigned from the Advisory Committee, under public pressure.  However, the KSU administration has named her most ardent supporters as spokespeople for the events].

The signers of this letter represent several generations of the leadership and participants in antiwar protests over the last five decades.

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MAY 4, 2020 MARKS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of the murder of four student protesters at Kent State University (KSU) in Ohio, and the subsequent killing of two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

At KSU, students were peacefully protesting President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the occupation of their campus by the Ohio National Guard when they were gunned down.  

The escalation of the war and campus shootings sparked mass demonstrations, protests and occupations on over 400 campuses – the largest student strike in US history.  These actions had an enormous impact on the growing movement against the war - particularly within the armed forces, which became a key factor in forcing the US to withdraw its troops.

The Vietnam antiwar movement had a profound effect on the course of history. Following on the victories of the civil rights movement, it provided another example of how millions of people had the power to change society.

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THE SIGNERS OF THIS LETTER represent several generations of participants in antiwar protests over the last five decades. We believe that the issues surrounding the 1970 massacres are critical for today, as the US continues militarist policies of war, occupations, covert actions and economic sanctions that cause immense human suffering.  

Additionally, today we face great new challenges of anti-immigrant and climate-denial policies, as well as the acceptance of racist and sexist violence in the highest levels of government.

This letter was prompted by the appointment of a top Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) veteran, Stephanie Danes Smith, to lead the 50th May 4 Commemoration Advisory Committee at KSU.  History has revealed the CIA to be responsible for the torture and death of untold numbers of innocent people, the overthrow of sovereign governments and the ruthless suppression of human rights.

Smith was a part of the CIA leadership team working directly under National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice when Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft planned and implemented the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sexual assault and other methods of torture used extensively against innocent civilians in Iraq and other countries. Smith’s motto was “Get there first and clean up your road kill later.”

While public outrage forced Smith to step down as titular chair, the KSU administration continues to promote Smith and her most fervent supporters to be organizers and public spokespeople for the year-long series of events. 

We have also learned that the administration is planning to honor the ROTC members of 1970.  ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, was the academic arm of the military, training the officers that led thousands of GIs to slaughter in an undeclared and unwinnable war.  One of the key demands of the antiwar movement was to end campus complicity with the war machine. The movement clearly demanded that the university end support to ROTC, the CIA, military recruiters and weapons manufacturers.

While KSU is honoring ROTC, it is ignoring the active-duty antiwar soldiers and their supporters.  In fact, when presenting the plans for the yearlong commemoration, outgoing President Beverly Warren called on us to “remember, reflect and renew,” yet she barely mentioned the war or the mass antiwar movement that swept the globe!

May 4 was not a misunderstanding or failure to communicate.  The student protesters were fighting for peace and justice. It is a disservice to their memory and to the KSU university community to promote militarism under the guise of a memorial to our martyrs!

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THE WITHDRAWAL FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA was not accomplished by a handful of radicals or the actions of liberal politicians - the war was ended through a massive international movement. The living legacy of the martyrs of Kent and Jackson are the millions of students, workers and soldiers that have marched over the past five decades against the numerous US military adventures abroad. They should be a major voice of the commemoration.  

The murders at Kent and Jackson, the national student strike that followed and the international anti-war movement form a legacy that belongs to the entire world. We therefore urge Kent State University to immediately:

  • Open all meetings, records and discussion venues to the public, without censorship.
  • Establish educational activities exposing the role of government surveillance and the history of domestic spying, including COINTELPRO at Kent State in May 1970, the repression directed against African-American movement groups and the history of CIA/US covert and military actions abroad.
  • Include memorial activities that represent broad sectors of the anti-war movement to the present day.  This would include representatives from the 1969 Moratoriums, the 1970 National Student Strike, anti-war coalitions that sponsored the national mass demonstrations, the G.I. antiwar movement, the Student Mobilization Committee (SMC) and other student groups, the Chicano Moratorium, Jackson State and other African-American protesters, the Gulf War antiwar movement, Central-American Solidarity organizations, antiwar trade unions, veterans organizations, women’s groups, the victims and families, the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, and other forces throughout the world that helped to end the war. 
  • Organize activities that impart the lessons of anti-war protest and defending our right to peacefully assemble.

WE ALSO CALL UPON KSU to join us in encouraging the organization of commemorative activities throughout the country and internationally.  May 4 does not belong to the KSU administration alone – May 4 belongs to the entire world!

Our true history must be brought to light. May 4, 1970 was a protest against the war in Vietnam and the militarization of our campuses.  It must not be sanitized and depoliticized as a simple “remembrance.”  

The world must know of the demands that we were fighting for then and now:  

End US wars abroad! Bring the troops home now! 

End campus complicity with the war machine! ROTC and CIA off campus! 

Money for jobs and education, not for war!

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INITIATING SIGNERS (Organizations are for identification purposes only):

MIKE ALEWITZ - National Chairman, Committee of Kent State Massacre Witnesses (1970)/ Professor Emeritus, Mural Painting, Central CT State University
LAUREL KRAUSE- Director & Co-Founder of the Kent State Truth Tribunal/ Sister of Allison Krause, killed at Kent State, May 4, 1970
PETER KNOWLTON- General President, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
MIKE FERNER- Former President, Veterans For Peace/ Navy Corpsman 1969-73
FRED M LINCK -  Veteran, USMC 2005 - 2009/ Socialist Resurgence/ CT Peace and Solidarity Coalition
KIPP DAWSON - San Francisco Executive Director, Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, 1967/ National Staff, Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, 1967-70
MICHAEL YATES- Editorial Director,  Monthly Review Press/ Author of "Honor the Vietnamese, Not Those Who Killed Them,"Monthly Review, May 2015
DOUGLAS ROBERTS- Kent Student Mobilization Committee Against the War/ 1970 KSU graduate/ Author of The Man Who Fooled SAVAK
JOE UEHLEIN- Antiwar Activist/ National Chairman, Labor Network for Sustainability 
JED DODD- Vice President, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way - Teamsters
JOHN O’BRIEN- Leading Participant in the Stonewall Rebellion/ National Coordinator, Student Mobilization Committee Gay Task Force/ Current Steering Committee, Out Against War 
M. NORMAN OLIVER, MD - Detroit Coalition to End the War in Vietnam/ Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia School of Medicine
JOANNA MISNIK- NYC Coordinator, Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam/ Vietnam Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee/ Chicago Democratic Socialists of America
PAUL LEBLANC- Coordinating Committee, National Peace Action Coalition/ Professor of History, La Roche University
BOB WITANIK- NJ Antiwar Agenda/ NJ Hands Off Venezuela/ Central Jersey Coalition Against US Intervention in the Middle East
DELPFINE WELCH- Boston Female Liberation
MANUEL “TANK” BARRERA- Coordinator, Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam/ Young Socialist Alliance/ Associate Professor, School of Urban Education, Retired, Metropolitan State University
CARL ROSEN- President, Western Region, United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
SHERRY WOLF- Author, Sexuality and Socialism/ Antiwar Activist/ Senior Organizer, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
DOROTHY DEMARTIN- Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam/ National Peace Action Coalition
LOUIS PROYECT- Editorial Board, CounterPunch magazine.
JEFF LYONS- Chairperson, Rumson, N.J., High School Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam Screenwriter/ Instructor, Stanford University
CAROLE SELIGMAN- Student Mobilization Committee/ Co-editor, Socialist Viewpoint
ERIC GORDON- Tulane University Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)/ Staff Writer, People’s World
ALAN HART- University of Rochester Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)/ Retired Managing Editor, UE News, United Electrical Workers
GLORIA LA RIVA- Coordinator, Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee
KEITH CHRISTENSEN- Artist/ Activist/ Professor Emeritus, St. Cloud State University
STANLEY HELLER- American Independent Movement/ Host of TSVN, The Struggle Video News
PETER RACHLEFF- Anti-war Activist, Amherst College '70/ Professor of History, Macalester College, 1982-2014/ Co-Executive Director, East Side Freedom Library, St. Paul, Minnesota
DAVID WALSH- Former President, International Association of Machinists, AMTRAK Lodge 1089/ Bowdoin Labor Alliance 
BONNIE WEINSTEIN- Student Mobilization Committee/ National Peace Action Coalition/ Co-Editor, Socialist Viewpoint/ Current Publisher, Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
DAN LA BOTZ- Co-Editor, New Politics
SHERRY BARON- Professor, City University of New York
EARL SILBAR- Chairman, Chicago Committee to End the War in Vietnam/ University of Illinois, Chicago SDS/ Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice in Illinois.
DAN MCGOVERN BOSWELL- Labor organizer/ Anti-war and May 4 Activist/ Former Rep,  Bergen County Central Trades and Labor Council, AFL-CIO, NJ/ Former Rep, Ramapo College Labor Advisory Board
NATE MOORE- Socialist Activist/ Connecticut Education Association
JERRY LEVY- New London CT High School Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam/Professor of Economics and Sustainability, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
CHRIS HILDEBRAND- Cambridge Committee to End the War in Vietnam/ Boston Female Liberation
JOE HUTCHINSON - Local 217 UNITE HERE/ Hartford Bring Our War Dollars Home
TERRY LODGE- Draft Lottery #58, December 1, 1969/ Co-founder, Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition
MIKE STOUT- Former Grievance Chair, United Steelworkers Union Local 1397
President, Izaak Walton League, Allegheny County PA Chapter
MIRIAM JACKSON- Antiwar Participant, Student Mobilization Committee, Moratorium, 1969-1970 
KSU 1973, Ph.D., Purdue, 1982, Author, Independent Scholar
KEN MAYERS- Major USMCR Ret’d/ Veterans For Peace/ Ken Mayers on bail in Ireland
TARAK KAUFF- Veterans For Peace, Ireland/ U.S. Army, 101st Airborne 1959 – 62
LESLIE CAGAN- National Coordinator, United for Peace and Justice (2002-2009)
Coordinator, People’s Climate Movement, NY
SUZANNE WEISS- Author of Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey/ Proud Participant in the Anti-Vietnam War Movement
GINNY HILDEBRAND- Boston University SDS (Students for a Democratic Society)/ Pittsburgh peace & social justice activist.
ARTHUR MAGLIN- Contributor to Monthly Review, Science and Society, New Politics, Radical America, International Socialist Review /  Editor, Catalyst/ Taught at Pace University, Hunter College, Brecht Forum
RONNA STULLER- Southeast CT Peace & Justice Network/ Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL)/ CT Green Party
SHANNON SHEPPARD- Northern California Peace Action Coalition
JACK LIEBERMAN- Florida State University SDS/  Founder, Miami Haitian Refugee Center/ Chairman, 350 South Florida/ Co-Chair, Labor Community Alliance South Florida
GARETT REPPENHAGEN - Executive Director,  Veterans For Peace
SUSAN M. SCHNALL- President, NYC Veterans For Peace

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For more information: Mike Alewitz