May 4, 1970 – Kent State: How It’s Connected to OB

by on May 4, 2011 · 20 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, Education, Environment, History, Labor, Media, OB Time Machine, Ocean Beach, Peace Movement, Popular, San Diego

ocean_beach_pier(Originally posted May 4, 2010)

I was sitting on my porch this afternoon pondering the meaning of Kent State. I had more tears last year when I wrote a post about it. Yet – here it is – the 40th anniversary. Kent State, hmmm, OB, hmmmm.  Something was there.

And then I figured it out! I figured out how Ocean Beach is connected to the Kent State massacre of May 4th, 1970. Or vice versa.

kent_state_guardsmenI was in college when it happened. I was attending UCSD and in my senior-year when it all came down. I had been involved in the campus anti-Vietnam movement and was deeply affected by Kent State, Jackson State, the entire scary and exhilarating conditions on California college and university campuses during the Spring of 70. (These tales have been told.)

But after all the dust had settled, Kent State radicalized a lot of students of my college generation. Many and from all kinds of different colleges.

What did it mean to be “radicalized”?

Transformed by events such as Kent State, the new young, campus radicals saw an empire willing to shoot middle-class, white college students in order to keep a war that was slaughtering untold thousands of Vietnamese – thousands of miles away, and willing to oppress African-Americans and other minorities.  Radicalized, they sought answers by trying to see the roots of the problems that were causing American society to suffer, the racism, the war economy. And attempt to deal with them.

It was global – the radicalized student movements of the Sixties and Seventies – it was across this country, and it was here in San Diego.

But Kent State did it for a lot of people. They became radicalized, they came to see that America was brutal and had to be changed. And many of my university and college peers found a new commitment, a commitment to work to change America for the better.

Many felt that after Kent State, going to college had little meaning. Our own government was willing to kill demonstrating college students in order to keep the status quo, to keep the Vietnam war going.

Whether they graduated or not, college kids of the late Sixties through the mid-Seventies who had been radicalized, who became committed to changing the country, wanted to do something important, dramatic, strategic. Many went into the industrial workplaces in efforts to continue the struggle among “the working class”.

Others went into the professions, for “the long march through the institutions” for social and political change.

Others saw that America – if it was going to change – had to change at its grass-roots, at the community level – where people lived.

And this is how Ocean Beach is connected to Kent State.

Dozens of college students at San Diego schools and universities flocked to OB to become involved either in community organizing or to do anti-war work in the community (not really the same thing, but close).

From the very late Sixties up to the middle of the Seventies, students from San Diego State, from UCSD, from CalWestern (while it was up in Point Loma), while some lived here already, many moved to OB and jumped into a variety of organizing projects.

And in less than a decade, OB had been transformed – in some significant ways – by these young intellectuals, these young activists, these young radicals.

They brought a street activism to the beachtown, an ‘in-your-face’ type of activism, an activism that was not afraid to take risks and work outside of normal political channels. And this activism gave birth to an array of community organizations that brought certain changes to the neighborhood. Groups that had activism at their core.

These young radicals, fresh off the campuses,  got involved first in militant environmental groups, such as the Ecology Action Committee – which led the fight to stop the jetty in the Summer of 1970.  It also led the fight against over-development on the cliffs for a long while.

They got involved in a funky, spirited underground newspaper called the OB Rag. The alternative media brought an anti-establishment flavor to the discussion.  It also was able to move from a two -page stapled mimeographed publication to newsprint and publishing runs of 5,000 to 1o,ooo copies.

They got involved in setting up the Food Co-op that was set up in a shed in somebody’s backyard, that ultimately grew to become OB People’s Food Co-op, the largest employer in the community.

They got involved in starting a free school, challenging traditional public schooling, with a philosophy that the whole world was the classroom.  Many of the young people who taught at the school later became teachers and school administrators in the public systems.

They set up the first publicly-funded child care facility, whose modern-day counterpart is still standing and serving local families.

If you look at these efforts, you see an effort to establish alternative institutions to the establishment institutions. An alternative to the media, the conservative Union. An alternative to the public school, an alternative to supermarket food. For a while, there was the Left Bank, an alternative store on Newport Ave.

At one point, there was even a “community tax” that several of the more business-oriented alternatives gave to, which helped fund other organizing projects.

These young radicals of the Kent State era also coalesced around issues that shouted for attention.  One was the planning crisis in OB in the early Seventies. Led by this generation, a plan that would have been devastating to Ocean Beach was blocked, and the first democratically-elected planning committee in the State of California was established in OB. It was established by a community election that involved thousands of residents and merchants.  A number of community groups were formed over the years to counter run-away development, with one of the the most important being the OB Community Planning Group.

Under then Police Chief Ray Hoobler, the brown-shirted cops that patrolled OB during those times were infamous for their harsh treatment of hippies and youth in general.  Young radical community organizers made coalitions with Town Council members and some merchants and forced the Police Department to shed some of its more militaristic practices (like field interrogations – FI’s – where cops could stop people without reason and do an ID check on them right then and there). A group called the OB Human Rights Committee lead the reform movement.

Dealing with human rights of women, a group named WAR – Women Against Rape – formed to counter almost a seasonal rise of assaults on women in the community.  There were also women’s study groups and strong women’s leadership in many of the community groups.

To top it all off, members of this political milieu also were involved in “bringing the war home” – trying to relate the anti-Vietnam war movement to the scene in OB.  Sometimes the scene got nasty – as during the Collier Park riot of Spring 1971 and the 72 mini-riot on Newport.

There were plenty of other efforts, activist, media, militancy. There was a group who pledged to stop Winchell’s Donuts from moving into OB.  There were unknown small groups that lit fires on apartments in the making.  These were all part of the spectrum of political activism inspired and created by the young radicals of the Kent State generation.

Their radicalism is what allowed them to withstand the onslaught of governmental and private resistance to their organizing efforts.  Their commitment was strong enough to survive the reactionary local San Diego newspaper, The Union, to survive other authorities, police, bureaucrats, landlords, right-wing terrorists, … and not only to survive, but to create wonderful alternatives and grass-root responses that successfully took root and changed OB.

The political movement that the Kent State generation of radicalized students crystallized in Ocean Beach contributed to the overall social and cultural development of the community. Part of the huge wave of youth who were coming of age during that time, OB was like many other college towns of rebellious college students.  But it also eventually became a model of community organizing for other neighborhoods and cities.

Combining an anti-establishment stance, juggling concepts of gender and racial equality, the young radicals meshed grass-roots activism with a new, militant environmentalism, grounded in the anti-war and anti-empire experiences of their campus origins. And for many, it was the massacre at Kent State that pushed them over the edge, that pushed them into a commitment so strong that it endured.

This was how the Kent State generation changed OB.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Frank Gormlie May 5, 2010 at 7:44 am

I posted this late in the day, but just had to do it.

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avatar OB Joe May 5, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Do you think that no one is reading this post because this is all old-hat? Are we tired of reading about yesteryear? I mean 1970 is so long ago and the Seventies are ancient history. It’s like if you were a college student in 1970 and some ol’ geezer is trying to tell you how righteous it was in 1930, do you think you would have listened then? So, why expect young OBcians to listen now? (Much less comment.)

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avatar buddy August 31, 2010 at 7:45 pm

OB Joe,

There are a lot of active youths and students out there that drool over that shit. While some look at my generation like all they care about are iPods and plastic sunglasses… a lot of us have looked to the past as a way of approaching the present (and sometimes escaping it).

It’s not all ancient history. Walk around UCSD with me sometime… It’s easy to see the huge glass buildings, the students that don’t care about anything but their engineering degree. But look a bit harder and you find some students looking in awe at a mural of Angela Davis, paying their respects at the bricks George Winne Jr. self -immolated on protesting the war (although the bricks are hidden in the woods). The student food co-op still plays more Bob Dylan than hip hop.

This generation may have lost touch with activism… but assuming we don’t care only makes it harder.

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avatar OB Joe August 31, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Buddy, I was being facetious, I believe, but also part serious b/c I don’t think Gormlie knew any thirties vets when he was young. There really werent that many around, esp. in SD.

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avatar buddy August 31, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Well you did have a point too… there are some of us that love that stuff, but a good majority of us youngins are clueless. Keepin my head in them clouds probably isn’t the best way to bring some change… but it’s the easiest on the neck.

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avatar OB Joe August 31, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Buddy, okay, get 6 of your friends together, and I’ll give you guys a talk about the ol days. The Rag can help organize it.

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avatar scott May 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Great idea OB Joe – I know of a few or the “younger generation” that would be interested in sipping a beer and listening to stories of how the community got to where it is today. Any event to the Rag can put together to help educate us on the past can only prove helpful moving into the uncertain times of the future.

also, buddy there is an organization called the Ocean Beach Historical Society, you might be interested in: http://obhistory.wordpress.com/

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avatar gristmiller May 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Argo!

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avatar Molly May 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm

OB Joe, are you calling Gormlie an old geezer?

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avatar OB Joe May 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Well, he is getting old – unlike you and me, Molly. No, the point is that if we as youngsters didn’t listen to old radicals talk about the Thirties, how can we expect people younger than 30 to listen to old people like Gormlie rant about the Seventies?

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avatar Molly May 5, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I have a theory: today’s generation of young students are closer to the 60s/70s generation than we were to the earlier generations before us. And it’s due to culture, music, and politics. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Joe.

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avatar Larry May 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I was a freshman at UCSD, and Kent State was just another addition to the horror of the invasion of Cambodia on top of the Geno and Eco-cide of Vietnam. Another horror was that the people making the policies that led to the violence were the people that I grew up to admire. My folks told me about the ’30’s and I grew up in the ’50’s when they were active in revitalizing the Democratic Party locally in National City where they met at a little mom and pop restaurant called Little Mexico, a house that kept getting added on to as the restaurant’s clientelle grew. And they succeeded with others all across the state and put in a democratic governor and in ’62 we got an educational plan that promised to support education as high as you could achieve. Then LBJ was elected and recalled teaching Brown children that were discriminated against, and happy to make the changes to open up society for them. That administration was the one that was surprised that carpet bombing didn’t make people love you. Boy, do we STILL have a long way to go!

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avatar Editordude May 6, 2010 at 11:21 am

Larry, thanks for sharing. If you’d like to share some more of your memories, please do so.

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avatar tj May 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

OB Joe & others,

Sometimes the old daze seems so irrelevant.

Here’s a bit of wisdom – from way, way back:
“Those who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Another one, from even further back:
“I have learned from my mistakes, & can repeat them perfectly.”
Mark Twain

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avatar Rick Ward aka mr.rick May 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

Every time one of these anniversaries come up there sure is a lot of “Boomer” soul searching going on. Maybe instead of trying to go back,we should go forward. I know it’s nice to relive our glory days, but it always seems to lead to remorse for what we know we screwed up. It’s kind of like jumping off the pier,once you leave the rail,there ain’t no turning back. There are probably alot of us feeling sorry for ourselves for selling out, you guys live with that.The trick is to try to do something righteous now. Every one of us has to make our own moral decisions every day. Just check yourself.

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avatar KidMike May 7, 2011 at 12:13 am

We’re similar to every other generation, and every group of individuals. We are the same brains somewhat taught of these past and present historical events in all different manors and we all discover our developed hate love relationship towards some of these sectors of the world sooner or later. Some of us willingly indulge in readings about past events and learning for the quest of knowledge in hopes of one day leaving behind something positive somehow/somewhere. These are the kids that some of you are/were. The philosophers of your age. While others simply learn by word of mouth from people such as me or you. But yet we aren’t the worlds best preachers and with the love and hate delivery we may give, sends off different feelings to your students/listeners. A kid will always take that information and your feelings and try to learn something from it, but if what he’s learning is leading him towards hate and depression. Then your creating a group of kids who begin to lash out at the world around them with no intelligent idea or planning. Problem is not everyone has the knowledge or care to take these matters into their hands and work to make a difference. Truth is, more and more of these knowledge driven kids/adults are taking action in ways bigger and more broad than ever before, through a system that lives in almost everyone of our homes and is quickly making it into nearly everyone’s daily lives across the globe. The Internet. Its allowing us as a whole, to witness live word-wide situations together and learn from them at a quicker pace then ever before in history. Something that can potentially get rid of the idea that we don’t learn or change our present ways no matter what history has taught us. Maybe it will help us correct a lot of these problems in just one century since we can learn live first hand from other mistakes/problems globally. P.S. I’m a kid who would be very interested in sitting down with some of you older dudes somewhere around town and shootin the shit…

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

kidMike – you gotta deal. We’ll arrange a chewing the fat, a remembrance session sometime soon.

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avatar Virginia Maksymowicz April 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Buddy:

If anyone is still reading these comments, the “bricks” hidden in the woods near the UCSD library are not “the bricks George Winne Jr. self -immolated on protesting the war.”

It is a sculpture called “30 Blocks,” that I made when I was an MFA student in 1976. Some of the undergraduate art students had worked with then-professor, Michael Todd, to create the memorial garden. I was looking for a place to install my sculpture and it seemed to resonate with what the other students had done. The metal sculpture in the grove is by Todd.

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avatar jim grant May 4, 2013 at 11:05 am

None of the young crowd care about kent state …now they care about the EYE Phone …If you mention Kent State they will ask if they made it to the Final Four.
Glory days somebody needs to write a song entitled that…

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm

That was kinda funny Jim. But that’s what we’re about – helping to educate our younger brothers and sisters, a few older ones too.

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