“I was in a sit-in at UCSD when we heard about the killings at Kent State.”

by on May 4, 2011 · 21 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Education, History, Peace Movement, Popular, San Diego, War and Peace

Urey Hall, UCSD, during a May 1969 student strike protest.

Originally posted May 4, 2009.

Editor: The following was forwarded to us, apparently written by somebody involved in the anti Viet-Nam war protests of a generation ago. They describe their experiences including a sit-in at the University of California San Diego the day the Kent State Massacre occurred. For obvious reasons, they wish to remain anonymous.

by Dr Anonymouse

May 4th, 1970, is forever etched in my brain and memory cells. I was a student at UCSD, and we had just taken over the 5th floor of Urey Hall – a Science building – in protest of the University’s complicity in the Vietnam War, when we heard the bad news from Kent State. It came over a small radio someone had perched on a chair out on the balcony overlooking the Quad.

I was part of a contingent of about 200 students who, at the prescribed moment, rushed the fifth floor of the ugly edifice named after a top nuclear scientist on the spreading La Jolla campus. We took over the elevators, jammed them with chairs, and somehow locked the doors to the stair wells. Some of us went around the floor, pounding on the doors to labs and offices, shouting “End the war, shut it down!” or words to that effect.

It has been 39 years. I can still feel those emotions, however, and I wanted to bring them back as we commemorate the Kent State Massacre of that May 4th – so many moons ago.

There had been protests against the Vietnam War at UCSD since the mid-sixties, but until things started to escalate in 1969 and then in 1970, most of these protests consisted of peaceful demonstrations, with speeches and teach-in’s, pickets and signs.

Sometime, I think, in late 1969, a small band of militant students gained access to records at the campus contracts office that disclosed UCSD had all kinds of contracts with the military, the Navy, the Pentagon, the Defense Department, corporate war-profiteers, and so on.  This showed that the school was not some ivory tower but deeply involved in a war thousands of miles away that was tearing our country apart.

When the rest of us who were involved in anti-war protests found out about this complicity with what we then called “the War Machine” – a complicity that contradicted official statements and denials by administrators and top University officials – we upped the ante. We became more militant.

Protest rally at Revelle Plaza, “the Quad”, UCSD. 1969-70.

Military and corporate recruiters were physically blocked.  Certain professors who were notorious in their connections with the military-industrial complex were identified and picketed – although no physical harm or injury ever occurred.  Sit-in’s of campus buildings started to take place.

Protesters march from Revelle Plaza north toward the gym. UCSD, 1969-70.

It does get confusing when I attempt to remember the sequence of events. I vividly recall this one sit-in, where several hundred students donned paper bags, with an enlarged photo of Chancellor McGill’s face on the outside. This was an ingenious -and funny – ploy to avoid recognition, of course, by campus cops and administrators.  We sat in – and really nothing happened.  The point of sit-ins was to bring business as usual to a halt. At the end of the day, we left the building peacefully.

As the war escalated, as President Nixon charged into Cambodia, college campus protests around the country grew more and more militant, where physical confrontations with campus cops and local riot police were happening in rapid succession from city to city, school to school.

The Night the Campus Police Building Was Rockin’

There was this one outrageous incident at UCSD that is clear as a bell. Anti-war radicals had split into at least several groups: the anarchists – who included new lefties and political hippies, the hardcore Maoists who then ran SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), the liberals – antiwar professors and grad students who weren’t “radical” enough, the Trots who always for some reason had their own agenda (“Trot” is short for Trotskyist – a follower of Leon Trotsky – one of the troika of the Russian revolution of 1917. Actually Trotsky was no worst than the others, and he at least appreciated culture and literature – I’m getting off on a tangent – sorry.)

Back to this one incident I remember very well. I was at the anarchist meeting one evening.  About sixty of us, sitting around in chairs or on the floor, on the bottom conference room of one of the dorms, were discussing our next action. We knew SDS was also meeting around the same time in another building across the Quad.  Some times we did things with them, sometimes we didn’t.

Suddenly, a guy runs into the meeting room and yells that campus police are arresting people at the SDS meeting! To a person, we immediately jumped up and rushed across campus – and saw the school security herding several handcuffed students we knew into police cars. A German grad student with a thick accent kept yelling: “This is what they did in Wiemar Germany! This is what they did in Wiemar Germany!”

It was outrageous. Campus police rushing into a student meeting, arresting students for something they may have done with regards to the theft – we called it “liberating” – of records that showed proof of university contracts with war -profiteers.

I saw a guy I knew from high school being roughed up, and forced through the back door of the police car. He was resisting.  Instinctively, we rushed the car to help him – but before we reached them, he was violently thrown into the backseat and the car roared off towards the UC Police Station – on another part of campus.  The other cop cars drove off. By the way, that guy who was thrown into the car later became a medical doctor.

Furious, a large group of us that had now assembled started off for the police HQ. We went running, and broke up into smaller groups. Windows were being smashed. Urns were tipped over and shattered. But nothing too heavy or expensive.

Someone yelled out that one of the top administrators wanted to make a speech to us. We rounded ourselves up and stood outside the single-storied wooden building. He came out – I forget his name – and in the dark attempted to assure us that everything would be taken care of, people’s rights would be respected, proper procedures would be followed. His words defied reality.  While speaking from an impromptu stage, he suddenly staggered and nearly fell forward. He was smashed. Totally drunk. I think I saw a bottle appearing his back pocket.

If we weren’t pissed off yet, this did it. We were livid – rights were being violated, bullshit was being shoveled at us. And it was all a cover-up of what the University really was doing for the war. We were even more outraged.

People left the administrator and started pelting the police station with rocks. Yes, it rained rocks on the small beige, wooden security building that night, lit-up by glaring lights, making it a fine target.  This went on for about 15 to 20 minutes when the campus cops made a run for it and dashed to their cars. This part is a little fuzzy.

The mini-riot did fizzle out. Many people, spent of their energy, drifted back to the dorms. Some ran to other buildings and smashed more plate glass windows. Others retreated to their domiciles to plot, laugh and wonder at the series of events swirling around them, as they traded J’s and poured homemade beer.

Things did get crazy when Nixon invaded Cambodia. Do you see why? All along, he was telling the American people he had a plan for peace, “peace with honor.” Peace negotiations were going on in Paris. Then all of a sudden, on April 30th, Nixon lands a bombshell. He announced that we were invading another country – the total opposite direction that we were supposed to be going.

It made the anti-war movement go loco – . Campus protesters went into over-drive, demos, protests, sit-in’s, teach-in’s, take over of buildings, firing up ROTC buildings, fighting with helmeted cops who had billy clubs. It was going on across the country, in hundreds of schools, involving thousands, tens of thousands of students. And more…

The May 4th Sit-In of Urey Hall

I was not part of the decision-making process. But some of the disparate antiwar groups decided to do a joint sit-in of Urey Hall – a science building – one of the centers of the University’s complicity with war, as many of the offices of those professors with DOD contracts were located there.

We were to meet at 8 or 9 am. Once there, we ran up the stairs, commandeering the elevators and physically taking over a couple of floors. There was no plan to do damage to the building or to the offices, and none occurred. We just wanted to close down this center of the war – at least temporarily. For the next couple of hours, I hung out with friends on the fifth floor, arms hanging over the balcony.  We were serious and young. We laughed, grimaced, smoked cigarettes, and waited for the school’s response. What would they do?

If they sent in the campus cops, would we fight them? Or would we go limp? Or would we simply run out of the building over to another one and take that one over?  Someone had brought a sack full of rocks in preparation of a possible defense of our situation. Things were happening so fast in those heady days of protest and resistance that these kinds of scenarios often were not planned out.  We weren’t carefully organized into affinity groups like protest groups were during the anti-nuke days of civil disobedience of the early 1980s.

But we were ready for whatever the University wanted to dish out. Our very own institution had become corrupted before our eyes. The school was part of the war machine. We – the students – were part of the war machine – unless we did something to resist it, to stand up to it. As Mario Savio said, “we’re just cogs of the machine” and at times we have to put our bodies in the gears of the machine.

As we stood there on the exposed balcony floor, we felt part of the wave of student-inspired uprisings that was just now sweeping across the nation. Our kin were doing this, and things like this, all over the country. Our brothers and sisters were doing sit-ins, bringing schools to a halt – all together. All over a few days. It was May 4th.  Only 5 days earlier had Nixon invaded Cambodia. Since then, our world of campus life had exploded. There could be no business as usual.

We felt a deep solidarity with those other students and communities reacting to this significant escalation of the war.  And of course, we all had individual responses to those times of crisis. But we acted together – a minority – a small minority compared to the thousands of students who were on campus – but a focused minority that was bringing the issue of the war directly to the other students, the faculty, the campus employees – many unionized, and importantly, to the larger community.

Kent State, Ohioi, May 4, 1970.

The radio perched on a chair was bringing us news of other demonstrations and protests. Then the chilling news from Kent State came in. National guardsmen had opened fire on demonstrating students and had killed four of them, wounding another score. Oh, my god. I lit up another cigarette.  The killings proved that America was at war with its youth.

I now search my emotional memory. What was going through my young mind back then, nearly 40 years ago, as I stood on that balcony? Were we scared?  Did the shootings put fear into us?

Mostly what I recall is a type of grim determination settling in.  There was no more laughter or nervous joking.  No tears were shed – not then. It could be us next, we thought.  But we held our ground.  We remained on the balcony.

This was war.  Those killed and wounded could have been us.  That sack of rocks looked pitifully worthless, however.

Finally, some time in the late afternoon, we ended our sit-in, peacefully. We ran down the stair wells and gathered for a final whoop, and then we all dispersed in different directions.

It was not over, of course. With the shootings at Kent, and then a few days later at Jackson State where two more students demonstrating against the war were killed, the antiwar students at UCSD joined the national student strike.  There were protests everyday at this point.

On May 10th, six days after Kent State, an undergraduate by the name of George Winnie Jr. immolated himself on Revelle Plaza in protest of the war. I was not on campus that day so I did not witness this terrible sacrifice by one of my peers.

With the Student Strike, we did shut down the University at La Jolla. In fact, all UC campuses were shut down. Hundreds of colleges across America were closed. And then, for us in California, then-governor Ronald Reagan ordered all state colleges to shutter their classes for the duration of the school year. This ended the student strike here in San Diego, but not student anti-war demonstrations.

Mary Vecchio reacts to the death of Jeff Miller, May 4, 1970, Kent State.

Looking back, I think the Kent State shootings hardened my convictions – that America was definitely going in the wrong direction, away from the founding principles, and it needed to be changed.  I had a bumpersticker that read: “America: Change It or Lose it.”

I started thinking and reading about social change and revolution. I soon came to believe that my country – a country that I loved – needed another revolution. I still hold these beliefs. Somewhere in the glass-towers that dominate downtown San Diego is a professional – a doctor – who is a revolutionary – someone who wants to overturn the corporate order of war that has taken over our land. It is me, and unlike the last of some decimated Native Indian tribe, I know there are others like me – out there.

We didn’t go away, America. We’re still here – most of us – and we still want fundamental change. We are still revolutionaries at heart – and Kent State made us that way.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar mr fresh May 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Terrific piece. I was at a less stellar institution at the time of the kent state shootings. We also closed the campus down. It took about 1/2 an hour…the administration knew the rage that students around the country were feeling and didn’t want to face it. It was so fast and so easy, that we gathered our troops and went out to SD State to help close that campus down. Good times!? Well, sorta.

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avatar Robert Burns May 5, 2009 at 11:55 am

I was 17 living about 20 miles from the Kent State New Philadelphia campus when the Kent State Massacre occurred. So, I know little of it beyond what I’ve read in Life Magazine and the likes. I do, however, come from a prominent Columbus, Ohio family and one of my aunts said that she attended Ohio State University with Governor Rhodes (who presided over the massacre) and spoke lowly of him and his “bookie operation”. War is one thing, massacring college students exercising their fundamental rights on campus is an hideous other thing.

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avatar OB Joe May 6, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Was really hoping that this article would draw out more personal stories – which I understand from the blog editors here can be posted anonymously. Only the editors – and I asked them about this – can see someone’s email address – ….

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avatar dylan taylor May 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Beautiful piece…

I’m a student at UCSD right now, and often find myself dreaming of living in a time where the youth wouldn’t be afraid of using their voices. I think a huge reason why this is a silent time is because most people don’t think others care.

I think we’re all still just as caring, just as aware, just as strong as we were back then. Maybe we’re just preoccupied. Maybe we’re just a little caught up with trying to stay afloat. I guess the process of waking up has to start on the personal level, but I hope to god it starts happening soon.

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avatar Dr Anonymouse May 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

dylan – gracias! your words mean a lot to me even though we are far apart in generations.

I think you’re right. There’s a tremendous flurry of things that can occupy young people, no money, how do I look, grades, surf, the opposite sex (or same sex), parents, etc.

My generation had the same preoccupations – but we had to have our heads slammed against the wall to realize what was going on: the Vietnam War had been going on for years and years; racism was very obvious; the treatment of women as second class citizens; and a culture that was heading into a death zone of self-indulgence, corruption, and extreme materialism.

Thanks again for your words of caring.

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avatar Dave Sparling May 4, 2010 at 10:54 am

40 years from now there will not be any stories of young or old people protesting 3 illegal unnecessary wars, just a small blurb about one woman who tried by going to Crawford Texas. The criminals behind these wars can thank managed world media for this freedom to kill innocent humans.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 4, 2010 at 11:20 am

I luv ya, Dave, but you’re letting your cynicism get the best of ya.

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avatar Goatskull May 4, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I doubt those who are behind these wars give two craps what anyone thinks. Media or not.

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avatar Dave Sparling May 4, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Sorry Frank it is obvious I need to put my finger back in the dike and play like all is well.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm

no, no, no Dave – don’t be that extreme!

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avatar susan orlofsky May 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Thank you Dr. Anonymouse–from another person of your generation who has never given up my hope & remain an impassioned activist–la lucha continua!

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avatar Helen Rosfelder May 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

Thanks for writing this piece. It is particularly moving. I was there and took part in many of these events on campus but had forgotten most of the details.
With my husband we participated in the stopping of the train up in Del Mar and remember being chased by the police.
George Winnie’s death was so shocking. I remember seeing the police washing away the blood and ashes with their hoses. He was one of my husband’s friends, interested in philosophy, religion, and history. The worst was the title of the write-up in the San Diego Union about George Winnie’s sign “In God’s name and the war” instead of “In God’s name end the war”, which is what he had written, making him look just like a madman.
My foreign-born husband and I left the US in the end of ’72. Forty years later this remains so upsetting.
Glad to know you’re there, Dr. Anonymouse!!
HR

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avatar Editordude May 6, 2010 at 11:25 am

Helen, any time you’d like to share your memories of those days, please come back and let us know.

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avatar Stephen K June 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I was only 6 years at the time but I remember seeing the fire on the train tracks. At least I think I remember it… It’s one of those somewhat fuzzy childhood memories that may have been altered by imagination over the years. The image in my memory is of a fire on the tracks somewhere along the section between 9th and 15th streets. Is that where the train was stopped? I also remember the Sheriff helicopter flying low over 101 and the chaotic scene in Del Mar.

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avatar tj May 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm

The power of good music is so great –
I am transported back-in-time, whenever I hear (or even think about) Neil Young’s memorable Ohio lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI7-m919ynU

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avatar doc December 17, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Dr. Anonymouse, I stumbled upon your article while having memory pangs from my time at UCSD. I was a freshman living in Argo Hall on the Revelle campus when this was going on. I too was opposed to the war, but I had thought at the time that the rantings and carrying on of my fellow students was not constructive and was downright childish. Over the years I have come to understand that the type of political thinking engendered by those of you in my generation who carried on as such, is what has been responsible for many of the problems facing our nation today. Hopefully future generations will act more responsibly when demonstrating their displeasures with our government.

Life is not a struggle unless you make it a struggle. Revolution can be even more destructive than that which is being rebelled against. I’m sorry you have never really grown up.

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avatar Chris July 15, 2014 at 6:40 am

Thanks for this article which I found looking for George Winnie. I work at UCSD and noticed his memorial at the Revelle quad and was curious. George was, apparently, one of San Diego’s real war heroes. Today, with the US embroiled in multiple wars, San Diego is a boom town dedicated almost exclusively to enabling these crimes. San Diego specializes in technology for lethal drones, polluting war ships and aircraft, training people to be killers, spying, nuclear missiles, war logistics, and the like. With the exception of biotech (thanks to UCSD) and the occasional peaceful applications of wireless communications technology (pioneered by the Navy at the Pt. Loma Naval Labs), the machinery of war is all that San Diego produces to any meaningful degree. When I’m complaining about the sacrifices I make by scrupulously avoiding the war industry and its tentacles, I’ll keep in mind George’s.

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avatar marthar October 8, 2014 at 8:40 pm

hello, I was there on May4 and also on many of the other events referred to here.
I am proud of my generation and fellow protesters, and I send warm greetings (4 years after her post) to Susan Orlofsky.
Would that the present and future generations would have the same energy and determination we had to change the world for positive ends. History moves more slowly than any one generation—but while fighting for social change and against the long wars our country is still fighting, we now need urgent mobilization to halt further global warming.
The name of the protester who self-immolated was George Winne Jr., not Winnie. All honor to George — but heroism is an inappropriate way to talk about this, I’d say to Chris. Working against war and political crimes does not require self-sacrifice but rather activism, and there were tens of thousands of activists who mobilized around the country. At UCSD George’s sacrifice is not forgotten, and I gather there was a memorial to the student activists and to George dedicated on Revelle this past spring.
I share the moment with Helen Rosfelder, of being there at the Quad and then watching the area being washed down as I was picking up my small son from the day care center my women’s group had created in a commandeered lounge on the Quad; I put my hand on top of his head to wheel him about and quickly walked with him to the cafeteria behind the Quad. And I also took part (I was with the same women’s group, the Women’s Liberation Front), as did Helen and her partner, in the stopping of the materiel train from Pendleton to SD. To Stephen K, the fire on the tracks was just north of Del Mar business area (tiny as it was) and the helicopters flew over us for what seemed like hours, as, like Helen, we ran and hid from storefront to storefront to evade arrest. Even though only a couple of people lit the fire, and they happen mostly not to have been UCSD people, they were brave. The FBI or other plainclothes cops were arrayed with binoculars and cameras on the roof of a building directly across the street from where this occurred, probably because of the informer, later unmasked, at the heart of the SD movement.
I wasn’t part of the sit in at Urey (or at APIS at the same time) because of my tiny son.

Also, Chris, I am not sure what kind of medical work goes on at the Salk Institute at present, but I am not sure it is all biotech, all the time. Except for that, it’s true that SD is still at heart a military town, surrounded by suburbs of retired military.

It’s important to recall the activism then so we can help inspire the activists of today.

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avatar Helen Rosfelder October 9, 2014 at 12:24 am

Hello marthar and thanks for your comments. Some people are strong enough to be active activists I guess I was back then. But you know that when they ended the draft there were so few who kept on “fighting”, people went back to their normal lives a lot. In our desperate youth we decided to go back to the earth like a lot of kids back then. We really thought change would come but when I look at the world of course so many things have gotten worse. I can’t say I’ve been a hero in any domaine but I’ve always remained true to a certain moral values. I know young people here in France who think we were lucky to live in the 60’s, like all generations ours is going to die out, i just hope that we leave behind those ideals we so strongly believed in

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avatar marthar October 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

thanks, Helen, for your words. I think the reputation of the activism of our generation—and of course of May 68 in France, and 64 in Berkeley, both of which inspired me & millions of others around the world— is still alive. I see its spirit, if not its memory, all the time, in the Occupy demonstrations and here in NY in the recent Climate Change march and Flood Wall Street demonstration—and in the Hong Kong protests of just last week.
Rereading my own comment, above, it could be read as implying that you and I were in the “same women’s group,” but I was trying to say that the group I was with on the Del Mar action was the same group that had started the UCSD Day Care center.
And now… was anyone part of the sit-down that same year on I-5 in San Diego that closed the interstate down completely for hours?

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avatar Helen Rosfelder October 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Hello again marthar
I was there with my husband, that was really something wasn’t it? I remember the hippy types dancing on the “liberated” freeway. How utterly happy I felt, like being witness to a miracle ! What did you do or think?
Also I wasn’t in any women’ s group and didn’t have kids yet, I felt so hopeless back then as I was so shy. Were you at those meetings where we (or let’s say the men) planned the deal at Del Mar? My husband was an immigrant foreign student eligible for the draft.

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