The Early Politics

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PRESIDENT NIXON WIDENS THE WAR AND STUDENTS RESPOND

When President Richard Nixon announced his invasion of Cambodia in the early spring of 1970, these tinderboxes went off. Middle-of-the-road students joined with their more militant cousins and in May 1970 brought the American educational system to a screeching halt. Thousands of campuses were shut down by student strikes or by mass demonstrations and sit-ins. When four students were shot down by National Guardsmen on May 4th, at Kent State, Ohio, all hell broke loose. It continued across the country, and escalated when more students were killed at Jackson State in Mississippi a week later. The true nature and extent of what happened in this country during May of 1970 has never been fully and sufficiently told. But the country — this country — was near civil war. Or so many students thought.

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Kent State, Ohio, May 4-5, 1970

Listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in “Ohio”:

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

San Diego Campuses Explode

San Diego university and college campuses were no exception to the explosive nature of protest at this point. San Diego State was shut down. At UCSD, a widely-supported student strike had rendered the La Jolla campus quiet except for the hub-bub of strike activities, leafleting, teach-ins, rallies, bonfires at night… It was around one of these bonfires that Gormlie met Tom Kozden, who was then moonlighting protests from one campus to another; Kozden was from another circle of college activists at Cal Western – then a private campus on Point Loma – a circle that included Denny Doyle and Miriam Shipp — both of whom would later work on the OB Rag. By that Spring, Lyons and Gormlie, already friends, had become well-known activists on campus among the mix of anti-war protesters.

In early May striking students from college campuses all around San Diego county wanted to show their unity in opposing the war; the idea was to stage one joint action to protest the widening US involvement by targeting one prime military facility. At the planning meeting attended by hundreds of students from SDSU, UCSD, Cal-Western, City College, the community colleges, a few high schools, various ideas were thrown about, until almost by universal acclamation, the target was decided: the Naval Electronics Laboratory up in Point Loma.

So, one early weekday morning in mid-May, 3,000 students converged at the entrance of the Lab along Catalina Boulevard –in the usually sedate and conservative neighborhood of Point Loma. The entrance to the military facility was effectively blocked by the sheer numbers of students walking across the boulevard, bringing business at the Lab to a halt for several hours. No disrespect was shown drivers, there was no violence, no arrests were made, — just a solemn slow-moving mass of people circulating in front of the entrance — San Diego Police officers hung back, their numbers entirely dwarfed by those of the protesters.

A week into the student strike, California Governor Ronald Reagan — who could not appear at a college campus without causing a disturbance — signed an order closing all the state university and college campuses. This gubernatorial decree effectively ended — for awhile at least – the college bases of the anti-war movement in California.

The students all went home. Gormlie retreated to his married students apartment, only to reappear for his college graduation ceremony in mid June. In the midst of Buckminster Fuller’s speech, Angela Davis got up and announced a walk-out in protest of the shutting down of all the college campuses as a way to resolve the student strikes. Several hundred, including Gormlie, got up and held an alternate ceremony on another part of the campus. It turned into a party, with most of the campus anti-war left present, including Herbert Marcuse.

The Etiwanda House “Collective” Forms

This was the crucible that the early OB Rag staffers found themselves in. Earlier that year, Gormlie and Blakey — who knew each other from Point Loma High – had agreed to move in together at Gormlie’s Etiwanda Street house in Ocean Beach and form some kind of house commune, start a garden in the back yard, do politics of some sort. Gormlie was pushing to do a newspaper, an underground newspaper. He convinced Lyons to join the small crowd gathering in northeast OB, who included Susan Gormlie, Frank’s wife, still a student at UCSD, and a young woman named Chris, who was Blakey’s main squeeze, also recently from Berkeley. Susan Gormlie, a gifted musician, was more into the cultural aspects of the new ways – astrology, tarot cards, vegetarianism – than the political ones. Chris was a Southern Comfort-drinking soul mate that Blakey had met at the barricades.

These Etiwanda housemates were all in their early twenties. They enjoyed the lifestyle that was typical in those days of young, counter-cultural political radicals. It wasn’t “drugs, sex, and rock & roll” but close to it. Having rejected mainstream culture, these young, left-wing hipsters were embracing the alternative culture and all of its accouterments, the music, the slang, the incense, the clothing, the icons, … and finally, for most of them, the politics. They were ready to take on the world. “We’re finally on our own,” sang Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.

[more to come]

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Larry Kulesza October 18, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Greetings.
Was part of the anti-war movement in LA. Was part of communal house called Ellis Island which this year celebrated its 40th anniversary. Still going strong. We Islanders have an on online chat group. A recent thread recalls attending a protest in Oceanside. We are trying to determine a date, whether it was late 69 or 70 after Kent State. Don’t think it was the December 69 Fort Pendleton march. Any suggestions?

A very good early history piece. Will let our group know of your existence.

Keep the faith.
Larry Kulesza

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie October 19, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Larry, thanks for coming by. Yes, there was a large Oceanside anti-war march and rally. It had hundreds of servicepeople at the front of the march. It ended up down at the shell at the beach for the rally. Angela Davis spoke. The event was part of the 1969 Moratorium, and I believe it was the 3rd in the series, so I think it was like Dec 69. It was NOT after Kent State. I remember the event like it was last week. I was one of the monitors for the rally and march and remember a police billy club being pressed into my gut as we tried to keep separate the demonstrators and the screaming counter-demonstrators.

Thanks and come by again, and again.

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Avatar katie henderson August 6, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Great piece. but like the tea party similar grassroots groups arose with every president going back for decades in protest to the 20’s in protest of republican agenda and the like. I read a great article but cant find-it had the names of all the groups
do you know what I am even talking about?
khh MAS

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