Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
February 24, 1981
Rights exist despite opposition
by Michael Letwin
Whether you‘d seen it the first time around or not, it was hard to watch the calculated, official 1970 murder by the Ohio National Guard of four students at Kent State University reenacted February 8, on TV.
But at a time when millions of Americans are being orchestrated into support for the most militaristic and nationalistic hysteria since the 1950s, NBC’s “Kent State” was a badly needed reminder that “terrorism” isn’t what the US government rails against — it’s what it practices.
Nevertheless, a common reaction is that the Kent State killings were some sort of exception or mistake in what is really a “democratic” society. How many times have you heard someone say: “Yeah, there are a few problems in this country, but at least we’re free”?
There’s some truth behind that idea. Because we, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have fought and died for important democratic principles, in the struggles for black liberation, unions, women’s rights, gay rights and against numerous wars (to mention a few examples), some of these rights do exist in this country today, despite the neverending opposition of the government and the wealthy, which it has represented.
But “Kent State” presented another, more final reality of American “democracy”: that the government does kill and otherwise repress people in the United States for opposing it, and Kent State was only the tip of the iceberg.
As soon after Kent as May 14, 1970, two black students were shot to death by Mississippi State police at Jackson State University, while protesting racism and the war. As at Kent, no one was ever convicted of a crime. Unlike Kent the students were black: their murder isn’t recalled on TV.
While the political revolt of the ’60s and early ’70s intensified, the victims of government repression piled up. Third World activists were the most beleaguered of all. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., a score of Black Panthers, black activist and writer George Jackson, prisoners at Attica State, 2 black students at Southern University at Baton Rouge, hundreds of people in ghetto uprisings — all these and more were murdered, directly or indirectly, by the government, in an attempt to wipe out the black and anti-war movements.
That political repression has never ended. American Indian activists were murdered and imprisoned during and after their uprising at Wounded Knee in 1973.
The Wilmington Ten, all victims of government frame up, have only recently been released. Gary Tyler, a young black man framed by local police near New Orleans, languishes today in a state prison at Angola, Louisiana.
Five leftists were murdered by the Klan and Nazis in Greensboro, NC, in 1979, their killers acquitted by an all-white jury, while the local and federal governments were implicated in their deaths.
Closer to home, members of the Black United Front in Boston are continually and hauled into court on phony charges by Boston’s finest. The full list of victims is much, much too long to recite here.
Suffice it to say, however, that every effort is made to prevent an awareness of this aspect of American “democracy” from becoming widespread.
Kids growing up today won’t read about it in school or see it on TV, because they’ll be too busy being hyped up for bombing Iran or making yellow ribbons. Nonetheless, most of them will find out just how free they are in this country — the hard way,
I get angry when I think about this, but it’s hard to be surprised. It’s logical and inevitable that the small class of rich corporation men who run this country will react with brutality when the rest of us pose a significant challenge to their grasp, whether it’s in Vietnam, El Salvador, Detroit, Boston or Kent State.
If they feel it’s necessary, they will use the government in an attempt to destroy any trace of the democratic rights that working class, Third World and poor people have won for themselves over the decades.
But the funny-and wonderful — thing about an oppressive society is that there will always be resistance, and it’s only that resistance, against the government, not real or imagined enemies abroad, that ensures us any rights at all.
As the rich attempt to butcher our social services, attack the rights of Thirld World people, women and gays, bust our unions, organize new Vietnams in Iran or El Salvador, and threaten us with nuclear war, the time to escalate that resistance is now.