May 14, 2010

May '70: 14. ...'Til It's Over

Two weeks after Nixon’s 1970 invasion of Cambodia triggered the first and only national student strike this country had ever seen, battles continued to rage on campuses the length and breadth of the country.

Take the University of Maryland at College Park. Striking students and faculty had pretty much shut the place down during the early days of May. In fact, as the fourth installment of this series pointed out, thousands of them also invaded and shut down US Route 1, then the main artery between Baltimore and Washington.

Day after day, students poured onto Route 1, blocking it and the state cops mobilized to clear it. Day after day, the pigs attacked the campus, arresting scores, teargassing dorms and frats to the point where they were uninhabitable. and administering savage beatdowns as the students fled. This repression on top of rage at the Kent State murders swelled the ranks of protesters and keep the struggle hot.


The university was shut down by the strike but the administration hadn’t opted for the cancel-finals-and-pass-everybody trick being used at other schools, so the clashes continued. They peaked on May 14, 40 years ago tonight.


One grad who returned to campus to build the strike recalls:

There was a lot of teargas the night of May 14. I didn't quite understand the campus politics, but a faculty vote had gone badly and several thousand students headed for Route One in protest.

Governor Mandel had mobilized the National Guard who moved on to campus after students were driven off of Route One. It was ironic, because we all knew that the reason many people joined the Guard was because they didn't want to fight in the unpopular Viet Nam War. I was sorry to see them. They were probably even sorrier being there.

The exchanges of teargas bombs and rocks were the fiercest I had ever seen. People were determined to hold on to their piece of liberated Maryland even in the face of a military occupation. National Guard Commander Warfield's helicopter flew overhead and added a further surreal menace to the whole scene.

We grouped on the hill in front of the Chapel. It was dark and hard to see how many people were holding out, but it seemed like thousands. The crowd ebbed and flowed depending on how many teargas bombs were fired by the National Guard and police from the base of the hill near Route 1.
That night, amid extensive trashing and the U of M Administration building very nearly went up in flames. The country’s campuses were still on fire with struggle!


Click here to read this series from the beginning.

Click here to read the next installment.

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