Reagan Has A Word About Kent State – May 5, 1970

 

The answer: shut everything down.

The answer: shut everything down.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Governor Reagan Announcement of School closings – May 5, 1970 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

As reverberations continued to be felt around the country, the day after the shootings at Kent State on May 5th 1970, California Governor Reagan chimed in on the situation and ordered the closing of all colleges and University campuses until May 11.

In a blanket telephone statement released to the press, Governor Reagan ordered the closings as a precaution over threatened violence, as protests to the shootings spread throughout the country.

Saying the culprits in the string of violent demonstrations weren’t students at all, but a carefully trained group of agitators, bent on destroying College life and throwing the country into chaos, and that it was in all likelihood that the students gunned down were innocent bystanders.

Asking for a four-day reflection on the roots and causes, and asking the majority of students to use the time to discuss the situation, Reagan appealed to students, parents and Administrators to end the violence.

The irony in all this was, only four days earlier, Reagan was quoted as saying the students engaged in these protests were “brats”, “freaks” and “cowardly fascists” and that he advocated “a bloodbath, if necessary” to quell the protests.

After the events of May 4th, he quickly backtracked, saying he was using a “figure of speech” in dealing with the protests.

Of course, Reagan was no fan of the University system – his clashes were frequent, and many thought it was this “no appeasement” policy that insured his winning the Governors race in 1966, and fueled his race for President in 1980.

But this was 1970, and we were in the midst of dealing with a tragedy, borne from a more complex set of circumstances. Some people just wanted a quick fix, and shooting from the hip seemed like an answer.

Here is that address, as it was given to the press, and later broadcast, on May 5, 1970.

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6 Responses

  1. Noel Byrne (Dept. of Sociology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California says:

    The posting of this audio as well as the accompanying commentary is an admirable service, with respect to both the historical record and the understanding of subsequent generations.

    • gordonskene says:

      Thanks so much – I do what I can. I think it’s crucial to be aware of history. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle.

      • Noel Byrne says:

        (I send this statement to you on the assumption that it is a reply directly to your communication to me. If my statement is more widely presented, not a problem.)

        As a student, I witnessed the dynamics of the student strike at Sonoma State College (California) on May 5, 1970, from the 7:30 am start of that school day (presumptively “a day like any other day”) to its end with the college having been shut down at mid-day. Of course, this evolution was quite tumultuous. I can send along both a description and a sociological analysis of the intervening processes, as directly witnessed, if you are interested. (Incidentally, Governor Reagan subsequently forced the resignation of Sonoma State’s college president, Ambrose Nichols, holding him responsible for failing to suppress the student strike.)

      • gordonskene says:

        Hi Noel – yes, please do. I remember the events at Sonoma State quite well – I was in Los Angeles (going to LACC at the time). Interesting times (in the Chinese curse sense of the phrase).

  2. Noel Byrne says:

    I could send this as a WORD document, were I to know a suitable email address. It is a draft of a talk I gave on the 5-5-1970 Student Strike at Sonoma State College.

    In any case, I paste it as an unfortunately lengthy document. I hope you find it satisfactory. — Best, Noel

    ————

    THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF A CRISIS
    Sturm und Drang at Sonoma State College, Spring 1970

    (An adumbrated version of a more complete treatment, sans analysis)

    Noel Byrne
    Department of Sociology
    Sonoma State University

    INTRODUCTION

    My concern in this talk centers on a crisis that occurred at Sonoma State University (then College) in the Spring of 1970, one that I witnessed as a student at this institution, and which resulted in the closing of the college. Historically, it was associated with the U. S. invasion of Cambodia ordered by President Nixon, and the killings of students at Kent State University by Ohio National Guardsmen.

    I intend to offer an examination of the emergence of this crisis on the morning of May 5, 1970. In doing this, I not only hope to provide some understanding of the development of this particular student strike, but more importantly I hope to shed light on some of the dynamics associated with crises as such. Further, some of what I have to say will be applicable to an understanding of certain features of social interaction in general.

    THE NATURE OF CRISIS

    Consulting Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1993), we find that the etymological roots of the term, “crisis,” trace to the Latin word, Krisis, which itself traces to a Greek term of the same order, both of which mean, “decision.” Webster’s definitions:

    1. a) The turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever;
    b) a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disorder;
    c) a radical change of status in a person’s life.

    2. The decisive moment.

    3. An unstable time or state of affairs whose outcome will make a decisive
    difference for better or worse.

    Common to these definitions are the notions that crisis is sudden, decisive, and consequential. It is a turning point of uncertain yet decisive outcome.

    Experientially, a crisis always involves some degree of anomie (an important concept in sociology, introduced by Emile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century but of even greater relevance to the 21st century) in its emergence: a disjoint between past expectations and future experiences (as the concept was subsequently explicated by Marvin B. Scott and Stanford Lyman).

    Sociologically, a crisis is at hand when the taken-for-granted routine grounds of everyday life have been clearly shown to no longer hold, and the emergently potential taken-for-granted presumptions are either unclear or unacceptable.

    A crisis is always a period of transition: from one set of routine taken-for-granted assumptions to another. It intervenes between the actual or threatened destruction or invalidation of the old assumptions and the revelation or emergence of new assumptions. Examples can be represented by the loss of one’s job, and the Gas Crisis of the mid-1970s. (In this regard, it can be noted that Australian Bushmen did not have a gas crisis, in spite of the circumstance that they had no gas.)

    Having considered the nature of crisis as such, I will now direct some attention to the historical context of the specific crisis at Sonoma State College in the spring of 1970, as represented by the student strike. We will then be concerned with the specific sequence of events on the day of the strike.

    As will be seen, it began as “a day like any day,” and ended as a most exceptional and troubling life event for all concerned. A detailed analysis of the definitional processes that characterized this change will be offered.

    Central to these processes was an intense degree of conflict over the definition of the situation. This analysis will reveal the way in which efforts to preserve a consensual orientation to the day as one characterized by normality actually induced a general experience of crisis. The irony, then, is that efforts to defend a shared orientation of normality brought about its banishment. Finally, I will consider the ways in which aspects of this set of events shed light on social processes in general
    .
    HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE STRIKE

    The sequence of events that provided the historical context of the student strike at Sonoma State College on May 5, 1970 and its immediate aftermath can be concisely summarized:

    1) the invasion of Cambodia by U. S. troops on Thursday, April 30, ordered by President Richard Nixon;

    2) the killings (of four students) at Kent State by Ohio State National Guardsmen, Monday, May 4;

    3) the student strike at Sonoma State on Tuesday, May 5, as well as at four hundred other colleges and universities across the nation;

    4) the SSC Colloquium on Thursday, May 6. Also, it was on May 5 that
    California Governor Ronald Reagan ordered that all California state colleges and universities closed Thursday May 6 to Monday May 11.;

    5) then, of course, there were the eleven black students shotgunned (two killed nine wounded) at Jackson State College, Mississippi, on Thursday, May 14.

    The entire scenario that encompassed the student strikes of this time was like a great orgasmic convulsion, followed by exhaustion. With a great deal of shouting and running, smoke and uproar, sturm und drang, hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation were forcibly shut down.

    Many of them stayed shut for the remainder of the semester. Hope, outrage, and determination were the themes of the time. It seemed to many that at last something overwhelming and tangible was being done.

    However, the summer came and activities ended on the campuses. Summer passed, the fall semester began and — interestingly — nothing happened. The fall semester was marked by a great quiescence, something like a combination of exhaustion and despair.

    (I was puzzled at the time, and I remain puzzled to this day by this dramatic turnaround. I can speculate on the why of it — I have read others’ speculations — but none of these explanations feels satisfactory. Did everyone simply expend their energies in this orgasm of protest? Did the summer function as a buffer? I don’t know.)

    Among young people, this malaise seemed to continue for the next few years, right up to the development of Watergate. While in grad school at Rutgers, I knew many educated people who stopped reading newspapers during this period — a kind of withdrawal from that kind of world marked by the landslide victory of Richard Nixon that carried him to a second term in 1972.

    Still, my concern now is not with the student strikes across the country, but rather with the one here at Sonoma State. The point to be made about this strike as a crisis is that I am not arbitrarily choosing to call it a crisis; this is not simply an analytic convenience (as sometimes is the case in the behavioral sciences).

    Rather, it was experienced as crisis by the participants at some point. Further, there was common agreement among all concerned that there was indeed a crisis at hand.

    (There is no small irony in the circumstance that what seemed to be a turning point, that seemed to be an invalidation of old taken-for-granteds —“a real crisis”— simply faded away.)

    In any case, we will be concerned with the social construction of this common agreement and of this experience. We will be concerned with the way in which the crisis was a joint product of the participants on campus that day.

    A comment on the relation of large and small phenomena is in order. The linkage between the student strike and such macrosocial (large-group) phenomena as the Cambodian Invasion and the violence at Kent State is deceptively apparent. However, the emphasis here should be on “deceptive,” for an exclusive focus on such a linkage carries with it the implication that the strike was a necessary and inevitable result of these large-scale historical events. Such linkages might be convenient as a kind of conceptual short-hand, but they are empirically inaccurate.

    Macrosocial phenomena are generally viewed as being entirely beyond the control of any given individual or of any small set of individuals. In this view, such macro-phenomena as the Cambodian Invasion, the Kent State violence and the student strikes confront and constrain the individual. They are social facts in the Durkheimian sense, with relation to which the individual is only a dependent variable.

    I want to qualify this view. The strike was indeed a social fact, a macro-phenomenon in the sense that it became something external to any given individual, and constrained such individuals respectively. However, as a macro-phenomenon it was an emergent that developed over time at the level of microsocial dynamics.

    Accordingly, in stating that I wish to examine the social construction of a crisis, I mean that I want to look at the way in which it was through the dealings of actors at the level of face-to-face interaction that something emerged, a something that was independent and constraining of each specific individual — a social fact (in the sense of this term as introduced by Emile Durkheim). This “something” was not the inevitable consequence of macrosocial phenomena, but rather was a contingent emergent of microsocial dynamics.

    Although strikes occurred at four hundred other colleges and universities, one need not have emerged successfully at Sonoma State College. I intend to examine the processes implicated in its evolution and “real-ization” at this particular institution.

    In order to avoid the pitfalls of undue reification, we can remind ourselves that social facts act on individuals but people act back on social facts. This is the underlying nature of social change: a dialectic of individual and society, as noted by others (e.g., Peter Berger).

    SITUATIONAL CHRONOLOGY

    A proper understanding of this crisis must refer to the specific events that comprised the day at SSC designated as Tuesday, May 5, 1970. For this, I draw on my personal observations from the stance of an upper division student at this institution. Since I had an early morning class, I arrived at Sonoma State before 8 am, and was therefore able to observe the unfolding of the day, with all of its contingencies as they were presented to typical students.

    While all data are data from a point of view, I believe that the following account is consistent with the observations and experiences of students in general that day, and therefore has much to offer in providing the raw materials for an analysis of this strike as a crisis.

    FIRST NOTICE

    On the morning May 5, students arriving to attend classes on what they presumed to be “just another day” found a picket line at the main entrance of the college on East Cotati Avenue. Carrying signs and chanting, the picketers seemed to be students as well. Passing out leaflets, they called on the arriving students to not go to classes, but rather to join them in carrying the chanted message, “No More Business As Usual! Shut it Down! No More Business As Usual! Shut it Down!”

    Most students, including myself, continued on to their classes (“after all, finals are less than a month away”). Yet, each had been “put on notice.” Maybe this was not “a normal day” after all.

    However, in the face of uncertainty, it is preferable to proceed with pre-established assumptions. (Worth notice is that social members presume normality until further notice. The subsequent events of this day are a case example of how strong this presumption is, and how manifest notice must be in order to impose a generally revised orientation instead toward abnormality.

    In language to be clarified later, the consensual definitions of the arriving students had been challenged and put on notice. However, for most students their expedient definitions were in line with the decision to proceed on to class.)

    In proceeding to their classes, the students were “abuzz.” They knew that something was up, but that knowledge in itself was not sufficient to abandon a commitment to normal routine. The classes continued to meet, and proceeded normally to some degree, although the unusual aspect of the day was acknowledged by students and professors alike.

    SECOND NOTICE

    The second decisively significant element of the day occurred not long after students began arriving for their early morning classes, when a motorist gunned her automobile through the picket line that crossed the entrance to the college, running down one of the pickets. Sirens could be heard shortly thereafter.

    THIRD NOTICE

    In midmorning, the third set of consequential events began with the activation of fire alarms in almost all of the major buildings on campus. At this point, students, faculty and staff emptied into the “quad” bordered on four sides by Stevenson Hall, the library, the bookstore-gym complex, and the Commons. Definitional entrepreneurs appeared: strikers with bull horns, exhorting students to strike. Some students debated this. Most milled around, talking. There was a general sense of electric excitement in the air. Most seemed to wait for the “all clear” to sound. Classes would presumably resume, given this signal.

    By this time, pickets had appeared elsewhere — near the Commons, as well as in the vicinity of the Gym where fall registration was in its second day. News of the picket run down by the automobile spread rapidly among those congregated in the “quad,” sparking reactions of shock and outrage among the uncommitted. Students also heard that members of the football team had badly injured a picketer near the gym, dropping him head first onto the concrete. The sound of sirens (presumably police and ambulances) added to the mix of unusual elements of the day.

    Strike advocates invaded the gym where registration was under way, overturning tables and scattering IBM cards about, bringing the process to a halt. An American flag could be seen burning near the Commons. The California state flag was added to the flames.

    Shortly before noon, SSC President Ambrose Nichols suspended classes for the day, and announced that a general colloquium of all students, staff, administrators, and faculty would be held in the gym on the next day. This announcement provided an official ratification of the now current definition of the situation as one of crisis.

    ANALYSIS

    ********************************
    [The subsequent treatment provided a sociological analysis of the dynamics that led to a collective definition of matters at Sonoma State College as constituting a crisis. It was this definition that the protesters attempted to establish at the beginning of the day.

    However, the morning was a time when two sides were in contention for control over the definition of the situation:

    1) Those who insisted on “no business as usual” because “this was a time of crisis”;

    2) Those who opposed this new view and insisted that this was to be “a normal day,” a day of normal routine, “a day like any other.”

    The great irony, of course, is that by their very actions the defenders of normality generated outcomes that were experienced as and collectively defined as a day unlike any other, a state of emergency — unstable, decisive in portent, characterized by paroxysmal disorder, very much a turning point. In other words, the champions of normality helped ensure that a state of crisis prevail at SSC.

    The subsequent analysis of these matters emphasized the ways in which these outcomes were not rendered inevitable by socio-historical, structural, or macro-social phenomena.

    Neither Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia nor the killings of students at Kent State were sufficient for a crisis at Sonoma State College. Rather, the crisis was a situational emergent, one that developed over the course of the morning, and one that was highly contingent.

    In examining the situational dynamics implicated with these processes, the analysis (excised from this document) refers principally to elements of the definition of the situation (with distinctions among consensual definitions, privatized definitions, and expedient definitions), and hierarchies of identities (distinguished in terms of both prominence and salience) embedded in these dynamics.

    At a broader level of analysis, all of this can be viewed as consistent with Georg Simmel’s conception of formal sociology, particularly by examining The Crisis as a social form
    ******************
    [While the analysis itself has not been included in this adumbrated version of this document, the final, concluding portion of the paper is as follows:]

    Attention to similar kinds of definitional and identity-relevant factors would be appropriate for each of the sets of major events that culminated in a common definition and experience of the prevailing state of affairs at Sonoma State College as one of crisis.

    Such an examination will not be pursued here, on the assumption that the point is established.

    We can conclude by noting again that the irony of these processes was that the opposition of those who resisted the challenge to the consensual definition of “business as usual” (e.g., the automobile driver, the football players) was crucial to the emergence of the experience and shared view of crisis. By their oppositional actions (and also because of the rapid communication of those actions), the dominant definition came to be manifestly, “business NOT as usual” although it was the reverse formulation that the opponents defended.

    The social construction of this crisis serves as a case illustration of the way in which reaction can validate (and therefore “real -ize”) action — an interactive dynamic in the fullest sense of the term.

    CONCLUSION

    Four points can be noted from the examination of these matters at Sonoma State College.

    FIRST, crises at the level of social actors’ dealings with each other do not follow automatically from the operations of distant macrosocial phenomena. These are interactionally and situationally emergent at the microsocial level of face-to-face interaction.

    SECOND, in examining such emergence, it is important to attend to the kinds of meanings, definitions and identities that prevail at the time among the relevant actors.

    THIRD, the very act of trying to refute a challenge to the prevailing definition of the situation can bring about the success of that challenge. Robert Merton’s notion of the “SUICIDAL PROPHESY bears a relation to this point.

    FINALLY, once it has emerged within the context of face-to-face interaction, a crisis often takes on the character of a social fact, a macrosocial phenomenon external to and confronting any given individual. The dialectic of microsocial and macrosocial phenomena is illustrated in this dynamic.

    Macrosocial phenomena influence the context of actions and interactions and provide the parameters of interaction.

    However, they do not determine those actions and interactions.

    The character of newly emergent macrosocial phenomena (or social facts) depends on the content of specific interactions at the microsocial level of engagement. Thus do content and form feed back on one another.

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