As Kent State University works to remember May 4 and the lives lost, Students of a Democratic Society [SDS] works toward not only remembering what happened 50 years ago, but the student activism that was present at the time.

“I feel like we’re obligated to do it. It’s part of carrying on this history, this radical history, of Kent State activism that isn’t being carried out by anybody else,” said Colt Hutchinson, chairperson of Kent State SDS. “Nobody else is remembering this history, so we had to do it from that aspect, and also you know we have to learn from the past.”

Throughout the weekend leading up to the 50th commemoration of May 4, SDS had different events planned to demonstrate the radical history behind the Kent State shooting. One of those events was with Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, both past members and organizers of SDS.

At the beginning of the semester, SDS went to the university to make demands, one of which included bigger student involvement when it comes to planning the commemorations of May 4.

The university said it would start to involve more students in the process of planning May 4, but there was no attempt to reach out to student organizations. SDS reached out to the university in hopes to get promotion for their events happening during the weekend leading up to May 4, but they did not do so. 

“I think that goes to show that Kent State is not actually interested in the radical history of the university,” Hutchinson said. “Rather, they want to push a watered-down version.” 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the original plans for the discussion were cancelled and moved online to a Facebook Live event.  

Hutchinson was joined by SDS member Shelby Pratt in leading the discussion with both Dohrn and Ayers over a Zoom call, broadcasted live on their Facebook page.

SDS zoom

Screenshot from the Facebook Livestream of the Zoom call with Shelby Pratt (top left), Colt Hutchinson (top right), Bernardine Dohrn (bottom left) and Bill Ayers (bottom right).

While the four talked about the history of SDS as a national organization, the May 4 shootings and what the Kent chapter has done so far, the theme of leading movements stayed consistent throughout the discussion. 

“I think we do understand that in order to build a movement, you have to redefine, you have to reframe the issues that we’re facing,” Ayers said. 

As Ayers talked about the movements that needed to be created, he talked about the movement Bernie Sanders has started to create.  

“Imagine that Bernie Sanders got the nomination; the fact is the kind of politics that said Bernie will solve it for us, you’re missing the point,” Ayers said. “But what movements do, about what social movements do, you always need to mobilize people on the ground, there always needs to be an active social movement churning along.”

Both Ayers and Dohrn talked about the different issues that movements work toward fixing, whether that be war, racism, LGBTQ issues, gender issues and the realization that you do not have to focus on one specific issue, but rather work with multiple organizations to form a stronger group.  

“One of the wonderful things about young people today is that they have reached a much more fluid sense of interconnectedness and intersectionality,” Dohrn said. “You don’t have to fight over which is more important and that’s the one you’re going to do.” 

She talked about the importance of intersectionality and it fitting the complexity of the world. Working with the different groups helps create the change and the movements that these activists are looking to create.  

“It takes work,” said Ayers. Dohrn continued his sentence and said, “it makes for a lot of work.”

Sara Crawford is an assigning editor. Contact her at scrawf23@kent.edu.

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