Telling My Stories

A life lived outside

The People’s Army of Ohio State

Posted by catkisser on June 18, 2009

It was a Friday, May Day, 1970 at Ohio State University. The night before a fire had been set at the ROTC building, a national student strike had been called for over the invasion of Cambodia announced the day before….but it was a beautiful day, spring day at OSU and May Day was the traditional start of the annual spring demonstration on the Oval.

I was in Botany class near the south gate of the campus and just as class let out, the march was on it’s way to the gate so I found myself at the head of the crowd leaving class. It was a happy crowd of laughing students doing something against the war and enjoying the fun of spring all at once. We were set up as it turns out. Jim Rhodes, the republican governor of Ohio wanted a major confrontation to put down the student anti-war movement. National Guard troops were already in place just outside several campuses. Just a few days before a number of us piled into Jeff-freak’s 38 Buick for a road trip all dressed up as Bonnie and Clyde characters complete with toy machine guns and ran into the Guard unit on it’s way to Kent State. We cruised along side the convey pretending to shoot. I’ll never forget that.

When we arrived at the South Gate, we were confronted with the Columbus Police “Goon Squad” as they were called then. They literally read us the riot act. That was apparently the signal for four undercover State police posing as students to close the gate. Literally the first tear gas canister landed at my feet and I was overcome as the police proceeded to advance and start clubbing everyone. Several people grabbed me and dragged me back to the Oval at mid campus. It was a pitched battle all the way back to the Oval where the public address system had already been set up for the day’s rallys. Someone got on the podium and started yelling “It’s our campus, push the pigs off!” and everything changed. We’d had enough, we fought back. Every building around the Oval was stripped of the CO2 fire extinguishers. We learned quickly to cover our faces with rags, grab the tear gas canisters with another and throw them back. Seems the police hadn’t figured on that and didn’t have gas masks either. If you hit a cansiters with the CO2, it held the gas in place and didn’t disperse.

A pitched battle went on for what seemed like hours all across the campus. We gave at least as good as we got. Dorms and Frat houses were gassed making instant radicals of those who would have be neutral. Some of us were able to rip the electrical tape covered badges off the cops for IDing them later. At the end of the day we slipped off to our apartments and dorms…I lived off campus back then near the Fairgrounds where the National Guard was camped. We smoked dope and planned for the next day. A lot of us had been hurt, some badly. I came up with the idea of a student medic corps and called my contacts at the United Christian Center to see if we could set it up there since I worked there on weekends as a janitor, Friday nights as a receptionist and Saturday nights as MC of the Cockroach Coffee House. It seems the Center was gassed during the day and they refused out of fear, so did the Newman Center (Catholics) but the Hillel Center said yes.

The next day I was on the Oval and got up on the podium and announced what we were trying to organize. By that evening we had a full scale “MASH” style unit set up complete with nurses, medical students, the first CB radios I’d seen set up in mobile units (people’s cars) and tonnes of donated medical supplies! That was one of the proudest moments of my life and never again did I ever witness that level of organic, spontaneous organizing in almost no time flat. That evening I was on the phone to the police, campus officials and the University Hospital arranging recognition of our white armbands as “neutral non combatants”.

Saturday night and Sunday the area around the campus was literally a war zone. Checkpoints everywhere on and off campus, helicopters circling endlessly, National Guard everywhere. On Saturday, right after I spoke the Guard commander spoke and announced the Guard recognized it was our campus and would get between us and police if necessary to the cheers of the crowd. Pitched battles were still breaking out all over the campus. We viewed them as our allies and Saturday and Sunday students were bringing food and drink to the Guard. This was the day before Kent State. Monday, as classes tried to resume, all hell broke out. The police were major pissed off. We had dozens of their badges and they were desperate to get them back and invading apartments, bashing students on their way to class and shooting…some rubber bullets, some live ammo. Some had rifles with fixed bayonets. While trying to aid injured students I was shot at several times and in one case, while bent over giving first aid to an unconsious student, a cop tried to run me through with a bayonet ignoring my yelling and pointing at the white arm band and the clearly marked medical bag. He was apparently pissed off I had a surplus gas mask.

I didn’t like cops much before then having had several run ins with rogue pigs, mostly over “driving while hippy” offenses, but from that day on I never trusted any cop I didn’t know personally ever again.

Four people died at Ohio State in those four days. No one but a few of us ever heard about it. All died from injuries inflicted by the police ranging from gunshot wounds to being beaten to death. There was never any justice done.

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2 Responses to “The People’s Army of Ohio State”

  1. […] consulting on weekends, marching against the war over and over, getting the beginnings of my FBI file for my troubles.  Nope, not social service creds there […]

  2. […] Leave a Comment  This one could go in either of my blogs but since almost no one reads “Telling My Stories”, I decided to put it here and focus it more […]

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