Familiar script: Riots are déjà vu for me

Damaged tracks Railroad strike 1877

In May, 1970 I was a student at the University of South Carolina. I’d worked hard to get there. The first in my mother’s family to go to college, I was the poster child for starving college kid. As end of year exams loomed, protests began to rock our campus and many others across the country.

Letter re USC riots, May 1970
Personal letter to my parents when I was in college, May, 1970, as riots took over our campus. (Photo: Indie Art South)

In early May, students at Kent State University in Ohio were also protesting. Urged on by activists, some students at Kent State clashed with the National Guard by throwing bottles and other objects and starting fires. Some guardsmen opened fire. Four students died on May 4, and others were injured.

The leaders of the movement allegedly protesting to oppose the war in Vietnam escalated by President Lyndon B. Johnson (D) weren’t harmed. Those who incite others often aren’t. It would be another 40 years before the National Security Agency would stop covering up the lie about the Gulf of Tonkin LBJ used in an attempt to garner support for his war. By the time Richard Nixon (R) took office in January, 1969, opposition had escalated, making its way into our culture through music, film, and the literary arts.


As the school year drew to a close in May, 1970, I just wanted to get it over with. I’d been studying in the library when a riot broke out, and I had the privilege of being tear-gassed when we fled the library because the shrubbery had been set on fire.

We had National Guard troops on every corner of our campus. Our governor, Robert McNair (D) had imposed a curfew. I was going to school fulltime and working a job at the university television station. Some professors, despite the chaos, chose not to cancel exams. I remember trying to study in the dorm where nerves were so much on edge that a car backfiring outside caused a girl to faint.  She thought the radical group The Weathermen were there throwing bombs.

One of the Weathermen, Bill Ayers, went from being a violent leftist who’d been born to privilege and wealth and having a justice pass conferred to schmoozing the young man who would ultimately become the US’ first biracial president, Barack Obama (D). Ayers would also focus his efforts on the US education system, becoming the darling of the mainstream left and leveraging great power over everything from curriculum to policy.

I despised the Weathermen and I still do. A protest is an inherent right. Looting and violence against individuals and property are not, and such acts certainly show no respect to a man whose death was unjust.

That year was a changemaker in my country. I was in what I thought was real love, and the week after Kent State, I would travel to Virginia to meet the parents of the young man I thought I loved. I sent a letter to my parents and younger brother who was still in high school. The anger in that letter is evident. Many of us knew the ‘activists’ were children of the wealthy who cared only about advancing their cause and acquiring power. They used the gullible as their pawns, and ended up wrecking the administration building that was near the school’s historic Horseshoe.


I didn’t like the war either. My favorite uncle on my mother’s side was fighting in Vietnam at the time. The treatment he received when he came home was unbelievable. At that time, the US had the draft. My husband’s birth date was called in the lottery system used to determine who’d be called up. He was proud to serve, and special skills he had caused him to be sent to a country other than Vietnam.

I recently saw an article my alma mater ran about the riots that year. The article largely quoted left of center activist types. No one ever told the story of the average student who was just there to learn and often worked a side job. In those days students had little money unless they were wealthy. One girl on my dormitory floor had an old car, and the brakes were iffy in that.

Now as I watch the rioters destroy private businesses, attack individuals, and create chaos, I realize the same forces are in play. Media may apologize for radical leftist groups, but there can be no apology for what these groups are doing to cities.

Most Americans, I think, abhor the treatment inflicted on George Floyd who died as the result of a brutal act.


Media are eager to point fingers at those they oppose, blaming “rightwing” groups for the violence we’re seeing now. Nowhere is the contrast in coverage more evident than reportage by left of center The Daily Beast regarding the death of Duncan Lemp. Here is a great example of how media lie to readers brazenly:

“Before his death, Lemp was a little-known right-wing activist in Potomac. His exact ties to individual far-right groups are vague. “

How’s that for complete self-contradiction by what I perceive as a propaganda outlet?

I didn’t know Mr. Lemp, and I certainly don’t want a race war. Yet media are willing to accept any rumor as true regarding Lemp while refusing to accept what is right beneath their noses when it comes to the factions engaged in current destruction and violence.

Personally speaking I think the ‘no-knock’ policy is in severe need of reform. I think human resources personnel at various law enforcement agencies are in serious need of reform because someone with the temperament of the policeman who killed Mr. Floyd should never be empowered with authority and a government weapon.

I also think Americans should get more ‘thinkative’, to use a word my daughter coined.


At present media and some politicians use the false construct of ‘race’ to divide us. This is perhaps the greatest ongoing lie in the history of mankind. We are one race. The human race. That science is settled.

Until you get people to view each other as humans instead of as a dehumanized skin color, we will remain divided and the true beneficiaries are the politicians who pander and bait in order to maintain power and line their own pockets.

I have seen this story play out before—the setting of fires, breaking of windows, looting of private businesses. It is nothing new. The same ideologues who rioted on my campus all those years ago have politically spawned those who have hijacked legitimate protests over the unjust death of a man in order to advance chaos as a means to more federal control, less freedoms, and oppression of anyone who disagrees. Even the bricks are nothing new. They were handy in 1970 too.

Politicos and think tanks will schedule feel good meetings and politicians will pay lip service to standing with “you” whoever “you” happens to be.

It’s too bad people keep falling for the same script over and over again.


As for me, I took that trip to Virginia with my boyfriend, having a great time with his family. Once school let out, he found someone else. I found the man I’d marry, a man far superior to that boy I was dating when the riots broke out at my school.

I still have the letter I wrote my parents before leaving for that trip in 1970. I smile at how naïve I was then, but I realize how smart I was to know that the activists on my campus weren’t risking their own hides. They were risking the hides of pawns foolish enough to let themselves be used for someone else’s gain, and the goal is never really about injustice but instead, about advancing power for actors bent on inflicting authoritarian control on the rest of us by any means necessary.

Those who are looting and destroying property are disrespecting Mr. Floyd and their motives have nothing to do with changing the system for the better. It really is that simple, and it isn’t confined to the United States.

I’ve seen this script before and I will likely see it again.

Featured Photo: Tracks were deliberately damaged in the Railroad Strike of 1877. Workers who had legitimate complaints were also influenced by Marxist and other groups. Photo US Library of Congress; Stereo by A.V. Albee.

(Kay B. Day/June 2, 2020)

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