Kent State Victims Unpopular by David Atkins

The Unpopularity of the Kent State Victims

by David Atkins

The latest PPP poll showing a drop in public support for the Occupy Wall Street can be interpreted in a number of ways. Probably the most reasonable points of note would be that 1) constant negative stories in the press about supposed poor behavior can have a poor effect on public opinion of popular protest, just as they did with the Tea Party; and 2) the focus of the movement has become more about the process of occupying ground and conflicts with police, than about the original reasons for the protest in the first place. In a battle between police and public protesters, the majority of the nation will usually side with the police.

It's perhaps most important to note that advocacy for social justice has never really been publicly popular at the time. It's hard to believe today, but at the time, the public overwhelmingly blamed the students for the Kent State Massacre. From the Palm Beach Post, May 28, 1970:

The American Institute of Public Opinion, publishers of the Gallup Poll, recently made a survey in behalf of Newsweek Magazine, and asked this question:

"Who do you think was primarily responsible for the deaths of four students at Kent State University?"

Eleven per cent placed responsibility on the National Guard, 31 per cent expressed no opinion, and 58 per cent put the blame on demonstrating students.

Note also that the statistic was quoted in a David Lawrence editorial titled "Campus Unrest Linked to Drugs," placing the blame for the 1970s protests not on the outrageous policies of the government, but rampant drug use by students--proving once again that plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Right-wing media tactics never really change. They barely even evolve.

There is a serious culture war at work in the United States. It involves a courageous minority of outraged citizens up against a majority that is either apathetic, or directly defending of the agents of the status quo. That minority suffers the slings and arrows of contempt and cursed spite as it does its best to set right a nation in times out of joint, and only years or even decades afterward do the majority of citizens cast a fond gaze backward, imagining that they were or would have been on the activists' side at the time. The capacity of society for anachronistic delusion and self-regard is nearly limitless.

Just as Glenn Beck's venomous followers comically attempt to adopt the mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr., so too will some right-wing blowhard 30-40 years from now claim to embody the spirit of the heroes of Zuccotti Park in the service of whatever reactionary force they happen to be extolling a generation hence.

Thus has it always been, and thus will it ever be.