Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ About Riots

Sitting here reading the bitches and complaints from those who really don’t like it when Americans exercise their rights to protest. My conclusion is that there can be a million person march against racism and if one guy sets fire to a garbage can the bitchers and moaners instantly label the whole event a riot of morons, goons, and unpatriotic thugs.

Anyway it got me thinking about an anti-war protest I took part in back in the 60s. It went without incident but many of the protest marches and demonstrations of that era didn’t. Especially following the killing of four students at Kent State in Ohio. Cal-State Fullerton, where I was just finishing my degree, wasn’t immune from it. Most were peaceful but one, on February 9, 1970, turned ugly.

Ronald Reagan, the not very popular governor of California, was speaking on Cal-State Fullerton’s campus and was heckled off the stage by a group of students, one of which was a five-year old boy who flipped Reagan a classic bird.

Things got bad when the TV video was previewed, protesters given a name, and disciplinary actions levied. Several were expelled from school and as word spread tensions reached a breaking point and a bunch of students took control of the administration building. That brought in the police and the riot squads.

I was teaching at a local high school and finishing up my degree at the time. I had enough to lose that I chose to stay away. Plus, I wasn’t interested in violent protest. I’m still not but I did, and still do, understand the frustration that drives people to violence.

As a footnote I might mention that this particular series of events began with Ronald Reagan’s efforts to undo former governor, Pat Brown’s, Master Plan for Higher Education. The plan had gone into effect in the early 1960s and among many things, it provided tuition free education at the state’s junior colleges, state colleges, and state universities. Conservative Reagan just couldn’t swallow that pill.

I graduated from Cal-State Fullerton with the class of 1969 and my degree is signed by Ronald Reagan. I disliked the man so much that I’ve never hung my degree in public. To this day it rest in a stack of other certificates, diplomas, and documents on a shelf in the deepest, darkest, dampest, dankest, recesses of my basement.

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