I missed the first occupation back in February, 1969 because I hadn’t yet arrived at the Pennsylvania State University to start my education that eventually resulted in my B.S. in Community Development.
I was there the next year, though.
Although I didn’t actually occupy the building I was on the scene when students fed up with pampered bureaucrats telling us what to do whether the order was right, wrong or indifferent took matters into our own hands.
This from an official account: "A much more turbulent take-over of Old Main occurred on April 15, 1970. Hundreds of students protesting the war and social injustices in general refused all directives to leave, resulting in their forcible eviction by nearly a hundred state troopers. A near-riot broke out behind the building as police attempted to load evictees aboard buses to clear them from the scene; eight policemen received serious injuries."
And that was before Kent State.
Google and check Wikipedia that university name if you need to know what I’m talking about. I really don’t have the stomach to explain if you aren’t familiar with four dead in Ohio.
I missed the injures to the cops, one of the 100 who was my father, showing up on campus in riot gear and later expressing shock that such anger could be expressed by students, particularly “girls.”
I did, however, see a state trooper go down after being struck in the head by the metal edge of a stop sign that a group of black students tore from the ground and hurled through the air.
I remember the Old Main occupiers as being white. The black students seemed to stay among themselves. Student seemed divided by race. They probably still are.
Gender created problems in the 60s, too, with men – the movement’s male leadership particularly - treating women like barmaids. No wonder feminism took root on college campuses across the nation.
Believe it or not, I was more witness than participant in those days. But I learned my lessons well since trial by fire easily came the way of to peaceful observers.
In November I had seen my first full expression of the youth culture clash against the establishment as 500,000 people or more showed up in Washington to protest the war and other related excesses in our culture. In case you forgot, I’m talking about the war in Vietnam that ate up 19-year-old draftees with the ease of a starved Nittany Lion let loose at a fraternity party.
Again witness, I scribbled words on the run in a notebook while riot cops chased me, armed National Guard troops patrolled and tear gas canisters exploded in blinding toxic smoke that choked anybody in its path.
Back at Old Main, to this day my mind’s eye is clear as I recall Slippy from the fourth floor of Beaver Hall dorm waving some kind of battle banner from the opening in the Old Main tower
We were 18 years old. Time marches on. But at 60, I still get it.
No difference exists in my mind between Zuccotti Park and University Park, both very real places where the fight against inequality, extreme privilege, power, brutality and societal injustice must continue.
I marched on former PSU President Eric Walker’s mansion one night in 1970. Years later, during an editorial board meeting at the daily newspaper where I wrote news columns for 17 years, I told then new PSU President Graham Spanier that he better do a good job because “I know where you live.”
He and my bosses stared at me. Hey, I’m just kidding, I said. But they sensed the serious vein ran through my words.
That’s why I’m putting interim President Rodney Erikson on notice.
Last week he promised transparency as a way to once again make Penn State proud. I took him at his word and called his office twice in the past two days for an interview. Erikson failed to call me back.
An assistant from the public relations office sent me an email yesterday hinting that Erikson was busy keeping his promises but that he might talk with me in the future when he has “action items” to share.
What, he’ll talk with me if I’m a good boy, if I take the king’s shilling, if I go quietly into that good stadium? My best professors would never forgive me if I bought into that lame bourgeoisie plot. I want the interview now. I want progress now. I want to occupy Old Main, now. Maybe we’ll even broadcast live.
So it looks like my old school needs me for the holidays. As a vegetarian I don’t even eat turkey. But I sure as hell still know one when I see one. Gobble, gobble, man.