Are We Actually Free? was originally published on an expired domain created for the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program sponsored by Prague Freedom Foundation that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.
Kent State University students thought they knew the answer to this question when they gathered on campus grounds to protest America expanding the Vietnam War to Cambodia on May 4, 1970. It was the promise and illusion of freedom that led them to fearlessly stand up to the National Guard and make demands to talk to the governor and to the president. But just like on the internet, not everything that you read on paper is 100 percent true, even when it’s written in the Constitution.
The students used their right to free speech and peaceful assembly as stated in the First Amendment as a shield against the government forces but this was not enough to protect them from tear gas and violence. The government wasn’t happy that these students, who were privileged enough to go to school on this beautiful government-funded campus, had the nerve to question and go against their political decisions.
Even though the protestors were facing violence and were treated unfairly and had their basic rights breached, they still believed that certain rights would hold up. On Monday, May 4th in 1970 some students went out to gather by the bell despite the threat of tanks on their campus and being surrounded by the National Guard. They were asked to leave for their own safety, but they didn’t move until they were attacked with tear gas.
Although the tear gas made them retreat they were not done protesting and they made this very clear. They threw tear gas canisters as well as rocks back at the armed men that were advancing towards them. The National Guard split up to chase all the students away from the grounds they had previously occupied and towards the parking lot. Once there, several of them got down and aimed their guns at those protesters who were the bravest and most vocal.
The students were taken back by such a display, but they continued protesting, believing that this was just a scare tactic and that the guns were not even loaded. The National Guard ended up the gathering and leaving and the students believed that they had won. They didn’t get a chance to celebrate for long, because out of nowhere a group of the guard looked back at the students, turned themselves around without provocation, and began to fire.
The students had no idea that the guns were loaded, and those who were too far to see and only heard had believed the sound to be of fireworks. But the sound was of death. Out of over seventy shots fired, thirteen hit victims – killing four, paralyzing one and injuring eight. None of them could have predicted that this would happen. They had false security from the words they read in their constitution and that they recited in their national anthem.
Forty years of so-called development later we see this sort of phenomenon repeat itself regularly worldwide. We hear the word democracy and we instantly feel safe without looking deeper into our situation. But we need to think and question to be able to decipher the truth. We need to be assertive individuals instead of a herd of sheep and only then will we have the ability to transform the system and create the ideal government. Freedom is more than just a state. It is ever changing and having freedom is an ongoing process that we must constantly work on in order to keep. The four students died in an attempt to regain their freedom for which we must commemorate them, and use them as inspiration to keep fighting so that we never lose ours.