“Four dead in Ohio,” the song says. It was recorded by countertenor Neil Young and the other members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on May 21, 1970, just weeks after a tragic incident on the Kent State University campus.
“Kent State” for many has a similar recall effect that “Columbine” does.
I heard the song on the 50th anniversary of Kent State and saw the familiar media images of the massacre, notably Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of a student lying face down.
At the time, college students were protesting the war in Vietnam. Many of us carried homemade signs, had long hair, and stood in defiance of government-imposed rules and regulations.
It’s unlikely, however, that a song will rise from the current coronavirus protests that will change the nation like “Ohio” did. But who knows?
There are other similarities between then and now: The nightly news then had a body count; likewise, the nightly news now.
Protesters then were called every name in the book. Protesters now are called every name in the book.
The line of separation, it seems, is represented by nothing more than a face mask.
Many refuse, can’t be bothered. One woman said masks were “uncomfortable.” I wondered what she would think about a ventilator?
Photojournalism student John Filo’s photo of Vecchio, who was 14 at the time, won a Pulitzer Prize. Vecchio was kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller, who had been shot by the Ohio National Guard.
Vecchio was a runaway from Florida. She exchanged her colorful story to a reporter for a ticket to California but was returned to her home. Currently she is working as a respiratory therapist, a field that generally requires her to wear:
The B-side of “Ohio” was “Find the Cost of Freedom,” a song that did not chart.
The band recorded “Ohio” in just a few takes. Young later said David Crosby cried after one of them. His voice can be heard during the fade.
“Four, why? Why did they die?”
Sadly and ironically, on the leadup to the Kent State anniversary, a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, was shot and killed.
News articles and legal filings give this account: The guard told a woman her daughter would not be allowed in the store without a mask. The woman left after spitting on the guard, and returned with her husband and son, one of whom allegedly shot the guard. All face charges of first-degree murder.
Inevitably, some of the current protesters, or their mothers, fathers and children, will be impacted by the virus and require attention from doctors and nurses.
And they will get it, won’t they?
Fifty years ago, the nation was divided because of a war. Same thing now. Only the conflict isn’t in Southeast Asia. It’s in Flint, and it’s on Florida and California beaches. And it’s during press conferences where fingers are being pointed.
For the record, I wear a mask. Maybe it won’t make any difference; maybe it will.
Maybe it will.
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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