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The Legacy of May 4th Ayla Danes

The impacts of May 4th, 1970 have been apparent to me ever since I was a child. I have learned about it in different points throughout my education. When I was younger, I used to attend summer camp at Kent State. Being on campus, we often walked past the May 4th sites and therefore learned about the event. As a kid, I didn’t really understand that much about it. I just knew that something terrible had happened and that students were shot at, killed, and injured. It wasn’t until I got older that I really began to understand the complexity surrounding May 4th. In history class, during the Vietnam War section, we very briefly talked about the event itself and the turmoil leading up to it. However, we didn’t discuss the political and social changes that May 4th encouraged. This, I know from my summer reading experience.

The May 4th confrontation had astronomical social and political impacts in a deeply polarized nation.

In the weeks following May 4th, Senator George McGovern cited the deaths of the four Kent State students during his proposal that Congress pass an amendment to end the war. This led to Congress withdrawing funding for the war and lowering the voting age from 21 years to 18. Lowering the voting age had widespread support from the House, Senate, the president, and the states.

May 4th reminds us of the importance of our first amendment rights. This We Know states, "When the country is at war - within itself or without - those rights become vulnerable." Students who participated in the demonstrations on May 4th were exercising their freedom of speech and assembly. These events serve as a reminder that these rights should not be infringed upon. First Amendment rights were ensured more protection when the protocol for dealing with civil unrest was reformed. The Ohio National Guard, along with 46 other states, switched to carrying nonlethal weapons for campus situations.

May 4th also highlights our need to respect differences that we may have. In the turmoil leading up to the event and even after, there was tension and rhetoric exchanged between different groups. Authorities were suspicious of anyone with long hair or bell bottom jeans. Protestors thought of authorities as "pigs." This escalated conflict and contributed to polarizing the nation.

Lastly, May 4th altered Americans’ consciousness about the war. This We Know states, “May 4, 1970 would be written in history through the decades to follow as the day the war came home.” After seeing American students killed by fellow Americans on their college campus, many were ready for the war to end. This can also be seen by the actions Congress took in the following weeks to start to ease out of the war.

Now, in 2019, we are living in a time when our country is extremely polarized. We have so many issues to solve and no one can agree about how to solve them. This is what makes the lessons we learned from May 4th still relevant today. May 4th paved the way for demonstrations and protests for years to come. People are now able to safely exercise their first amendment rights to protest injustices and problems in our country. Also, due to the change May 4th created, young people, 18 years and older are able to vote for leaders who will work to solve important issues.

In America, mass shootings are becoming normalized, yet gun control is such a divisive issue. Our president uses rhetoric that furthers the divide and encourages hate towards one another. This spring, high school students across the nation exercised their first amendment rights and staged walkouts to protest the lack of gun control in this country following the Parkland High School shooting, which killed 17 people. There have been worldwide protests, including March for Our Lives, protesting gun violence and calling for gun control.

Following Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017, there was The Women's March. There were protests and marches worldwide to support women's rights and gender equality. This was to protest Donald Trump's sexist and derogatory remarks toward and about women.

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that speaks out against violence and racism toward African Americans. Black Lives Matter has organized protests in response to police violence against African Americans.

May 4th led to the largest student strike in the country. Today, demonstrations and protests are huge in America. People protest for LGBTQ rights, women's rights gender equality, racial equality, environmental issues and so many other significant causes. May 4th led the way for demonstrations to come in the following weeks, months, years, and decades. May 4th continues to encourage us to actively exercise our First Amendment rights. The students who participated in the events serve as an inspiration to actively protest and speak out for what we believe in.

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