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Home / Articles / Arts / Writing Contest /  May 1970: The Bust at the SUB
Personal-essay-FIRST

May 1970: The Bust at the SUB

Personal Essay FIRST PLACE

November 26, 2013, 12:00 am
I had waited for years to protest the Vietnam War, to sit down and not move unless compelled to do so. We shall not, we shall not be moved . . .

On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia as necessary to victory in the Vietnam War, spurring protests at 350 colleges. On May 4, at Kent State University, four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during an antiwar protest. The news media showed an indelible photo of a woman on one knee in shock, mouth open, arms awry, a dead body before her. The deaths were protested at colleges and universities across the United States. Four dead in Ohio ...

On the same day, in Albuquerque, actress and antiwar activist Jane Fonda spoke at a rally at the University of New Mexico and joined 150 students in a march to the home of UNM President Ferrel Heady on campus. Among their demands was removal of ROTC from the campus and more scholarships for Native American students. Although Heady agreed the Student Union Building (SUB) could remain open as a meeting place, he refused to meet with the students and Fonda, resulting in a call for a student strike the next day. Be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box ...

Differing accounts report that a fight occurred on May 4 at the flagpole in front of Johnson Gym—over lowering the American flag to half-mast to commemorate the Kent State students or substituting a flag with a raised fist, a symbol of protest. UNM administrators lowered all flags until tempers cooled. War huh yeah, what is it good for, absolutely nothing ...

Classes were suspended and rallies were held. Students took over the SUB on May 6, where some 400 congregated. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden ...

On May 8, I and other protesters marched three miles from UNM through downtown to Robinson Park. Albuquerque High School students threw rocks at us when we passed—we didn’t know why. After returning to UNM, I felt inspired that my body could walk six miles for this cause. When a restraining order was issued to vacate the SUB, I was one of five teaching assistants and 125 students who sat down and were arrested. How many times must the cannon balls fly before they are forever banned?

Governor David Cargo called in the New Mexico National Guard, which had been given false information by the state police that the protesters were armed and dangerous. Also present were members of the state, Albuquerque, and UNM police, with a police helicopter hovering overhead. They gathered on the east side of the SUB. With guns on their hands and God on their side ...

When a tear gas canister leaked, Guard members put on gas masks and removed their name tags and symbols of rank so they could not be identified. Due to the Kent State shootings, their rifles had no ammunition. The arrests took place on the west side of the SUB. On the east side, despite no order to evacuate, the Guard bayoneted 8-11 bystanders, severely wounding a TV news reporter. Military madness was killing the country ...

The arrested protesters didn’t know that people were bayoneted at UNM. We were taken by bus downtown to the Bernalillo County jail on the fourth floor of the old county courthouse. About 100 men were placed in cells and about 30 women were placed in the drunk tank. One of the men was (and is) a bona fide radical who I feared might overreact, but he didn’t. Show me a country where the bombs had to fall . . .

In the drunk tank was one of my students, who had the list of the people arrested and the phone numbers of families and friends so she could tell them about the arrests. But she was caught up in the sweep. She was crying and crying, so since at age 27 I was the oldest woman there and a teacher, I bravely asked to speak to the officers in charge. Two captains came to the drunk tank. My student still was crying. I explained that she shouldn’t have been arrested and showed the captains the list of loved ones and phone numbers. They let her out! All we are saying is give peace a chance ...

The next day, May 9, James Toulouse, a prominent civil rights attorney and fighter for the underdog, came to the courthouse to represent the protesters pro bono. We were released on our own recognizance and civil charges were dismissed a few weeks later. At UNM, we were placed on social probation. I asked Harold Lavender, vice president for Student Affairs, what that meant. He said if I ever again violated a restraining order to leave the SUB, I would be in big trouble. It’s always the old to lead us to the war, it’s always the young to fall ...

Six wounded people sued the governor, Guard adjutant general, state police chief, and some police officers in command positions for $260,000 for excessive force. In 1971, the defendants were acquitted because the plaintiffs couldn’t prove these defendants had stabbed anyone or ordered any stabbing. The Guard instituted civil disobedience training that taught soldiers to use minimum force, not deadly force, unless they were responding to deadly force. Picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality . . .

In 1973, when I applied for employment at Bernalillo County, the woman who first interviewed me, Mary, also had been arrested in May 1970 and remembered me from the drunk tank. She saw me obtain the release of the crying student and told her boss to hire me because I was good with people. Mary later worked for me at the county and then went on to law school and a career as an attorney. I became the county personnel director and an assistant county manager for labor relations when the county unionized. I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war .. .

At a public administration dinner in 1975, when Heady retired as UNM President, I heard him say that he erred in not meeting with Fonda: “Why wouldn’t I want to talk to Jane Fonda?” Years later, he said in an interview that the student movement of the times probably improved the university and society. People have the power . . .

I am a college professor who does research on violence. I’ve had to explain my arrest when I was investigated for membership in two law enforcement professional associations. My record states that I was detained by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office in May 1970. I stated without regret that I took part in a student demonstration at the UNM SUB following the Kent State shootings while Vietnam War protests flamed across the US. Both memberships were approved. Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again . . .

Come quick the revolution, I’ve said for 50 years. I am waiting.

Imagine all the people living life in peace . . .

Dianne R Layden is a semi-retired professor of American studies. She’s been teaching at Central New Mexico Community College for the last decade and declared herself a writer in 2008. Her work also won a prize in the 2010 and 2011 SFR Writing Contest.

 

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