Revolution #201, May 16, 2010

The following is an interview done by a Revolution reader with Idris Kabir Syed, Lecturer in the Dept. of Pan-African Studies, Kent State University; faculty advisor to May 4 Task Force

Q. What was the significance of May 4, 1970?

A. The significance then was massive. There’s no question about how important that was at the time. It marks the end of one era in terms of a peaceful, nonviolent Civil Rights Movement and started a new era of the new left, and a radical movement. I personally feel that way, looking at history. Strains of the New Left were around for five years, but it cemented a change. When you look at the changes that were happening at that time, you see KSU radicalizing the white left. The Black community was already a few steps ahead, the BLA (Black Liberation Army), RNA (Republic of New Africa), the Revolutionary Action Movement, had already been around. By 1970 and with May 4, the white left movement became a lot more radicalized. It was a wake up call for America. It was white kids finally realizing that their government will kill them. It had a profound impact on students and activists across the country. It made America realize, or those parts of America that were fighting for truth and justice, that we were entering a new front in that struggle.

Q. And the May 4, 1970 rally was called for against the invasion of Cambodia, and in defense of Huey Newton.

A. On April 30, 1970, Nixon announced that we were entering Cambodia. It was something that activists already knew, they knew about Laos too, that the war was on 3 fronts. But Nixon having that press conference and admitting it was the catalyst. We're at war on three fronts now – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and secretly in Pakistan - so to me it's one of the reasons that I wanted to get involved as faculty advisor this year. To really push that radical agenda for the youth. Typically M4TF [May 4th Task Force] has had two roles as a student organization: 1) to commemorate the shootings and to memorialize the martyrs that were killed and the casualties as well; 2) to promote student activism. In years past, it's always been a struggle between those two. There is a need for balance between those two, but the balance has always been towards memorializing. My intention was to bring the balance to an equal level between those two factors, and to press student activism. We did a lot of things on the days from May 1- 4 to promote student activism, and engage the youth to engage the vital discussion and issues on their minds. What the issue really is is that things are really bad. Students are duped that we have a Black president. But they also don't have a great historical context for what happened in the past. So we brought back a lot of folks from SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), BUS (Black United Students), SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the Weather Underground to work with the students of today. Mark Rudd & [Bernardine] Dohrn came on their own dime, they wanted to connect with the students and give them the historical context that the students have lacked. They also wanted to hear from the students about what their concerns were and reality is. And they did that.

Q. What were the issues and concerns of the students?

A. Issues of racism, classism, sexism, hetersexism. Arizona was one of those main issues. Also the issue of the skyrocketing cost of education today. And the serious clash between the richest 1% of the population and everyone else. It's internationally, not just in this country. The huge inequities vs. this plutocracy that runs the world. During the conference, we talked about international movements, like what's happening in Africa, Mexico, Central America, Asia, the Middle East and about war and environmental concerns. Women's rights as well; the people that bear the brunt of exploitation in the new world order are women. It was a really powerful week. About 150 - 200 students participated in the conference.

Fire in the Heartland, a film by Dr. Daniel Miller, was so important, and an anchor of this conference. We brought in a lot of people who were in this film. All the other KSU documentaries show only white students in the movement. This film focused on a lot of the common work that SDS and BUS in Kent had together. They worked on common issues. It was really amazing. It showed a three-year relationship with one another. Dr. Crosby (faculty advisor to BUS) warned Black students not to be part of the May demonstrations. On May 2, BUS had a rally at the commons saying we're in support of you, but we can't be a part of this action or they'll kill us, because of what's happened in Oakland, Chicago. But they did send some reps, but they stayed out of the fray.

And the Weather Underground was also really strong in Kent.

Q. Tell us more about the immigrants’ rights march that took place on May 4 this year.

A. The immigrants’ rights march was very multicultural. Latino, Muslim, Black, white. 200 students marched, and then took 500 up to Risman Plaza. We showed the Kunstler film before May 4, and one of the issues was Native American rights. We've done a lot to deal with that, and people realize the police can stop anyone, Black or brown or radical looking white kids. We live in a country today where if you bring up race, people scoff because we have a Black president, but students know that that's BS and that's a lie.

Q. What have people been saying about Obama?

A. At the conference, there was a lot of discussion. It ranged from wanting to support him, but at the same time, having difficulty doing that. Recognizing the forces that are behind him. The wars continue, insurance companies drove health care reform... they are pissed. But they still feel like it's better than Bush. And they're frustrated, that the radical right has the power to ram whatever they want down the throat of America and the world, but the left has to make minuscule, incremental changes. The young people especially are pissed off. The older generations are pissed off, but not as pissed as the youth. They are very impatient, and very disenfranchised from the political system and less trusting of it.

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

A. It's like Bobby Seale said- All power to all the people... The people need power. If there's anything I've learned or had reinforced, it is that the people need more power. And now more than ever, the people need more power cause we've lost a lot over the past 40 years.

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